I started playing around with writing in 2010. I joined a critique group about a year later, and with a few exceptions for LIFE, we have met every two weeks to exchange pages. In that time, three of us signed with agents (myself included), one of us self-published three books.
The two who also have agents have published two stand-alone MG novels with a YA to come out 2021, and the other has published a YA historical fantasy trilogy with a stand-alone also coming out 2021 (yes, I secretly hope they have the same release date…). I still linger in the status of agented.
If you have been on social media at all in the last few weeks, you’ve likely seen either “the decade is coming to an end, how will you finish?!?” or “share the great things you did this last decade!” conversations. While they can be fun and inspiring, if you aren’t quite where you wanted to be, it can be frustrating. Demoralizing. Self-doubt inducing. Somehow, I don’t think this is a just me situation.
So, as you are looking beyond the holiday season, however you celebrate, I would like to encourage you to block out some time away from loved ones, some time when you can sit, on your own, and do a couple things:
1. Go find a piece of writing as close to the beginning of the decade as possible.
How far did you get before you could see things you could make better? Why do you think you see that now when you might have thought it was pretty good before?
My friend, it’s because your understanding of writing has gotten better, deeper. You understand nuances of the craft you didn’t know then. Just like we often have to put marks on the wall to show our children they are growing, we need to let ourselves see where we were before to see how far we’ve come.
2. Jot down the projects and pieces you have worked on throughout this decade.
I don’t care if it won a contest, got you your agent, if that piece initiated a relationship with a publishing house, or if it won awards. Everything you have written counts.
On a piece of paper, write what you learned while writing that piece. Did you think you were a YA author and started writing and realized the voice felt wrong (this was me)? Did you learn how to write a new POV, how to draw out the emotional potential of a scene or chapter or book? Did you learn about pacing and how to make the reader lean in? Did you learn a new form of organization? If you learned it, write it down.
3. Imagine chatting with someone who is just starting their writing journey.
Pretend they just asked you how it all works. Can you outline what CP and POV and beta readers are? Do you know about query letters and synopses and what R&R means? (if you don’t, I’m giving you some hints.) Did you know what this was a decade ago? Who are you following and interacting with on social media that you didn’t know a decade ago? What advice would you give to this person about how to start, what to expect?
Did you realize you knew as much as you did?
4. Identify things you don’t know or don’t practice like you’d like to.
One of the funny things about the writing world is there are people who can’t wait to have an agent, an editor, a deadline. And there are authors with all those who sometimes yearn for the days they weren’t writing with deadlines. The grass is greener and all that.
If you are not as dedicated to your craft as you’d like to be, what might you do to make those changes? If you are dedicated to your craft, are you still having fun with the creation?
If not, why? This isn’t to say you will go from a person who staggers out of bed at 7:00 to a member of #5amwriters overnight (seriously, you’ll make it three days. Don’t try this). And this isn’t to say that you dismiss contractual obligations because that book just got hard (they are ALL going to get hard).
But it is a good time to ask yourself how this whole thing would look, in an ideal world, for you. A couple of 20-30 minutes sessions of writing? Two dedicated hours? A “dessert” thing you dabble in when you have met your obligations for the day?
Now, here’s where it gets really tricky…
5. What is the ONE thing you can do to start toward that goal.
Prior to WWII, the word priority wasn’t plural. Ever. You didn’t have a priority list, you had a priority. You didn’t have your top priorities, you had a priority.
Flip to a new document or a new piece of paper and write down where you’d like to be. Then work backwards. If you have lots of projects you’ve started but never finished, you may have the goal of finishing. But you aren’t going to do that in a day or a week or likely even a month.
What do you need to do in order to finish? What has prevented you from finishing before? What modification can you make to allow yourself time and space to get a little closer to that goal? What do you need to do during January 2020 to help you do this? What do you need to do January 1–4 to help you do this? What do you need to do today to help you do this? What can you do right now to help you do this?
And so on. You go smaller and smaller until you see the one thing that will help you start toward your goal. It might be watching a show AFTER you’ve met your writing goal. It might be gradually guiding yourself toward being a morning person (15 minutes earlier, 3-4 days at a time, please). It might be that you stay at work 30 minutes later, or go to work 30 minutes earlier.
As someone who lives in the real world, I know this isn’t going to ideally happen every single day. It just won’t. So as you are striving toward your goal, you have to give yourself some grace and remember you are striving, working on, practicing. And when a setback happens, see if it was preventable, and if not, que sera and try again tomorrow.
You have done amazing things. You will go on to do amazing things. Remember to set goals you have control over (this basically means don’t say sign with, publish with, have books made into ... you don’t control that), go backward until you find the one thing, and then keep at the practice.
What did you realize you have learned this last decade? Do you know what you are thinking about for your big goal in the upcoming year? What is the one thing you can do to baby step toward that goal?
Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. She is the president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and studying in the MFA in Writing Program at Pacific University, and teaches composition courses at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens and co-owner of a cotton candy company. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.