Building a Solid Writing Practice One Goal at a Time

Welcome back to Fantasy Firsts. Today we’re featuring a guest post by Riders author Veronica Rossi on how you can build a better writing habit. Seeker, the sequel to Riders, will be available on May 16th.

I’m a big believer in setting goals. Personal. Professional. Spiritual. You name it. I firmly believe you stand a much better chance of getting somewhere if you know where you’re trying to go.

Goals have been a huge part of my writing life. I wrote my first published novel, Under the Never Sky, by sitting down exactly seven years ago and planning twelve-months’ worth of targets. Without an editor to establish deadlines, I took on that role myself. I bought a calendar and projected drafting and revision goals that were specific and realistic. I had a good idea by then of my average productivity so I created milestones I felt pretty confident I could meet. And I did. It wasn’t always perfect. Some months I fell behind. Others I surged ahead. But having those targets—and hitting them—was tremendously encouraging. Big things are accomplished in small steps.

My second YA series begins with Riders. It’s a modern-day fantasy about four teens who unwittingly become incarnations of the four horsemen. These poor guys—War, Death, Famine, and Conquest—do not want to be what they’ve become but the only way to change their situation is to complete a mission. With the help of a visionary girl, they must protect a sacred object from some truly bad baddies.

Riders, which releases on February 16th, was written in a similar process as Under the Never Sky. Take out the scope. Focus on the summit. Project distance and elevation. Plan the route. Prep the materials. And go.

If you stick to a plan, you can write a solid draft of a book in a year. Really.

Having written several novels now, my focus as a writer has shifted. I know I can create books so my 2016 writing goals are about digging deeper. And though they’re writing-oriented I think a few might be helpful to anyone pursuing a creative endeavor. Without further ado, here they are:

  1. Answer the “Why” — My husband recently read Start With the Why by Simon Sinek, based on his TED Talk of the same title. Though I’ve only seen the latter, we’ve been having many discussions about the central tenet of Sinek’s argument. Though it’s primarily geared toward business-minded folks, Sinek poses a question that he believes everyone should consider: What’s your Why? Why do you do what you do? In my case: why do I write?I honestly thought it would be an easier question to answer. After all, I’ve been writing seriously for a dozen years now and I love writing. However to truly answer that question requires some honest soul-searching. Do I write to understand myself? To understand the world? To inspire others? What, specifically, is the desire that pulls me forward, book after book?Most writers are familiar with the story premise or logline. Usually a formula that goes something like: Character does X despite facing Y obstacles in order to achieve Z goal. But what’s my logline? Why does Veronica write in the face of deadlines, writer’s block, etc. to achieve novels? I want to understand the true nature of the force that propels me to tell stories. Sinek explains that we attract people who have similar Whys. That is, whatever it is that motivates me is the very thing that aligns my readers with me. So. By having a firm grasp on my Why, I think I’ll be able to write even better stories and more fully enjoy my work. As I said above, when you know where you want to go, you have a much greater chance of actually getting there.
  2. Step Away From the Computer — I took a month away from the Internet last summer and it was glorious. Seriously. It had an undeniable impact on my mood and my creativity. I was more relaxed. My focus improved. Even my imagination. I plan to do another month-long break this year.In addition to that, I’m going to spend more time working in notebooks. Not just journaling, which I already do, but writing. I started this recently and was shocked to find that my hand grew tired after only a page or two! Scary. But I’ve also found that I take greater care in crafting sentences when I put pen to paper. It causes me to slow down, to think. That’s a great benefit. I make my trade by creating good ideas and sentences—so anything I can do to improve on them is absolutely a priority.
  3. Learn! — A dear writing friend of mine and I have been scheming for the past few months about the classes we plan to take this year. Poetry. Screenwriting. Short stories, maybe? Gasp! Perhaps. If we’re bold enough. We both always want to improve as writers so we’ll be taking online classes that push us out of our comfort zones, right into the growth zone!
  4. Expand Horizons — Before I became a novelist, I was an oil painter. I spent a few years painting commissioned works as my profession. While I’m not sure I’ll go back to painting, I do want to bring another outlet into my life—and it doesn’t necessarily need to be creative. I started running last year and that had a strong positive impact on me. Like painting, running provided me with “non-thinking” time with no no room for email, Twitter, daily chores, or anything else.This goal ties in with the social media break I mentioned above. Too much external input can actually bring me to a point where I don’t even hear my own thoughts anymore. Through these “non-thinking” activities, my subconscious mind gets to stand up, stretch, and step into the spotlight for a while. With every passing year I see the importance of this increase. Making a practice of mental “quiet time” is critical for my creative health.
  5. Be Patient — I’ve been writing on deadline for the past five years. Hustling. For five years. Even before that, when I was trying to get published, I felt this tremendous impatience to hurry things along. I wanted the agent so I could get the book deal so I could publish a book so I could be published so I could…?Write! Write more, of course! It’s what I love to do. It’s a circular deal. I didn’t realize that for a long time, but writing is the work and the reward—so why rush? A good friend of mine has a great way of describing it. He says: Writing to get published is a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie. So, my goal is to take my time. Make a great pie. The best one possible. The writing is the reward.

So, in addition to revising the sequel to Riders, those are some of the things I’ll be working on this coming year. I think they all fall under the umbrella of being more thoughtful and connected to one of the great passions in my life. What are some of your goals, writing or otherwise? What’s your Why?

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Follow Veronica Rossi on Twitter at @rossibooks, on Facebook, and on her website.

(This is a rerun of a post that originally ran on February 1st, 2016.)