5 Practical Goals for Writers to Avoid Overwhelm

Sometimes the writing journey feels overwhelming. There aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish the mind-boggling amount of things we writers feel must get done in order to grow not just as writers but in order to establish our place in the publishing world.

Years ago, all an author had to do was write a book and send it off to a publisher (one handwritten copy at a time!), and if her manuscript was accepted, the publisher did all the work of publishing and promoting.

Now, authors have to be writer, marketer, publicist—and sometimes publisher—in order to make strides to become known and to have their books sold and distributed.

And still, after long hours each week applying ourselves to so many career-promoting tasks, we may feel frustrated and unsure whether we’ve accomplished anything at all.

And our books? Well, sometimes we don’t even have time to write, it seems.

Let me suggest 5 practical goals you can adopt right now, to help you make some progress in your writing journey.

  1. Try some new plotting and structuring techniques on your WIP or next project

I am always trying to stretch myself with each new novel, trying out new techniques, new ways to plot, structure, and organize my ideas. For many of my novels I used index cards for scenes. I’ve created character flow charts, character arc charts. For Intended for Harm, I used six large pieces of poster board and Post-It notes for the scenes.

These are all ideas I got from other writers—either from their workshops or from books on the writing craft. If it’s in your plans to write a new book this year, think about stretching yourself and forging into new territory.

  1. Try to attend at least one writers’ conference

I was given the advice to attend a writers’ conference many years ago. I had attended a few here and there over the years, but at that time I planned carefully which one to attend. I couldn’t afford to go to many, so picked the one where I knew I could learn a lot on the writing craft.

To my surprise, the author who made this suggestion said that not only had she received an offer of a publishing contract at a conference, but that’s how all her author friends got published. Really?

Well, years later and after having contracted eight of my novels with mainstream publishers by attending and pitching at writers’ conferences, I can also say that nearly all my writer friends who have gotten contracts or signed with an agent did so through pitching at a writers’ conference. I wish someone had told me this twenty years ago when I started out.

This has twofold benefits—giving you the opportunity to hone your writing by taking classes and the chance to pitch your book (either idea or finished novel) to agents and publishers. Even if you’re not ready to submit, chatting about your story and perfecting your pitch is extremely helpful.

  1. Pick one weak point in your writing and focus on that

We can become overwhelmed when we think of all the weak aspects of our writing. Surely there is room for improvement on so many fronts, and with lots of rejections we can become disheartened and feel like quitting.

Make it a point to focus on just one element of your writing that you are weakest in and see how you can improve that this year. Athletes will spend 80% of their time working on the 20% areas they are weakest in. We should do the same. And when you see improvement, you will feel encouraged.

  1. Find (or keep and appreciate!) at least one good critique partner

If you have someone who really gives you honest, helpful feedback, that’s a great joy and aid to your writing. You can set the person up as an accountability partner, too, if you tend to procrastinate.

One author friend agreed to do this with me, and each week we sent one new chapter for the other to edit and critique.

This keeps you writing and on target for finishing a manuscript. You can find critique partners through online writers’ groups and organizations by attending a writers’ conference and hooking up with someone you feel a good connection with. I treasure my critique partners.

  1. Apply yourself to becoming a better master of your language

Since I’m a professional copyeditor and writing coach, it stands to reason that I’m going to suggest this. I can’t overemphasize how much your writing will improve if you learn some good grammar and editing techniques.

So many published authors aren’t great with grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They may feel that’s not their concern—trusting the proofreader at their publishing house will catch and fix all the errors. But my feeling is that when you work hard to write better and more accurately—learning just where commas must go, when to use hyphens or italics, and how to properly punctuate dialogue—your writing will improve.

When you’re not hindered by these things you don’t know how to do, you can focus on writing beautiful sentences and creating powerful imagery. It’s not a waste of time to learn to master the handling of the English language.

Consider enrolling in my very cheap but insightful online video mini course: 10 Easy but Essential Self-Editing Tips.  That’s a good place to start!

Challenge yourself to improve your writing chops. It will show in your writing, and the agents and editors who read your work will see you in a better light. Editors love seeing their authors prepare error-free manuscripts.

Don’t be overwhelmed. Take it one whelm at a time! Work on these five goals, and see if they don’t help you get a step closer to the success you long to see in your writing journey!

Which of these goals do you plan to glomp on to first? Share in the comments!

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One Comment

  1. I couldn’t agree more – especially the last point. I just don’t get how writers can take this view. Being an ex-proof reader as well as an academic I’m fully aware of the need for all the above! I’ve made an interesting discovery since one of my manuscripts has been accepted for publication and it is this; since the process of editing and proofreading etc., I find I read differently. To top myself up I’ve been reading all my favourite authors and I notice things about structure, grammar, vocabulary etc., which jump out at me as they never have before.

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