Choose your commitments wisely this holiday season

Squirrels have almost nothing to do with writing, but everybody could use more cute in their life.
Squirrels have almost nothing to do with writing, but everybody could use more cute in their life, happy holidays!

Christmas is right around the corner, and whether or not your family celebrates it, chances are pretty good that you still have holiday obligations. My family certainly isn’t religious, but we still have Christmas dinner every year. It’s a good excuse to get together and enjoy ourselves, and it’s usually pretty nice to get presents.

But most of us don’t have just one dinner with our family. We have friends eager to see us, holiday dinners with the in-laws, maybe even company holiday parties. Everybody wants some of our time, and ordinary life doesn’t just stop because you want to go to an extra holiday party.

As tempting as all these celebration offers might seem, think hard before agreeing to each one. A company holiday party might sound fun, but it might turn out to be more awkward than enjoyable. Going out with friends every day for a week might actually get boring on the third day.

Many years of school taught me to instead think of the holidays as a time to write more. I tend to write out more goals than are humanly possible when planning for the year ahead, and I see these last two weeks as my chance to make one final attempt to hit those goals.

If you have some time off in the next two weeks and you’re not hosting Christmas dinner, you might just want to do the same.

Even if you’ve accomplished almost none of your goals this year, you can still make these last two weeks matter.

Those of you who completed Nanowrimo this year already know the amount of work you can get done in two weeks when you really put your mind to it. And most of you completed Nanowrimo while maintaining full time jobs and some semblance of relationships with the people around you.

If you can write 25, 000 words–or even 15, 000 words–in two weeks, you can accomplish quite a few big things in those two weeks.

In the last two weeks I’ve done one quick read of a novel I edited last year, taken notes for the next edit, edited some spelling and grammar errors along the way, and then did the last editing pass on a novella I’ve been working on. Oh, and I created a booklet of 110 Novel Planning Resourcesfor people subscribed to my newsletter.

Now, I don’t have a full time job, but I’ve also been working for Musa Publishing part time, writing articles for money, working on pitches for potential freelance clients, doing a series of workshops on storytelling as it relates to advertising, and planning out what next year will look like here on the Dabbler.

These are my plans for the next two weeks:

  • Perfect the query and synopsis for my fantasy novella — I started on these today, and I already have a couple people, one who’s read the novella and one who hasn’t, who have agreed to give feedback on these so I can revise them a few times.
  • Submit said novella — I’ve got this written on my calendar for December 30th. Submitting this novella was actually on my goal list for this year. I think we call this “cutting it close.”
  • Identify 15+ companies to pitch in the new year — I really want to start off strong in January with a lot of pitches, and this will be easier if I have a list to start with. Once I get going, I know I’ll stick with it.
  • Draft January blog posts — I’ve got a pretty good idea what I want to write about here at the Dabbler come January, and not much work in the next two weeks, so I’d like to get these done and hopefully even scheduled in advance.
  • Plan first 3 months on The Dabbler — My plan for The Dabbler currently ends at the same time January does, and I’d like to have a more solid idea what I’m doing with this blog when the new year starts.

Ambitious, right? To be honest, once you get into the rhythm of these things most of them don’t take too long, and I’m confident I can accomplish them, especially since I won’t be posting here next week.

So what are you planning to do before the year ends? Are you going to be wrapping up any big goals? Let me know in the comments below!

Building new habits in 2014

Everybody–especially the people that don’t admit it–wants to become a better, more successful version of themselves. The specifics vary from person to person, but it always boils down to two things: building good habits and eliminating bad ones.

Looking at the big picture of self transformation is scary. Most of us have a pretty concrete vision of how we’d like to change–quit smoking, eat less fast food, write more, exercise regularly–and regularly attempt to make these changes. Many set these goals as their new year’s resolutions, put real effort in for a couple weeks or months, then fall off the bandwagon. They set the same goals, year after year, never making more than minimal progress towards becoming the person they want to be.

There are all kinds of reasons why people fail to make the changes they so desperately want and need in their lives, but one of the biggest is that they try to make all these changes at once. Both building new habits and eliminating old ones is hard work, and you can’t do everything in a year. Becoming the person you want to be is a long, hard journey and trying to tackle all the changes at once will simply overwhelm you, making you give up. You’ll end up starting over and taking much longer than if you took the slow approach in the first place.

Yes, some people change best by tackling it all at once, but most of us simply can’t do it this way. We need to break it down and do it one step at a time.

I know this better than anyone. Every year I set out with incredibly lofty goals, and I never accomplish all of them. I end up accomplishing most of my writing goals, but none of the non-writing goals. Some years it’s the exact opposite.

This year marks the final end of my long school career, and so I’ve decided to concentrate the year on building good habits. In February I’ll be able to work on my writing full time for the first time, and it’s going to take a lot of work to build myself a strict schedule that will allow me to meet all my goals. So I decided that each month this year I will focus on establishing a different habit every month–since common theories say it takes thirty days to develop a habit–so that by the end of the year I’m operating at maximum productivity. Most of these habits are writing related, though some are more focused on health and self care.

It’s time to take charge of your life and to accept that you can’t change everything at once. You may want to end this year a completely different person than you were when you started it, but you can’t become that person overnight. All you can do is take one step every day to get closer to being that person, so this time next year you can smile and say you’ve done everything you set out to do in 2014.

What habits do you need to build or eliminate this year?