Small Changes > Big Goals

Susan DeFReadingLeave a Comment

If you’re like me, you have some big goals, and you’ve had them for years. One of mine has been to read 52 books in a year.

Every year, it seems, I resolve to make this happen during the first week of the new year–and every year I fall short.

Pictured here, you’ll see what my husband calls my Pile of Glory–all the books I read in 2022–minus the one he stole from me, for his own reading purposes, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. Counting that one, it comes to 30 books–almost half as many as I intended to read in 2022.

How could I have failed, despite all best intentions, to be the big reader I intend to be? How many delicious, important books had escaped my grasp, never to be read?

Alas, to paraphrase Goya: My TBR pile is long, and life is short.

But then it occurred to me: Didn’t I read some e-books too? And listen to some audiobooks?

Yes, as it turned out, between e-books and audiobooks, I had read another 17 books. Books I hadn’t even given myself credit for, taking me to within 5 books of that elusive, year-after-year goal. I just didn’t “see” these other books because they were all on my phone (I use Scribd for both of these other types of books).

I think our writing goals are often the same way: we don’t give ourselves credit for the work we’ve really done, and for all we’ve really achieved.

Because in many ways, that work is invisible–cut from our current draft, or on a draft that had to be scrapped, or contained in a great many scribbles in a great many notebooks. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter–or that it doesn’t count toward your ultimate goal of finishing and publishing your book.

Beyond that, what my reckoning with my 2022 Pile of Glory sparked for me this week was the realization that I’d gotten closer to my big goal–a LOT closer to my big goal–by simply observing what so many habit and productivity gurus teach:

1. Make it easy
I’d made it easier for myself to read more books in 2022 by finding a way to always have a book within reach (by essentially having a library of e-books and audiobooks on my phone).

2. Diversify your approach
As long as I only read books at the end of the day, in my reading chair, with a physical book, there were only so many books I was going to read.

In 2022, I started “reading” books at the gym, on my walks, and on road trips (my husband and I listened to three of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels on our cross-country road trip this year–highly recommend).

3. Use snippets of time
I subscribe to the newsletter of productivity guru Lauren Vanderkam, and adopted something she recommends: when you have a little snippet of what she calls “confetti time” (e.g., standing in line, waiting on hold), turn to an e-book on your phone rather than random scrolling.

As an added bonus, I found that this actually made me feel good, like I’d snacked on something healthy and nutritious, rather than mental junk food.

I believe these same strategies can work for our writing goals.

Making it easy might mean always keeping a pen and notebook handy.

Diversifying your approach might mean using the voice memo function of your phone to write some part of your current WIP via dictation (or by hand, if you currently only work on the computer).

Using snippets of time might mean turning to that handy notebook you always carry with you instead of turning to social media for a break from work–and perhaps even writing a few pages on your lunch break.

However you go about it, consider this an invitation not to beat yourself up for all the big goals you’ve failed to achieve as a writer, and instead to focus on small, process-oriented ones. Because it’s in focusing on the small that we manifest the large.

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What’s your cup of tea?

Susan DeFCreative Writing, fiction, Writing resourcesLeave a Comment

If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve probably gotten to the point where you treat your writing like work, whether or not anyone is actually paying you for it–and that in many ways is the mark of a professional.

But creative writing really is NOT like other forms of work, and at this time of year–which in so many ways is about slowing down, going to ground, and taking stock–I think it’s important to remember that.

I believe that curiosity and pleasure are the foundation of creative work. So I thought I’d share a few of the pleasures of the season for me as a writer–pleasures that serve to bring that truth home for me, and ground me in my creative practice.

1. New pen + notebook

Those who’ve been subscribed to this newsletter a while know that I’m a big fan of writing by hand. This time of year, I always purchase a nice refillable fountain pen for my coaching clients, as a reminder to them that their words have weight and hold value.

This year, for the first time, I actually bought one for myself as well. What a pleasure, to see the way my f’s swoop their tails across the page, and my g’s curl up like cats!

I got myself a nice new notebook as well. (It matches the pen, of course.) And seeing them sitting there together is just so aesthetically pleasing, I find, that I can’t help but want to crack that cover and return to this little fictive dream I’ve got going right now…

Maybe you don’t actually NEED a nice new pen and notebook. But this isn’t about needs, is it? This is about pleasures.

2. Sensory cues

This time of year is rich with sensory cues: The smell of baked goods and pine trees and things made to smell like pine trees that aren’t actually pine trees–hot chocolate and mulled cider. I could go on.

But those are sensory cues that remind of times spent with others. Sensory triggers that remind us of our communal, seasonal life.

When I’m working with my coaching clients on establishing a regular writing practice, I often advise them to establish a sensory cue that’s just for them: a single square of dark chocolate when they sit down to write, or a cup of chai.

Or maybe a scented candle that evokes some feeling for them, some connection to their character or the world of their story.

Sensory cues remind us that what we’re sitting down to do is a pleasure, not an obligation–and that what we’re after is more of a mood than a finished product.

My latest sensory cue? Earl Grey tea–I love to stop and get a good whiff of that orange-scented steam in the morning as I sit down to write.

3. Write in a coffee shop

Remember, pre-pando, when we used to write in coffee shops? (Some of us, at least.)

Here in Santa Fe, we have a coffee shop in the middle of a bookstore, with fireplace that’s always crackling come winter. Last week, in the midst of Xmas shopping for my niblets*, I sat down, had myself an oat milk latte, and worked on my current WIP.

Did I need to work in a coffee shop? No, I did not need to work in a coffee shop–I have a lovely office at home.

Did I want to work in a coffee shop? Yes, I did. For the pleasure of sitting there with headphones on, surrounded by books and bookish people, beside a crackling fireplace.

Chances are, you have some particular pleasures and rituals you associate with writing too. Pleasures and rituals you may have lost track of over the last season or two.

Pleasures and rituals you can return to now, in the dark heart of the year, to ground yourself in your creative practice.

Here’s to better stories for a better world–

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Black Friday Book Magic

Susan DeFDetailed Assessment, fiction, Professional Review, Writing ConsultationLeave a Comment

When I was younger, we used to celebrate the day after Thanksgiving as “Buy Nothing Day”–a protest against the mindless consumerism of the Christmas season.

These days, I do my best to practice conscious consumerism, purchasing secondhand whenever possible, and from ethical companies when it’s not–and though I don’t believe conscious consumerism will save the world (if only it were that simple!), I’ve come to see that every time we spend money, we really are investing in something, whether we realize it or not.

That’s why I’ve decided to make it easy for you to invest in yourself as a writer this year, by dropping the price on my First 50 consults.

These consults include:

  • A detailed assessment form designed to get to the heart of your vision for your book, as well as your publishing goals for it
  • A professional review of the first 50 pages of that book
  • Feedback on those first 50 pages from the point of view of a publishing pro
  • Recommendations for the next steps to take in order to make your vision for your book, and your publishing goals for it, a reality

More to the point: This assessment will give you a sense for if your project is ready to pitch, and if not, what you’ll need to address in revision before you do.

The price on these consults is usually $299, but from now until next Monday, Nov. 28, I’m dropping that price to $199.

Why I’m doing this

>>What with inflation and all, I know money is tight for a lot of us right now, so it seemed fitting to drop these consults back to my 2019 price (don’t you wish we could drop EVERYTHING back to 2019 prices?).

>> In the last few years, my business has taken off, to the point where I’m increasingly booked out, at a price point that reflects the in-depth work I do for my editing and coaching clients. These First 50 consults are a way for me to help more writers than I otherwise could, at a significantly lower price point.

>> For the past six months or so, I’ve been challenging myself to do new things, and yeah…I never in a million years thought I’d offer a Black Friday sale. =)

Who this service is for

>> Anyone planning on pitching their book to agents and editors in 2023

>>Anyone nearing the end of a draft of their WIP who could use some professional feedback on it

>>Anyone who needs a swift kick in the pants to actually get themselves to finish their current draft (you can book the consult for whatever date next year works for you…)

>>Anyone who’s thinking of working with me on a longer project in 2023 (these consults are a great way to see what it’s like to work with me)

>>Anyone looking for a gift for a writer friend that truly says, “I believe in you and want you to succeed.” (Yes, you can purchase one for a friend!).

I’ll send you another email about this on Friday, and then a final one on Monday, but that’s all you’ll hear from me on this–so if you want to take advantage of this special price, do it! 

You can book your consult for $199 here.

Here’s to better stories for a better world–

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This is Your Brain on Books

Susan DeFcraft, fictionLeave a Comment

We all know that reading helps us gain skills and knowledge, and maybe even become better people (though of course, you can’t believe everything you read in the self-help aisle).

Which is to say, reading helps us grow new synapses, and become brainier. So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at the degree to which writing has taught me about the way the human brain works.

But sometimes I still am.

In my latest post for Jane Friedman, I shared three key strategies for fiction writers derived from neuroscience. This is the sort of craft post I’m always really happy to share–I think because the sheer amount of advice out there on creative writing can be so overwhelming, and it can be so freeing to learn which bits and pieces of that advice actually have some basis in fact, in terms of the reader’s brain.

But as far as writing goes, there’s another really important brain involved–yours, as the writer.

Creating and maintaining a regular writing practice often involves a whole lot of wrestling with the way your own brain works, and there are a lot of modern realities that just compound this difficulty.

I’ve seen this with my own work, and with my fellow book coaches as well, many of whom are writers.

I just spent last week with a fabulous group of these folks in Santa Barbara, as part of Author Accelerator’s annual Goal-Setting Retreat, and over and over, I heard the same thing: As our businesses have grown, it has become easier to neglect our own creative work.

For my colleagues struggling with this, I shared what I’ve found has really helped me re-establish my creative practice this year: First thing in the week, and first thing in the morning.

That’s a strategy derived from Stick with It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life–For Good by Sean D. Young–specifically, principle “I” of Sean’s acronym SCIENCE, which stands for Important.

Basically, by making writing the first thing you do each week (something you focus on on Monday) and the first thing you do in the day (something you do before you start work) you send a clear message to your brain: Writing is important to me. It’s a priority.

Ideally, I do my creative work before I check email or social media, in keeping with the advice of many a productivity expert to do “one high-value thing” before checking in with these more mindless sorts of tasks.

Of course, not every writer works on the morning shift. Which is why I found myself sending off an email this morning to a client reminding her to switch her phone into airplane mode after work tonight, and to write for a half hour after dinner, no matter her word count. Because the word count is a lot less important than just turning to writing for a bit before she vegs out with social media or TV, or even with a book.

Let’s face it, writing is cognitively demanding work. That’s why it will always be easier to scroll Instagram than it will be to sit there trying to figure out what one character says to the other, or to figure out whether or not your protagonist should realize that her ex is lying to her.

That stuff is hard! But it’s also super rewarding.

And when the story you’ve so painstakingly crafted, by harnessing your brain, lodges itself forever in the brain of another?

Maybe it’s science.

Maybe it’s magic.

Maybe it’s a little of both.

Wherever you are with your writing practice, I’m wishing you all the best with it this week.

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