As the last days of 2018 tick off, it is a good time to prepare for a successful new year. I always find a special hope in a new year. No matter what happened before, this is an opportunity for something new. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with helping success along a bit. And so the last days of the old year is a good time for some house cleaning and preparation for new success.
Go Through Your Files
Once a year, I like to go through the file of things that are finished but didn’t sell. Now, personally, I don’t have a lot of patience with submission. I tend to write stories with a specific market’s needs in mind and if the story doesn’t sell there, I sometimes simply drop it into a file and move on to the next story.
That’s terrible submissions management. It can leave me with a whole file of orphans that really need some time and attention so they can find a good home. So, during my end of year house cleaning, I evaluate each story. Most haven’t been read in quite some time and often I find that the “problem” with the story leaps out at me at this reading. I take notes right on the manuscript of things I need to do. I try not to get sucked into doing the revisions right then (well, not unless I only have one story in my orphans file), but I do use the comment feature in Word to make notes on things I need to change to make the story work better. I’ll also use comments to note any markets that might come to mind as I’m reading it. Since I’m always looking at magazines and book publishers and looking for new opportunities, sometimes there are markets I’ve discovered recently that might be a match for the story. I try to come up with a plan for every one of the orphans. This does double duty of helping me get my work back out and giving me positive, decisive action for the first days of the new year. It can be very helpful when I get overwhelmed by what I should do next. I can always dip into these orphans and pick something to work on.
Not every orphan is fixable. Sometimes what seemed like a good idea as I was writing it, simply didn’t work upon execution. But I try not to simply discard even the hopeless stories. I look for what elements of the stories did work, which parts I really like, and I cut out those pieces to use as examples. I actually have text files with names like dialogue.txt and description.txt. When I have enough good examples in those files, I’ll go ahead and write an essay on dialogue or description or whatever topic I have good examples for. Then I can look at placing those essays into publication somewhere. There are a number of paying markets for writing essays including newsletters like Funds for Writers or SCBWI publications.
Go Through Your Market Guide
This is also a good time of year for planning what you might work on next, and I often do that by taking a journey through my market guide. As soon as I buy any market guide, I take a highlighter and go through it, highlighting markets that interest me. It takes a while and I only do a few pages a day so that I don’t get overwhelmed by the number of entries in the book. Once I’ve marked all the entries that interest me (and marked off any entries that will never work for me) I end up with a market guide that is much more streamlined and usable. If you haven’t done this with your own market guide, now is a good time for that.
If you have already highlighted markets that interest you, now might be a good time to go through the guide again. I find that reading market guide entries triggers a kind of free-association idea generator in my head. And I’ll get ideas for stories or articles or books that might be a good fit for markets in the book. I’ll stop and write down everything that comes to me about the idea. Sometimes this produces a sentence or two and sometimes I’ll really connect with an idea and produce paragraphs or even pages of notes on it. Then when I have this idea fleshed out as far as I want to go at this time, I’ll return to the guide and keep reading. This exercise will often produce a number of good ideas that I’m excited about and has the added bonus of having a good market option already tied to the idea. The market listing that inspired it is often a good home for it. I find the whole submission process far less stressful when I already know where I intend to send the final piece by the time I’ve written it.
The idea of having tasks clear before me is very energizing. It’s when I don’t know what to do or I’m unclear on what is needed that I resort to procrastination to put off possible failure. To avoid that, I will begin writing down steps to accomplish in the new year. And I’ll also begin mapping out deadlines for my steps on a calendar. I’m a huge fan of actual paper calendars. I keep one on the corkboard right next to my desk. It has a record of all my deadlines as well as notes on things like publisher open submissions periods (when I learn of them). I know many people are more comfortable with using electronic calendar features on the computer or cell, but I like the old-school paper calendar. It doesn’t have a “search” feature but I can flip through it much easier. And there’s something satisfying about looking through old calendars and seeing how many things I actually accomplished. You may also want to download the free Success Journal IFW created. You can print it out every year and keep track of all your successes that way.
But ultimately, whatever you find energizing for your work should be worked into this time if possible. Maybe you find it energizing to get together with other writers (I do!) and that isn’t exactly available right now. In that case, I’ll go for the second best idea: planning for the next get together. Sometimes looking forward to something is as energizing as doing it. Consider planning an in-person conference or workshop in the new year. If that kind of thing is out of reach, look at online workshops or groups like The Writers’ Block. You don’t get the face-to-face interaction, but I’ve found webinars to be energetic and satisfying as well. And it’ll give you something to look forward to. That’s important as you prepare for the new year. It’ll give you something to think about during the tougher moments, because life always gives us plenty of those.
So as you look through files, cruise markets and plot your calendar year, and don’t forget to take time to enjoy this amazing ride we’re on. We’re storytellers (whether we’re telling fictional stories or true) and that makes us keepers of our culture, and shapers of it as well. That’s a pretty challenging and important job, but one that is full of joy as well. As you head into the new year, don’t forget to take joy. I know I will.