A Writer’s Self – Care, Part 2

In this new series on Self-Care for Writers, I’m sharing insights on looking after yourself, body and soul. In this article, because it’s January, we’re talking goals. Not all goals are good goals; some can be downright unhealthy.

writers self care 1

In the first article in my Self-Care for Writers series, Seven Tips for Flourishing as a Writer, I touched on discerning between the things we can and can’t control. It’s a critical distinction if you want to last the distance in the writing business.

Of course, most writers want to sign with a world-class agent, experience a bidding war over their manuscript, sell out their first print run, hit the best seller’s list, and become wildly and internationally famous. The trouble with all of those awesome events is they are completely outside of a writer’s control. Setting any of them as a goal will lead to disillusionment, heartache, and burnout.

Dreams & Goals

The old adages hold true: Go big or go home. Shoot for the moon. Dreams should be big enough and wild enough to scare us. We should engage our faith and speak into the universe.


But dreams and goals are two very different things. Dreams engage your wishbone. Goals rely on backbone.

Writers—all creatives in fact—need both ‘bones’. Your wishbone is a trellis that supports your imagination, fosters your vision, and trains your creativity into something uniquely yours. Your backbone is a girder for your growth, dedication, resilience, and longevity.

Goals or SMART Goals

The SMART acronym has been bandied about since 1981 when it was coined by George Doran and associates in an article in Management Review. I particularly like this amplification of the basic qualities of good goals:

S = specific and stretching

M = measurable + meaningful and motivating

A = achievable and action-oriented

R = realistic + rewarding and results-oriented

T = time-bound and trackable

I whimper on the inside when my writing peers say their goals for the year are to get an agent and land a publishing deal. Both are superior dreams but inferior goals, because they aren’t specific, measurable, achievable, realistic or time-bound. Lots of wishbone, little backbone.

Compare these SMART Goals:

  1. By the end of January, I will identify ten agents who are suitable matches for my work and my desired career path.
  2. Each month I will research two of the ten agents to discover their preferences, clients’ work, sales record, and wishlists.
  3. I will craft a tailored query letter for an agent by the 15th of the month, and before sending it out at the end of the month, I will have it critiqued and proofread by my writing buddies.

But Will Setting SMART Goals Get Me My Agent?

writer self care 4Well, not exactly… But it will lay stepping stones in the direction of that dream. Instead of chasing a hazy desire, you create a clear path to follow. Won’t it feel amazing to know where you’re going and how far you’ve come?

As a bonus, tranquillity, optimism, and contentedness flow more freely when we focus on the things we can control. Setting smart goals makes the journey pleasant and healthy!

Self-Care is a Non-Negotiable

Hitting send on your query letter simultaneously hits pause on the part you control. I can tell you from years of experience: unless you are unbelievably lucky, freaky talented, or have an X-factor idea whose time is RIGHT NOW, waiting is the name of the game.

The waiting “to get somewhere” in the life of a writer can be frustrating and bewildering and downright disheartening. It can feel like being stuck in a terminal with no flight information while everyone around you takes off on time or lands safely and falls into the embrace of waiting loved ones. That’s why it’s so important to have clear steps to care for yourself.

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It’s common—normal even—for emerging and aspiring writers to feel lousy about “not getting anywhere”, which is industry shorthand for not getting an agent or a publishing deal. Unchecked, disappointment can fester into disillusionment, despair, and even deeper into mental health issues. If you are vulnerable (genetically or circumstantially or both), please, please take steps to be proactive about self-care.

The creative life is a zany rollercoaster with an unpredictable series of highs and lows and tummy-squeezing, knuckle-whitening loop-de-loops. Try to step back so you can view the whole ride, rather than bogging down on the slow or disappointing bits. And above all, share the ride with friends. It’s more fun to scream in symphony than all alone!

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Own the Process

We control the quality and quantity of our work. We control how we use our time, how we spend our resources, who we include in our networks. We can control what we read, who we listen to, where we find inspiration, and how we treat other writers. We cannot control whether an agent will like our work enough to sign us as a client. Therefore, own what we do control and let the rest go.

This is a workout for the backbone, not the wishbone.

A Word from the Wise

An email I received today from the Manuscript Academy inspired me to write this article. In it, author Julie Kingsley shared some excellent tips and examples of good goals.

Julie says:

“My goals are all about controlling what you can control in this crazy world. You have control over the body of your work.  You can set clear and concise goals that are achievable.  You can write down goals that won’t give you a one way ticket into full blown therapy.”

Check out Julie’s examples of healthy goals, shared with her permission:

  • Write for twenty minutes every day.
  • Brainstorm 100 story ideas.
  • Write a first chapter in both first person and third.
  • Create a playlist for your work-in-progress.
  • Find five new writer friends.
  • Go to at least one writing conference.
  • Buy five books from debut authors. Read them. Review them.
  • Write multiple last chapters of a book you haven’t started.
  • Be brave. Get a critique from an expert.
  • Turn your work-in-progress into a screenplay.
  • Draw five pivotal scenes from your work, dive back into pivotal scenes. What do you know now? Revise.
  • Set a specific word count, meet it.

Every one of these hits the markers of SMART goals, and they are completely within your control. Any or all of the above will contribute to both your growth and health as a writer. Plus, they are meaningful and useful exercises to engage in AS YOU WAIT for responses to your queries.

Julie also says this:

“Take a deep breath. You’ve got this. It’s all about putting one word before the next. It’s all about the people you meet along the way.”

I totally agree! On that note, I’ll wrap it up.

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Over to You

I hope this is the year of your breakthrough or continued success in the creative life—whatever that means for you, signing with your dream agent or landing a publishing contract. May it also mean growing in your ability to find joy in the act of creating and strength in the practice of caring for yourself.

I’m adding some of Julie’s goals to my list. I especially like the screenplay idea, which will stretch me to acquire new skills. Which of Julie’s sample goals do you like best?

Until next time, take care of yourself!

Image Credits:

Bouquet by rawpixel on Unsplash

Stars photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Tranquil Fog by Sasha • Stories on Unsplash

Waiting by kelvin balingit on Unsplash

Rollercoaster by Conor Luddy on Unsplash

Something Great by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

Blog Award Tour

Blogging M Licht

I was invited by my writer friend, Jeanette O’Hagan, to take part in The Blog Award Tour. We met years ago in a book club, and our children attend the same school. I think our journeys as writers started in earnest at about the same time, so it’s been very encouraging to watch Jenny go from strength to strength.

JennyJuly15bx200Jeanette is an avid fantasy and science-fiction fan.  She has lived in Australia and Africa. She has practiced medicine, taught theology, accumulated a few degrees and is currently  caring for her young children, enjoying post-graduate studies in writing at Swinburne University and writing her Akrad Legacy series. She is actively involved in a caring Christian community.

Check out her blog to read about her fantastic books and projects.

Jeanette asked me to answer four questions as a part of the tour.


I’m in submission mode, which is my optimistic reframe of waiting. (Cue cricket sounds). My most recent manuscript, Toby Fitzroy & the Quest for the Scales of Time was launched into the world in early July at a writers’ conference where I pitched to four editors. Happily, all four asked to see the full manuscript. It’s been sent off, and now, well, I wait.

But I’m not twiddling my thumbs, and I’m definitely not checking my inbox every quarter hour. I’m using my writing time to research agents and publishers where Toby might find a home. It astounds me how much time the submission process consumes. I find it hard to accomplish much writing–other than customised query letters and synopses.

Beyond submissions, I am in the pre-writing stage of my next work. One editor at the CYA conference asked about sequels, so I’m doing preliminary research and developing another epic adventure for Toby. India is  a prospective backdrop, and I am so excited at the possibility of including elephants, tigers, and not-so-helpless princesses. 1856 is a fascinating time in Indian history. If you don’t believe me, read MM Kaye’s The Far Pavilions. *Swoon* Check out my research shelf on GoodReads to see my list of books. And if you know of a resource (fiction or non) I should check out, please leave a comment…


I love to weave myth, folklore, and fairy tales into my adventure stories. At the same time, anchoring the story in a historical place is crucial, and getting the details right is very important to me. Hiding sneaky little titbits in words and names is a bit of fun I indulge in. Nobody needs to know but me. *Wiggles fingers fiendishly…*


I remember the exact moment in my childhood when I fell in love with books and reading. I long to recreate that specific experience of wonder and enchantment for a new generation of readers.

I want my readers to be comforted and inspired while falling in love with literature. Always in the back of mind are girls who in certain parts of the world are denied education and freedom and treated like a sub-species. How my heart aches for little girls  who are treated unjustly because they are female. I wish I could offer them some reprieve from misery and fear with stories of beauty, possibility, and promise. Is that too much to ask of literature? Probably. But I’ll keep trying.


I spend months in the pre-writing stage. Throughout this stage, I sample from lots of books and take copious notes. I keep my heart and ears open, because you never know what the universe will offer up. The other day at the library, I checked out a stack of books, but none of them was “spot on.” As I walked toward the door, something caught my eye on the new release shelf. A shiny, new copy of Tears of the Rajas by Ferdinand Mount winked at me. It was perfect. Back to the check-out counter I went.

I research until I stumble upon what I call my Propelling Nugget of Goodness (PNG). This is a deliciously quirky fact that makes my story take off.

With Toby Fitz, my PNG was a fact about Queen Victoria’s uncle, William IV. I’d been wondering what England would have been like in the 19th Century if Vicky hadn’t reigned. She became queen because her uncle didn’t have a legitimate heir. (Mind you, he spawned a tribe to a popular stage actress, but no living heir to Queen Adelaide.) Adelaide had four babies to him, two girls, Charlotte and Elizabeth, who died, and (here’s the PNG) twin boys who were stillborn and unnamed. I named them (Augustus and James) and gave those boys’ lives. I explored the dynamics between the twin who would be king and the other, the “spare heir.” I imagined an England without Victoria. Voila and hey presto! Victorian England became Augustan England. It was so fun! Interestingly, all this royal intrigue withdrew to the background of my story, informing it in lots of ways.

Once the story takes off, I write a long synopsis of the story. I spend some time crafting the climax and end first. I break the story down into a three-part outline in which I imagine as many of the scenes as I can. All the while my characters are taking shape. I begin to create profiles for them, well aware of the fact that I won’t really “know” them until the story gets going. When I’m happy with the outline, I begin writing the first draft. While I write, I keep a working file of questions and problems.

After the first draft is finished, I begin editing. I find some beta readers and get their feedback. I write another draft, which I send to a professional l editor. I keep editing until it’s ready to release.

That’s all for today. Thanks to Jenny for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour!

CC 2.0 Image Credit:

Blogging Fun by Mike Licht