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January 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionIf your vision excites you and your goals have your feet fitted in the boots of your choice for the journey, then you are ready for action.

It’s when we don’t act on our goals that we feel overwhelmed or underachieved. Sometimes we think the goals are overwhelming us, but goals can be flexible. Often the cause is a lack of a clear plan for the action we take to meet those goals to live our vision.

Some of you might think, “Holy wild horses, she’s going to never stop talking about planning.” I promise; I’m not on a big New Year’s coffee-induced planning binge. It’s just that there are three phases and this is the third:

  1. Vision (your north star that guides your journey).
  2. Goals (FAST: flexible, actionable, sound and timely).
  3. Action (the steps that will get you closer to your goals).

An action plan is a timeline that shows what to do by when. It can be laid-back for the pansters or all out list-nerdy for the planners. My suggestion is to use Excel to create a simple chart for weekly activities or download a free calendar template. I use both and will explain the practical application of each.

Keep in mind I’m actually self-identified as a pantser, but my career path taught me the benefits of planning. I plan once a year and monitor progress periodically or at the end of the next year. If you do not plan in January, bookmark this post for when you do plan.

Calendar Timeline is useful for large projects with multiple parties involved. For example, I manage a client’s newsletter and coordinate with the client, contract writers, designer, print-house and distribution. It’s important that all involved understand the deadlines and who does what by when. Apply these steps:

  1. Start with your end date (this can be a book launch or a reoccurring publication date).
  2. Work backwards to identify the steps for success (if you are launching a book in three months, what happens between then and now).
  3. Include all involved (helpers, reviewers and others you will work with).
  4. Mark all the steps on your calendar (this is your action plan).
  5. Refer to the plan periodically and communicate with others involved.

Weekly Chart is useful for tracking multiple goals and activities. Blogger-slash-freelancer-slash author, this is you. This is me. I have an Excel spreadsheet on my desktop with three tabs representing the next three weeks. I’ll admit that I don’t refer to this schedule often because the plan is in my head. Creating it, helps me frame that head-plan, though and if goals or deadlines clash, it is my best tool for figuring out how to adjust.Weekly ChartAs you can see, I list multiple ongoing projects, processes and even personal goals.This chart is a snapshot of the action that keeps me in motion.

Last week I mentioned making flexible goals. If you are like me and in the midst of a major learning curve (such as, the book industry) you need to be flexible. If you work a day job, take clients or parent, you need to be flexible.

However, it is important that you be consistent. If you want to write a novel, you have to write page by page. If you want to blog, you have to manage a schedule that fits the time you have for it. Think of consistency as the fuel for your action. If you want to walk every day, you have to walk. That’s consistency.

Consider this essay by Gregory Ciotti about The Under-appreciated Benefits of Creative Consistency.

If you start to feel overwhelmed or like you are not getting where you want to go, check up on your action. Does what you do every day (or week) align with what you want to accomplish? If not, figure out why, adjust your action or your goals to fit your circumstance and then get at it! Action is motion. Do.

But don’t forget to be.

Writers need imagination time; play dates for creativity and a chance to look at art or birds or waterfalls. Live life in the present moment. Be inspired. Be open to new ideas. Be aware of others. Be who you are.

This week we are going to let our stories be. January 7, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that describes a moment of being. It can be practical, such as what it’s like to be a traveler on a crowded plane or a working parent trying to get breakfast served. It can be reflective, such as what it’s like to experience prejudice or a pilgrimage. It can be silly, scary or surreal.

Respond by January 13, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here.

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Being at the Creek by Charli Mills

Winnie left her pants on a granite bolder at the creek’s edge. She left her shirt, underclothes and shoes, too. Water streamed past her ankles, cold and clear as summer ale. Grainy sand and walnut-sized pebbles pressed into the soles of her feet. At thigh deep, Winnie faced the rapids that poured into this deep hole. Churning water dominated the evergreen forest like surround sound. Without going deeper she simply sank to her knees and bobbed on the balls of her feet. Cold squeezed her chest, lapped at her neck. She balanced. Arms spread wide, she watched the current.

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Next week, look for a few cosmetic changes and additions to Carrot Ranch. Surprises are coming for the Rough Writers and time to put on your thinking caps, dream bonnets or lucky pajamas because we are going to collaborate. On what? That is for the group to decide!

December 31: Flash Fiction Challenge

Carrot Ranch Flash FictionThe beauty outside my window is almost incomprehensible. White snow, chandelier ice cycles, blue sky. Colors that the Rocky Mountains flaunt so well that if the expanse were a celebrity, he’d grace the cover of People Magazine as the World’s Most Handsome Man. It’s a Frank Sinatra kind of beautiful day that boldly sings, “I did it my way.”

And I can end my year on that note. I did it my way.

Last week writers tackled visions. From the grand to the practical, from the remembered to the hopeful, a vision is what guides us. We hold it in our imagination and often refer to it as our dream. In business, we say that a vision is an organization’s north star. It guides growth and transition. Goals are therefore the tools by which we orientate to that north star.

I’ll readily admit that I’m a pantser as a writer (meaning, I prefer to write by the seat of my pants). Pantsers can be found in other businesses, too: the baker who loves to make cookies; the jeweler who collects his own stones from the beach; the pilot who lives to soar above the earth. People who are passionate about what they do aren’t always successful at it for a living.

The baker may shy away from dealing with people and neglect the front-end of her business. The jeweler may not know how to sell his beautiful beach-found jewelry. The pilot might not make enough money to keep his plane in the air. The writer might have a vision of finished books, but have no idea how to shape the stories into a book.

Goals can help.

I’m not talking about a planning process formulated by corporate drones and followed like doctrine. I’m talking about looking at your vision in a practical way and creating steps to get you closer to actualizing what it is you can imagine. Goals can be invigorating, and even pansters can plan.

Consider FAST goals. FAST: flexible, actionable, sound and timely. Start with your vision, that big dream. Like a good story it needs to be fully detailed. Last week I wrote a flash fiction that was a partial glimpse at my own vision. It included turquoise boots that said, “You’ve arrived, Writer.” But the turquoise boots are not a goal. Publishing a book is.

To make my book publishing a FAST goal, I would detail it like this:

  1. Publish my finished manuscript by first securing and agent or publisher; if not, then seeking a small press or considering independent publishing (flexible).
  2. Create an action plan that includes querying agents or publishers; seeking industry feedback; redirecting the process in light of feedback (actionable).
  3. Learn as much as possible about publishing options and what readers are interested in reading in an over-saturated market (sound).
  4. Give the query process a six-month try before considering other options, including a possible revision (timely).

What’s important is that writer’s goals be flexibility because there are cumbersome factors in this industry. Rewrites, feedback, queries, rejections and enough indie options to boggle the mind of mathematician. A goal is going to require action. I’m not going to wake up one morning and find that a magic goose laid a golden book on my desk. I have to work my goal. And it has to be sound in the sense that it doesn’t bore or overwhelm me. I know what all else is at stake in my life so I’ll make the goal fit who I am as a writer and what my circumstances are. Time is sometimes a guess. I always think it will take less time than it actually does, but still, it’s necessary to set deadlines or else it may stay in limbo as year after year passes by me (and my goal).

As trite as New Year’s resolutions are, it’s good to set goals when it feels like the right time to refresh. And maybe this is not the right time for you. For example, you might be a teacher and that fresh start is when the school-year ends. Or perhaps the rhythms of your personal life don’t jive with the turning of the New Year. That’s fine. But do try to find time to reflect annually, adjust and carry on with what it is you want to achieve as a writer.

Of course, you can have multiple goals. I certainly do! If you have more than five, pull back on the reins and take stock of which goals are most important. Too many goals can compete for your time and energy. Take a holistic look at how writing fits into your life, too. One of my goals is to make enough income from writing (business and freelancing) in order to work on my novel writing. Because I work at home, I also include a personal fitness goal to walk, get sunshine and talk to people face-to-face.

So where does planning goals lead us this week? To the mysterious (or otherwise) staircase. We have to take steps on our writer’s journey, so let’s consider stairs and where they lead.

December 31, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about steps, stairs or a staircase. Where do they lead? Who is walking or avoiding them? Are they clearly defined or ancient? Why are theses steps important? Lead us on a 99 word discovery!

Respond by January 6, 2015 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here.

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The Ascent by Charli Mills

Nothing was going right. The driveshaft that fell off Elvin’s 1991 Ford spiked the grill of the Prius behind him. He let his insurance lapse the week before because he got laid off from the mill. His girlfriend left for Seattle and the coyotes ate his cat. Elvin sucked air and examined the smooth quartzite wall before him. He began to see steps, some no bigger than toe-holds. In his mind he mapped the perfect ascent and in no time he reached to summit that overlooked Lake Pond Oreille. Now if only he could find the steps in life.

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Climbing (91)