Planning for your Writing Goals in 2017 and Creating A Personal Writing Contract

2017goalspic
My 2017 writing goals; my contract with myself

It’s January, dear reader, so of course, my thoughts turn to new beginnings, goals, and achievables; not for my fitness regime or healthy eating plan (recovering after a brief but brutal holiday tussle) but for my writing.

If you’ve read my last few posts you’ll know that 2016 wasn’t the most conducive year for my creative endeavours, but I’ve put that behind me; I want to achieve more this year, but I had a multiple choice of things I wanted to work on, both writing itself and tangential topics such as social media, this blog, etc.

In my day job (yep, I’m not actually a money-earning writer just yet), I’m a programme manager: I deal daily with forecasts, plans, deliverables, milestones and critical paths. For some reason, I haven’t properly applied this experience and knowledge to my writing, thinking maybe that my creative muse would frown on such quotidian tools to stimulate her.

But if I’m not writing simply for the pure creative pleasure of putting stories on a page, but with a goal of completing first drafts, editing them, and one day in the not-too-distant future looking forward to seeing them published, I need a plan, just as much as those projects do at work; arguably more so, because I don’t have the luxury of the systems, tools, and resources (people!) I have access to in my day job, to get the work done. This is all on me. I can use a bad personal year as an excuse for not feeling like writing, but I can’t claim to not have the tools to plan the best use of my time, to prioritise my tasks and to break down my target into less daunting, more manageable chunks or milestones.

The good news is that I do like a spreadsheet, for example, this early post on tracking wordcount and I’m comfortable using most MS Office or equivalent packages. So the intent is there, and I have the tools to map my goals and targets; great! Now what?

What was going on with me was conflating some issues around my writing; the will to create a novel was something apart from my day job, in fact, it felt like its antithesis. I didn’t want to wear my project planning hat for my beautiful fiction writing; I trusted to my creativity to write. And it’s there, true enough, but so is real life and all the delays and distractions it brings. That’s why we have an annual plan at work, with prioritised projects, and a monthly tracker for how we are doing for each deliverable against our forecast, which is a dynamic thing and often needs to change.

This is just the same with my writing, which is seen by many as a tolerable eccentricity or hobby (maybe even by me, too?), so it loses out quite often in the daily press of stuff-that-needs-to-get-done. I needed some suggestions and guidance; cue a very timely webinar I listened to at the weekend from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Joanna is an author who is also very active blogging articles, video, and webinars about writing and creativity, publishing options and book marketing.

If you haven’t already checked it out, I urge you to have a read of the Creative Penn site, as it’s a real treasure trove of ideas, suggestions, and content to boost your writing time with tangible suggestions. For example, I got the idea to create Pinterest boards for my works in progress from Joanna; it’s a great idea and not only to publicise your writing; it aids me in visualising locations, themes and period details for my works.

The webinar I listened to was Plan To Achieve Your Creative Goals in 2017 and although honestly none of the ideas were new to me, Joanna’s simple writing goals plan really inspired me to sit down and come up with the following:

A spreadsheet for each novel-in-progress where I calculate how many words I have to write weekly to hit my first draft target date; breaking it down made it seem much more achievable and structured, and I now have a (really simple!) weekly schedule, as suggested by Joanna.

The Spreadsheet Plan, Schedule, and Tracker

Screenshots of my writing schedule for The Bondage of The Soil below. Because I enjoy using spreadsheets, all I have to manually update on this file is the number of words I’ve written in the “weekly summary” tab; this then updates the “Calculations to complete first draft” tab, thus easily giving me a simple and powerful means of visually tracking my progress, and measuring if my word count is bringing the target first draft date closer or further away.

schedule1

schedule2

schedulepic

I’ve set two of these files up, one for each of my works in progress that will be my big-rock projects this year. Which leads me onto…

The Writing Contract: Big Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand for 2017

I’m sure many of us are already aware of the Big rock, pebbles and sand analogy, that makes an important point about stuff like time management, planning, not getting overwhelmed and prioritising the big stuff (big rocks) from the medium and smaller priorities (pebbles and sand).

Joanna Penn used this analogy in the above webinar, proposing that we need a jar for our creative endeavours for the year; the big rocks being the one or two Priority One projects that you really want to progress or complete; the medium pebbles being other bits you plan to do that aren’t as important, while the sand is the smaller stuff that can wait, and should be done if there’s any time left over. When I was looking for some pictures online I found one that added another layer; water, meaning those things that just don’t matter, as they will flow into, then out of your jar of priorities. I liked these ideas and sat down to create what I call my 2017 writing contract. The picture at the top of this post is a screenshot of the first page; I created this contract as a presentation so I can print it off and always have a copy to hand. It also makes the whole thing seem more professional!

The last element for me was visualising and writing down the critical path to achieving these big rocks (you can do the same for your pebbles and sand but I want to concentrate on my big goals) -for me the critical path is very simple; to complete a first draft of one of my novels by the end of August this year I have to write so many words a week; if you scroll back up a bit you’ll see that visualised in my writing tracker and schedule, and if I stay on target that’s not a big number!

This great exercise only took me a few hours, yet it brought renewed and clarified focus to my writing goals for 2017, and the concrete things I have to do (and refrain from doing) to achieve them. Bringing some structure to the goals helps me visualise them, and provides a  powerful tool to measure my progress and keep me on track.

If you think that either of these tools would help you define and plan for your writing goals, please feel free to get in touch and I’ll be happy to send you a copy; my 2017 writing inspirational gift to you!

Margaret

Happy New Year, And May Your Creative Endeavours Ever Increase!

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Christmas 2016, New Year 2017

I’ve been working on a Christmas post for the last few weeks – I didn’t finish it off in time (waste not, want not, it’s saved in my drafts and may be recycled for Christmas 2017), but I’ve been thinking about the essence of what I was trying to say in that post.

2016 was a challenging year, it felt, for nearly everyone, and although that feeling was exacerbated by the plethora of too-soon celebrity deaths (David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Lemmy and Rick Parfitt, thank you for the music), I do think it was a year of abnormal troubles for many. I wasn’t immune, and I struggled with some fairly momentous family issues; they haven’t gone away completely, but in 2017 I look forward to a new year with hope; I also struggle with extending that hope to the wider world, but it’s vital not to give up hoping for a better world, even in the face of the awful, latest atrocity in Istanbul on that dawning day of the New Year; that’s about the only thing I concurred with the priests and the nuns at my Catholic secondary school – the loss of hope, despair, is the only sin.

Getting back to my doomed Christmas post, I can distill what I wanted to say just as well here, in a New Year post; what I miss about Christmases past, and what gives me hope for Christmases and New Year’s in the future is people, good memories, kindness and the hope that I can and will make a difference for the better in this world, through my actions and hopefully through my writing, even if only in my own local sphere.

I may miss my parents and family and friends no longer with me, or estranged for whatever reason, but I am fortunate to have many more good people around me and to be in a position to follow (if only in my own time) my passion, which is to write; I have hope, and an ambition that I will work hard to finish at least one manuscript this year, and press on to publication, and I have the ability to change the world for the better, or at least to not make it worse. For years I’ve worked hard to be green and environmentally friendly in as many ways as possible, and to spread this message, long before it had the (rightful) exposure it now does; now more than ever we need to start with ourselves, our family, our house, our neighborhood and ask, what can I do, me, myself and I, to make a positive difference?

So, dear constant reader, to wrap up this brief, slightly preachy, but well-intentioned post, I’d like to wish you all a very happy, successful and creative New Year; take care, of yourselves and each other, and lastly I look forward to enjoying more of your creative labours, some of which have brought me such joy as has lightened my darkest days of 2016.

Margaret x

A Hiatus and HPL…

HP Lovecraft, 1934
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1934

I’ve had a tumultuous couple of months, and my writing has suffered; in fact my output nose-dived to zero. I keenly feel the truth of the (probably apocryphal) Chinese curse of living through interesting times. You may note, dear reader, the lack of any posts on here since July, but my hiatus is hopefully over, and I’m able to concentrate once more on the only thing that really matters.

In the meantime I’ve kept my hand in by reading and catching up on some recommended podcast listening; I’m currently working my way through the excellent HP Podcraft.com podcast, a literary treasure trove of all things HPL, as well as some excellent readings of Lovecraft tales. And now we’re in October, what better time to read of witch-haunted Arkham and the evil cults that worshipped and called back to earth the Old Ones?

Talking of Halloween, John Xero’s 101fiction.com is open for submissions of 101 word micro fiction; the theme is “Hallowe’en or unlucky thirteen or just something dark and chilling”  – head over there if drabbles are your thing, and keep your fingers crossed for me, I’ve just submitted an HPL-inspired tale!

Although I haven’t completed any serious writing for several months, I have written down a couple of short story ideas, and the plots for Buntings and Bondage have been simmering at the back of my head, so I hope to make quite a bit of progress on both drafts before year-end.

Last but not least on this brief round-up, I haven’t neglected my editorial duties at strippedlit500 – if you haven’t already read them , please take a look at the excellent short fiction I’m proud to present in Issue 2.

Happy writing!

My Research Trip to Belfast for “And The Buntings Flew”

I’ve just returned from a  three-day break to Northern Ireland; the trip was definitely a mix of pleasure and writing research – the first thing I did after checking in at the wonderful Europa Hotel (the most bombed hotel in Europe) was to head for the Belfast Central Library Newspaper archive.

And The Buntings Flew, the novel I’m half way through writing, is based in 1970s Northern Ireland, specifically, Belfast and those of you who have read my blog posts will know that it’s at least partly autobiographical, with a  generous pinch of artistic licence.

My research at the newspaper archive bore some fruit, but this success was tinged with sadness and uncertainty; the Troubles left very few families untouched, and I now have to contemplate and investigate the new information I uncovered.

Despite any unease I felt while reading through the microfiches from 1975 and 76, they did offer, for a writer, a wonderful window on the past. I was particularly interested in the world news, and closer to home, the adverts; in 1975 the Northern Ireland government had members warning that if the UK voted to join the EEC (Common Market, and we did), that it would grow from a trade agreement to a federation of European states with a  loss of UK sovereignty, which was a very topical read!

Some of the job adverts would be illegal today; some jobs called for “men”, “Christians”, and the jobs that females could apply for often called for “girls!” Such was life in the 1970s.On the plus side, a three-course meal with entertainment could be had from as little as £1.20 per head at a selection of Belfast hotels and restaurants!

I’ll be posting some more about some of the information I found in the archive library, but for now, I just wanted to post some pictures from our trip of the wonderful places to visit in Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland (we confined ourselves to County Antrim on this trip.)

I’m also pleased to relate that I brought back lots of Thompsons Tea and vegetable roll, both Northern Irish treasures that I wrote about in my article lauding the Foods of Ulster!

Flash Fiction March 2016 Part II- “The Poke”

This is just a quick night post to proudly announce that one of my flash fiction stories has been published by Richard Hearn at Paragraph Planet, a brilliant creative writing site that has published one 75-word story every day since 2008. I’m very pleased to have my story featured as the  27th March entry!

Please check the site out, it has an archive of all 1,600 plus stories published, as well as author interviews and bios.

My story’s title is “The Poke”. and it was inspired by my childhood in Belfast, which was vividly brought back to me by the above picture, which I found when adding pins to my Pinterest board And the Buntings Flew.

Margaret

8 Foods of Ulster featured in “And The Buntings Flew”

Vegetable Roll, courtesy of McCartneys of Moira

I recently read a great article in the Guardian Food in Books series by blogger Kate at The Little Library Cafe; – you can read the latest article here.

Kate writes about the food that features in some of her favourite books, and she often recreates recipes for foods as described in such classics as To Kill A Mockingbird, The Fellowship of The Ring, and Vanity Fair.

I love this idea, and it got me thinking about the food that’s featured in the novel I am  writing, And The Buntings Flew, which is set in 1970s Belfast.The food of Northern Ireland was and still is very traditional, and may seem limited (not much pasta or rice was in evidence, and salads were sorry affairs), but Irish meat, dairy produce and vegetables are of world class quality, and food was often bought fresh from the butchers and grocers, when shopping was a little-and-often affair before the widescale introduction of supermarkets.

Below I’ve listed eight of the Northern Irish food and drinks you can read about in And The Buntings Flew, and if you find yourself in Ulster, please do try as many as you can!

Tea (Lots Of It!)

I may have mentioned this before on here: the Irish are some of the most prolific tea drinkers in the world! Wikipedia lists the Republic of Ireland at number 3, and the UK at number 5 of the highest consumers of tea per capita

Both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have their own popular tea brands, one of which is Thompson’s “Punjana”. In the 1970s, the period in Which And The Buntings Flew is set, loose leaf tea was the norm; I still think it’s more flavourful, although spitting out errant tea leaves is one of its drawbacks. One of my memories of my late father is of his never being more than a few feet from either a mug, cup, teapot, flask or bottle of strong white tea.

Punjana teapot, courtesy of punjana.com
Punjana loose leaf teapot, courtesy of Punjana.com

Ulster Fry

The BBC asked if the Ulster Fry was the best-cooked breakfast in the UK, and the answer to that is surely a resounding yes! What’s so special about a wee fry you ask? For me it’s the addition of the Potato and Soda breads, adding a range of glorious flavours and textures that toast simply can’t match. Vegetable roll is also a winning addition to the cooked breakfast, as are the wonderful Irish sausages, which usually have a higher meat content than their mainland counterparts; put them all together and you have a taste extravaganza and a meal that sets you up for the rest of the day!

Ulster Fry by The Hairy Bikers, courtesy of the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zgk7mp3
Ulster Fry by The Hairy Bikers, courtesy of the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zgk7mp3

Champ

A cheap, simple but wonderful dish celebrating the potato and made even better with flavourful Irish butter; potatoes mashed with butter and milk, with the addition of chopped spring onions, or scallions as they’re known in Northern Ireland. The scallions give the mash a real tangy kick.

Scallion and brown onion champ, courtesy of Voodoo and Sauce.com
Scallion & brown onion champ, courtesy of Voodoo and Sauce.com

 

Dulse

Dulse (Palmaria Palmata) is a strongly flavoured, salty seaweed that grows on the northern coasts of the Atlantic, including Northern Ireland. Dulse is harvested at low tide by hand during the summertime and then dried.Dulse can be found for sale in little plastic bags at markets, fairs and bars; we always bought a few bags on day trips to Ballycastle, where it is also sold at the Ould Lammas Fair in August. It is something of an acquired taste!

By Cwmhiraeth - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16824956
Dulse, by Cwmhiraeth Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16824956

Potato Bread/Farl

Another potato dish, this reminds me of Sunday evening teatimes and was often in evidence if there wasn’t much in for dinner. The main ingredient is leftover mashed potatoes mixed with plain flour, a pinch of salt and a knob of butter or a drop of buttermilk if available. Potato bread is dry fried in a pan or griddle, is quick and easy to make and is absolutely delicious. A true Ulster Fry must include both Potato bread and soda bread, at least in my family!

Soda Bread

Soda bread was created in the 19th century when locals used baking soda and buttermilk for raising agents as a substitute for yeast. Soda bread is divinely soft and fluffy, and is served either fried or sliced with butter (my preference) on its own or as part of an Ulster Fry.

Irish Soda bread, courtesy of blissfuldomesticity.com
Irish Soda bread, courtesy of blissfuldomesticity.com

Yellowman

I have happy memories of munching bagfuls of crunchy bright Yellowman on days out to the seaside, but I haven’t seen it outside Northern Ireland; it is similar in texture to the bags of honeycomb you can still buy at fairs and markets, but chewier, with a hard, rock-like “rind”.

By Wild quinine - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yellowman_honeycomb_comparison.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36019713
Yellowman, by Wild quininehttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yellowman_honeycomb_comparison.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36019713

 

Vegetable Roll

The name “vegetable roll” is a total misnomer for this sausage-like roll of fatty meat (often beef brisket and rib trimmings) seasoned with onion, carrot and celery. Vegetable roll can be served in an Ulster Fry or on its own with potatoes or champ, or with mashed carrot and swede. My wonderful late aunt always brought home a batch whenever she returned to East Belfast.

Vegetable Roll, courtesy of McCartneys of Moira
Vegetable Roll, courtesy of McCartneys of Moira

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried any or all of the above Northern Irish food favourites, or if you feature any of them in your writing?

Margaret

(With grateful thanks to the following websites and blogs)

Writing With “Norn Iron” Words & Phrases

Harland and Wolff cranes, Belfast 2009
Harland and Wolff cranes, Belfast 2009 copyright M.McGoverne

“What’s Norn Iron?” I hear some of you ask; Wikipedia defines Norn Iron as “an informal and affectionate local nickname used… to refer to Northern Ireland, derived from the pronunciation of the words “Northern Ireland” in an exaggerated Ulster accent (particularly one from the greater Belfast area). The phrase is seen as a lighthearted way to refer to Northern Ireland, based as it is on regional pronunciation.”

The Northern Irish accent is distinctive, some say unique, and is unmistakable; as such it poses a challenge to writers who need to write Northern Irish dialogue. A similar issue faces writers of broad Scots dialogue. I read Trainspotting in 1994, and was transfixed by the stories, but I was also impressed with Irvine Welsh’s use of Scottish vernacular and phonetic spelling to convey the sounds of the words as they would have been spoken by the characters.

From the inception of my novel And The Buntings Flew, which is based largely in Belfast, I planned to include as much local dialect, both street vernacular and the peculiarities of Ulster-English dialect in my story; I want to reflect the way the people who inspired the book spoke, and still speak. I also want to make the story accessible to all; I have a couple of friends who didn’t finish Trainspotting because they struggled with the language used, whch is a great pity. So I’ve decided to use the key phrases and words I recall from my own childhood in Northern Ireland, and those ones that I hear most frequently whenever I return. Hopefully I’ve captured an authentic slice of Northern Irish dialogue without overusing words that many readers may be unfamiliar with.

My use of “Norn Iron” is therefore in no way exhaustive! If you’re interested in finding out about more Norn iron words, In Your Pocket has a great introduction, with lots of very colourful and expressive phrases! 🙂

Having said that, I’d love to hear from you if you can suggest any more common words and phrases I may have overlooked. All of the phrases below are used somewhere in And The Buntings Flew; I hope you enjoy them and don’t have to refer back to this glossary too much!

Norn Iron Word/Phrase Meaning
Are you getting? Are you being helped/served?
Away in the head Stupid
Away on! You’re kidding!
Amn’t Am not (e.g. “Amn’t I? – Am I not?”
Aye Yes
Bake Mouth (from beak)
Baste Beast
Bout Ye/What About Ye How are you? Greeting
Catch yourself on! Wise up!
Chile Child
Craitur Creature
Dander A walk
Dead On Agreed, absolutely, OK, or great, perfect
Fillum Movie
Founder/ed Cold
Fry Fried breakfast (Ulster Fry)
Is that you? Are you finished/ready?
Lifted Arrested
Messages Shopping (usually for groceries)
Murdered Annoyed/stressed/pestered
Norn Iron Northern Ireland
Ould/auld Old
Peelers Police
Poke Ice cream cone
Quer A lot, very
See you? Here’s me! That’s what you think/say, but here’s my opinion
See (this thing/person/situation) An exclamation of annoyance/frustration, calling attention to something
So it is/do it does! Yes it is/yes it does
The day/The night/The morra Today/tonight/tomorrow
The dogs on the street know Something which is common knowledge
Themuns Those people
Thon That
Thonder There
Til To
Wait till I tell you I must tell you this
Wee Doll Girl, woman
Tortured See “murdered”
You Quite often in a sentence where not grammaticality required, e.g. ‘shut you your bake!
Yous/youse/yousons/yis Plural of “you”