Goals For 2014

by sarahenni on January 6, 2014

photoMan, I love the New Year. I like being able to put the events of my life in context, even if it’s the somewhat arbitrary cycle of the Gregorian calendar. This year I was excited to reflect on my reading from 2013, which I tracked better than any year of reading before. The results weren’t great, but I have some fantastic goals to work toward in 2014: reading more diversely, with more purpose.

I’ve got a couple other forward-thinking goals or contexts for the year ahead. Firstly, I continue to keep my motto for 2012 in mind, always, because it has the perennially fashionable effect of keeping me calm.

And, following the lead of the lovely Erin Bowman, I’m boiling down my hope for 2014 into one word:


I’ve set a goal (inspired by Karen Kavett’s “Don’t Break The Chain” calendar) to write 1,000 words every day this year.

Yes, that’s crazy ambitious. That’s 365,000 words. That’s just 116,103 short of The Lord Of The Rings!

But the impetus for this goal is that for most of the last two years I’ve been revising one project. As a result that project is the best thing I’ve ever written, but dear god. After all that revising, when NaNoWriMo came around this year, it felt like an oasis in the desert of the same 60,000 words I’d been tweaking for 24 months. I wrote something brand new, and it was scary, daring, wonderful, fun. I realized that I didn’t ever want to feel so distant from the raw, make-it-from-scratch feeling of drafting ever again.

So, a thousand words a day. And those 1,000 words can come from anywhere, and go into any project. A hair-brained shiny new book idea, a short story I’m intrigued by, a blog post, writing in my personal journal. Anywhere.

Words. Words, words, words.

It’s already been difficult. On Jan. 1 the pressure of this new goal drove me to write a new scene in my WiP (the one I’ve been laboring over for two years), and it was glorious. Then, Jan. 2, I freaked out and watched Silver Linings Playbook instead. I’m 50/50 on my goal and January has barely started.

But that’s okay! I have a very good idea of what motivation works for me, I know that more often than not having that goal hang over my head will work. I’ll get it done.

And by the end of 2014, I’ll have so many words. All words I was capable of writing, but at a volume I’d never challenged myself to before.

I can’t wait.

Gratuitous picture of self credit: Megan


Life at 75 MPH

by sarahenni on July 6, 2012

Recently Dr H and I hosted his grandparents here in D.C. In the car, en route to Dr H’s graduation ceremony, we were telling his grandmother (who, delightfully, goes by Ma) how much we’ve been doing lately, how busy we’ve been. We were tired and we’d be excited when the biggest events were over, we said.

She nodded, very understanding. But she imparted some casual wisdom in a Tennessee twang (as southern grandmothers are wont to do): “Don’t slow down.”

Other versions of this advice (Live for today! YOLO!) have never resonated with me that much. This came almost as a warning: Don’t slow down, don’t wish the big things were over. Don’t retreat from experiences in your own life. Live life now, and fully, and happily.

It’s been a crazy summer so far, but I’m glad for every big amazing thing, like Bestie Danielle getting married in a gorgeous vineyard ceremony (upper left picture). And even the small things like sneaking onto a little league field to have softball practice on the Fourth of July and barely dodging a storm front while floating a river. Piling laundry on the cat, trying a new recipe for mango glazed salmon. It’s all been fun. Busy, fast, relentless sometimes. But fun.

It’s tempting, but resist. Don’t slow down. (But eventually, be sure to write it all down.)


Ceremonies and Motivations

by sarahenni on June 4, 2012

Phew. I really did not mean to take that long of a break. It’s been a while, but some really exciting things have been happening ’round these parts. Like, “major life event” type things. First of all, Dr H graduated from medical school*.

This is Dr H playing the game: “Graduating med school? Or going to the Yule Ball?”

We had seven of our closest friends and family visiting so we could go to his graduation ceremony, which was incredible. The day after the last of our family flew out of town, we hopped in a car and road tripped to Kentucky, where Bestie Megan got married.

Pic taken by Jessi Arrington, designer extraordinaire (

I could not possibly be more thrilled about this marriage, and the wedding itself was an event of total, complete joy. My heart felt like this:

And her heart grew three sizes that day! (from How The Grinch Stole Christmas)

And both events—watching my ridiculously smart life partner get the honor he deserves, and seeing my best friend glow with love and pride as she walked down the aisle—are the kinds of ceremonies that serve as milestones of social human life. We crave moments like these, pit stops in the unceasing stream of life, to recognize that things have changed. The ceremony symbolizes something: these people set a goal, worked hard, and achieved it. (Marriage: Achieved! ha)

That had me thinking about rituals and rewards. (I mean, you know, I was also thinking about how much I love the people in my life. But besides that.) My writing journey so far has been a wild one. I’ve written three books, gotten this blog off the ground, joined YA Highway, gone to conferences. But some of the major celebratory events (signing with an agent, announcing a book deal) are still to be realized. Writing as a second job requires a lot, LOT, of hard work before there’s a payoff that, say, my great aunt Lenore** would be able to grasp.

So I’m going to set smaller goals, with smaller celebrations. Maybe I’ll make Dr H take me to Chevy’s when I finish this rewrite. (There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for a jumbo mango margarita.) Maybe I’ll try Jessica Spotswood’s practice of giving myself a sticker for every thousand words I achieve (I seem to remember this working really well in grade school). Whatever it takes, continue to set goals and achieve them. If you only look ahead to one ultimate goal that could take years to achieve, all motivation may soon be lost.

But when it’s time to celebrate one of those big things? Go after it. With bells on.

What about you?? What’s been happening lately? How do you celebrate writing achievements, big or small?
*Does that mean I was lying when I called him Dr H for the past three years? I would like to think I was being optimistically brief. I mean, Med Student Husband is just unwieldy.

** I totally do have a great aunt Lenore. Isn't that awesome? HI LENORE! (she's hard of hearing)


Write Like Mike

by sarahenni on December 13, 2011

Writers don’t get commercials.

Or sponsorships.

There is no championship game.

Most of the world only sees the highly-polished finish product of what we do. They don’t see the blood, sweat, and tears that go into it.

So how do you do it? How do you get yourself in front of the computer every day?

For me, some days it takes a lot of chocolate. But other days I motivate myself like a coach. I dish out the tough love. I tell myself, “Just do it.”

(Cheesy? Yes. Effective? Hell yes.)

These commercials obviously weren’t meant for writers. But Michael Jordon is 1) Awesome and 2) found success at basketball the way we find success at anything in life. He worked hard. He didn’t give up.

Also, he is awesome.

If you are feeling down on your writing and you need something to convince you to keep going, look no further. Mike may not be talking about exactly what we’re pursuing, but dude knows something about achievement. And until Stephen King secures that Gatorade contract, this is the best we got.


My Coaching Style

by sarahenni on November 2, 2011

Welcome to another Road Trip Wednesday, a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway posts a weekly writing- or reading-related question and anyone can answer it on their own blogs.

This week’s topic is based on my post for YA Highway a while back:

What kind of writing coach do you need? What kind are you?

The kind of coach I need:

Tom Colicchio (from Top Chef)

Tom is a fantastic mentor because he blends providing inspiration, coaching, and critiquing in a way that makes him easy to love and difficult to doubt. Much like the chefs that come to compete on Top Chef, I’m in no need of motivation. What I need is someone to help me hone my creative vision, encourage me to keep trying, and give me honest and straight-forward feedback.

Honestly? I can get lazy near the end of a project. I’ve worked so hard, I just want it to be DONE. That leads to cutting corners. That’s when I need the Judge’s Table Tom to give it to me straight and let me know that 90% just isn’t good enough. A little kick like that gets me fired up all over again. Thankfully I’ve found a few beta readers that manage to do that perfectly!

My coaching style:

Tim Gunn (from Project Runway)

And I’m not just saying that because I like to think of myself as dapper. When I get the opportunity to beta read for people and get involved in their creative process, I try to do two things:

  • Reflect my impression of their work honestly and fairly, keeping in mind that I am just one reader and my interpretations are not universal.
  • Take any concerns/notes/critiques I have and turn them around in a way that encourages creative thought, rather than dictate where I think the story should go. For example, if something in a story strikes me as odd, my note will read, “Why did they do this? I thought they were motivated by X to do X, yet here they do something totally different.” The hope is that I’m encouraging the writer to look at their work from a different perspective and get inspired by that, not to bend to my own creative vision.
And, like Tim Gunn, when I really believe in someone I’m not shy about being a cheerleader. I’ve been so fortunate in that most of the work I’ve beta read has been fantastic—seriously amazing stuff. As soon as the MS is out of my hands (and often even before then) I get the pom-poms (or the vuvuzelas!) out and get ready to support the writer through every next step.
What about you? What kind of coach are you? What kind of coach do you need? Have you been able to find one? Is anyone else as obviously obsessed with Bravo as I am?


Scrivener Project Targets

by sarahenni on October 17, 2011

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is around the corner, and a few weeks ago I discovered a tool in my writing program that makes achieving 50,000 words in a month seem way more reasonable. It’s the Project Targets tool in Scrivener. (If you haven’t heard of Scrivener, I encourage—nay, beg—you to check out that link. It’s the best $40 I’ve spent on basically anything ever.)  The Project Targets tool breaks down a full maniscript word count goal into daily amounts, and keeps track of what you need to add every day to meet the ultimate goal.

Here’s how to use it!

First: Select “Show Project Targets” from the Project menu.

Then you’ll see a small separate window pop up.

It will ask you to set the parameters for your target: when is the deadline for this target, how many days a week you plan on writing, and whether you want deleting a word to subtract from your word count. (Scrivener is so nice.)

When you hit OK, the window will change into two separate bar charts that will show you the overall manuscript wordcount progress (toward the ultimate word count goal) and the progress of your current writing session.

My favorite part is how the bar changes colors based on how close you are to finishing. It begins a faint red, gets bright red, then slowly shifts to green (passing through an unfortunate pukey mustard phase, as evidenced above).

When your writing session for the day has been achieved (yay!) it looks like this:

I feel like I’m always learning some new and fun feature of Scrivener. This one has been the single most helpful in motivating me to actually sit down and write. It reminds me every day that I truly only need 15, 30, or 45 minutes to reach a reasonable daily goal. That’s helpful for someone like me who is detail oriented but needs to breathe into a paper bag when confronted with the big picture. (80,000 words?! How can that EVER be done?!)
What about you? Do you find features like this helpful? Do you use Scrivener? What are some other tricks you like in Scrivener?


RTW: The Long & Winding Road

by sarahenni on October 12, 2011

Welcome to another Road Trip Wednesday, a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway posts a weekly writing- or reading-related question and anyone can answer it on their own blogs.

This Week’s Topic:

What has your writing road trip looked like so far? Excitement? Traffic Jams and detours? Where are you going next?

Well, it’s been a long and winding road thus far, but much like the picture above (source), I’ve been so distracted by the gorgeous view the whole time that I mostly noticed the backtracks, the steep hills, and the freefalls in hindsight. It hasn’t seemed too long yet, though I’ve been writing seriously for 3 years now.

I started writing in January 2009. I took two writing workshops at a writing center near my house and learned the basics the hard way, by having strangers point to my words and telling me they weren’t that good yet. (They were so right.)(Backtrack.)

I started my writing blog in February 2010 and discovered an entire online world of people writing young adult. I nervously stumbled around on Twitter until, miraculously, some of those people started replying to me. (Freefall!)

(One of the first websites I found was YA Highway. One of the first things I did on my blog was start participating in Road Trip Wednesdays. And one of the first kind souls to have a conversation with me on Twitter was Kate Hart. I sorta get teary just thinking about it.)

I finished that first book in May 2010 and immediately put it on the shelf. It was done, but it was terrible. (Backtrack.) I started writing RELIANCE over the summer, and finished that in April 2011. (Steep hill.) I queried over the summer and got lots of rejections, and a lot of amazing feedback. (Backtrack.) Then the girls in YA Highway asked if I’d be interested in joining their group blog. (Freefall!)

The WiP I’m working on now (which has thus far stubbornly refused to name itself) I started in August 2011 and I’m at 56K words. I feel better about this than anything I’ve written before, and I can’t wait to get it in good enough shape to share and try querying again. (In the middle of a steep climb, but nearing the top!)

So that’s been my journey thus far—how about you?? How has your journey been? Where is it headed?