Unlock the Muse – January 28, 2020

The final week of January is here, the fourth and final week of a month long journey in preparing to accomplish something amazing this year. We’ve reached the final stages of setting a major goal and making solid plans for achieving it.

Last week, the focus was on setting trackable milestones to mark your progress along the way. For myself, that meant writing down specific markers I intend to reach by the end of each quarter – specific word count goals and other clearly defined tasks.

This week, put your plan into motion. Let’s do this thing!

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Imagine it’s the year 1940, and you’re hiking through the Black Forest near Stuttgart, Germany. You hear a sound alerting you that you’re not alone. What’s the sound, and how do you react?

Pick another date and location if WWII Germany isn’t your thing. Focus on the sound and your reaction. This is a great exercise in suspense.

It’s play week! Here’s a roll of Rory’s Story Cubes for your happy writing inspiration. Have fun!


Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – January 21, 2020

It’s week three of our goal-setting month. I’ve made some progress, though it has been slow. Last week I challenged you to break your large goal into smaller, more manageable pieces. I did this by giving myself a task for each month of 2020 – smaller goals that will bring me closer to completing the larger one. I have an overall goal of 300,000 words which breaks down to 25,000 words per month. This is a much more manageable goal. I also assigned a specific task for each month such as character development, plot outlining and setting construction. I’ve even set aside a month for research.

Life will inevitably interfere with the best laid plans. Some things can be accounted for in advance such as family gatherings and seasonal sporting events. Other things are harder to plan for, things like illness, a broken washing machine, or even an unexpected job opportunity. My point is, make your goal plans flexible to work around life. Plan ahead where possible, but be prepared for the unexpected. And if the truly unexpected happens, it isn’t a failure to adjust your goal accordingly.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

If you were a college professor of “Life 101,” what would you teach your students?

This is your chance to instill in others the life skills you value most. Is it being prepared for the zombie apocalypse? How to achieve your 15 minutes of fame? Whatever it is, write up your syllabus and prepare your introductory lecture.

1. The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.

The word goal dates back to the 1530s, of uncertain origin, meaning the “end point of a race.” It appears once before this in a poem from early 14c, with the apparent meaning of “barrier or limit.” It is perhaps from the Old English *gal, meaning “obstacle.” The use of the word in the figurative sense of the “object of an effort,” dates back to the 1540s.
(from entymonline.com)

Setting a goal for an entire year is a marathon. It won’t be achieved quickly. But keeping the goal before you – the “end point of the race” – will help make it possible to achieve. Keep working at it, and you will reach the end! Your challenge for this week is to set up for yourself measurable milestones along the way. Don’t forget to plan a reward for yourself when you achieve each milestone!

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – January 14, 2020

Welcome back to Unlock the Muse for this, the second week of 2020. How is it that January is already half over?

Last week the focus was on choosing your goal for 2020 and writing it down. I did some serious soul-searching this past week trying to narrow down and define my goal. This process turned out to be more deeply personal than I anticipated.

But I did set my goal, and it’s a big one. I have been working on a sci-fi/fantasy novel that is shaping up to be a series. At one point, I thought it might be up to five books, though this is a constantly evolving project. My goal this year is to have a completed draft – very rough draft – of this “novel,” however long it turns out to be.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Create a story title that would grab the attention of a reader. Then, create an outline for that story.

This is a rather large prompt for what is supposed to be a simple weekly exercise. But sometimes it’s good to go big.


Goals quote

We’ve turned the dream into a goal. Now, let’s work on making it a reality! Your challenge this week is to take that large goal and break it down in to smaller goals. Don’t let the huge goal overwhelm you. Give yourself achievable steps that move you closer to your overall goal.

Happy writing!

Unlock the Muse – January 7, 2020

The beginning of a new year is a great time for setting new goals. And that is exactly what we’re going to talk about this month. Goals.

Why should we set goals? Well, goal setting allows you more control over the direction your life will go. This can be in any area of your life – parenting, business, writing. For the purposes of this blog, I will be focusing on writing goals.

Here’s your writing prompt for this week:

Time’s ticking. If you only had one more day to live, what would you do?

Make this exercise even more interesting and set a timer. Let time literally tick away as you frantically write down your end-of-life goals.

The first step in setting yourself a goal is to decide what exactly you want to accomplish. We have the whole year ahead of us. Don’t be afraid to go big. Just not too big. Your goal should be clearly defined, such as finishing a novel or obtaining an agent, instead of something like “writing more.” This last goal is simply too vague, and has no definable end point.

Your goal should also be realistic and achievable. Instead of “write every day,” perhaps try “write 1,000 words a week.” The first is almost certainly doomed to failure as life will inevitably interfere. The second is more flexible, and therefore more attainable.

Once you’ve decided what your goal will be for 2020, take time to consider why you hope to accomplish this. Determining why will help you narrow your focus and provide you with even greater motivation.

Your assignment this week is to decide what your goal will be. Challenge yourself, but keep it realistic. Write your goal down. You’re more likely to achieve your goal if you keep it in front you.

Happy writing!

Year of Clear Vision: 2020 Reading Challenge

I have decided to call 2020 the Year of Clear Vision. Seems obvious, and not very clever, I suppose. When I first had the idea, I wasn’t sure what exactly this meant for me, and so I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. The thought wouldn’t leave me, however, and I think I may have come up with a plan.

Clear vision means to me that I should have clearly defined goals I hope to accomplish in the year 2020. As this post specifically refers to my new reading challenge for 2020, I will list my clearly defined reading goals.

1. Finish reading all the books on my list of 100 books to read that I created in 2015.
In 2015 I was invited to join a group on Facebook, the premise of which was to create a list of 100 books to read before acquiring more. I filled my list with books on my overcrowded shelves, trying to focus on the ones I’d had the longest. I started out not really anticipating that I could possibly read 100 books in a year, but I was going to give it an honest try.

Well, I failed miserably at the original goal. The Facebook group in the meantime has all but disappeared. My list, on the other hand, has not. I still have 47 books on my original list that I have not read yet. As I have managed to read over 100 books each the past two years, I don’t see it as impossible to finish this list once and for all. It’s about time to move on to the next 100 unread books sitting on my shelves!

2. Complete the 2020 Popsugar Reading Challenge by December 15.
If I plan things well and don’t allow myself too much distraction, this should not be impossible. I completed the Popsugar challenge in 2018, but it took me right up to December 31. In 2019, I was behind on the reading challenge all year, and failed to complete the challenge by 3 books. That’s because I foolishly took on a second reading challenge which made it very difficult to allow for “extra” books. And that’s just no fun.

3. If I start a series, I will give myself permission to finish it.
One drawback to the yearly reading challenge is that it isn’t always possible to include an entire series in the challenge. This often means that I will read one book in a series, but be unable to continue with it if I hope to stay on target with my reading challenge. I want to have the flexibility to finish reading an entire series if the mood strikes me. Without feeling guilty about it.

4. Write the review within a week of finishing the book.
The biggest issue I’ve had this year with trying to read so many books, is I haven’t been able to keep up with writing and posting reviews. In 2020 my goal is to write and post my review within a week of finishing the book in question. With a smaller challenge, this should be very doable as I won’t feel so much pressure to immediately pick up the next book in line, without taking the time to write my thoughts about the first one.

So, there are my clearly defined reading goals for the new year. I’ve already planned my list of books I’ll read for the 2020 Popsugar reading challenge, and I’ll post that soon.

In 2019, I failed to complete my reading challenge. Because of that, I’ve really tried to keep this year’s goals simple and manageable. I overextended myself last year and it made things less fun. I’d like for this year to be more fun, while still challenging.

What are you reading in 2020? Are you participating in any reading challenges? What are your specific reading goals?

Unlock the Muse – January 1, 2019

Welcome to a new year of Unlock the Muse! A weekly post intended to help inspire and encourage writers to keep on writing. I hope you all had a fabulous holiday season and are looking forward to a wonderful new year.

This year I’ve set the goal for myself to make progress on my novel series I’m working on. I have incomplete drafts for parts one and two of the five part series. My goal is to finish both of these drafts and ideally begin work on the third.

Your writing prompt for this week is:

Document the weather. How has today’s weather affected you?

Keep a weather journal for the week. Jot down notes about how the weather affected your mood, your attitude, your actions. At the end of the week, write a few paragraphs, a story, an essay or a poem using your observations about the weather.

New this year, I will propose a theme for each month and try to tie together the weekly post under that theme. For January 2019, the theme is Refresh.

The beginning of a new year is always a good time to take stock of where you are in respect to your goals. It’s also a good time to refresh your dreams and plan ahead for the coming year. Take some time to reflect on where you are as a writer and where you hope to go this year. If you’ve fallen into a slump, or have become discouraged with your writing, give yourself a break. Allow yourself the time to refresh your dream. Remember why it is that you write.

So, reflect, refresh and return to your writing.

Happy writing!

What are your writing goals for 2019?

Reading Challenge Speed Bumps & Distractions

I haven’t finished a book from my 2018 Reading Challenge for quite a while. Consequently, I have also not posted a new book review. I haven’t quit reading, I’ve just run into a few… challenges.

Speed bumps…
Speed bumps are intended to slow traffic down. And they have the same effect on a reading challenge. They just look a little different. In this case, a speed bump looks looks a lot like an enormous book.

When I arranged my reading list for this year, I intentionally stacked my books so that the largest ones would be read first. My thought was that it would be easier to get the biggest books finished early on, and not reach the end of the year with them still looming.

As a result, I’ve ended up in the midst of my largest print book so far – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke at 846 pages – at the same time that I am working my way through my longest audio book – This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein at 20+ hours.

Clarke’s book is sort of slow and meandering, though not dull, or boring. Besides, I am not a fast reader by any stretch of the imagination, no matter how much I’d like to be. And I usually only get to listen to the Klein book during my brief 20 minute drive home from work each day.

Besides the slow read through of an enormous book, I’ve found my attention pulled away by other books. I have recently acquired a number of e-books, so I’ve been trying to work my way through the backlog. After finally reaching the end of the Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe, I went back through my e-library and started with the books I’ve had the longest.

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
Protecting Her Heart, by Chris McFarland
The Paper Magician, by Charlie N. Holgrem
Blood Sisters, edited by Paula Gruen

These were intended to be short, fun reads to keep me busy in the “in between” times, like waiting in line at the grocery store. However, I’ve found myself compelled to read them more and more, and not just in short bursts.

I also picked up Shadowplay, by Tad Williams. I started this series last year, and finally decided I didn’t want to wait any more to continue reading it. It sits on my bedside table and I read a little bit of it each night before sleeping.

Then I decided to participate in Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon and chose not to continue my current print book, but instead picked up an entirely different book – City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare. I read most of this book during the event, but couldn’t quite finish it.

So I find myself caught up in more books than is probably healthy. Worse, most of what I’m currently reading isn’t for the 2018 Reading Challenge. Up until this week, that didn’t matter since I was current, or even ahead of schedule for the Challenge.

I keep telling myself it’s only May, however. There’s still plenty of time left in the year to get past this speed bump. Now let’s see, what’s next on my e-book list…