Now is the Time to Prepare for a Productive Launch in 2014

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Christmas ads and commercials launched in earnest this past weekend. Already an alert sounded in my brain, and I could sense my anxiety level increasing. So many family traditions to prepare for, baking to be done, and festive gatherings filling the calendar on top of keeping up with the work I love. Surely it’s the same for you. Now is the time to take a timeout to create a plan for the holidays and at the same time prepare for an excellent launch into 2014. 2014_18271249-2014-future-projection-target-showing-forward-planning

My goal each year is to get the shopping for gift giving out of the way early so I can focus on the reason for the season of Thanks-giving and celebration of Christ’s birth. But there remains a multitude of meaningful things to get done. Let’s face it, we can’t do it all and do it well. Unless you are under a contractual deadline, give yourself permission to reduce your daily writing goals or set your manuscript aside as needed. It’s hard to do your best writing when important distractions are stomping around in the back of your mind.

Nevertheless, there are things you can do that don’t require the time and level of concentration you need for writing. Things that will help you to stay connected to the industry. Some of them you may have put off in favor of meeting your daily word count but are necessary for a well-organized, productive start in January. Here is my list of suggestions. Add to the list items that have helped you to prepare for when you get back to your writing life after the holidays.

Do online research for your book. Unless you’re spending the holidays in the setting of your novel, your opportunities for research will be limited. But you can use minutes here and there to research the little details that have been put aside.

Read industry and writer blogs. Bloggers may also be taking a break or re-posting older blogs, but you still can glean something from them and feel connected.

Visit publisher websites to view their list of books. You’ve probably made these visits many times, but when you aren’t in your writing mode, you might see a trend you hadn’t noticed before. Or you might find a new possibility for the comparable titles list in your proposal.

Visit agency websites to make a list of their submission guidelines. If you aren’t yet agented, this is a great time to explore agency websites in your leisure moments. Each agency has its own personality. Check back in the blog archives to get to know the agents. And record each agency’s submission guidelines for easy reference next year.

Organize your desk. I know that my clarity of mind is in direct proportion to the amount of clutter on my desk. Last year during my holiday break I organized my files, and I’ve managed to keep them orderly. During the year I switched to taking notes electronically through Evernote, which has also been a tremendous help in staying organized.

Read online book reviews on Goodreads and Library Thing. Enjoyable. Relaxing.

Check out books in your genre when you visit bookstores to purchase Christmas gifts. Is there any one of us who doesn’t love to browse a bookstore at this time of year?

Read part of a Classic or a best selling book in your genre during quiet moments. Don’t expect to finish it, but look for good craft technique and brilliant use of words. 

Visit websites and blogs of social media experts to gather tips; practice some of them. Make quick views to pick up on tips you might want to use. Take notes or bookmark the link for further reading when you have time.

Set benchmarks for your work and reasonable goals for reaching them. Remember, it’s a more important goal to make your book the best it can be than to send it out by a self-determined date.

Catch up on sleep. Nuf said.

Family, friends, and above all, Christ, are precious gifts from God. They deserve the gift of you honoring them with your undistracted time during the holidays. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us it’s okay to take a break in order to be relieved of self-imposed guilt. So here it is. Amazing, too, is how beneficial this break can be for your book when you come back to it, rested, with fresh eyes, and prepared.  

What have I missed? What end-of-year habits you have acquired that help you to prepare for a productive launch in the New Year?

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32 Comments

  • My longest-standing end-of-the-year habit is to read a book that helps me evaluate what I do versus what I should be doing.

    William Barrett’S “The Left Hand of God” is one of my perennial favorites. Set in post-WW2 China, it’s the story of how the fates of an isolated mission and an American mercenary on the run intersect – and a story of God working behind the scenes.

    (Barrett is the chap who wrote “Lilies of the Field”.)

    I think it’s important, in general, to take this time when faith and commercialism collide to ask God that He really wants of us…and to ask ourselves if we are honoring His request.

    • Andrew, we keep saying we are going to limit our gift giving within our family of four to only three gifts each … just like Jesus. Wonder if we can stick to it this year?!

      • It’s tough! We’re lucky – with 26 dogs we generally exchange a CD or DVD, all we can afford! (We run a sanctuary for unwanted pets.)

        When you can give one gift you tend to make sure it’s a good one.

        Or one that gets a laugh when unwrapped (and can be exchanged later.)

      • Twenty-six dogs! My youngest daughter and I would be in Heaven!

        And we already have one gift for each of us pushed back in my closet … our pair of new tennis shoes for the year! Ha!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      “…read a book that helps me evaluate what I do versus what I should be doing.” Great tip, Andrew. I haven’t read Barrett’s book, but I will. Love the title.

  • Completing all my “must do” deadlines before November is essential. I’ve done that! Now I can rest my mind through the holidays of what I HAVE to do. Oddly, a free schedule seems to be when ideas arrive … so I usually get my “how to” articles written during this time for the coming year.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Impressive, Shelli! A shining example of the effect a little planning and organization can have on our productivity. You’ll be able to work ahead in a relaxed atmosphere.

      Great point that a relaxed schedule frees our minds for creative ideas.

  • I agree that in the midst of the busyness we can find valuable ways to stay involved in the industry even if we aren’t upping our word count. Great suggestions!

    December is usually filled to the brim with parties (work and social), our church’s annual Christmas musical (which takes a lot of rehearsal time!), and fitting in other traditions. I like to take the week of Christmas off work and do nothing but relax or get together with friends. I find that refreshes me like nothing else…and look forward to it all year. That helps me kind of do a “reset/reboot” at the beginning of the next year.

  • Norma Horton says:

    Mary, long ago when the kids were small, we learned to “just say no” to non-essentials from mid-Thanksgiving until the end of the year. Controlling our schedule was the first step toward a peaceful, Christ-centered Christmas. That’s the best family tip I can offer: when in doubt, weed it out!

    Regarding the writing endeavor, I’m using the holidays to try to approach my work like a reader: what would trigger he or she to reach for the book at the bookstore? Or make that click with his or her mouse? Bookstores are wonderful this time of year, so I’m swinging by to watch crowds as they peruse the New Release kiosk, as well as seeing what covers trigger my “reach” instinct. I’m doing the same careful analysis of cover copy.

    And while I’m standing there, trying not to act like a creeper, it’s easy to converse with the shopper next to me, to ask them the questions I’m asking myself. What genre do you buy? What made you reach for that book? How important is that author photo? What word jumps out at you in the title? What online booksellers do you use? Do you buy based on recommendations from friends, online recommendations, or by just skimming books online or here?

    People seem happy to talk about their books and reading, especially when I explain my adventure. I am a powerful focus group of one, ensuring that I talk to a variety of customers — spread those demographics! — as I prepare for 2014.

    Then I buy a peppermint mocha as a reward for all my hard work. : )

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Excellent ideas, Norma! This time of year is a perfect opportunity to survey the increased number of shoppers in bookstores. The Christmas atmosphere lends itself to jovial conversation and willingness to respond to your author questions. And most bookstore shoppers will love to meet a local author in person. You can be sure they will remember you when your book is published.

      • Norma Horton says:

        (Then I guess it’s a good thing my books aren’t about a small mountain valley full of colorful people…)

    • Norma, your non-creeper advice for observing consumers is fantastic. I also appreciate the questions you ask. I’ll use these when I speak to a local book club after Thanksgiving. Knowing the thought processes of the readers mind is a conundrum I would love to solve.

      • Norma Horton says:

        The kids (now grown) joke about coffee-shop creepers, so I work especially hard to appear harmless. (I’m glad to know you can use the reader questions. I really enjoy doing demographic research, and hope the questions work for you.)

  • Jeanne T says:

    Mary, I love this. And I needed it. It’s been an autumn full of unexpecteds, which have seriously cut into my daily writing time. I am so far behind the goals I set for myself for this year.

    As I ponder what you’ve shared, I’m thinking I need to give myself the freedom to relax on my self-imposed deadlines and re-set for a little later. At the same time, I am going to work on my story when I can. Our family is traveling for Christmas this year, so that time will be a good time to take a break. I need to re-establish a good writing schedule and be ready for it come January when things settle down a little.

    The idea of rest is one I need to incorporate. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      You’re welcome, Jeanne. It isn’t constructive or conducive to a writer’s creativity to become discouraged over self-imposed deadlines that aren’t met due to “unexpecteds.” Those things often are God’s priorities. It’s a reminder for all of us to incorporate a little cushion in our schedule for unanticipated interruptions.

  • Wonderful tips, Mary. I particularly appreciate the suggestion of organizing my desk. This is the time of year when I select a paper calendar to use for the following year, filling in birth dates and anniversaries and inserting reminders for particular times of year. So, along with that goes clearing off the desk. A crisp, clean calendar filled with all the possibilities of a new year just can’t take up residence on a desk cluttered with the ends of last year. There’s too much stress in that juxtaposition. :)

    It’s always helpful as we plan the new year to look back on the old. What encouragement can be found in listing accomplishments from 2013? Did you finish/edit/polish a book? Enter contests? Attend conference? Begin or continue to nurture critique partnerships? Form new relationships within the industry? Write blog posts? Read craft books or books in the appropriate genre? Meet with a local group? I might just open up a new word document and make a list.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, Mary!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Two great tips. Being visual, I love your idea of the hard copy calendar, Meghan. I try to keep track of important dates on my electronic calendar, but there’s efficiency in being able to look up from your desk to see the whole month at a glance.

      So often we focus on the things we didn’t get done during the year. Your tip about looking back to see your accomplishments and ways you’ve grown–a personal pep rally of sorts–is invaluable for a positive launch into 2014.

  • What a fabulous list of end of the year things to accomplish. I’m already into blog reading and office organizing mode. I’ve also been putting things into place so that my blogging and reviewing schedule for 2014 is reduced, allowing me more time to write.

    The one thing I do each year around this time is review my entire year so far and then set goals for the upcoming year. I need that focus to make sure I accomplish the most important things on my to-do list.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Cheryl, it sounds like you already are in “the mode.” You have mentioned your desire to reduce your blogging and review schedule here before. I’m happy for you that it will happen next year. And I can see how a review of the current year is productive way to identify goals for 1014. Great idea.

  • I tend to be a list maker and goal setter. The end of the year is a time when I re-evaluate the goals and look to see if they could be improved on and then ask how I could do that for the following year.

    If there are big goals and tasks you already have in your mind and on your calendar for next year, I would encourage others to break it into measurable and manageable chunks. Using the time that you go early to piano or dance recitals or traveling time, might be a good opportunity to help chart out how you will begin your 2014 adventure!

    Life is valuable..sharing it with others and making memories with your family are the things that will still matter in 5 and 10 years. I think it is important that keeping priorities straight is the best place to start…being organized helps keep first things first so that you are running your schedule, not the other way around.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Another great tip, Marci. And I imagine as you reach those smaller chunk goals you have a feeling of accomplishment that energizes you to keep going until you finish. Who doesn’t need that encouragement.

      I love your final thought: “…being organized helps keep first things first so that you are running your schedule, not the other way around.”

  • Jaime Wright says:

    The end of the year oddly enough, is my slow time at work. So I tend to start a new manuscript in Nov/Dec, rewrite the first 10 chapts about 5 times and then by January I’m off to the races and writing like crazy. I call Nov/Dec my Build the Skeleton months. So research, bang my head against the wall, write, delete, write, slurp coffee, delete, have an epiphany and then pause for Christmas. :) Summer always seems to be my chaotic time. I know. I’m weird. :)

    But to prepare for the New Year and writing, I seek the Lord for His new verse for me for the year. The one that I’ll memorize and the one that will come back to me in the dark moments, the high moments, and the one that will sustain me. I’ve been already been blessed with mine for 2014, so I’m in full memorization mode. :)

    • Do tell us what your 2014 verse is!

      • Jaime Wright says:

        It’s a reflection on Mary when the angel told her she was to have Jesus the Messiah. Just thinking about what God will ask of me in 2014 and having a heart to be in His will and purpose. So my verse is: “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” Luke 1:38. I want to have a willing accepting heart like Mary. To ponder in my heart whatever God asks me to do. :)

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jaime, how fortunate for you that you can get such a head start on a new manuscript at this time of year. I’m cheering you on.

      Prayer should be a separate bullet point in the list we’re accumulating today. Thanks for bringing that to the fore.

  • Since my husband has a seasonal job (he’s a landscaper and works from about May 1st through December 1st), I try to hold on until the ground freezes! After he’s done working, that’s when I start to prepare for the holidays and the end of the year. It’s a lot easier shopping and prepping when he can stay home with the kids. My writing time is usually January through May (when he’s home). While I wait for that time, I am using my spare moments to do online research and brainstorm the book I’ll start in January. This is the time of year I read for pleasure too! I try to be easy on myself and not feel guilty for relaxing and enjoying the season. January will come all too soon!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Thanks Gabrielle. Another important tip to add to our list: Adapt your writing schedule to your family routine. Going with that flow reduces guilt and anxiety, especially when you know your writing time will come. Someone commented on an old post that she started writing after the children were in bed and worked until the wee hours of the morning. Her husband got up with the kids, fed them breakfast, and got them off to school on his way to work, while she slept in.

  • Wow, Mary! Your files have stayed organized for almost an entire year? I’m impressed. I’ll try to get my office tidy before the guests arrive for the party in mid December, but doubt that it will stay that way. And besides all the holiday events I have two book signings scheduled for early December. Somehow I’ll squeeze in some writing time, but don’t expect to accomplish a lot.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Janet, it’s good your writing expectations are realistic. Congratulations on your book signings. They’re part of your writing career and will keep you connected to your readers, even during this busy season.

  • Sue Harrison says:

    A great list. I don’t have anything to add, just grateful for the advice!

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