Writer, Give Yourself a First Quarter Report

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

The first quarter of 2013 is behind us. Are you satisfied that your writing is going according to your plan–your hopes–thus far? Perhaps making some early adjustments to what you’re doing will help propel you toward your writing goals this year.

Corporations and organizations generally evaluate their progress at this time. The purpose is to see if the projections that were made months ago during annual budget season appear to be realistic. If the bottom line is ahead of schedule, this is cause for pats on the back and cautious confidence. But if first-quarter reports show results are behind projections, company executives want to identify challenges and correct practices early in the year. This is a good practice for writers to apply too.

I’m referring to the challenges you may be facing with your writing that are slowing your progress. These include functional, administrative factors that shouldn’t be ignored. Writing is a left-brain/right-brain career. While corporations have their creative visionaries on one floor and their number crunchers adn marketers on another floor, authors have to navigate in both realms.

With this mindset, let’s go through a little exercise that you can further expand in more detail on your own. Decide where an adjustment or correction would help you ease frustration and enhance progress toward your publishing goals. Here are three areas to assess:

Organization and time efficiency

How many times in the past three months have you stopped writing to search for a missing file or document? Is your filing system cumbersome? Do you continue to try to write long beyond your brain’s productive limits? Here are suggested adjustments you might make:

  • It will save you days in the long run if you spend a few hours now to improve your organization of electronic and paper files. Wendy Lawton gave some helpful tips here:
  • Update your address book.
  • If you’re like me, your natural inclination is to sit at your computer and plow through a project (or chapter) until it’s completed. But I learned a long time ago that often it’s more time efficient to give your brain a short rest periodically. Step outside for some fresh air; have a refreshing snack; do a few stretching exercises.
  • Set time allotments for actual writing, social media, following industry news, and reading author and agency blogs. Don’t deviate from your schedule.
  • Start your day with prayer, thanking God for his blessings, giving him governance over your day, and asking for his guidance in what your write.

Time to Write

There’s that word again: TIME. In different seasons of life the demands on your time multiply, but there still are only 24 hours in a day. What gets squeezed out? Writing time. Here are several approaches to adjusting unrealistic expectations that will alleviate mounting frustration for the remainder of the year:

  • Make peace with realities that are out of your control. “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Your progress during these times will be in the form of a happier, more content YOU and consequently, a pleasant blessing for your loved ones and friends. And your mind will be free for creativity to flow in moments when you can write. Keep a journal handy to write down quick thoughts and inspirations.
  • If you see your writing plans for the year beginning to unravel because of unexpected changes in your life, correct your plan now. Don’t live under the dark cloud of self-imposed deadlines you know you won’t meet.
  • Ask your family to gift you with specified times during the week in which you can focus solely on your writing. Watch for special moments when you can gift them in return.

Growing in your craft

Whether you’re new to writing or you are a published author, there always is room for growth in your craft. If this has been your struggle during the first quarter, here are three suggestions:

  • Get valued feedback now from critique partners or writing groups like My Book Therapy, rather than putting it off until later in the year.
  • Stop and read a book or two that address your craft issue. I listed a number of recommended books here. The time you take away from actual writing to learn and correct problems now is the faster route toward meeting your goals for the year.
  • Don’t put off making plans to attend a writers conference this year. If at all possible, get to one. You won’t be sorry. Being in a professional environment with other writers and editors, gleaning industry information from speakers, and attending workshops can reap life-changing benefits. if attendance is out of the question this year, the next best thing is to peruse conference websites and order tapes of sessions that address your problem areas. I listed many 2013 writers conferences here.

These tips aren’t new information for many of you. But addressing them in the context of evaluating progress toward your goals for the year gives them a greater sense of urgency, don’t you think?

Have you noticed something is bogging down your progress? What do you think is your most pressing challenge to your writing goals this year? Did his exercise help you identify steps you need to take to catch up and reach your goals?


Now is a good time to assess your progress toward your writing goals for the year. Click to Tweet.

Taking time now to address problems slowing your writing progress can accelerate your productivity during the remainder of the year. Click to Tweet.

Give yourself a quarterly report. Where is there room for improvement toward your writing goals this year? Click to Tweet.



66 Responses

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  1. I recently noticed that my writing progress had been slower than usual. I decided it was because I haven’t been making time to read fiction. There is something about reading a well-written novel that keeps me motivated and helps me with the rhythm of writing fiction.

  2. Thanks for this, Mary. I needed it.

    I’m so thankful that my husband makes time for me to get away and write. We home school; our kids are 13, 11, and 4. So even when school is over, it’s quite the happening house! My husband’s a pastor, and he’s great about working from home in the afternoons so I can take over the library’s conference room and write.

    Last night he stayed home with the kiddos while I headed out to Starbucks to write. Nothing in our small town is open past seven which is why I have to suck it up and write at Starbucks. 🙂 One of the perks of spending quality time there is that I come home smelling like really good coffee. Yum!

    A couple of years ago I didn’t get this much time away to right. Our youngest hated it when anyone left, and he was a little too attached to Mommy when it came to food. Just one of those stages of life. So I’m very, very thankful now for the time I get. This book would never be where it is without the man I married.

    • Oh, ugh. To write, not right! Where’d that editor go?

    • I can relate, Sally! And I am amazed out how much time I can make to write even in this stage of life, now that my family has made it a priority with me. In December, my husband and I had our annual goal-setting meeting, and one of my five personal goals was to find more time to write (we also have three children, age 5, 3, and just-turned-1). So we found two chunks of time every week that I could use — Thursday mornings with a babysitter and Sunday afternoons when my husband takes over.

      A week later, a God-given opportunity to edit two books fell into my lap (I was an editor years ago). I jumped into action and launched a new editing business that pays enough to cover my writing time and conference expenses. Not to mention that I love editing just as much as I love writing — and everything I do to improve my editing skills also improves my writing craft!

      So, yeah, encouraging husbands are the best. 🙂

      • Very cool, Megan! I do freelance editing too. I LOVE when I’m paid to work on a really great story. Doing one right now. 🙂

        And from experience, the time you have will increase as your kids get older and get more independent. Just take the time now to train them to obey and help out, and you’ll be in great shape.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Sally, it’s wonderful to see that your dear husband is blessing you back for the season you prioritized your son’s needs over your writing.

    • Jeanne T says:

      I’m so glad you have a great husband, Sally. My guy is pretty supportive too, caring for the boys and giving me extra time to work on writing projects as well.

    • Can I borrow your hubby for a week? I promise, I’ll return him. 🙂

  3. Jill Kemerer says:

    Each month I set goals, then I break the goals into weeks and days. I’ve had to adjust a few times this year already! Since April and May are really busy for me, I put less effort into my blog to spend more time on writing. Something has to give, and I’d rather put a less exciting blog post up than sacrifice 1k on my novel.

    • Jeanne T says:

      I like this idea, Jill. Thanks for sharing it!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Setting monthly goals has definite advantages in that you can track progress in short increments and make adjustments before getting too far off schedule. Thanks for sharing the idea, Jill.

      • Jill Kemerer says:

        Thanks, Mary. I do better overall with monthly goals. Plus, I track my social media stats when I make my plan for the month. Easy!

        Meghan, quite a few bloggers have reduced their schedules to one or two days a week with good results. If you decide to reduce your schedule and you’re not happy, you can always increase it again later. Just don’t give it up! 🙂

    • Your comment, Jill, about having a less exciting blog post so that you can put 1k on a novel really spoke to me today. I’ve been evaluating and praying recently about how much time I spend blogging, and I’ve been thinking that I need to shift time away from blogging to get more writing done. I’m afraid to lose hard-earned readers, so I haven’t reduced my time yet. But something has to give soon.

    • Katya says:

      Jill, I’m just wondering, are you writing your novel on a deadline?

      The only reason why I ask is because you said “I’d rather put a less exciting blog post up than sacrifice 1k on my novel.” I’m totally with you there at heart — I’d rather be working on my novel than doing anything else!– but messy or missing blog posts actually turn off your potential readers and sometimes even agents.

      I’m in the midst of planning a blog to start building this aspect of my platform (not done with the manuscript yet) and I’m realizing that if I want to connect with potential readers and then sell them my book, they have to really really like my blog posts! So in light of that.. all of a sudden 1k of my novel does not seem as much of a sacrifice.

      Unless you’re working on a deadline 🙂

      Sorry, I just found your comment immensely interesting as I was scrolling down!

      • Jill Kemerer says:

        Katya, thanks for asking. I am not on an editor deadline, but I am on a personal deadline. I make personal deadlines for all my projects.

        I keep a three-day-a-week schedule for my blog, and I try not to miss posts. When I say “less exciting,” I mean more personal, chatty posts rather than ones I need to link and research. Last week I wrote a series on Blogging in 2013–it required a lot of time and research. This week, I wrote casual posts on things I Google and my addiction to reading.

        Even when I write “light” posts, I do a quick read-through and spell check. Yeah, a few grammar things have slipped past me at times, but that’s just me!

        I agree with you–sloppy, inconsistent blog posts do no one any favors. 🙂

  4. Jeanne T says:

    I’m not where I hoped to be. It’s been a busy first quarter in the Takenaka household. I’m finding that I need to set a timer for my online time. I have so many blogs I like to visit, and I sometimes spend more time than I should. I’m learning how to add my own blogging time into my writing time. I’m still figuring it out. 🙂

    I am reading craft books and good fiction, which is helpful. I need to figure out how to set reasonable bite-size goals for the revising process of my first ms.

    Thanks for all your tips, Mary. I need them right now to help me re-focus for my writing time.

    • Jill Kemerer says:

      Jeanne, I’ve experimented with revising methods, and I’d like to suggest something that helps me.
      Write down how long you spent revising and what you accomplished each day. Maybe you’re doing an initial read-through and taking notes–write how many pages you got through. Or you’re in a more nitty-gritty phase and you fixed a chapter. Track your progress and the time spent.

      When you finish revising, ask yourself what worked best for you. Also, add up the hours. This will help you put a realistic plan together for the next book. The whole process is less overwhelming when I look at it this way.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      You’re welcome, Jeanne. Good suggestions are being shared today. I hope some of them work well for you.

    • Larry says:

      “I’m not where I hoped to be.”

      That’s something every writer, I think, realizes during their writing journey.

      Even the best-selling authors, when they were getting “Your novel doesn’t quite fit with us right now…” forms, probably felt the same way.

      However, as writers, are we happy where we are at?

      If we can recognize that, and why (“my writing isn’t as good as it could be”, or “I don’t know how to balance writing with my duties and joys of family”, etcetera) the writer can work on those areas and where they are at can be what works for them, not against them.

  5. I feel very good about the first quarter of this year. I was able to finish the fast draft of my WIP a week before my self-imposed deadline. It wasn’t easy finding the time, though. I have to work in the evenings when my four children are snuggled in bed. I love writing at night, but there are times, at the end of a long day, when it can become a chore. To stay motivated, I had a 1,500 word goal for each day. It equals about one scene for me, and that was realistic. I’m thankful my husband and my mom are excited about my writing career. There were days I was able to write anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 because my mom volunteered to watch my three year old twins and my husband made supper, gave baths and read bedtime stories.

    Thank you for this post today, Mary. It reminds me it’s time to reorganize my goals for the next quarter of this year.

  6. The first quarter for me was very busy–and not very writing-heavy. I backed off on some of my writing goals in order to read craft books, which was definitely helpful. Still, I’m itching to make more progress than I am currently. I think the biggest reason for this was that I changed jobs in January. It takes so much of my energy during the day and I’m very tired in the evenings. It may be time to consider getting up earlier to write. I’ve also experimented with just writing a few days a week instead of trying every day…that way, I get a break and am more excited to revise/write when it’s time to do so. I’m still trying to figure out what works best for me in this time I’m in.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Lindsay, you’re in one of those seasons, but you are making wise adjustments to your expectations. When you look back on this time, you’ll not doubt see that you did make important progress during this time.

  7. The biggest thing I learned in the first quarter is that I drastically underestimated the time needed to write a proposal! I’m finished with it now and am writing the sample chapters. Writing actual content is far easier. I thought I would already be querying agents at this point, so I feel behind on my personal goals.

    I love your point about time allotment. I tend to see my writing time as a big ball of space for all writing-related activities (including reading other blogs, doing social media updates, etc.), but that needs to be broken down further. I need a concrete block of pure writing time!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Natasha, many authors will agree with you that writing their manuscript is much easier than creating the proposal. Consider it an added learning process in your career growth and adjust your goal. Perhaps you can catch up next quarter.

  8. Larry says:

    I wanted to bring my novel to market during the Spring, but the marketing plan won’t work well during the summer, so I guess Autumn it is….

  9. Mary Keeley says:

    Larry, your marketing savvy is helping you make wise adjustments to your plan. Sometimes holding off on your plan brings more productive results in the long run.

  10. I definitely need to organize my desk, Mary. But I have a self-imposed deadline coming in a couple of weeks, and I’ve been putting it off until then. As I replied to Jill, I enjoy blogging, and it certainly provides immediate feedback and encouragement, but it isn’t my end goal. It’s helped me in a lot of ways, but I have so many book ideas I’d like to work on as well. Thank you for your suggestions for a first quarter review.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Meghan, I hear you about prioritizing our priorities. It’s sometimes a tough call. But it sounds like you’ve identified your end goal. Don’t sacrifice that on the alter of the immediate.

  11. I was surprised when I took stock of things in late December that I was rather convicted about who owned my work. Was it MINE? Or God’s?
    Funny how it is that since I have given it over, He has given it back. People are popping up out of the woodwork and are contributing in ways I didn’t know possible. I got up my nerve and entered the Frasier. Then a short while later, a friend of mine from WAY back was slightly more curious than usual on Facebook when I ranted, in a humourous way, about writing a proposal. LONG story short, she is reviewing/editing the entire MS. Turns out, the girl teaches technical writing, does editing, fixes the work of clients who umm, don’t quite get the drift, and asked if she could ‘take a look’. I think a few of us know how much a review and edit of a full MS would run, and it’s a bit more than I have saved up in my allowance.
    So, instead of just waiting on my Frasier results, I’m also waiting on a review. I’d say the first quarter of 2013 is going well.

  12. What’s bogging me down? Impatience and lack of motivation. Though committed to writing one picture book a month this year, I know I’ll have to wait more than a year for an illustrator once my publisher accepts the manuscript. It’s hard to feel motivated under those circumstances. I already had six completed picture books before this year started.

    That said, things are still going fairly well. I managed to write two picture books so far and am almost done with a third. I’ve edited a few and will soon send my next submission to my publisher; just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s right now.

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Cheryl, if I’m counting accurately, you already have almost nine of your 12 picture books completed for the year. You can afford to take a little time for personal refreshment and celebrate your progress. Maybe it will help balance the frustration in having to wait so long for an illustrator. Chocolate helps too.

  13. Jillian Kent says:

    Great thouights, Mary. This is a keeper for me.


  14. Peter DeHaan says:

    I set annual writing goals but never considered a quarterly review. What a great idea! Thank you.

  15. Amanda Dykes says:

    I love that you included looking for opportunities to “gift our families back” when they’ve gifted us with time to write… a new treasure-hunt for me today. Thanks, Mary!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Amanda, maybe a little hidden surprise for each one, a family board game night with a favorite treat, an evening with each one doing whatever he or she wants to do. Ideas abound.

  16. donnie and doodle says:

    donnie was wondering – which quarter is the best time to submit a MS to an agent?

  17. Procrastinating with coffee, cookies, and a good book…work for me!

    • Mary Keeley says:

      Ooh, Jennifer, sounds like giving yourself a quarterly review would help you overcome that lurking procrastination bug. I hope the tips everyone shared today are a help.

  18. kath says:

    Thank you Mary all good advice that I can use, I have felt the year is slipping away and my goal of finishing a novel is sliding threw my fingers. Thanks will take a long hard look at my pattern and see where I can improve.

  19. Michelle Lim says:

    If my timing on getting to this post is any indicator, I am a bit behind on my quarter 4 plans, LOL. Time to reorganize and improve my productivity. Thanks the reminder.

  20. John Thiel says:

    Hi Mary, what social media do you feel works best to promote yourself?