Happier, Healthier, Simpler Writing

Is writing fiction making you happier? If not, and that’s one of the reasons you write, you may want to make a few changes.

I love writing, yet last year it started to feel like a grind. Or a day job. I decided to shift my approach to writing and life. I wanted to make life and writing simpler, happier, and healthier.

Simpler Writing 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, you may be trying to do too much at once.

Happier, Simpler, Healthier Writing As one example from my life, rather than trying to write or edit a non-fiction book while I first draft a novel, I’ve shifted so I focus on one book at a time.

Once I finish a draft or rewrite, I let it sit and work on the other book.

I meant to do that before, but often found myself switching between the two in the same day. All that did was make me feel more stressed. I didn’t finish either book any faster because my brain needed downtime.

Also, I plan to edit and release one or two more Buffy and the Art of Story books before I write another new non-fiction book. The Buffy books are based on my podcast of the same name.

It takes work to shape them into book form. But it’s less work, and far simpler, than creating a brand new book. And a lot of readers have asked for those books. So why not get those done rather than start from scratch on something different?

(Don’t worry, there will be more Writing As A Second Career books. The next one will likely be about writing fascinating exposition.)

Happier Life, Happier Writing

What do you enjoy doing? If you’re working a day-to-day job, caring for others, and writing (or 2 of those 3), you may forget what it’s like to do something just for fun.

I made a simple change for myself on that front. Each morning, I open the blinds, then write 2 pages in a journal before I do anything else. The view out my bedroom windows is an east view. While I can’t see Lake Michigan (I live about 2 miles from it in Chicago), I do see lovely parts of the skyline with the sunrise in the background.

Since I started this in January I’ve seen more sunrises than I did in the last few years. (I had a habit of leaving the blinds down until an hour or so after I got up.) I discovered each one is both beautiful and different from the day before.

And seeing the light so early puts me in a great mood.

I also I made a list of other things I enjoy and want to do more of. Some are as simple as seeing a movie at the theater. And reading more fiction for the sheer fun of it, not to study a particular genre or writing style.

Health First

If your health suffers, it’s hard to keep writing.

I started thinking more about this after I got Covid toward the end of last year.  And after I watched the Sex and the City follow up series And Just Like That.

One of the characters is younger than me, has no obvious health issues, yet is written as if they’ve got one foot in the nursing home. This shocked me. I found it vastly unrealistic based on my own life experience and that of most people I know. (I keep wondering if the writers are in their 30s and think anyone older than 40 is elderly.)

But it brought home to me how lucky I’ve been health-wise. And while not everything is in our control, there are things I can do to give myself better odds.

As a result, I ordered a food processor and two new cookbooks on whole foods and vegetarian recipes. I’m not giving up meat or cheese, as I love both. (In my view, life is barely worth living without cheese.) But I have made them a much smaller part of my weekly eating. And have been eating fewer processed foods.

As a side benefit, cooking a meal at lunch time is a great way for me to break up my day of working at home.

I also walk each day outside. (Today in the snow, though it’s nearly spring.) It elevates my mood. And I’ve seen lots of statistics on how much it helps blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar regardless of weight.

Plus, often my best fiction ideas come to me when I’m taking a walk. And if I increase my daily walking from half an hour to forty-five minutes (one of the goals I haven’t quite met yet) who knows? Maybe I’ll discover more and more great ideas for books.

That’s it for now. Hope you’re writing’s going well.

L. M. Lilly

P.S. Is one of your goals this year to write a novel? You might find my course How To Plot Your Novel: From Idea To First Draft helpful. Learn more by clicking here.

More Than Writing a/k/a Goals For The New Year

Each year around this time (it’s New Year’s Eve as I write this), I think about the different areas of my life and set goals following 3 guidelines:

  1. Aim High
  2. Be Flexible
  3. Life Is About More Than Writing

Whether or not you’re a list-maker or goal-setter, I hope my thoughts on goals will help you get excited about the coming year.

The 3 Guidelines

High goals are great because most of us rarely exceed our goals, so setting them high ensures the best results.

Also, as the above graphic (a modified quote from Robert Browning) suggests, higher goals are more inspiring and exciting. “Outline my first novel” is a lot less motivating than “Finish and publish my first novel.”

One caveat: setting all your goals too  high can lead to feeling discouraged if none of them are met.

That’s where flexibility comes in. I set a few goals that will be tough to reach and others that I’m confident I can achieve if I work hard.

I also set ranges.

So my goal might be writing  3-6 short stories in a year. That leaves me room to write fewer of them if I take on other unplanned projects or more if I get very focused on producing short pieces.

As to (3) on my list above, there’s more to life than writing, I love writing so much, it’d be easy for me to focus on nothing but.

Adding other goals reminds me that the point is not be a successful but unhappy writer, it’s to be a happy person who spends the bulk of my work time writing.

Areas Of Life

Below are the areas of life I focus on when setting goals. Feel free to borrow these or to choose your own.

  • Writing

Here I decide on my writing projects, not sales or publication goals. I’ll share my 2017 goals as an example, but I won’t do that with each category as everyone’s goals will differ.

For 2017, I aimed to:

  1. Revise and finalize the fourth and last book in my Awakening series, The Illumination
  2. Build this website as a resource for other writers
  3. Write, revise, and finalize the first book in my new mystery series

I reached (1) and (2).

As to (3), I’m on page 110 of 389 in my revisions to The Worried Man and once I’m done I’ll send it to beta readers.

I didn’t finish on schedule because I took a detour, or several, by writing nonfiction books that weren’t on my goal list. But I’m happy with those, so overall I feel pretty good about this set of goals.

If you’re writing while still working significant hours at another job, you may want to choose one major writing project, such as a first draft of novel or a non-fiction book, for the year rather than three. Or you may want to choose three smaller projects–three short stories, blog posts, or articles.

  • Writing Business

In this category, I set goals for publications, royalties, sales, and related items.

If you’re starting out, you might aim to publish your first book. If you’ve released one or two already, your goal may be to try out new advertising platforms, figure out ways to get publicity, or create or update your marketing plan.

Your goal also could  be to learn as much as you can about self-publishing or about following the traditional route of seeking an agent or publisher.

  • Your Non-Writing Profession Or Job

The goals for my day-to-day job or career evolved over time and usually dovetailed with writing.  At some points in life, my job goals were to work as little as possible so I could have time to write.

When I became a lawyer, though, I focused on developing skills and achieving “firsts” (such as first appellate argument). Later I focused on building client relationships and then building my own law firm. Still later I aimed to slow down my law practice to write more.

Your annual goals will depend on your long-term plan.

If you hope to write full time eventually or you want more time to write as you continue your current job, you might look at how you can work less and earn more at your non-writing career. If you want to keep doing both, your goals might be more focused on advancing your career and you might build more flexibility into your writing goals.

  • Other Income/Investments

Whatever your overall professional goals, having other sources of income or investments can make your life better and less stressful.

The economy, business, and the political world all change rapidly. The more ways you earn your living, the easier it will be to adjust to whatever comes next.

If you’re not sure how to do this, your goal for the year could be to read one or two books on the topic (the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series is a great start) or to read articles or talk to people who have multiple streams of income.

Also, it’s okay to start small.

Joanna Penn tells a great story about how her first affiliate income check (income from recommending a product or service) was something like $5. Now, though, she says affiliate income is a significant percentage of what she makes every year. This is a great example of starting small.

  • Relationships

There is something about setting relationship goals that seems a little too analytical. After all, relationships are about feelings and what’s in your heart, not your head.

But for most of us it can be easy to take the people around us for granted, and making a point to have better relationships helps ensure that doesn’t happen.

I find it especially helpful to set specific goals here. “Have better relationships” doesn’t give you a plan for what to do to achieve that. 

Everyone will have different goals on this front, but a few examples are visiting family or friends who are out of state several times a year, talking on the phone (rather than using only texting or social media) with a good friend regularly, or meeting someone you don’t see often enough for dinner once a month.

  • Interests/Fun

Yes, I include this on my goal list!

I started adding this category when I was working full-time and going to law school at night because for the first semester or two there was almost no time for anything else. I realized that I couldn’t continue another three years that way. Even if “Interests/Fun” only got an hour every couple weeks, it was important to make space for it.

You might include setting aside time for hobbies or sports, vacations, taking walks, seeing plays, reading, or whatever else you love that does not involve working.

  • Community

For me, contributing to the community helps me feel better about life, myself, and the world. It’s also a great way to meet positive people and to get perspective on my own challenges.

Goals here can include donating, volunteering, attending or planning fundraisers or other events, or simply learning more about different organizations you want to support in the future.

  • Health And Fitness

It’s hard to enjoy life and do our best if we’re not feeling well. Also, if you write a lot, you may start experiencing strain injuries or aches and pains associated with being at the keyboard.

That’s why I set big picture goals as well as day-to-day ones.

One of mine last year was to eat about 10% more vegetables. That goal pushed me to find a few more vegetables I could tolerate eating (asparagus and raw spinach—still can’t eat cooked spinach, no offense to Popeye). I also make a point to include some vegetables in at least two meals a day.

If you’re a vegetable-lover (I’ve heard there are such people), that may not sound like much, but it’s a big step forward for me.

Unless you’re by nature into health and exercise, it’s probably best in this category in particular to pick just a couple goals and really focus on them rather than creating a long list that quickly feels overwhelming.

What are your goals or aspirations for the coming year?

Feel free to share them in the comments or email me ([email protected]) with thoughts or questions.

Best wishes for a happy, peaceful, and productive new year!

Until Friday–

L. M. Lilly

P.S. If one of your goals this coming year is to write a novel, you might find The One-Year Novelist helpful. You can download the free template for it here if you’d like to explore before buying the book.