Get Your Heels in the Starting Blocks! Goal-Setting Advice for the Winter Writing Festival

The Festival starts tomorrow! The Festival starts tomorrow!!

I’m so darned excited, I could spit. Not very ladylike, but true.

One of my favorite parts of the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s Winter Writing Festival is the fact that you can set your own goals (see details here). But of course that means you need to think carefully about what your goals should be to make best use of the Festival’s awesome productivity-boosting power.

Some thoughts on setting effective Festival goals:

If you look at me now, you might not believe this, but back in junior high and high school, I ran track competitively. (I’ll pause for a moment here for a brief peal of laughter from those who know me today. Really, I used to be a skinny little muscle-ball. Seriously. I have pictures somewhere….probably buried in a pile of candy-bar wrappers. Sigh.)

Anyhow, as I think about my goals for the Writing Festival, I think about my track days. The wisdom I learned back then applies now.

1. Know which race you’re running.

Apparently, I have some weird combination of “short-twitch” and “long-twitch” muscles, so when I ran track, my coaches assigned me a wide range of races–everything from the manic kangaroo-style dash of 100-meter hurdles to the marshall-your-energy-for-the-very-long-run mind-game of cross-country.

If you went into a hurdles race with a cross-country mind-set, the other racers would cross the finish line before you made your first leap.

If you went into a cross-country race with a hurdles mind-set, you’d leave the others in the dust…for the first five minutes, and then they’d all have to jump over your prone and twitching body once you’d burned out your muscle’s short-term glycogen stores.

The RSSWWF isn’t a sprint, but it’s not a marathon either. At 50 days, it requires a bit more stamina than the month-long NaNoWriMo, but it’s still a fairly short-term and intensive commitment.

The toughest race I used to run was the 800: half a mile.  It was not-quite-a-sprint, not-quite-a-distance-race. You really had to think carefully about just how fast you could go out of the blocks, and you had to sustain that speed for two full rounds of the track.


My advice for the Festival: push yourself, but don’t kill yourself. If NaNo’s 1667 words a day is do-able but kinda exhausting for you, maybe pull back to 1200, or even 1000.  If you prefer setting an amount of time to write per day, pick a time that will pinch a little, but not make your other commitments impossible to meet. Your family / boss / pets / dirty laundry can be pushed down the priority ladder for NaNo’s 30 days, but 50 days is harder.  Would an hour a day be reasonable? Can you cut out some internet playtime or a couple of TV shows to make that possible? Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something you can hang with for seven full weeks.

If you pace yourself right, you might find that your Festival goals can be sustained long after February 29 is gone!




3. Build in some breathers!

Lots of studies have shown that the best way to build aerobic endurance is not by running constantly–it’s by running for awhile, then walking for awhile, then running again. (My track coaches built our lungs with a crueler version of this: “wind sprints,” in which you ran 50 yards at top speed, paused for about ten seconds, then ran back just as fast and kept repeating the process until your coaches felt merciful enough to let you stop. It worked, but it hurt like hell. I like the alternate running / walking thing MUCH better.)

Lots of Festival participants are including goals like “Take Saturdays off to be with family,” or “Take Tuesday and Thursday evenings off.” This isn’t cheating–it’s sound training advice! Some of you may want to write seven days a week regardless, but don’t kill yourself. A little rejuvenation can help you power up and get more done on your “on” days.


4. Depend on your teammates.

Sisterhood is powerful! The best thing about the Festival is we’re doing it as a group.

Announce your goals loud and clear on the Ruby blog tomorrow. Check in regularly on Wednesdays and let us know how you’re doing. Accountability = big motivation!

Use the writing sprints! Many participants last year found the writing sprints (held in the chat room over at to be almost magical in their power to make the words flow. We’ll have regular sprints scheduled at all sorts of times, so keep an eye out for the schedule on the Writing Festival homepage!  (You might want to make “participate in a writing sprint” one of the ways you can earn a Festival point!)

Also, check out the “Brag Blog” on the site. It’s a way you can get a little inspiration and check in on a daily basis! Of course, the more the merrier, so spread the word!! Everyone is welcome to participate!


 Get your muscles warmed up, friends! This is gonna be great!!


39 responses to “Get Your Heels in the Starting Blocks! Goal-Setting Advice for the Winter Writing Festival”

  1. Great advice, sister!

    Rita mentioned this yesterday. It takes 21 to change a habit or start a habit. I’m setting a doable new goal and sticking to it. Maybe during the 2nd half of the WWF I can up the goal even more.

    Today, I’m clearing my desk and sitting up my new file. I can never get started without the formatting being correct. OCD I know. I can’t wait for the whip to crack.

  2. Diana Layne says:

    I’m thinking carefully about this. I have so many things to do, I need to prioritize and yet many of these things seem top priority…I know I’m a Gemini (the twins) but even so, this is seeming a bit much for me. I can cut the elephant down to one bite at a time, but which bite to take first…?

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      This is actually perfect for a Gemini: you don’t HAVE to choose. Give yourself several different ways to earn points–some more challenging, some less so. Then you can pick and choose according to the nature of each individual day.

  3. Hope Ramsay says:

    First of all, Elisa, just how much time did yo spend making this post look pretty. Wow! Nice job. I’m blown away by all those athletes. I, myself, was a couch potato in high school. (Well, not really, I was one of those geeky kids in theater group who painted scenery and read plays for fun)

    Anyway, I have a feeling this year is going to be just like last. I have a book to start and one where the revisions are going to hit my desk next Monday. I discovered last year that I could not write a new book and revise an old book (and do my day job) simultaneously. It was too much. So I think I’m just going to commit to an hourly BICHOK goal. It’s so hard to measure progress when you’re in deep revisions pulling your hair out — which is exactly where I was last year at this time, and where I will be in just a few short days.

    Revisions are hell….

    • Tia Ramirez says:

      Don’t feel bad Hope, I was one of those kids as well. I dreaded PE because I had no athletic ability compared to the other kids in my class. I prefer working out at home, by myself where no one can comment on my athletic challenges lol.

    • I envy you theatre geeks!

      In my (first) high school, students had to pick between sports, theatre, dance, and cheerleading. You couldn’t do them all, or even two. They all practiced/rehearsed during the same period. Up until then, I’d happily engaged in all four, but in ninth grade, I had to pick. My big brother told me that all the cool girls played volleyball, so I (rather randomly) picked sports over everything else. (Not that it helped — I still wasn’t cool).

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I think an hour of BICHOK is a great goal. And I really do recommend joining sprints even if you’re in planning and/or revision mode. It’s a great way to stay focused and be productive no matter where in your process you are.

  4. Tia Ramirez says:

    I can’t wait to get started. To see old friends and meet the new ladies. I’ve done everything possible to make sure I’m ready and stay inspired in the darkest parts of the festival. Made a creativity board, gotten the basic knowledge of my story plotted out & the dreaded research, which in my case, is reading a bunch of novels in my genera to see what’s working and get an idea of how their written. I have to admit, my inspiration board really gets my creativity flowing, I have it propped over my desk and it’s full of things to remind me or inspire me about my WIP. So whenever I don’t feel very inspired, or I’m stuck on a particular place, I just look at the board and see what it inspires. There’s no excuse now for me to to write>:) Plus it was super fun to make (says the crafter in me haha)!

    • You’re ready, Tia. I love creativity boards. I do one for each book and you’re so right. They do help get the juices flowing when you seemed to write yourself into a corner.

      I’m so glad you’re back and looking forward to cracking the whip over your keyboard.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      So glad you’ll be with us again, Tia!!

      And it sounds like you’ve done excellent prep work for making this a super-productive 50 days!

  5. I do love a good sports analogy, and track is the perfect metaphor for the RWWF! I ran/jumped in high school and college (D3, don’t get excited). I still long for a coach shouting at my back while I’m forced to run ladders around the track.

    And you’re right — the 800m is the most grueling race (I guess marathons are hard, too, but that’s a different sport altogether). I also remember losing lots of competitors on the 300m hurdles in high school. I think they’d go out too fast and then slink away after hitting a hurdle too hard. It always seemed very strange and dishonorable that they’d just walk off the track. Why disqualify yourself? It’s better to finish a minute behind everyone else than to not finish at all.

    That is, in a way, the essence of the RWWF. Since we each get to set our own goals, we can choose whether we just want to get over that first hurdle or whether we want to run a whole 300m (or say screw the hurdles and line up for the 800m). Failure isn’t an option when you define your own success.

  6. I’m SO excited! I love your analogies, Elisa. And the pictures are so inspiring. Thanks for the morning boost. I’m going to go plot so I’m rarin’ to go tomorrow!!

  7. Yay! It let me register! What an awesome, inspiring blog Elisa. Very good point about setting REALISTIC goals. Since re-committing to my writing last may (I feel like a Writers Anonymous member “It has been 9 months since I last gave into writer’s block . . . “), I have found that the key is do *something* each day. I have to suffer through the 50 word days where just opening the MS is worthy of applause to earn the 2,000 word days where everything aligns.

    • Meant to add that even writing 500 words a day will yield close to TWO single title books or one ST book with plenty of time to deep edit or THREE category length books. Being realistic has its advantages if it keeps you BICHOK .

      • In a year I mean–not just in the Winter Challenge. But still, 500 words for 50 days = an awesome 25,000 words.

        • Elisa Beatty says:

          Awesome way to think about the power of 500 words a day, Annabeth!!

          And I love the “It’s been 9 months since I last gave in to writer’s block” line…sounds like the beginning of confession to a priest!

          Good luck in the Festival! I hope we’ll see you in the sprints!

  8. I’m pretty much committing myself to finishing the darn book by the end of the WWF. So, seeing that it’s about half written (and a mess), I’m combining drafting and revising. Some days will be deep revising, some days will be getting new words on the page. I don’t care how it gets done as long as it does. And if I can learn to put my butt in the chair and work each and every day–no excuses–I’ll consider this a major win. 🙂

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Just come up with a good broad list of ways to earn a point, and you can pick and choose as needed!

      I know you can get that book done…and everyone in the Festival will be here to help you along!

  9. Kate Parker says:

    Your pictures made me want to go out and run a mile. Since I have never run a block in my entire life, I decided this might not be a good idea if I wanted to live to see the beginning of the WWF.

    I have one story almost finished and ready to start pitching, and then another that’s a hopeless mess to work on the rest of the festival. I’m excited and ready to start. And I just might try a sprint this time.

  10. Sarah Raplee says:

    Loved the analogy! I’m looking forward to participating.

  11. Kristina Mathews says:

    I just have to say that last years RSSWWF played a big part in establishing my writing habit. Before that, I often got sidetracked and found several days would go by without me writing. Now I tend to average 1,000 words a day. Some days I go way over, last week I had a 76 word count day. But I usually don’t go more than a day without writing something. And when I do miss it, I feel it. I’ve even become more confident in asking my family for understanding (NOT PERMISSION)for my need to write every day.

  12. laurie kellogg says:

    I’m mostly in editing, revising, and polishing mode right now, so my goal is going to be a weird one. Write 1 NEW page each day in between at least 4 hours of work towards self-publication.

  13. Tiana says:

    Registered, now to figure out whether I am working on the 200,000+ word elephant from November’s NaNoWriMo, or If I want to take this time and the word sprints (which a friend introduced me to during Nano) to really get some words out there. I love Point #3 build in breathers– I don’t have to feel guilty for taking one night a week to actually cook and spend time with the family, while feeding my addiction to NCIS. Can’t wait for tomorrow!


  14. Dara says:

    Great analogy! I ran track for one year in junior high–they had me do the half-mile. It just about killed me every single time. 😛

    I want to write 1k a day (except on the day or two I take off) and my ultimate goal is to have this rough draft finished by the end of the festival! I have a few others too, which I’ll post tomorrow 🙂 I can’t wait–it was so much fun last year!

  15. Sarah Head says:

    Hi Everyone,
    I’m late getting here and hope I can make the 7:00 p.m. sprint. My goal is to do a lot on a deep rewrite of a completed manuscript and my goal is to finish five pages a day (and hope I do more).
    Good luck, ya’ll!

  16. Ruthanne Pomelee Seitz says:

    Had a problem finding where to post my goals, so I’m a little late, although I did work two hours on Monday on my latest WIP. My secondary goal for the 50 (now 48 days) is to submit a whole lot of queries to the RWA accepted agents. My primary goal is to attain my PRO status. Way overdue, since my first book has been finished for a year.

  17. […] before the Winter Writing Festival started, I wrote a post about setting your goals and found myself using lots of  track metaphors (“get your feet in the starting […]

  18. […] activities that will earn daily points. The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog has a wonderful post on getting your goals ready. My challenge right now is devoting appreciable chunks of time during the day. I’ve managed […]


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