From Dreams to Goals to Reality

by Sarah Sundin, @sarahsundin

By nature, writers are dreamers. But turning dreams to reality requires more than resolve. To meet deadlines and maintain a professional reputation, we need to reflect, set goals, and track our progress.

Let’s look at some ways we can make 2018 a great writing year.

Reflect and Evaluate

Before setting goals for 2018, think through what you did in 2017. If you already track your goals, this is easy to do. What did you hope to accomplish? Did you do so? If not, why not? Did personal crises knock you off course? Were your goals too lofty? Or could you have used your time better?

Make Yearly Dreams

The grand picture is the place for dreaming. What do you hope to do in 2018?

  • Writing: Do you want to finally finish that first novel? Complete three novels and a novella?
  • Publicity: Would you like to upgrade your website, increase your involvement on social media, or start an email newsletter?
  • Queries & Proposals: Is it time to write a proposal for a new project? Query agents? Pitch to editors at a conference?
  • Learning: What conferences would you like to attend? What areas do you want to develop? Perhaps you’d like to learn more about crafting intriguing characters, or writing sparkling dialogue, or how to best use Pinterest, or how to write a gripping query letter.

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  • Organization: Ugh. But maybe this is the year to finally tackle that pile o’ papers on your desk, to organize your research materials, or to file your documents so you can find them quickly.

Break It Down

As we all know, resolving to lose twenty pounds in the next year doesn’t do a thing unless we set smaller, specific goals—reduce portion size, cook more from scratch, visit the gym three times a week, etc. It’s the same for writing goals.

A goal chart can be very useful. I make a simple table in Word or Excel and enter all my goals and assignments over the next few years, broken down by month. This visual reminder helps me schedule a reasonable amount of work while staying on track.

The table has columns for types of projects—novel writing (including outlining and editing), publisher assignments (edits, title questionnaires, catalog copy), articles and interviews, and publicity (newsletter, website updates, speaking events, etc.). You can add or subtract columns to meet your personal needs.

Assign smaller projects to a month. Whenever I receive a new assignment, I enter it in my goal chart to make sure it gets done before the deadline. I also schedule recurring tasks, like website updates and newsletters, so they don’t fall through the cracks.

For big projects, like novels, break them down into smaller monthly goals, such as a number of chapters or a word count goal. Schedule time for research, pre-writing (for us outliners), and editing.

Don’t forget to leave room for “life”—like vacations and conferences. And leave wiggle room so you don’t get completely derailed by unexpected events—either sad or happy.

Track It

Hang your goal chart where you can see it. Check off projects as you complete them—I like using different colored highlighters because they’re pretty and make me happy. Not only is it satisfying to check things off, but it helps you see if you’re keeping up or falling behind.

At the beginning of each month, update the chart, scooting incomplete tasks to later months. This helps you spot problems before they become critical. And at the beginning of each week or each day, decide which items you’ll work on to stay on track.

With a bit of reflection and planning, you can make 2018 a brilliant year!

The Sea Before Us

In 1944, American naval officer Lt. Wyatt Paxton arrives in London to prepare for the Allied invasion of France. He works closely with Dorothy Fairfax, a “Wren” in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, who pieces together reconnaissance photographs with thousands of holiday snapshots of France—including those of her family’s summer home—in order to create accurate maps of Normandy. Maps that Wyatt turns into naval bombardment plans for D-day.

As the two spend concentrated time together in the pressure cooker of war, their deepening friendship threatens to turn into something more. But both of them have too much to lose to give in to love . . .

Sarah Sundin is the author of ten historical novels, including The Sea Before Us. Her novels When Tides Turn and Through Waters Deep were named to Booklist’s “101 Best Romance Novels of the Last 10 Years,” and Through Waters Deep was a finalist for the 2016 Carol Award and won the INSPY Award.A mother of three, Sarah lives in California, works on-call as a hospital pharmacist, and teaches Sunday school. She also enjoys speaking for church, community, and writers’ groups.Please visit her at

Four things I Learned from a Writing Retreat

By Patty Smith Hall, @pattywrites

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending my first writing retreat. For those of you who aren’t sure what that is exactly, it’s a chance to get away with other writers for a short period of time and simply write without the concerns of home and job.

But it’s more than that. During my week at the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I learned so much, it was almost like a mini writing conference! Here are four things I learned from my retreat:

  • 1 – Be Prepared

One of the great things about a writing retreat is actually getting to write! No dirty clothes calling to you from the laundry room, no boss peeking over your shoulder wondering what you’re doing. You just get to write!

But if you don’t know what you’re going to work on, you can waste valuable time. Before each of us left home, we’d each made our goals for the week and set our writing schedule. Some of us planned to get down as many words as possible, some did edits while still others needed to brainstorm scenes. The great thing about planning is we could lay out our goals to each other. For a week, we had live-in accountability partners to cheer and encourage when needed!

Being prepared also means bring those things that make your writing day easier. Need your office chair to be comfortable? Throw it in the back of your SUV! Can’t write without your favorite coffee cup? Pack it in your suitcase! This week is about getting down words, and if you need your Keurig to do that, then do it!

  • 2 – Be Ready to Learn

I’m ashamed to admit it but I’m the world’s most unorganized writer. It’s not unusual to find little piles of books, articles and notebooks laying around our family room on end tables or the floor. The worst part is digging through material takes away from the time I could be blogging or marketing my books.

When I noticed that one of my housemates had a whiz-bang way of organizing her materials, I asked if she could show me more. For the next hour, she walked me through her system, even sending me templates to use that would make my writing go faster. Just a week later, I can tell a huge difference!

But that wasn’t the only thing I learned. Because we had such a wide variety of experience in our group, we shared about writing programs (I’m finally sold on Scrivener! And OneNote—WOW!) and marketing tools that work over dinner or during a break in writing. And because we were together for a week, we could get together one-on-one and talk about what works and doesn’t work, be it in our stories or our writing world, then brainstorm ideas to fix the problem.

  • 3- Be Aware of Other’s Writing Styles

We had two distant groups in our house—the early morning crowd and those who wrote late into the night. The early morning group was generally up by seven and at their computers by eight. It wasn’t unusual that these guys were half-way through their word count by the time the night owls came out of their rooms.

Same thing goes for the night crew. There were many nights I’d peek out of my room to find one of the girls working out in the living room. These differences are reminders of how uniquely and wonderfully made we are. Be respectful of these differences and remember—just because someone goes to bed at nine doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It just means they’ve got to be up at seven to go to work!

  • 4 – Be Open-minded to New Ideas

One of the things I loved about the retreat was the location itself. The Outer Banks plays a part in the next book I’m writing so I had the chance to visit various areas where scenes might take place. But the more I learned about its rich history(did you know there’s a British cemetery there?)the more I found myself brainstorming ideas for other books that could be set there.

So get out and explore for a little while each day. Visit the nearby towns and villages. Talk to the locals. Tell them you’re a writer. You’ll be surprised what you might learn or who might be interested in helping you. I met a lovely lady who owned a small independent bookstore in a village not far from where we stayed who offered to host a book signing for me. A local historian gave me a list of names of people who might be helpful with the research on my next book. Put yourself out there. If you don’t feel comfortable going on your own, see if one of your housemates will go with you. Just think of all the brainstorming you can do in the car on your way!

By the end of the week, everyone had signed up for next year’s retreat. We’d worked, made friends, even been silly at times(ask me about the Russian in the Sound.)I’d barely pulled out of the driveway before I was looking forward to next October!

Seven Brides for Seven Mail-Order Husbands Romance Collection

Seven women seek husbands to help them rebuild a Kansas town.

Meet seven of Turtle Springs, Kansas’, finest women who are determined to revive their small town after the War Between the States took most of its men. . .and didn’t return them. The ladies decide to advertise for husbands and devise a plan for weeding out the riff raff. But how can they make the best practical choices when their hearts cry out to be loved?

Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published, award-winning author with Love Inspired Historical/Heartsong and currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. She currently lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her next release, New Hope Sweethearts will
be available in July on Amazon.

Four Mistakes New Writers Make

By Patty Smith Hall, @pattywrites

Recently, a group of writers sat around a kitchen, talking about all the mistakes they’d made in their journey to publication over the years. Some were outdated—one author had an agent track her down when she forgot to send a self-addressed, stamped envelope, but others were a common thread though most of our writing careers.

Here are the four most common mistakes writers make:

1 – Writing the same book over and over.

When I started writing my first book, I loved the idea so much, I was certain publishers would be lining up for the opportunity to buy it. Only that didn’t happen. Instead of putting that manuscript in a desk drawer and moving on, I reworked it into a romantic suspense which didn’t fare much better. I tinkered with it, changing a POV, adding a plot thread, sure that my next finished version would be THE ONE.

Only, it wasn’t.

I wasted eight frustrating years on that book(though in all honesty, I learned quite a bit about writing from the experience.) Know when it’s time to move to the next project.

2 – Finish the book.

I heard another author say that one percent of people think they’ve got a book in them; out of that number, one percent will start it; out of that number, one percent will finish; out of that number, one percent will send it to a publisher; and out of that number, one percent will actually be published. Those are staggering odds, but they don’t matter much if you don’t finish the book. During our round table talk, most of us confessed to having unfinished books saved to our computers; some had more than five; a couple of people had over ten! No one can expect to get published without a completed manuscript. There’s a line in the movie, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves that says it all—“Finish what you started, brother!”

3 – Watch what you say online.

All of us has seen it, that one person who gets on Facebook and makes a complete idiot out of themselves, spouting off about any number of subjects. Or maybe you’re on a writing email group when someone decides to vent about an agent or editor they just received a rejection from. And you’re like Wow!

First and foremost, remember that any social media you use publicly influences readers in positive/negative ways, and should be guarded with your life. It isn’t about you—it’s about your potential reader. They don’t want to read about your political or religious leanings—they want to know about your books.

Do not under any circumstances disparage an editor or agent online. The publishing world is small enough as it is—don’t make yours smaller by venting your frustrations over a rejection.

4 – Take any correspondence from an agent/editor seriously, but remember—they’re people too.

Years ago, I sent my worked-over manuscript(see point #1) off to a large publisher who had requested it at a conference. I waited the usual eight weeks, expecting another rejection letter but quietly hoped for the best. When their answer finally arrived, I glanced over the three-page letter but didn’t understand the full gravity of the letter until years later.

You see, it wasn’t a rejection letter but an editorial letter with suggestions on how to make my story stronger! In other words, I’d filed away my opportunity to be published! Over the years, I’ve discovered I’m not the only one who’s done this. Editors/agents don’t waste time writing a personal letter about how to improve your work if they’re not interested in it!

On the flipside of this, remember that editors and agents are people too. They have bad days like the rest of us. One writer shared with me that the agent she met with at her first conference told her to stick with her day job. Now, she’s a multi-published, award-winning author with a major publishing house.

What an editor doesn’t like now may be just what she needs in six months. Take what you can use from their comments and forget the rest. That’s the earmark of a seasoned writer.

Seven Brides for Seven Mail-Order Husbands Romance Collection

Seven women seek husbands to help them rebuild a Kansas town.

Meet seven of Turtle Springs, Kansas’, finest women who are determined to revive their small town after the War Between the States took most of its men. . .and didn’t return them. The ladies decide to advertise for husbands and devise a plan for weeding out the riff raff. But how can they make the best practical choices when their hearts cry out to be loved?

Patty Smith-Hall is a multi-published, award-winning author with Love Inspired Historical/Heartsong and currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter. She currently lives in North Georgia with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Her next release, New Hope Sweethearts will
be available in July on Amazon.

The Power of Your Spiritual Arc

by Joanna Davidson Politano, @politano_joanna

“I want to be a witness for Jesus!”

That was the eager answer I received when asking another writer about her purpose in writing. I’ve heard that often among writers—everyone has a message they’re passionate about sharing in their stories, and they see novels as a vehicle for that.

The idea of “witnessing” has always terrified me, even though I was in love with the message I was supposed to share. The same held true when I started writing books. I felt so strongly about pouring truth into my novels, making the writing about more than the story itself, yet I couldn’t bear to dilute the power of the message by splicing awkward and contrived sermonettes into a story. So I asked Jesus—how does one go about weaving Your truth into stories in a way that’s authentic and meaningful?

His answer has been unfolding my entire writing life, and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned so far.

First of all, here’s the thing about “witnessing,” on or off the page. Your one and only job is to tell the truth about what you experienced. That’s it. Think about what a witness does in a courtroom—he just tells the truth, his firsthand experience. No witness is required to convince the jury of anything, to persuade the judge toward a certain verdict or feeling, or change the outcome of the trial. In the same way, writers are not meant to convince readers or to convict or change anyone’s mind. Simply be real and tell the truth, and let God handle the results. Freeing, isn’t it? Yet it isn’t easy, because it means you have to first experience God and His truths before you can attest to them on the page.

May I suggest something? If you’re struggling with your novel’s spiritual arc, if what you’ve done so far isn’t working or it simply falls flat, stop trying. Stop writing entirely for a minute. I know that sounds backwards, but it will catapult you forward in more ways than you know. Set the computer down and focus on figuring out how to live intimately with God, asking Him all your questions, pursuing Him, and talking through everything. Walk through the hard stuff with Him and work it out in your life and what you experienced with and about Jesus will naturally flow onto the page as “truth” that will be authentic and powerful. Stop writing to persuade or teach or even promote a message dear to your heart. Use your writing as a canvas to explore and discover and ponder truths of God that are endlessly deep and invite your readers to peer in at your journey afterwards. Write for your own heart and God will help it sink into the heart of others.

The truth is, it’s very possible to have a powerful spiritual thread in your novels when you integrate your art with your real life, and you fill that real life with God. Pursue God in the everyday—spend time with him, seek Him heartily, and submit to Him—then sit down and untangle your novel with Him. The result will be a tapestry of story, impact, and vibrant truth deeper and more lasting than all your hard work could have created alone. This may sound like a lot of effort with no written pages to show for it, but try it. You can keep chasing that elusive “secret” to good writing, keep working and honing and striving, or you can try something a little different, and open yourself up to the possibility of creating something that goes beyond your own imagination, your own abilities.

So really, here’s the secret—don’t worry about changing your reader’s life. Just change your own, spill that onto the page, and let God handle the rest.


The Power of Your Spiritual Arc by @politano_joanna on @NovelRocket #writing

You can chase the secret to writing or create a story that exceeds your imagination @politano_joanna @NovelRocket

Change your own life, spill that onto the page, and let God handle the rest @politano_joanna @NovelRocket #writing

Lady Jayne Disappears

When Aurelie Harcourt’s father dies in debtor’s prison, he leaves her just two things: his wealthy family, whom she has never met, and his famous pen name, Nathaniel Droll. Her new family greets her with apathy and even resentment. Only the quiet houseguest, Silas Rotherham, welcomes her company.

When Aurelie decides to complete her father’s unfinished serial novel, writing the family into the story as unflattering characters, she must keep her identity as Nathaniel Droll hidden while searching for the truth about her mother’s disappearance–and perhaps even her father’s death.

Author Joanna Davidson Politano’s stunning debut set in Victorian England will delight readers with its highly original plot, lush setting, vibrant characters, and reluctant romance.

Joanna Davidson Politano freelances for a small nonfiction publisher but spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at Connect with her on Facebook at on Twitter: or on Pinterest: