• Writing & Reading Goals 2020: 50-Yard Line

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 38 comments

    Discussion questions: Are you on pace to hit the 2020 writing and reading goals you laid out at the beginning of the year? In what ways has the COVID-19 situation affected, or even altered, your goals and your approach? What’s your plan for the rest of the year, reading- and writing-wise? What are the biggest roadblocks in your way? Let’s discuss in the comments.


    So here’s a weird thing. When I last did a 2020 reading & writing goals check-in, I said we were one-fourth of the way through the year. I published that post on March 7, barely over two months into the new year. Call it a brain fart, thinking that 3-7-20 means three months have passed.

    Since then, time has moved in bizarre ways. Remember March 7? The four months that have passed feel like four years, and by years I mean decades.

    In what ways has COVID-19 affected, even altered, the writing and reading goals you set at the beginning of the year?

    And if it hasn’t, are you on pace?

    Are you happy with the amount and quality of your writing so far this year? With your reading?

    What are the biggest roadblocks you’ve faced?

    Let’s talk about it in the comments. Tell me about your goals, tell me how you’re doing with them, and tell me about your plan for the next six months.


    Just to keep me honest, here’s what I wrote out as my own goals, and my progress:

    “In 2020, I want to get better as a writer.”

    I feel like I’ve improved. That doesn’t mean I’m not hard on myself.


    “I want to find a way to be more dedicated to writing without holding myself to unrealistic standards.”

    I guess I’m doing that, despite a long layoff during the worst of the lockdown situation here in NYC.

    The biggest step I’ve taken is hiring one of our wonderful coaches, Tom Andes. We’ve met twice, and I’m writing more than I have all year.


    “I want to publish fiction in 2020.”

    I haven’t submitted anything yet, but I feel like I’m closing in on it. That obviously doesn’t mean I’ll publish something in 2020. Probably I should’ve said something more like “I want to submit fiction in 2020.”


    “I want to help keep my writing group together.”

    I haven’t done this. COVID-19 derailed us, for obvious reasons. But I did nothing to keep us together. Our moderator did — he corralled the group into a Zoom meeting two weeks ago. Or… most of the group. I did not join.


    “For reading, I want to knock off a few more titles from the Modern Library’s top 100 list.”

    I’ve done this, sort of. I read William Kennedy’s Ironweed, which is excellent. I also finished rereads of Under the Volcano and Slaughterhouse-Five. But do rereads count? It probably doesn’t keep with the spirit of the goal.

    I started Animal Farm a few weeks ago, and although I got derailed, I liked it, and will probably return. I also have Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop near to hand, so that may be next.


    “Though as usual, my main reading goal is to find new books that inspire and move me.”

    I haven’t done well with this one. The closest I’ve come is Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, which has some beautiful moments.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2020 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. If you have a manuscript that’s ready for some editorial care, check out our various critiquing, editorial, and proofing servicesJoin our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    Barbara Mealer

    I’m still working on editing my books and getting into a ‘routine’ of where to start and the process. I’m getting there but it’s difficult at best. What I”m enjoying is the different outlook I have on the manuscript, the characters and how everything fits together. I’ve started writing a new novel and I’m going through the one I want to publish this year one more time, to hopefully catch all the niggling little things from a couple of revisions then I’m pushing it out the door into the world.

    Barbara Mealer

    Because I didn’t understand how to edit, I did a lot of tinkering with my first couple of books What I needed was to learn a ‘routine’ or pattern to follow to hit everything I needed to do in editing a book so I do the same thing all the time and don’t skip over something important like leaving out a necessary scene. With what I’m doing now, I’m putting the books into the Story Grid so I can see the over patterns of the book and where I fail to have all requirements for a good story. I will… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    I have the book and I did my own in Excel. Doesn’t look as neat as his but I understand it. I like the text wrap so I don’t use the individual lines like he does, but the fools scrap is good when developing an idea and the grid when editing to make sure you have all the parts.

    John Liebling

    I can see myself getting derailed if my goals are to come up with creative ideas for a new book. So many emotional distractions in the world today. Most often reality kicks fantasy’s butt. However, I am highly motivated to correct weakness in my writing, drastically reduced the word count, and finally have a handle on which chapters and portions of chapters which need to be deleted. That is something I was unable to do, as recent as 2018 or 2019. And why am I so focused? I am determined to get all of this done, by fall 2020, and… Read more »

    John Liebling

    Combination of both. Took a UCLA extension course, of coarse, it was coarse, I prefer on campus, face to face human contact, these days everything is virtual instruction. Because of that class, I spent some time outlining, and writing about forty pages of my new novel ideas. Took a small break from editing my first novel. Editing non-stop, and my brain grows weary. Now I am pushing forward, and making better head way, on that difficult word count.


    Working on three writing projects at once. Possibly not a good idea, but so it goes. 1) the long story (can’t remember what that other word is that we call those) 2) What will hopefully be a serial sorta superheroine/supercanine story 3) children’s narrative poem. Reading Bernd Heinrich The Mind of A Raven–ooh wow, he’s good (nature writer, not fiction)– because ravens traveled with Odin and he figures in WISP (work in slow progress) #2. In the meantime, Lift Every Voice and Sing is drowning out some nasty rockets. (Lift every pen and write if the song moves you.)

    Elissa Malcohn

    Long stories shorter than novels can be novelettes or novellas. Here’s a sample guide: https://owlcation.com/humanities/Difference-Between-A-Short-Story-Novelette-Novella-And-A-Novel


    Thanks, Elissa, but I was actually kidding because David D. and I had joked about being self-conscious about saying we were writing a novel. It is a no… onev…olive? novel. I’m writing a novel.


    I still say it’s the dragging of the vowels, which is, apparently a Milwaukee thing–I got it pointed out to me many times when I went to college and had roommates from Cleveland and New York. Try practicing this: ShaNaNa ShaNaNa ShaNaNa ShaNaNa-vel (don’t say navel as in umbilicus) Also since novel starts with a “no”, try thinking “yes” while you’re saying it. Or practice it while standing on your head.

    Elissa Malcohn

    LOL. (Laaaahl.) Thanks for the clarification! Made me think of a laugh my parents and I once got over a musical score misspelling: “Navel March.” We called it “Pipik March.”


    “Plagiarism is basic to all culture.” Pete Seeger (however, I reserve all movie rights.)


    That one went over my head.


    PS: I think this is how I am currently dealing with the pandemic and the writing anti-muses: “The Audacity of Hope”, and here is a copy of the painting by that name–wounded earth plucking her last harp string–(or me on a humid day): https://smhttp-ssl-48028.nexcesscdn.net/pub/media/amasty/webp/catalog/product/cache/c1df526b3b165a91683eb1a587adeea3/1/9/192775_ww624_hh800_jpg.webp

    Elissa Malcohn

    Fabulous painting. Thanks for sharing this. I was unfamiliar with it so I did a web search. According to Alastair Sooke’s article in The Telegraph (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3563194/Barack-Obamas-favourite-painting.html), “Hope” by George Frederic Watts inspired not only Obama. “Nelson Mandela kept a reproduction on his wall while he was imprisoned on Robben Island.” It’s perfect for these times as well.


    Thank you! I’d known that that was the source of Obama’s book, but I hadn’t known about Mandela.


    PS, and thanks for clarifying the name of the painting. I remember now that Obama named his book The Audacity of Hope after the title of a sermon he’d heard.


    The “pandemic” event has greatly impacted my writing mostly by depressing my morale. Many days, I feel like Winston Smith. Even so, I’ve managed to make progress on my novel, which is my main goal. I want to reach a point where the manuscript is suitable for pro evaluation. I’m nearly there. I’m thinking two or three weeks of tweaking. I have had three beta readers provide evals and, of course, my writers group. So I’m pretty much on track with that. I’ve done enough eval on my Lost Horizon project to decide to shelve it for now. It needs to… Read more »


    We’ll see. I have my angsts. The tag line in the newsletter about the YB pod, I copied from Pod Bean. It was great, but I think probably Aaron deserves that credit.

    david lemke

    “0”, well nearly, as far as writing goes. Even my Quora writing has dropped off. I’ve been doing some reading. According to my Goodreads challenge, I’m at 15 out of 50, better than the last couple of years. Been doing some work in the garage; electrical, organizing, some work in the yard, putting in steps which is turning into a massive project, and now that I got my lawnmower running after 3 weeks waiting for parts, I can cut my lawn salad which is over grown and over 2 feet tall. Either my political and coronavirus obsession has waned or… Read more »

    Hans De Léo

    Well, I have to say that my reading fell behind, not because of COVID, but because of working extra hours. That’s over, and my reading is almost back to being on pace. Writing is a different story. I’m putting in a lot more descriptions than before, and that takes time for me. Or maybe I’m just being more thoughtful about what I’m writing. Either way, completing this manuscript probably won’t occur this year.

    Elissa Malcohn

    Reading, pro writing/editing, and creative writing are on goal, mainly because my goals are not ambitious. I’ve read 38 books so far this year and am currently reading two: one by myself and one that I’m reading aloud to my partner (who is interested in that one, but not in the other book). I mainly reach for what looks interesting to me. (David, I loved Night Boat to Tangier; thanks for the recommendation. What a gorgeous buildup of layers that was.) Thank goodness for Overdrive, Internet Archive, etc.   Pro writing/editing have seen only cosmetic disruptions from COVID-19. Part of my work involves transcribing, and given… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    1. Yep, two days’ worth. I’d try to get back on track as soon as I could. Ideally, there would be a gap of some hours between the installments to leave time for processing.
    2. Oh, that’s a hard choice! There are several that really stick with me, including a couple of book series. Even discounting them because they’re multiples still makes the choosing hard. So I’ll settle on … Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter.

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