Showing posts with label Kelly McCaughrain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kelly McCaughrain. Show all posts

Monday, 11 January 2021

The subtle art of goal setting - Kelly McCaughrain

Made some New Year’s resolutions? Failed already?

I love New Years Resolutions. I make loads, knowing I won’t keep them, just for the fun of making them. It’s like getting to reinvent yourself without the hassle of having to actually be that person.

But last year I had a bit of a revelation because I actually did NaNoWriMo (or a mini version of it) and it went well and was fun and now I’m a reformed character determined to honour NaNo in my heart and try to keep it all the year. 


It helped to have an almost completely empty diary for November and that’ll probably never happen again, but still. I’ve decided to embrace my love of planning.

To that end, I read some articles about setting goals. You can find them all here, but I’ve summarised the points I found interesting and helpful in case you’re reading this in between keeping your own jogging/writing/sourdough-baking resolutions.


Make monthly goals. This seems much more manageable than a resolution for a whole year. And if you totally fail your January goal, you get to set a new one for February instead of writing off a whole year on January 13th.

Make a plan every night for the next day. I find this really helpful. I keep a notebook on my desk and at the end of the day I make a note of what I did that day and what I plan to do tomorrow. It completely eradicates the nervous dread I feel about coming to my desk. And it doesn’t have to be complicated, it can just be ‘write the scene where…’ or ‘make some notes about X’s character’. And you don’t even have to stick to it, if you change your mind that’s fine, it’s just to get you to the desk without panicking. And it’s great to be able to look back and see how much work you’ve done this year. I think we worry that we’re not working hard enough because (much like positive vs negative feedback) we don’t notice the hours we put in as much as the hours we take off.

Keep a note of your progress and reward yourself for it. This is as much about noticing you’ve achieved something as it is about motivation.

Analyse your own goals the way you would your character’s. Is what you think you want what you really want? Is it what you need? Are you lying to yourself in some way? If this was a novel, how would this goal turn out? Are you at the end of the story where you’ve achieved wisdom and know what’s important in life? Or are you still at the beginning? (you can go mad with this. Who’s your antagonist? Your mentor/guardian character? Love interest? What’s going to happen at the midpoint!!!)

Devotion works better than discipline. Goals should be things you actually want to do, not things you think you should do. I know this is obvious but it actually came as a revelation to me. How much easier would it be to keep a goal you actually want to do! If you’re failing in your goal, maybe it’s not because you’re a weak and terrible human being, maybe it’s just because you’re not that interested in it and might be happier doing something else.

You can include goals related to other things in life. Apparently there are other things in life. E.g. fitness and hobbies and Netflix. I have millions of hobbies but it’s never occurred to me to set goals for them. Possibly because of the point above about goals being things you think you should do rather than things you want to do. If I was setting goals for my hobbies I’d be acing this resolution schizz all over the place!

Your goal can be to quit something. Like trying to achieve a goal that makes you miserable.

Don’t give yourself time to procrastinate. As Leonard Bernstein said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” It’s probably better to aim for 3 things and fail by only achieving 2, than only aim for 1 and succeed. You just have to adjust your mental attitude to failing.

Decide on consequences if you fail. And make them worse than doing the work. The writer of this one suggested writing a cheque to a politician you hate which your mate will mail if you fail your goal. That may be a little too scary for me, but you see my point. You’d work really hard on that goal.

Tiny goals and small steps are still good because they encourage good habits. It’s better in the long run to become a person who’s in the habit of writing for an hour every day, than one who wrecks herself getting through NaNo once a year and has to take December off.

Your goal can be to nurture a habit rather than produce something in particular.

Have a ‘bad day’ goal. This is something you can achieve even on bad days. E.g. 30mins of revision or getting through some admin or making notes on one scene or something. Something small that you can still do when you’re having a crap day, so you still feel like you’re working and on track. Accept that there will be days like that and plan for them as you would for the good days.

Have a long term goal but don’t set a deadline for it, just use your short term, monthly/weekly deadlines to work up to it in bite-sized chunks and don’t think beyond this month’s deadline.

Think about what success means to you (as opposed to Amazon/your publisher/your mother/your bestselling best friend).


So Happy 2021 everyone. So far it looks strikingly similar to 2020, but if we can’t improve the year we can at least improve ourselves! Happy planning!


Kelly McCaughrain is the author of the Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year,

Flying Tips for Flightless Birds

She is the Children's Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland #CWFNI

She also blogs at The Blank Page


Friday, 11 December 2020

On why it's basically a miracle I found a husband - Kelly McCaughrain

Having had a great NaNo (38K words, thank you very much), I’ve been chillaxing this week by messing about doing Myers Briggs personality tests online for my characters. As a lapsed psychology student, I love this shizz.

The Myers Briggs system divides everyone into 16 personality types based on things like introversion, extroversion, thinking, intuitive, sensing, judging etc. Then it gives you a description of that type, their strengths and weaknesses, how they typically behave in relationships, in the workplace, and as parents.

For example, I did one for myself (of course) and was told I’m an INTJ. The description informed me:

  • That INTJs are popular as fictional villains
  • That well-known INTJs include Vladimir Putin and all the worst people from Game of Thrones (but also Michelle Obama and Katniss Everdeen so that’s cool)
  • That I’m a fantastic employee unless you have the temerity to tell me to do something
  • That I'm unlikely to ever meet anyone mad enough to marry me
  • And that I’ll probably never even meet anyone else like me because this type is shared by only 0.9% of women. 

Luckily, no one (least of all me or Putin) is saying the Myers Briggs system is a psychologically valid tool. It’s been fairly widely discredited in fact. But mainly because the system was designed to test potential employees to see where they’d be best suited and it really doesn't do that very well. (Companies do still use it despite the widespread discrediting.)

And yet people love it, and they find the personality descriptions spookily accurate. I wouldn’t base any life decisions on it, but yeah, I could totally run Russia. 

And I think it’s actually really useful for working on your characters, because what it does do, is take a person’s answers to a bunch of questions and produce a summary of their personality. And it’s spookily accurate because you’ve basically given it the information, it’s only summarising what you’ve told it already. 

So if you do it for one of your characters, answering the questions based on their behaviour in your book, it won't tell you anything you didn't already know, but it does give you a little synopsis of them. Which is SO handy, because you can stick it over your desk and refer back to it while you’re writing. It’s like a shorthand, shortcut, quick-reference guide to that person and how they’ll typically behave in a variety of situations.

I have a tendency to assume my characters would do what I would do. But of course they wouldn’t. The personality descriptions can suggest behaviour you mightn’t have thought of. And in the early stages of drafting, it can be so helpful to have something to keep you grounded in that character’s personality. You don’t have to be rigid about it or make them stereotypical, but I think it does help to keep them believable.

Plus you get to spend hours procrastinating by taking tests for yourself and all your friends! Did I mention I studied psychology because I’m incredibly nosy?

You can do the free test here. Come on, what else is there to do in a locked down December?


Kelly McCaughrain is the author of the Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year,
Flying Tips for Flightless Birds

She is the Children's Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland #CWFNI

She also blogs at The Blank Page



Wednesday, 11 November 2020

News from NaNoLand - Kelly McCaughrain

This is a quick update on my writing group’s mini-NaNo, 'Goal For November.'

We all have different time commitments and we came up with all sorts of goals such as:

  • Add 30K/15K/10K to the WIP
  • Write a plot plan/synopsis/two new scenes/a short story
  • Submit to agents/publishers/journals
  • Read some inspirational books
  • Spend 4 hours a week on new stuff
  • Rewrite 5 chapters
  • Plot a sequel

And so far we’re all doing really well. We post our progress most days on Facebook and encourage each other, and I for one really feel inspired to keep going because I know I’ll have to report back. Not because anyone will shout at me (I’m the shouter, they’re all terrified), but because I know they’re all struggling away too and I feel less alone and I don’t want to let anyone down.

And it’s going great! The first few days were so bad I actually deleted more words than I wrote, and my husband helpfully suggested I rename it NaNoSloMo, but I’ve now added 10K to my WIP and I’ve actually quite enjoyed it. 

I have a real issue with editing as I go. I love editing, I hate first drafts, so I’ll do anything I can to avoid writing the next scene. But this is a slow and not very efficient process as you often spend weeks refining a scene that will eventually get cut. It’s also emotionally and creatively crippling because your inner critic in given a very prominent seat at the table and allowed to make comments. 

With NaNo, my inner critic/editor is left firmly at the door. I just have to get the words down, it doesn’t matter if they’re not great (they’re not great). And that’s actually been tremendously freeing. I’m still editing, because often I’ll get a few scenes ahead and then realise I need to change something and I’ll go back and do that, but I would never have gotten those scenes down in the first place if I’d been agonising at the sentence level over every page on the way.

So basically I am sold on NaNo. Don’t know why I never did it before. But I do like our mini version. 50K is off-putting, especially if you have a life. And it helps to have a lock-down to clear some space in your diary. And I’m not using the official site (too much procrastinatory faffery), just our Facebook group.

So how's your NaNo going? If you haven't tried it, I recommend it. Any month will do. You just need to define success for yourself, and gather some friends to cheer you on!


Kelly McCaughrain is the author of the Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year,

Flying Tips for Flightless Birds

She is the Children's Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland #CWFNI

She also blogs at The Blank Page