Writer’s Contract Part II: The Performance Review

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After posting a copy of my writer’s contract yesterday, the moment of reckoning has arrived. And why not? During my decade in the corporate world, I drafted objectives (with strategies for achieving those goals) for the year ahead. I’d also sit down with my manager for an annual performance review. My raise was tied to my success in achieving objectives set the prior year. I dreaded those reviews as much as I embraced them. While it was painful to see where I hadn’t quite hit the mark, I liked receiving feedback. Having once been a grade-driven student, my performance review was my annual report card.

As a freelance writer, external rewards and recognition are hard to come by. I guess this is why, when I publish an essay or article, I long for some of my peeps to read my words and say, “Good work, Heidi.” Because that doesn’t happen often, it’s important for me to recognize myself, to celebrate my own success–even when it amounts to having sat in my chair writing for 15 minutes on a day I commited to writing. And when I’ve spent a day submitting essays? Then, even more of a celebration of this achievement; because as hard as it is to get myself to sit down and write, it’s 100 times harder for me to send my work out into the world (so many essays remain trapped on my computer’s hard drive).

To recognize my achievements this past year, to observe where there’s room for improvement, here is my first annual writer’s performance review, based on the twelve goals and/or aspirations listed in my writer’s contract.

One: Spend 15 hours/week on my writing.  Met Expectations (sort of). I didn’t do this at all last July and August. My older son was supposed to take care of my younger son, but older son got a job in early July. It was too late to set up any day camps for my younger son. I did what I could, which wasn’t much. Sometimes you have to flex. It was a fairly gruesome fall. We moved. My younger son changed schools. My older son had life difficulties. Still, slowly, I began writing and revising my graduate thesis into a full-blown manuscript–but it was lacking direction. Thankfully, I attended the North Shore Writer’s Festival in early November and took a workshop (from Patricia Hampl) that helped me completely redefine the scope and direction of my memoir.

Beginning in early December, I took a day-long workshop from Nora Mcinerney. I left that workshop determined to stop allowing everything else in my life to take priority over my writing. But I knew I needed a more achievable goal than 15 hours/week. Instead, I settled on 15 minutes/day as a minimum (sometimes goals need revising, mid-year). It was a good decision. I almost always exceeded my daily goal of 15 minutes, but on the days I couldn’t achieve more than 15 minutes, undertaken sleepily at 11 PM, I didn’t beat myself up; I’d still achieved my goal.

I didn’t miss one day (even when my youngest son had that horrible 2018 flu in February) between December 13, 2017 and February 9, 2018, when I completed my 97,000-word manuscript and submitted it to my fabulous writing mentor/coach/editor, Kate Hopper.

I kept a visual track of my successes in my yearly planner–I only received an “X” if I wrote for the 15-minute minimum. Here’s a photo of what my January calendar looked like (the numbers on each day are the minutes spent):


Two: Read at least one creative nonfiction book per month. Met Expectations (sort of). Well, I definitely read more than one CNF book/month, but I didn’t quite meet expectations in the sub-goals of being a good literary citizen. I may write a post about all the CNF books I read this year. That would allow me to recognize the many fabulous writers/books I’ve read. I only actually published one review/profile, however, (on Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog of Carolyn Porter’s Marcel’s Letters). I reviewed four books on Goodreads and two on Amazon. I resolve to do better in this area next year.

I did read and critique the completed manuscripts of two writer friends. One of those friends, Joy Riggs, returned the favor and completed a thorough copy-edit of my manuscript in May.

Three: Read two essays in lit journals and comment on at least one. Barely Met Expectations. I certainly exceeded this expectation in terms of the reading of essays, but didn’t necessarily meet it in terms of comments. That said, I always read and commented on essays of my writer friends (especially those in the group The Fisher Cats). I am learning more about commenting on and promoting essays I read on Twitter. I will be using Twitter more this way next year.

Four: Continue administrative role in the online writer’s group, The Fisher Cats. Exceeded Expectations. To that end, I helped organize a Fisher Cat reading as a part of this year’s Minnesota LitCrawl, which will be held next weekend.

Five: Submit a minimum of one essay or poem each month. Met expectations, if one can average this out over the twelve months. Meaning, I submitted at least twelve new poems or essays–and probably at least twice this amount–this past year (of my contract), but not necessarily distributed one each month. Notably, February through May were particularly focused on my memoir and I had a difficult time pulling myself out of the depths of my memoir to focus on essay submissions. But, I am back in the submissions game, as of mid-May!

Six: Attend one literary event in my area each month. Exceeded Expectations (although, being the introvert I am, I still need work on the “networking” part of that goal).

Seven: Get together for coffee or a meal once per month with my fellow writers. Met Expectations. There may have been a few dry months, but also months which included many such meetings. Goal for next year is to be more consistent. These meetings are truly a balm on the lonely writer’s path.

Eight: Attend at least three writer’s retreats. Exceeded Expectations. I attended five writer’s retreats this past year. While I didn’t complete a solo retreat (a sub-part of that goal), I did send my family away to a hotel for two days and a night so that I could have the house to myself while I was cramming to get my manuscript (post-Kate Hopper edits) completed prior to The Loft’s 2018 Pitch Conference (where I successfully pitched three agents. Whoot! Whoot!).

Nine: Read four books outside my genre (CNF). Exceeded Expectations. I allowed graphic memoirs to count towards this goal–and read Cece Bell’s El Deafo, and Alison Bechdel’s Are you My Mother and Fun Home–but even without an allowance for this “cheat,” I would have exceeded this expectation. I made lots of time for reading this year because, after three years of reading books (good books, albeit) dictated by my MFA program, I was enjoying my literary freedom.

Ten: Take two classes at The Loft Literary Center. Exceeded Expectations. 

Eleven: Continue steady work and progress on my memoir. Whoot! Blew this expectation straight out of the water.

Twelve: Search for agent and/or submit my memoir to literary contests or indie publishers. Met Expectations. As mentioned above, I attended The Loft’s Pitch conference and met with three agents, all who asked for my materials (one for a full manuscript). Still waiting to hear from those agents. Also, last winter, I submitted my incomplete manuscript to an indie publisher’s contest and this spring, submitted my finished manuscript to a different contest. At this time, I’m pausing for a while on querying new agents. I’ve turned my attention to preparing a full proposal and bolstering my writer platform.

Whew! I really was busy this year. I think I deserve a raise. At the very least, I understand why it seems like I never have enough time (which is the material of another post).  I think the writer’s contract proved useful enough to draft another for the year ahead.

Confession: Last week, with the end of my contract in sight, I applied for two editorial jobs. Now, however, I feel a bit more “justified” in continuing on my writer’s path. But, to do so, I really do need to find some ways to create a modest sort of income.

Meanwhile, in addition to my writing “job,” I continue to serve as the primary caregiver of my eight-year old, getting him to school, after-school activities, and his continued larger-than normal amount of medical and therapy appointments. I also helped my older son through a very difficult time. Finally, I spent a week helping my adult-daughter through a surgery in LA. My “mama hours” were definitely not idle ones.





7 thoughts on “Writer’s Contract Part II: The Performance Review

  1. This is an honest, detailed example of a writer’s life. The specifics vary from writer to writer, but your “performance review” illustrates what’s behind the phrase “I’m a writer.” Thanks, Heidi, and congratulations on a productive year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Anne. You too have had such an amazingly productive writing year. You inspire me!

      The dark side of my year is that I ended up with a painful herniated disc. So, next year’s plan will include more balance, less time hunched over my laptop.


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