What I Learned 2020

“What I learned in 2020” could be a joke. Sadly, last year’s problems will continue for a while. But I am a writer. And a business woman. A review of my year is still necessary.


a tree with circles instead of leaves and words like goals, ideas, strategy, marketing, etc in the circles--what I learned is to do a little of each

I use a couple of systems blended together to record and track my intentions each year. (If you need help creating your yearly plan try Orna Ross’s Go Creative.) I divide my intentions into four primary areas: Make (anything creative), Manage (anything business related), Market (advertising and anything related to advertising), and Home (everything else.) Last year started with an extensive list of intentions. By the end of the year, I thought I’d failed most of them.

I always think I’ve failed to accomplish the things I wanted to do at the end of the year. Therefore, I regularly review my intentions and what I do and don’t accomplish.


The Make portion of my intentions consumed 66% of my time. This came very close to fulfilling my intentions.

The plan was to finish the first draft, the revision draft, and publish If I Should Die, book two of the Fellowship Dystopia. I also included a stretch goal of outlining a novella and the next book in the Fellowship Dystopia. 

Did. Not. Fulfill those intentions. But I finished the first draft, created a revision draft outline, and had 25,000 words on the revision draft by the end of December. 

Also on the Make list was blogging three times a week. I got 94% of the posts done and online. 

What I learned in 2020 is that being preoccupied by pandemics and protests and national issues, revision takes more time.


image of a yellow street sign with the word project on it. The O in project is a maze with an arrow showing the entry and an arrow showing the exit. What I've learned is that most projects are a maze of intentions and getting things done

This area includes reading, production, statistics, website stuff, learning, and general office chores. It took approximately 23% of my time.

I purchased new artwork.

 Learning about ads and blurb writing and refining some writing skills were high on my intentions list. I completed 63% of the online classes I had intended to finish.

I read 66% of fiction books and 50% of the nonfiction I had intended to read. Ouch!

I did not finish setting up my new mail service and did not get newsletters changed over to the service. 

For my website, I had intended to revise the front page and add a couple of new pages. Those things did not get done. I kept up with updating plugins and the content management system.

What I learned in 2020 was that I had to recover some time. I reduced the time I spent on Social Media. And I didn’t watch the news. And I could focus better.


wordie with digital marketing in the center and sales activities surrounding it

My marketing intentions were small, as I only have two books to advertise. Trying out the various platforms and learning how to use digital ads took about 11% of my working time.

An ads class taught me how to advertise my books on Amazon.

I spent a lot of time studying blurbs and blurb writing.

A contest helped boost my newsletter membership.

Thanks to a friend, I appeared on the Mysterious Goings On podcast hosted by Alex Greenwood. My episode was fun thanks to the wonderful host.

What I learned in 2020 is that marketing is a whole ‘nuther skill.


I spent a lot of my energy, both physical and emotional, on the home front during 2020. (Are you surprised?)

My husband spent January in the hospital and a rehab center. February brought hours of doctor’s visits, physical therapy, and caregiving.

March brought the world a pandemic and self-quarantine. Just call me FaceTime Grandma.

July through September, my son renovated my large yard. He removed two overgrown (5-6 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide), old and scraggly bushes. Filled low areas of the yard with wheelbarrows full of soil. He verticut and re-seeded the lawn. I watered and watered and watered it.

Also in July, my 15-year-old Yorkie, Astro, became very ill. We eased his suffering and euthanized him on August 8th.

Car problems plagued us. The squirrels ate my Toyota Wheelchair van’s wiring. And my Suzuki needed a new ball-arm joint.

A friend died of cancer in December.

I learned to roll with the punches. And I learned that good happened amongst the bad. My husband’s health is stable for the first time in six years. 

What I Learned in 2020

I am human. I care about other people and the country. So I learned to acknowledge that caring takes energy. Even remote in quarantine, caring.

I learned to be kind to myself. Finding an hour or two of personal time each day became one of my priorities. That meant I would not meet some of my intentions. What I learned in 2020 was to be okay with taking care of myself during this unprecedented time. Did you learn to take care of yourself during 2020? 

How to Use Goals & Obstacles to Fascinate Your Readers

Whether you write by the seat of your pants (a pantser) or you have a detailed outline (a plotter), or anywhere anywhere on the line in between, you’ve likely gotten stuck in your story. That’s disconcerting at the best and devastating at the worst. The story comes to a screeching halt and you beat yourself up. Yes, this happens to plotters sometimes. Unfortunately, it happens to pantsers more often than not. But don’t worry. There’s a way to solve or prevent most stuck-in-the-middle events. Use goals & obstacles to fascinate your readers.

Cartoon of long-haired character with hands folded and anxiously facing a laptop with coffee and papers. Stuck in the middle of your story? Use Goals & Obstacles to Fascinate Your Readers


In story writing, a goal is what your main character wants. It might be the blue ribbon in the county fair or to save the world from a weapon of mass destruction. But you knew that, didn’t you? So why am I harping on it?

And it isn’t just a want. It’s a need. To fascinate your reader, the main character’s want must mean something. It doesn’t have to be a theme-heavy, my-soul-will-be-destroyed type of meaning. But if your character does not achieve their goal, they lose something valuable. This irrevocable loss changes the principal character’s life for the worse (at least in the character’s estimation). A high schooler believes with his whole being that if he doesn’t win the football game and impress the recruiting agent, his life is ruined forever. That can make for a page-turning story.

More About Goals

The more concrete you can make the goal, the clearer it will be for the reader. How do you know your goal is concrete? By asking yourself, can the character take a picture of it? 

You can add a layer to goals and make the story deeper, more complex.

Add a Layer

To deepen the story, you can add a layer to the character’s goal by making it misunderstood. What the character THINKS she wants and what she NEEDS to avoid that sense of loss are two different things. In the high school football player above, what if he’s suffering from a chronic illness that will eventually destroy his ability to walk? He may think he wants the memory of the football victory to sustain him, but what he needs is to learn to cope with his illness. And when he loses the football game but gains a new understanding of how he can live and be happy, it will be a satisfactory ending.

But even if the path to a goal isn’t straight, it isn’t interesting, Use goals & obstacles to fascinate your reader.


Most how-to write instruct you to have lots of conflict in your story. But that word has connotations and meanings that confuse many of us. What it really means for a story is to prevent your character from achieving their goal. Set obstacles in their path. Obstacles can be a person (or persons), a place or environment (nature), or the character herself.

In a successful story, there is usually a single major obstacle, often a person we like to call the bad guy or the antagonist. Initially, the bad guy has all the control. It’s the bad guy’s moves that cause the protagonist to react, to choose an alternative path. And the bad guy hones in on the main character’s flaws with every obstacle he throws in the path to success.

More About Obstacles

A motorcyclist has stopped his cycle in the middle of a shallow creek but appears to find the creek and obstacle to his goal--Use Goals & Obstacles to Fascinate Your Readers

Vary the obstacles your character must overcome. How do you do that? With subplots. One subplot could be the foul weather on the last day of practice that causes a temporary injury or maybe the opposing team kidnaps the main character and dumps him in a location so he can’t possibly get to the game on time. Almost any subplot will work. Though it will have more impact if it’s at least tangentially related to the want and need.

If the character does not overcome many obstacles, the story isn’t satisfying. And if the obstacles are all the same, the story isn’t satisfying. If at least one obstacle doesn’t make the character back up and try again, the story isn’t satisfying.

A successful, satisfying story is one that keeps throwing obstacles in the character’s attempts to get what they want. The obstacles make the character work to achieve their goal. The harder the character works at achieving his goal, the more satisfying the story ending.

More Than One Path

Still in the dark about goals & obstacles? Read Conflict: Twist the Knife Slowly. Or search KM Weiland’s website helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com. You might want to start with The #1 Way to Write Intense Story Conflict.

Fascinate Your Readers

The most successful stories all use goals & obstacles to fascinate the reader. Don’t believe me? Take your favorite stories and analyze them. 

You and your imagination are the magic idea generator. But your magic story engine is the push—pull, the try-fail, the never-quite-successful moves toward an important goal. First drafts are supposed to be messy. That’s okay. Fine-tuning is for the rewrite process. For this first draft, use goals & obstacles and you’re well on the way to fascinating your reader.

A New Year and New Intentions

It’s the new year, time for…goals? Resolutions? I have missed many goals and broken many resolutions. But I have become a great fan of intentions. For the new year, make new intentions. What the heck do I mean?

Image of the word Start at the beginning of a road to the mountains, Make your new intentions for the new year.


As a writer, I first came across the term creative intentions as explained by Orna Ross in her eleven-part blog series, The Power of Creative Intention for Creativepreneurs.

It is my belief that everyone is creative. See my post, You Don’t Have to Be an Artist. But I know not all of you believe that. So drop the word creative and just use intentions. 

Anyone and everyone can set intentions. About now you’re getting impatient for a definition. (I know I was when I started learning about this mindset). To get to a definition, we need to look at the root word, intend.

According to Merriam-Webster, intend means “to have in mind as a purpose or goalPLAN” or “to direct the mind on” or (archaic) to proceed on a course.

Take a leap of faith and begin this wondrous new year by believing. Believe in yourself. And believe that there is a loving Source – a Sower of Dreams – just waiting to be asked to help you make your dreams come true.

Sarah Ban Breathnach

To have in mind as a purpose seems a much better way to think about what my plans are for the new year. In my mind, a goal and a resolution have more permanence and allow little flexibility. An intention seems a more flexible way to plan despite the interruptions and disruptions we all face in life. 

close up of dart board, Keep your eye on the target with new intentions

We can miss a goal. We break most resolutions. But an intention is a focus. When life gets in the way of your plan, take care of that event or disturbance intending to return to your primary plan. Every morning begins with a renewed intention.

It’s a wise man who understands that every day is a new beginning, because boy, how many mistakes do you make in a day? I don’t know about you, but I make plenty. You can’t turn the clock back, so you have to look ahead.

Mel Gibson

More than One

Heck, you might have more than role and therefore more than one area of intentions. I am a writer which means I’m also a marketer and a website manager. Another of my roles is as a caregiver. Therefore, I have intentions for Making (writing stories), Managing (website and blog), Marketing (my books), and Home (caregiving and household duties).

When I decide upon my intention for a new year, I make one broad intention for each area.

My intentions this year are to finish If I Should Die (Make), Improve my website (manage), run ads for my books (Market), and be a compassionate caregiver and manage our household duties (Home). I also choose two or three secondary actions for each.

Going Forward

Once I know what my year’s plan looks like, then I break up those intentions into quarterly and monthly steps. No matter what life interruptions I have, I keep my focus because of my intentions. 

Do you make goals or resolutions? Or do you prefer setting intentions? What new intentions have you set for 2020?

A Decade of Growth and Change

Welcome back and Happy 2020! I hope you enjoyed your holiday(s). My last post, My Four Lessons of the Last Decade, was about the life lessons I learned. This post looks back at accomplishments and change. Now it’s the new year and a new decade. Time for new intentions. But before we make or discuss plans for the new year and new decade, let’s review the old year and decade. For me, it was a decade of Growth and Learning.

Image of gold 2020 against a brown background with Happy New Year message while we look back at a decade of growth and change.

The Beginning of the 2010s

In 2009, my husband and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. My son was 30 years old and married for the second time. I had five grandchildren (two 9-year-olds, a seven years old, a six-year-old, and one one month old) and three dogs (8-year-old miniature schnauzer, a 7-year-old mixed breed, and a 4-year-old Yorkshire Terrier). a registered nurse at the local children’s hospital, I worked forty plus hours each week.

Writing was my weekend passion. I had been writing stories since 1980. Three stories for children and two science fiction novellas written in collaboration appeared in magazines.

I had written three novels and had begun the fourth. But it wasn’t right. By right I don’t mean perfect, I mean it was missing something. 

Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield.

Brene Brown

The novels didn’t work. They were missing an ingredient or two. I didn’t understand story engines or story structure or pacing. I wanted my passion to be more than a passion, but I had a dreamer’s idea of how to be a writer. The business of writing? No clue what that entailed. I had no tracking system or any system for improvement or progress. No author brand, scant social media presence, and no website. I began the decade with a burning desire to learn and grow as a writer.

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Last Year

In 2019, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Our three-bedroom ranch home is now seventy-years-old. Remodeling projects have made it more suitable for a wheelchair-bound individual. 

My son turned 40 and is married to the woman of his dreams. I have eight grandchildren (a 24-year-old, two 19-year-olds, a seventeen-year-old, a sixteen-year-old, two eleven-year-olds, and a four-month-old). Some of you may have realized the ages don’t line up with 2009—Your right, they don’t. I include precious grandchildren-by-marriage. 

I have three Yorkshire Terriers (a 14-year-old, a 9-year-old, and a 2-year-old). 

And I retired from my nursing job two years ago. Writing full-time is a joy.

Image of a girl reading a book with stars and light streaming out of the book--much like me looking at my past decade of growth and change.

Growth and Change

One of my (our) challenges has been the many medical issues my husband has had over the past ten years. Those challenges are compounding. I sit in his room at a rehabilitation facility as I write this.

Over the past decade I learned about plot, story engines, story structure, pacing, and so much more. I learned to create systems for tracking progress, improvements, learning, and goals. I know that I’ve written more than one million words during the decade (no records for the first three years). 

I’ve refined my writing process and learned about self-publishing and marketing. I’m having moderate success with my two published books. The outline for book two of the My Soul to Keep series and I’ve written about 30,000 words of the first draft.

I have a social media presence, an author brand, and I blog regularly on my website. Blessed, I even have followers both on social media platforms and on my blog. *Yup, that’s you! Thank you.*

A Change of Perspective

Prior to completing my decade review, I had a poor opinion of what I had accomplished in the past. Tracking and reviewing has erased that opinion. Sure, I wanted to accomplish a ton more, but look at where I started. Without tracking systems, I would not know how much I achieved despite the many challenges I had. Knowing allows me to analyze what allowed me to accomplish things and what held me back Now I can see what areas I would like to improve for the next decade. And I’ve already started working toward another decade of growth and change.

There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.

Ronald Reagan

The two-word description for my past decade is Growth and Change. Have you done a decade review? What would be a two word description of your 2010s?

Opportunities for the New Quarter

It’s the beginning of the final quarter of 2019. There are opportunities to make the most of the new quarter. I want to do exactly that. Don’t you? It’s time to take stock of what we’ve achieved this year and what we have yet to achieve. Here are some of my met and unmet goals so far this year.

What Have I Done?

Image of a dart stuck in the red bullseye of a target is a symbol of the goals I hit and the opportunities for the new quarter.

In March, I promoted My Soul to Keep in the Robin Reads newsletter. The number of sales I made wasn’t huge, but it made me happy. As did the release of the hardcover edition of My Soul to Keep. In May, I co-hosted an author salon/book party at the local science fiction convention. It was a hit for fun and book sales! And in June, a small book club picked My Soul to Keep as its book. I got some nice sales and two lovely reviews. 

I wrote more words in the first nine months of 2019 than I wrote all of last year. More than half those words went toward creating a new book. Fellowship went live on July 8th. July 14th I held my first online launch party hosted by the amazing, Cheer Stephenson-Papworth on The Band of Dystopian Authors and Fans Facebook page. It was a blast. Mini survival kits were one prize. Fellowship’s appearance in the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) New Releases bulletin was a nice bonus. 

One of the new things I tried was my first online contest. My results were small but fun. 

I finished the outline for the prequel to My Soul to Keep. The first draft is in progress.  

I made several tweaks to my website and wrote a lot of posts. More people signed up for my occasional newsletter.  I’ve blogged as regularly as I could. 

Through online classes with Bryan Cohen, I learned a strategy for marketing my books on Amazon. Based on the short course, I would strongly recommend is Amazon Ads course.

Finally, I’ve read more fiction books than I have in quite a while. That’s not saying much, but it’s progress!

Goals I Did Not Meet

The sequel to My Soul to Keep is the big black cloud of not done. Tentatively titled, If I Should Die, the first draft isn’t as far along as I had intended.

I’d intended to have some fun book-related merchandise to offer for sale. I drafted several quotes for t-shirts and other fun merchandise. Only one quote is in the final design stages. I’d intended to be further along at this point.

Regular blog posts three days a week. Since I’ve not found a system to plan and create blog posts in advance, I fell down in this area. Last-minute blog posts don’t happen when life obstacles pop up unexpectedly.

Regular newsletter production. Sorry. Life events have overwhelmed me many times this year. When those things hit, I focus on getting what fiction writing done that I can. Everything else waits until I can get to it. Sadly, I did not get regular newsletters out.

A regular appearance on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest also suffered from obstacles. I love interacting with you on all three platforms and was not happy to have to step away from social media. But, knowing my primary goal kept me focused on producing them when time and energy were taken to deal with life.

I haven’t read as many books as I had intended to read. Life events have been many in the Burrows’ household. As time goes on, I am becoming more and more of a full-time caregiver. After caregiving comes writing new fiction and everything else. 

What I Didn’t Start

Incomplete designs means no merchandise could be sold.

My intention was to create videos and podcasts to share on social media. I’m uncertain I’ll get to that this year.

Audio books. I had intended to perform my own books. But the time to produce audio books is sadly not available this year. 

Obstacles in the First 9 Months

Unfortunately, there were many personal and family obstacles this year. Without my tracking sheet, I would have said this was my worst year ever. Instead, it’s been more productive than I’d been during any year I’ve kept records! 

Why didn’t my obstacles slow me down? Well, they did. But I had a plan, and I kept adjusting my goals. This is why I’m a huge proponent of tracking your time and your goals.

Opportunities for the New Quarter

drawing of a rainbow ending in a pot of gold representing our opportunities for the New Quarter.

My opportunities to make the most of the new quarter are endless. My intentions list is almost endless. A few of the large rock items on my list are: I will appear at a local library for a showcase of local authors event in November. I intend to be half-way through the first draft of If I Should Die by the end of the year, and there will be at least on t-shirt available for sale before Christmas. 

What are your opportunities to make the most of the new quarter? Do you track your progress and review your goals and outcomes at the end of each quarter? What is one of your big rock items for the last quarter of 2019? Please share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.