Don’t Break the Chain 2020 Calendar

As requested, and as a holiday gift, I’ve updated the S.M.A.R.T. Goals Don’t Break the Chain calendar for 2020! (Happy holidays!)

The whole year on one free printable for you to mark off day by day.

Check out my other productivity posts, including my printable quarterly 2020 and 2021 calendars, which include room to add notes on each day.

(On a personal note, I’ve completed my third of four semesters for my MFA. I’ll be graduating in July, moving cross country in August, and am booking editing clients for September! What does your 2020 look like?)


  • Making Smart Goals
  • Don’t Break the Chain
  • Free 2020 Calendar Printable

Making SMART Goals


Your goal needs to be specific. “Be a better person” is a good ideal, but not a good goal. “Be a better writer” is more specific, and you can work with it, but let’s try a little harder. How about “Write a novel”? Sure. Let’s take that one.


“Write a novel”–is that a measurable goal? Why yes it is! Because novels have a beginning, middle, and an end. Let’s choose a measurement so we can make the goal even more specific. “Write a 50,000-word novel.”


“Be a better person” isn’t a SMART goal because how will you know when you’ve achieved it? You need a goal with an obvious finish line. Something you can cross off a list. Having a goal of writing a 50,000 novel gives you a point to work towards. In this case, the finish line is typing the 50,000th word.

For something to be achievable, it also needs to be realistic. For me, a full-time mother of two young children (who also freelances), writing a 50,000-word novel in the month of November is NOT a realistic goal. (Sorry NaNoWriMo.) But writing 50,000 words over the next few months is realistic. Especially since most of my research is done.

Helpful tip: Don’t attempt a historical novel during NaNoWriMo.


A SMART goal is relevant. It is important. It is worthwhile. It is meaningful. Are you the right person for the job? Is it a good time in your life to set this goal? Do you have the support necessary to achieve the goal? For me, that means hiring a part-time nanny so that I have a couple of hours every day to devote to writing.


Making a time-bound goal means actually writing it down on your calendar and making time for it. It’s setting a deadline. And this is the kicker—it’s choosing to not procrastinate.

I never have a problem coming up with ideas or goals. I have a problem keeping with them. Which is why I’m really excited about “Don’t Break the Chain” motivation.

[free printable!] SMART Goals & Don't Break the Chain | write lara write #productivity #goals #motivation

Don’t Break the Chain

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of “Don’t Break the Chain,” you can read about its background here. It’s easier to turn something into a routine and keep doing it every day than quitting and trying to start back up again. “Don’t Break the Chain” is all about keeping up the momentum.

First, you pick something you can do every single day. Writing. Exercising. Doing the dishes. Choose something relevant. You’ll be bound by time because you have a deadline every 24 hours.

Make it measurable (Ask yourself “How much?” or “For how long?”). Make sure it’s achievable. Be specific.

Say you want to write every day. Will you write for a certain amount of time or will you have a minimum word count? Start small and manageable. It’s better to underestimate yourself than overestimate yourself. One is motivating, the other is debilitating.

If you’re writing just to journal, 300 words each day is a good minimum challenge. Or 15 or 30 minutes.

If you’re trying to put the “progress” into a “work in progress,” then shoot for five hundred, 750, or a thousand words. Or 30 minutes to 2 hours.

If you’re attempting to write a novel in 30 days, your goal will be 1,667 words each day.

Then each day you do that thing, you cross off the day on your calendar. Soon you’ll have a row of X’s. If you skip a day, you break the chain. Don’t break the chain.

Try this for a month, a season, or a year. The longer you go before breaking the chain, the easier it will be to pick up where you left off.

Free Printable 2020 Calendar

You can search for other “Don’t Break the Chain” calendars online. For my own, I wanted to combine the chain idea with SMART goals.

Click on the thumbnail to download the full 2020 calendar. This is for personal or classroom use only. Not for profit use. Enjoy! 


**The image is from 2014, but the link is to the 2020 calendar.**

I make these for personal use and share them on my website for others. Subscribe to my blogfor email updates (like an email when the next year’s calendar is up) or, if you feel so inclined, drop a tip at my Ko-Fi to help me keep this blog online. 💛


Put a Saddle on It

I know this blog is for creative writers, but if you’re a creative person, chances are good you will have to pay the bills with supplemental income. And that usually means working for a client.

So for all you who are keenly familiar with Clients from Hell because you’ve worked as a copywriter, designer, illustrator, etc., you know how ridiculous clients’ demands can be.

And if you haven’t had to bow to strange client demands, maybe you are still familiar with completely winging it.

Both come together in this story:
*note: includes NSFW language* 

If you can’t watch the video or prefer to read a transcript, Paul Ford writes about the story of how He-Man got a riding war tiger over at Postlight.

We don’t talk about that process very much. The process of winging it–using what’s available and cheap, and having no idea if it’ll work out. In truth that’s how a lot of software gets built, and art gets made, and novels get written. We just dress it up with discussions around planning, scrums, user journeys, agile, and process. We try to forget the ugly parts, but maybe we should spend more time celebrating our Battle Cats.Paul Ford, “Put a Saddle On It,” Postlight

When I saw the video on Twitter back in May, I immediately showed it to my day-job colleagues. Then I made a poster for our cubicles:


Sometimes we need a reminder to just go with it, whether “it” is a ridiculous idea coming from your own skull cabinet or from someone whose paid invoice feeds you so you don’t die.

Print your own Put a Saddle On It poster, free for personal use.

I’d love to hear about your own Battle Cats! Comment below or tweet/DM me @LaratheLark


Drafting on a Deadline: The Idea + The Enneagram

In 2018, I met the two resources that will change the way I plan and draft manuscripts forever.

For my first semester in my MFA program, I wanted to start completely from scratch on a story.

I had no ideas. No characters. No setting.

I knew I needed to start with the Five Building Blocks of Story, so I researched and listed and batted around a hundred of those blocks. Eventually I came up with 12 log lines to discuss with my advisor, which became four pitches, which became one outline, which I constantly revised while I was writing and getting to know my story better. Though I had direction, characters, a setting, and some possible themes, I was still driving at night.

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

—Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

This is a great way to complete a draft eventually, and it’s how I’ve written two books!

But it was not an efficient use of my time when I had monthly deadlines to meet, especially when trying to balance writing with a full-time job and a family of four.

Halfway through the semester, I discovered these two resources I’d wish I’d known ten years ago, when I had started writing my first book.

They are The Idea by Erik Bork and the Enneagram.

The Idea by Erik Bork

The Idea: The Seven Elements of a Viable Story for Screen, Stage, or Fiction has this dedication:

For every writer
who for the first or thousandth time
has tried to come up with
a great story

Erik Bork is an Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winner who has written for the screen, blogs, and wrote this book, but he has also written for TV—Band of Brothers, for one.

Writing for TV means coming up with viable ideas: lots of viable ideas. And not just viable, but good, commercial ideas that people will want to spend money or time on.

I have read many dozens of books on the craft of writing, but The Idea is the most helpful book—

  • for writers who want to sell their work
  • when beginning a new draft

I’ve always been a trial-and-error writer who has to outline, then write, then change my outline, then write, this cycle continuing until I have a story that meets the seven elements Bork details in this book. For my first book, it took seven years. For my second, it took three.

It makes sense that starting with those seven elements in mind might save some time, right?

The 60/30/10 Rule

Bork says that at least 60% “of what makes a project potentially successful or not is the core idea that could be communicated in a short synopsis of a few sentences up to a single page.” So, you know—basically a query letter.

Then 30% “lies in the structural choices, the decisions about what will happen, scene by scene, in a story—or what you’d see in an outline.” And then 10% is the actual writing.

Now, I don’t think this is as accurate for writing novels, because novels take a very long time to write (they consist of many more words and scenes than a TV episode or movie) and they need to be revised and edited.

But consider your book from a reader’s perspective.

If you like a book, 60% of what you like about it probably comes down to the concept and characters (or WATCH elements), 30% might be what happens in the story and how the story was presented, and 10% might be specific quotes or imagery from the book.

That 60%—the concepts at the foundation of the story—are also what can carry over to other stories within a series or franchise.

But most courses and books on writing don’t talk about the concept or idea at the heart of your story. In The Idea, it’s the whole book.

The Seven Elements

You may have heard of “the story problem,” which Bork defines as “at the heart of any story … that takes the whole story to solve. It’s a challenge that the story’s main character is actively engaged with, which consumes their attention, energy, and emotion—and that of the audience.”

Bork turned broke this concept into seven elements to create the acronym P.R.O.B.L.E.M. I’ll list them here and provide a quick note on each:

  • Punishing (the longer the story, the more complex and challenging the problem needs to be)
  • Relatable (the main character and their motivation and goals and relation to the problem need to be relatable)
  • Original (A fresh new take on storytelling and genre conventions. In fiction, a strong voice.)
  • Believable (The story makes sense)
  • Life-Altering (Primal stakes and internal changes)
  • Entertaining (meets emotional expectations)
  • Meaningful (theme or meaning that sits with you after the story ends)

For great insight on each of these elements from a real pro and to see if these elements are all present in your manuscript, you’ll need to read the book. I highly recommend having a copy you can highlight or annotate if you can swing it, either physical or eBook.

The Enneagram

I feel like the enneagram is everywhere right now. It’s been around for a while, but for whatever reason, it’s popularity has blown up in 2018-2019. I’m definitely a part of that, not as a creator but as a consumer. I follow several enneagram-centric Instagram accounts and share their stories pretty frequently.

I’ve used Myers-Briggs and the seven deadly sins for character development (and created worksheets and blogs for each), but I was really struggling with coming up with the motivations behind my new characters this past semester.

Enneagram focuses on primal motivations behind different personalities, and learning more about the system has made a world of difference in creating my characters.

I just realized I’m probably going to need a whole page dedicated to the Enneagram…

*** hours later *** 

Okay, well! Here’s a page about Why the Enneagram Is So Useful for Writers, including an enneagram worksheet so you can plan out your cast of characters!