Monday, December 19, 2016

Goals, Part 3

Okay, so (if you read the last post in this series) you know that there are going to be things that stop you from writing despite having goals.  It happens. Eventually, you will find your way around obstacles and find the right time (and place -- that can be important, too) that will allow you to concentrate on your story.

There is, however, one more aspect of setting goals that can make pursuing them difficult for you -- and that's setting the goal too high.  When you set a high goal and rarely, if ever,  make them, then you lose that spark to go on.  Losing all the time is no fun. So it is far better to set a low goal and exceed it. When you start exceeding it all the time, set a higher goal.  Make this fun, not frustrating.

Writing every day takes practice.  Like a marathon race, you don't start out the first time by running twenty miles; you work up gradually to the longer distance so that your body prepares for it.  That's what you need to do with daily writing goals.  Start with a low goal.  When I first decided to write every day, I began with a goal of 250 words.  Once it became easy to write those words I automatically started to do more.  Now I average about 3k a day and have for several years.  I have not missed a day in about three decades.  Do you need to be that obsessed with writing?  Probably not -- but it has allowed me to write over 100 novels and to publish about 40 of them.  If you really want to be the kind of author who makes at least some income from writing, then you had better start planning now to produce more than that one dream book you've had in your head for years.

So, start with a low word count and build up to more writing.  You'll be surprised at how easy this becomes once you get used to sitting down and letting the words flow.

Also, most people don't do well if they set a time goal instead of a word count or page count goal.  It is easy to waste time and have little or nothing to show for it.  If you need to do research, take notes and count those words as part of your daily total.  Building story background and character creation are just as important as writing the novel -- as long as you don't use it as a perpetual excuse not to write.  Outlines?  You can if they help you.  Sometimes just a line per chapter or scene will keep you moving forward and jotting them down is certainly part of the writing process for a lot of people.  I like to add bits of scenery and dialog that occurs to me when I first see a scene.  Sometimes it doesn't end up in the finished story, but it also gives me a feel for what I imagined there.

Also, do your best to focus on one project.  Bouncing all over the place with dozens of stories is not going to help you.   If you are working on more than one project, there is a trick that can help you make sure you make progress on at least one project.  Choose something you are working on and designate it as your main project.  You have to write x number of words (or pages) on it before you can work on anything else.  No cheating and changing 'main project' status to others, either.  If you want to be a successful author it is important to learn how to focus on the story.

Even if you keep the goal numbers low for the main project, you will still keep making forward progress on it and still get to play with other ideas.  This is a crucial part of being an author.  Learning how to focus on finishing work will help you far more than simply writing a lot of words on random stories every day.  Whether you want to be a traditionally published writer or go the indie route, you will have to finish work.  Indie authors have more leeway in how often they publish, but if you wait too long between works, you have to start all over in winning readers, and those are hard to get for indie authors.   Traditionally published authors have to deal with contracts and deadlines and your agent and publisher are not going to want to hear how a new shiny took your attention.   Obviously, a lot of this depends on you.  You have to make the decision to do the writing and stick to it.  If you make the goals small, you'll have a far better chance of getting into the habit of writing.

In the end, goals are about learning to focus so that you achieve something.  Writing x number of words a day doesn't really help you if those words don't eventually add up to completed stories.  Start by learning to write regularly and then turn that new found skill to finishing things.

How much to write?

250 x 365 (days) = 91,250
250 x 5 (days) x 52 (weeks) = 65,000

The second set of numbers allows you to have the weekends off if you want -- or to take the equivalent off for holidays and other days if you do well writing on weekends. If you double those numbers, you can probably write at least two new novels a year, just by writing 500 words a day. I write every day, but I do so because I love to write and I don't see any reason not to do something I really love.  I have a lot of stories I still want to tell.  In 2016 I wrote 5 new novels and rewrote and edited 8 others.  I also write a flash fiction story for every Friday.

There will come a time when you have finished material that needs to be edited.  Some people find this a horrible, terrible, despicable (etc.) job.  I am not one of those people.  Editing is just another part of the writing process and a lovely gift for authors.  You don't have to write the perfect story the first time through.  In fact, don't even pretend that you will. The sooner you realize that editing is not evil, the more freedom you will have in the first draft phase.  Letting your writing flow is an excellent way to find your unique voice and allow you to find those serendipitous connections that can make the story unique.

Some people just get bored with editing, though.  So here's where that main project idea works again.  This time, make a goal of editing X number of pages before you can write something.  Four or Five pages is a good number, though you might want to start lower than that amount.  A chapter at a time is even better if you can get to where editing flows. Don't rush into editing, though.  There is no race to get the work done.  Steady progress will get you there, as long as you stick to your goals.

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