The New World of Publishing: How to Keep Your Writing Going for All of 2014

This an almost complete update of a post I had here in late 2012.

I figured it was worth my time and energy to get this updated and out again, especially since so many of you have been watching me with my “Writing in Public” posts and some of you are even subscribing to Smith’s Monthly to read what I actually write.

Thank you, everyone, for that support over the last year. It’s made this all great fun.

Some basics to start:

Any business and production plan you decide to set up for yourself is made up of goals that can be attained with work.

The focus of the goals you set is to attain a dream.

A dream is what you work toward with a series of goals.

Setting Up For Failure: A Warning

I’m starting this post with a couple of warnings: Understand what is failure in a goal and what isn’t failure.

Every time I talk with writers at the end of the year, I hear goals being set that are seemingly impossible when you do the math. I’ve set a few of them myself, to be honest, over the decades.

I honestly have no problem at all with impossible goals. None, as long as the person setting the goal understands that the likely failure can also be deemed a success. But most writers I know don’t understand that simple detail.

For example: Three years ago here I set a goal to write from titles and publish here and online 100 short stories. And even though slightly behind, I felt I was pretty much on schedule to hit that goal when one of my best friends died and I took over his estate. I turned away from writing almost completely to do the estate and only did what deadline work I had.

So did I fail? Nope. I wrote and got out over thirty original short stories that year, plus a number of stories for original anthologies that didn’t count in the challenge. Not the year I hoped, or even my best year, but not a bad year considering all the factors. It would have been far, far worse without the challenge.

But most writers I know, when faced with actually missing their goal, just stop completely. The problem is that the goal sets them up for a failure, and then they use the failure or life issue as an excuse to stop writing.

So caution when setting goals so extreme you can’t make them in any fashion. And if you do set an extreme goal, have fall-back success levels.

The first steps needed…

— I assume you have done the math to know how many original words you can produce of fiction per hour.

— I assume you have figured out how many hours you have each week to write original fiction outside of your family and job requirements.

— I assume you have set up a writing space, and have told your family and friends how important your writing is to you.

— I assume you will protect your work, your time, your art in the new year.

Goals must be set from a position of knowledge, not from a position of wishful thinking.

A Sign of the Classic Want-To-Be-Writer: Another Warning

Every long-term professional fiction writer can spot a hopeless want-to-be fiction writer easily.

— They are the fiction writers who talk about writing, but never finish anything.

— They are the fiction writers who feel jealous of all your writing time because they can never find the time.

— They are the fiction writers who come up with one idea and spend years on it, talking about it, researching it, workshopping parts of it, but never finishing it and moving on.

— They are the fiction writers who believe they will never succeed because they don’t have a major fan base like a major writer, so why bother. Or worse, they finish one thing and spend all year “promoting it.”

— They are the fiction writers who decide they are going to write in the new year, but set no plans, no goals, no structure.

— They are the writers who just get to their fiction writing when they can, when the muse strikes, because ideas are hard and writing is hard.  They “just can’t find the time.” And then the following year they try the same thing that didn’t work every year before.

If you don’t want to be one of those “writers,” be a writer who makes your production of new words important.

 How to Set Fiction Writing Goals in 2014

I’m just tossing out suggestions here. There is no one way for every writer, or only one way for the same writer from year-to-year. Use what strikes you in these ideas, alter them to suit your needs, and set the goals for yourself.

And also I think it would be fine to combine some of these suggestions.

Idea #1

Set your plan to strictly follow Heinlein’s Rules.

The rules are:


1) Write

2) Finish what you write

3) Do not rewrite unless to editorial demand. (Meaning New York book editors who can buy your work, not someone who you hire. It is fine to fix mistakes first readers find and spelling mistakes.)

4) Put it on the market for someone to buy it. (Either a New York editor or readers indie published.)

5) Keep it on the market. (For indie publishers, this means leave it alone.)

If you are one of the very few who have the courage to even try this, let alone succeed with the attempt for an entire year, you will be stunned at how far you will move toward your writing dreams and how much fun you will have. If you don’t understand Heinlein’s Rules, I did an entire lecture explaining why they work. You can find it under the lecture tab above.

Warning on this one. Deceptively simple looking rules, fantastically difficult to actually follow because of all the myths that swirl around fiction writing. You will find yourself spending a ton of time coming up with excuses to not follow them. (Please, don’t comment on your excuses here. These rules are a Yoda situation. Either do. Or Don’t.)

As Robert Heinlein said about his own rules. “But they are amazingly hard to follow — which is why there are so few professional writers and so many aspirants…”

Idea #2

Set a new word count you would like to hit for the year.

“New words” means finished words that can be either indie published or sent to traditional editors. Rewriting, researching, and all the other excuses you have do not count. New words only.

(If you hear yourself say right there, “But…” you may have an issue to deal with.)

Here is how to do this:

Say you would like to finish a quarter of a million new words this year.  A very solid, but scary goal. A very large elephant.

1…. So divide the total word count desired into 50 weekly parts. (Two weeks off for vacation.) Example: 250,000 words divided by 50 weeks = 5,000 new words per week.

2… You have determined you can do about 1,000 words per hour.  So divide the 5,000 words by 1,000 = 5 hours of writing per week.

3… Look at the fiction writing time you have figured you have each week and find about eight hours total to get those five hours of writing done safely in your schedule. (The extra three will give you a cushion.)

4… Then protect those eight hours and write during that time every week to make sure you get the 5,000 minimum words per week done.

At the end of the year you will look back and have finished one quarter of a million words. And trust me, you will be a much better fiction writer at the end of the year with that much practice, and if you finished and mailed or indie published everything, you will be on your way.

A quarter of a million words a year sounds like a great big elephant. But 5 hours of writing per week does not. Yet one equals the other. Weird how that happens, isn’t it?

Idea #3

Set up a production goal.

A lot of people, me included, like production goals more than word-count goals.

When I started seriously writing, I set up a production goal to write and mail one short story per week. That sort of breaks down to the same word count as Idea #2 of 5,000 words per week. But the focus for me was on the finishing and mailing. (I was following Heinlein’s Rules religiously also during the challenge and still do, which is why I am still a professional writer.)

My ongoing challenge is also production based if you notice. I need to write enough to not only fill outside work, but fill Smith’s Monthly every month.

The reason production-based goals sometimes work better is because of the end date. If your goal is to finish one short story every week, that keeps your mind off of the larger goal. You only focus down on one project at a time.

If you are writing novels, I would highly suggest you break it down into smaller goals, such as finishing a scene per day or a chapter per week. And then only focus on that small bite.

Again the key with eating an elephant is to not think of the task, just chew up one bite at a time, only thinking of the bite.

Idea #4

Get one new book up indie published every two weeks. (Take two weeks off, so you are aiming for 25 by the end of the year.)

This is a great challenge a friend of mine is running and a lot of people are taking part on a private list. Set up your own group.

The idea is that the book can be a short story or a collection or a novel. And the key is to have the total at the end of the year.

So if writing a novel, a month or so will go by with nothing new up, then do some short fiction and then a collection before going back to the next novel.

Also, if you have some stories you have written and haven’t sold, or backlist of stories that were published and you now have the rights back, get those up as well. They would count.

There are lots of ways of doing this, and it really works. And having 25 new books in print by the end of the year is something you are going to be very happy about. Trust me.

Reporting In To Someone

Here is the key to success for every major method of goal-setting. You must have someone, or some method, or some way to keep you on track.

If you don’t make your weekly goal or word count, you must tell someone you didn’t make it. If you did make it, you must tell someone you did.

When I started writing fiction seriously with my short-story-per-week challenge, I actually had a bet going with Nina Kiriki Hoffman. If I missed my story for the week, I had to buy her a steak dinner. I couldn’t afford a steak dinner.

Sometimes you can put your progress on your web site as a weekly update. Even if not that many people show up to your web site, you know some will and your failure or success will be out there in the open. You can even use one of those word counters that you can get as a plugin for your site if you are doing a word-based goal.

(Interestingly enough, my posting of my Writing in Public blogs don’t really push me. It’s getting Smith’s Monthly content that pushes me. The Writing in Public daily blogs I can miss writing on some days and it’s no big deal. I don’t want to miss a Smith’s Monthly. Subscribers paid money for those. Remember, every writer is different. You would think that people coming to this blog would push me. Nope. I just hope the posts help other writers at times, and people tell me they do, so I’ll keep going for a while on them. But Smith’s Monthly will continue for a long time into the future.)

When I was writing media novels, I had very hard and fast deadlines. Sometimes I was trying to beat the movie out when I wrote novelizations. There could be no excuses. (I have done about twelve movie novelizations, including Rundown, The Core, 10th Kingdom, Final Fantasy, and so on.)

And with ghost novels, it was the same way.

Sometimes this person you report to is just another writer, sometimes it is a family member, sometimes a post on your blog. But with every small goal achieved or missed, report to someone or post it somewhere where people will see it. Set it up ahead so that person knows what you are doing. (No I will not be that person for anyone and you can’t use these post messages for the task either. Sorry.)

And if you don’t report to the person you have set up, make sure they know to ask you how it is going.

If you hate this idea of reporting in some fashion or another, check in with yourself to see where the fear is coming from. And then use that fear to drive you even more.

An important reminder right here. NEVER SHOW A WORK IN PROGRESS TO ANYONE. Protect your art. You can say you finished chapter 52, but don’t show it until you are ready to release the entire book to the world.

 What Happens When You Fail?

Everyone with a family and a day job and a life will fail on short-term goals set at the beginning of the year. There are almost no exceptions to that rule. And if you think you will be the exception in 2014, you are delusional, I’m afraid.

So what do you do when life derails you?

Climb back on the next week. Or as soon as you can.

Say you are doing a short story per week with the intent of getting to fifty by the end of the year. Suddenly life gets in your way and you miss three weeks in April.

DON’T TRY TO CATCH UP. Just get back on the focus of the weekly goal and keep going. Trust me, at the end of the year you will be very happy with 47 stories finished.

But if you let it stop you cold, you won’t be happy by the time the end of the year rolls around.

And these year-end check-in-points just keep happening every year.

So here are my suggestions when life derails you and you miss your short-term goal.

1… Don’t even once think about catching up. Can’t happen and will make things worse.

2… Climb back onto your production challenge or weekly page goal as soon as you are able.

3… If life alters so much as to make the original weekly pace impossible, stop and reset a new goal for the year and for each week and then stick to that.

4… Somehow, with help or with some mechanism, remember these suggestions.

Chances are you will not remember.  Sadly.

You will be buried in a life crisis and then when that clears you will be mad at yourself for not doing the impossible and protecting your writing time and meeting your weekly goals. And you will be swirling in the failure instead of just focusing on being successful the following week.

Wow, was that easy for me to type and so hard for any of us to do. (grin)

The real key to having a successful year (writing fiction) is that when you get stopped, and you will, to start back up as soon as you can.

In Summary

— Get your available writing hours figured.

— Get your writing speed per hour figured.

— Tell your family and friends around you how important what you are going to do is. Be prepared to remind them all the time.

— Get ready to protect your time. Set up an office without distractions and a computer without e-mail or games only used for fiction writing.

— Figure out a yearly goal for words or production, then back it down into weekly goals that will get to your yearly goal. Make sure your weekly goals have extra time in them for small life events.

— Plan in time to keep learning, to go to a conference or two, to take some classes, to read some writing books, to read other novels and stories for pleasure.

— Set up someone or some place to report your progress and failures to.

— Then decide to have fun.

That’s right, I said have fun.

If the act of fiction writing isn’t fun for you, get out of this chase now.

If you aren’t excited and scared about the coming year and the learning and writing, get out of this chase now.

Fiction writing isn’t brain surgery. It is entertainment.

You are trying to be an entertainer in 2014.

For heaven’s sake, have fun doing it.

2014 is a brand new year. The world didn’t end. Traditional publishing didn’t fail. More fiction writers than ever are making money with their fiction.

It’s a new golden age for fiction writers.

Have fun. Happy New Year.


Copyright © 2014 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime


This entry was posted in On Writing, publishing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to The New World of Publishing: How to Keep Your Writing Going for All of 2014

  1. J.T. Lewis says:

    Awesome post! Thanks Dean!

  2. Vera Soroka says:

    I did have my failures this year. I had planned on making 2013 my publishing year and it didn’t happen so 2014 will be it. It seems I put up a lot of road blocks to publication for some reason.
    I did have some successes however and that was I finally managed to write a short story which I had failed at for quite a few years. I wrote three novellas and two short stories which was a huge break through for me. I have a lot of back log to clear out. I have quite a few novels written so if I get them all out this year I should have quite few projects published.
    My problem is not writing the stuff it’s getting it out there.
    Happy New Year!

    • dwsmith says:

      Vera, some professional writer friends of mine came up with a great idea about your problem. They set one full day aside per week as their “publisher” day where they work on getting things out. That way the other days can be open to writing new product. Really works for them and they are getting out indie published a ton of their backlist by doing it that way.

      • Vera Soroka says:

        Thanks for the idea. That might work for me. I was going to make a schedule on a calendar and maybe working in a day of publishing might work. I take it that is the day they do their formatting as well or just uploading? Either way, it has potential for me. Thanks again to your writer friends.

        • Vera, I write in the most common format for e-publishing. I quit using the standard traditional submission format for writing over a year ago. That means you can pretty much skip the formatting step.

          • I now write in the format I use for Createspace in Libre Office, and just run a script to convert it to epub for Amazon. Unfortunately I still have to reformat substantially for Smashwords.

            Aiming to release at least one thing a month this year, but would like to do it every two weeks.

  3. Mike Zimmerman says:

    Thanks for this refresher, Dean. Perfectly timed. I’ve worked a long time in both fiction and nonfiction, but the nonfiction has paid the rent so that’s what I focus most of my time on whether I want to or not. As it happens, this afternoon I’m having lunch with a writer friend of mine who is in the same boat as me. He’s made an enviable career in the health and fitness arena and is without question the best fitness writer we have right now. But he’s like me: Loves to write fiction even though it takes time away from the paying gig. Anyway, he’s mentioned a desire to make 2014 a year of indie publishing for his fiction, so at lunch today I’m going to suggest that we use each other as goal minders. Funny (or is it sad?) — even guys who write and edit books on how to stay motivated at the gym have to be reminded how to stay motivated to write and publish what they love.

    Thanks for the ongoing excellence and Happy New Year to you and Kris.

    • dwsmith says:

      Mike, when I started taking my motivation and practice routines from the golf course into writing, it helped me a lot. With your experience, it should translate over if you can make the connections. Good luck on this and have fun!!

  4. Chris Armstrong says:

    It’s a deal. Here’s to lots of writing and lots of fun in 2014!

  5. Peggy says:

    Hi, Dean.

    Thanks for this post!

    Question: what do you think of literary novelists? The Paris Review interviews suggest that it’s pretty common for novelists to work 4-6 hours/day, five days a week … and yet publishing one novel a year–every year–qualifies them as prolific.

    Do you have any thoughts on the differences in productivity between literary novelists and genre writers? Is it possible that some books just take a lot of time to research or write one’s way into? That some stories take a lot of rewriting before they’re ready to go out?

    (I just read a short interview with Philipp Meyer … he did a ton of book and skills research for The Son.)

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. If you’ve already got a post on the subject, just point me to the link.

    • dwsmith says:

      LOL, Peggy. Good question, but you are asking the wrong person. I don’t believe that any story is improved by rewriting. In fact, I have proven to hundreds of professional writers over the years at workshops here at the coast that if they just trust their own art and voice and write and submit, their stories get better.

      And I don’t count research as writing.

      So my opinion on your question isn’t worth anything I’m afraid. I’m a commercial writer. I spent seven years, my first seven years, trying to be a literary writer and failed completely, even though I sold upward of 60 poems. They were always my toss-off poems that sold, not the ones I had rewritten and worked on, and my two stories per year that were rewritten to death were so bland and polished, no one would ever buy them. I follow Heinlein’s Rules completely and since I started that in 1982, I have been successful in sales and money.

      Sorry, can’t help. However, if you want some of my views on the topics, just scan back through the posts on Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. Link at the top.

    • Emanuella Martin says:

      Peggy, I’m at the tale end of an MFA program where many of my teachers are “prolific” literary writers, so I might have a little bit of insight on what I’ve seen my teachers doing. Like Dean has talked about in the Sacred Cows posts, there is a gap between what the professionals tell people and what they actually do.

      The first surprise (Dean might be happy to hear this) is that the most prolific writers don’t rewrite. Multiple teachers, my mentor included, have admitted to me privately that they are one-draft writers. They cycle through the draft as they are writing so that by the time they get to the end, they almost never look at it again, unless they decide to junk the story and redraft completely. Some writers redraft more than others.

      What I have noticed, though, is that most of the literary writers are a whole lot slower than Dean, averaging only a page or two an hour (only 250-600 words). (My sample size is pretty small, but this seems to be unanimous among the producing writers I’ve talked to). Their daily writing quotas are much more modest, say only about 500 to 1000 words.

      Even so, one would think that 500 to 1000 words a day would add up to multiple books a year. So what I have been able to gather, the reason that “prolific” literary writers only produce a book a year (and often less than that) seems to come down to other factors. Here is what I have observed from my professors.

      1. They say they write consistently every day, but they actually don’t. Many of the teachers only write during vacation, or in weekend binge sessions, so they produce less over the course of a year because of those missing days. Also, they waste a lot of time waiting for their muse, instead of writing every day.

      2. The literary fiction writers aren’t just writing fiction, but magazine articles, op-eds, lectures, and fellowship and grant applications (much of this stuff is invisible to the average fan).

      3. They spend their “writing time” doing other stuff, like reading, research, public readings, community events, writing student feedback and peer reviews, etc.

      4. The biggest difference between the literary and commercial writers I have met seems to be how they are incentivized. Commercial writers are paid per finished work, which means they are driven to keep moving forward and to complete as many stories as efficiently as possible by following Heinlein’s Rules and keeping steady work habits. Literary writers, on the other hand, often make their living from teaching, fellowships, lectures, and arts grants…and the public expectation of what they will produce with this fellowship money is so small that they are basically incentivized to stretch out each project as long as possible. When academic careers are at stake, nobody wants to be the tall blade of grass who produced more with x-amount of fellowship money than any other writer.

      On a personal note, I’m really happy with my MFA program because I went into it with some very specific goals and I have pretty much attained those goals. I read Dean’s Sacred Cows posts right when I began the program, I am very grateful for this. With his advice in mind, I believe I came though relatively unscathed. I used workshops as deadlines for new work, I figured out a writing process that really works for me (a clean first draft, a quick continuity fix-it draft, and a quick check for spelling and typos…), and I got better at finishing stories faster so that I can send them out. I got good stuff from my MFA program, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. Now that I’m out of school, I’m looking forward to producing more and selling work at a more professional pace.

      • dwsmith says:

        Emanuella, Wow, thanks for the great post. And wow are you spot on about the gap that professional writers out in public tell people about their writing process and what they actually do. Spot on there.

        Congrats on getting through the school. And wonderful points. Thank you. And thanks for taking the time to post them here. Very much appreciated.

      • Peggy says:

        Thanks, Emanuella. I really appreciate your taking the time to post this. I always need to be reminded that what people say they do isn’t necessarily what they do.

        Good luck with your writing!

  6. Liana Mir says:

    I had an extraordinarily successful 2013 challenge, even though I “failed” it. I was going to write one piece of prompted fiction or poetry per day. Some of my stories sprawled and I instituted a point system early in the year so that longer pieces counted as more than one piece.

    I failed it because I didn’t accomplish that number, but I think I created over 200K of fiction for the challenge and more that wasn’t prompted but was inspired by working on the challenge, so yeah. My summation went like this right before Nano:

    I’ve downgraded the importance of this. It’s weird. I should want, maybe even need to finish out the challenge, but I don’t. I have so much raw material to turn into powerful books that readers actually want to read that I consider the challenge an unmitigated success and now want to seriously finish out all the stuff it started. So yeah. Expect books. Novelettes, novellas, and maybe novels. I’ve never been as fast at pulling out long fiction, but I’m going to try.

    It’s important not to just look at the goal/challenge but at WHY that challenge exists. It did what I wanted it to do, which was get me writing at large levels again and keep me excited. It worked. It accomplished the goal behind the goal.

  7. “…have fun doing it.”

    The only reason, in the long run, to do any of this at all. :)

    Happy New Year, and thanks for a year of good advice!

  8. I’ve done many of these before, and it’s really helped. If anyone’s looking for a place to report their progress, consider ROW80 ( which romance author Kait Nolan started for this very purpose. We set goals that work for us as individuals, and post our progress every Wednesday and Sunday (a lot of people just do Sunday). Great way to get some encouragement and accountability. Thanks for the push, Dean, and happy New Year!

    • J.A. Marlow says:

      Another option is the Magic Spreadsheet. Earn points for writing 250 words a day consistently, with bonus for 500, 1000, and 2000 words a day. It’s been a lot of fun, with a stats Leader Board to give just a little bit of competition. :P

      For more info:
      To see the actual Magic Spreadsheet:

      Something else to help push in the right direction. At the writing website, “Forward Motion for Writers,” there is the “Indie “No Fear” Challenge.” This is about putting away fear and getting your work out there (published). There are 6 different levels to aim for, including the 25-a-year goal Dean mentioned. Site: (go to the Indie Publishing board and you will see the sub-board for the challenge).

      Both of the above are free. Unfortunately, the “750 Words” site is now charging to participate through their website. Otherwise, that would be a good option.

      Point is, though, is to find a way to keep yourself motivated and moving in the right direction. All while having fun. Especially the fun. :D

  9. This last year, I started out wanting to have my contemporary fantasy finished by the beginning of the year. Instead, I ended up setting it aside, and I’m glad I did. I had some things I needed to learn (such as trusting the processing and figuring out patterns to why setting was so hard for me to even get into the story). I ended up writing 16 stories, two of which were published, and one placing runner up in Alfred Hitchcock’s monthly writing contest (not published, unfortunately, but really gets a “Wow!” because it said I was good enough to get their attention). And 16 stories? I was very happy with that. They were all written in the last third of the year, and more than I’d written since I started writing.

    I’ve always hated word count goals, though. My tendency would be to write to meet them, rather than focus on the story. I also have a bad history with running too short (because of the setting issues), and there’s nothing more discouraging than watching the word count bounce up and down. Sometimes the way I write is sloppy and messy and like paint splattering on the wall. Project goals, like finishing a scene, have been much better for me, though I track the word count so I can look at later and go, “Wow! That’s a lot I got done!”

    I’d like to do Idea #4, but the goal of actually indie publishing is a little aggressive for me at this moment. There are still some things I need to learn on the publishing side, like writing back cover copy and getting the DBA. But the goal of a story every two weeks is very doable, and meanwhile, I can have those out to magazines …

    It’s both scary and exciting.

    • dwsmith says:

      Scary and exciting. That’s the attitude that leads to fun. Like a ride at a carnival. Scary and exciting. Have a great year.

  10. Thanks for this, Dean. I really enjoy the annual reminder.

    Well, I made my goal for 2013 – by a hair, with two short stories being uploaded TODAY to meet my 12-title-release goal for the year.

    But hey, I got it done. ;)

    I think I need to pick a more challenging goal for this year. Something that will drive me. Something moderately nuts, that will PUSH me harder.

    Playing around with the idea of 24 titles, 360,000 words, or maybe both. ;)

    Anyway, tons of fun. Been a CRAZY year, and still got the work in. Going to be another crazy one in 2014, but no excuses. Up to us to make it happen.

  11. Hey Dean,

    Always a pleasure to read your posts. :)

    I failed in my goal for the year. Instead of 250k, I set 300k. And got 192k-ish. A lot of reasons for that – buying a house at the end of the year took a bit of my attention for the last three months. Go figure.

    But I still feel good about it. I got two full novels finished, 2/3s of a third, and several novelettes and novellas. So that’s good.

    The other place I fell down was in publishing. I pretty much only put out the novels, except for one novella. I’ve got 5 or 6 titles sitting around because I’ve been basically focusing on new words. And other things. So I think I’ll do what you suggested above and set a publishing day this year. No reason not to. :)

    It was a fun year, all things considered. I figure I’ll set a whacky goal for 2014 – 500k words. Why 500? Because that will put me a few dozen thousands of words above that magical 1,000,000 mark. :) And because it seems impossible with a wife, 4 kids, a more-than full time job in the Navy, and physical training. So we’ll see how it goes. Worst case, I’ll write more than I would have without the goal.


    Thanks for all you do here, and up on the Coast. Happy New Year! Hope 2014 is great for you and Kris!

  12. Joseph Bradshire says:

    Well I didn’t have any set goals for 2013 mostly because I didn’t figure on living the entire year. It was only around April that I realized my health might hold long term, and I’d be around for the rest of the year. And many years to come!

    After that I was focused on 3 things, getting a job, rehabbing my body so I quit looking like a potato and getting my feet wet in writing.

    I more or less achieved those things. I’m still a tad potato shaped. I got two novels half written and learned so much that I can’t fathom the extent of my prior ignorance. Dean got me started right off with Heinlein’s Rules as well, and I read over his ‘myths’ several times.

    Not saying I won’t fall prey to the myths, insecurity is a real monster, but I’m thinking I have an advantage because I started my apprenticeship here.

    This next year I will concentrate on discipline. Writing every day. Exercising everyday. Don’t worry about word counts or pounds lost and all of that jazz, just make sure to hit it everyday. I already have it all scheduled, 11am – 3 pm daily. That includes exercise for 30-45 mins, food/shower and then 2-3 hours of writing. Something might mess up the schedule, but not more more than a day or two before I adapt.

    Being sick for so long I missed the prime window when my peers were getting married and pregnant, so I have no family demands (yet). Hearing what some people have to do to carve out a couple of hours from their day is amazing, it feels like I’m cheating.

    Thus ends the longest blog comment ever. ;-)

  13. Sam says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s always great to have some insight when setting goals. I’m one of the impossible goal setting people. For most of the time it works for me. I find every time I try a new challenge I get closer to impossible. Last year I set a goal for 350k words. I got 337k, not bad. Occasionally though, I do get discouraged.
    This year after finishing reading outliers by gladwell, I’m focusing more on hours. I started recording my hours spent writing last month, and ended december with 40.15 hours (I don’t count anything but writing new words in this total). I want to reach 1k hours by the end of 2014, that’s about 3 hours every day.
    After reading this post I’m going to try and up that to at least four hours to give me a few days off a month to get new fiction up, and do all that pesky life stuff. I tend not to give myself much of a buffer, but with all of my backlog I need some!
    Going to bookmark this post so I can peak at it through the year and remind myself to set realistic goals and not scramble to catch up when I fall behind.

  14. Frank Luke says:

    After a friend (also a writer) explained Heinlein’s Rules to me and pointed me to your website, I started following them. That was in May. My word count for 2013 before that was 18,000 words. My total for the year is 60,000 words. My average for all years prior that I have kept track of was 27,000 words a year. Following the rules has definitely upped my output. I would also argue that my quality has not decreased. A story I submitted to an anthology is one of three finalists for opening story when the anthology goes to print. I give more details here.

  15. Great advice. What hit home with me was to forget about catching up. Duh. Why didn’t I think of that myself? Thank you and happy new year!

  16. Brynn says:

    Question for you about writing with Heinlein’s rules in mind.

    I wrote a story recently, sent it out to a contest, and got a rejection with some feedback. The main character is too passive, and basically it needs a POV shift. I agree, that story would be stronger. But the story as written seems finished to me; I don’t want to go back and revamp it now, it’s done and I’d rather work on new material. Instead I’m considering doing a “retelling,” so to speak, using the same story idea and (at least some of) the same characters. Some of the scenes would overlap in content, but I’d probably make the new story considerably longer (the original is under 2000 words) and entirely in a different POV.

    Any reason not to retell it and sell both versions? Is that unprofessional, or would readers of both versions feel cheated? Perhaps it would be best to write the new one and then choose only one of them to submit…but then I suppose I run afoul of Rules 4 and 5, which I think are important.

    I think I read in one of your previous posts about doing something similar, but I’m not sure if there are certain parameters that one must follow–changing character names, and/or only using the “concept” and not the bulk of the plot… Is there a standard about these things that pros typically adhere to?

    • dwsmith says:


      I wrote a story about thirty-some years ago about a jukebox that actually takes a person back into the memory attached to the song. Story was a good attempt but like you, I wasn’t happy with it. So using the same bartender, same setting, same cast of characters, I wrote another one with a different character going back, but still the same story. Sold it to Twilight Zone Magazine, but still wasn’t happy with how I handled the idea and “story” so wrote another one called Jukebox Gifts, with a different approach to the same idea, same characters. Sold that to F&SF. And I kept writing them. Sold six or seven more, all basically the same thing, same characters, even though I would bring in one new character to experience the jukebox. Now, in two novels (Thunder Mountain and Monumental Summit) and more stories, I’m setting up the origin story of the jukebox, who built it, and how it got into the bar.

      So I think it’s fine to write a story more than once. (grin) Each story I explored a little more of the idea. It’s even been optioned for Hollywood. Go figure.

      And Peter Straub wrote three novels with the exact same plot and characters, each novel from a different pov about the same events. And he pulled it off.

      That help?

  17. Cora Buhlert says:

    My goal for 2013 was to write at least 1000 words every day (which includes academic writing, because otherwise it would never get done) and indie publish one piece (mostly shorts and novelettes with the occasional novella thrown in) per month. At the end of 2013 I had 14 new stories out plus one story in a multi-author anthology, so I managed to exceed that goal by 2 stories. I haven’t yet tallied my total number of words, but it’s over 1000 a day.

    For 2014 I hope to write at least 1000 words per day again and publish at least as many stories as I did in 2013.

  18. I love your clear instructions on how to set goals. Especially the word count thing! I’m one who is guilty of making crazy goals and then get discouraged because I’m not superhuman! ;P

    BTW, I’ve been meaning to ask you for the longest time. I’ve truly appreciated how you make posts like this free for us, when it’s clearly going to be part of an ebook you’re going to put out in the market one day.

    This seem to go against the advice some of my self-pubbed friends gave me: Never give away your work.

    I’m thinking of a similar strategy but my friends think I’m being foolish.

    Curious to see what you have to say about this.

    • dwsmith says:


      I sure don’t see any problem with doing it. Some things work in this form other’s don’t. So the answer is sort of “it depends.”

  19. Thanks Dean. This is great advice.

  20. TXRed says:

    Thanks for the ideas, Dean, and for the reminder about picking back up when life knocks you off the tracks. In 2013 I had what was supposed to be a one-shot short story or novella turn into four novels, finished a fifth short novel that I’d been stuck on, and wrote more short stories, along with massive rewrites on a non-fiction work. The goal this year is to publish three novels and ten short stories, write two novels, and get that [redacted] non-fiction monster through final contract. And restart research for another non-fiction project that got stopped because of the novels. Fiction pays. Non-fic does not, at least not at this stage.

  21. Hello Dean, I finally managed to put up my first short story and I’ve chosen one of the least popular genres: Historical/paranormal :P I’m trying not to be discouraged by the distinct lack of enthusiasm over my work but it’s amazing how powerful that emotion can be.

    Your post came at the right time. I’m fighting the extreme urge to promote the damn thing, eventhough I logically know that I *should* write the next story create a decent backlist. I’m also resisting the urge to make it free (because I don’t have any catalog to speak of and it’s not going to benefit me in any way). I suppose this is what discouragement does to you – your ebook, which has been up for all of three days, does not have a single buy and you think you’ve failed. Yes, do laugh. I know. I’m so impatient.

    Anyway I’ve set a structure for myself: 5000 words per week. 250k a year, which means I could produce 5 novels or lots more novellas. Bird by Bird as Anne Lamott said.

    What I’ll do is to write about it on my blog like you are now (I hope you don’t mind me mimicing your Write in Public stuff) so that I could have a clear record about how I’m doing. I think you write in public blog posts shows that a little bit counts every single day. And perhaps through my “diary” I’l ldiscover what works, and what doesn’t.

    I’m not sure I should could my blog posts output though…

    • dwsmith says:

      Antonna, count them like I do. I have yet to figure out a way to count these answers to questions, however, so I just don’t. If it’s not easy, I don’t do it. (grin) Good luck with your challenge and remember to just not try to catch up, just keep going.

  22. Katie says:

    Great post! I read 2013′s near the end of January and decided to follow your word count idea. I had a number of partially completed nonfiction as well as fiction books. I set a goal of 250k new words (@5k new words a week), and 20 published books by the end of the year (Amazon & CreateSpace).

    I got off-track a few times and took your advice to just ignore the words under the bridge and simply get back on track. In June an unexpected trip to Oregon came up and messed up my schedule and in December everything else hit (including a trip to a different part of Oregon to visit family), so for those months I did next to no writing at all. But other times I wrote 10-15k a week.

    So, I still ended up with almost 212k words, along with 18 books published to Amazon (plus one I helped a friend get published) and 14 to CreateSpace. These included a children’s book written and illustrated with my 11 year old granddaughter that was also translated into Spanish (so that counts as 2 LOL). And I’ve started publishing to other platforms, too (B&N, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, GooglePlay).

    Targets are great, and I figure it they move me in the direction of my desires, then I’m a winner regardless of the results. But I am very happy with what I got done in 2013.

    I am very good with goals (some of my books are about them), but it was the suggestions in your post that gave me a practical way to focus the energy towards the results. Thank you <3

    • dwsmith says:

      Katie, Wow, great year. Well done and really well done not letting the side-tracks knock you off target. Congrats.

  23. Terry Schott says:

    Finding and reading your articles at the end of 2012 helped me set my goals for 2013. My goal was 750,000 words… I hit 400,000, plus I added 9 new books for sale online.
    This year will I will hit 750,000 with a new book out once a month.
    Thanks again for all the great information you provide, Dean. You helped me plan, execute, and have fun!

  24. Amy says:

    I just wanted to thank you, Dean, for your posts this past year. Watching a writer actually working (virtually) has helped me be okay with the ups and downs of my daily word count. And reading your posts on revision and production has helped me enormously. I have nine titles out now, compared to one at the beginning of 2013. My goal this year is to finish my current series (it’ll take all year to do) and get at least ten of my titles in print. In fact, the first one is almost ready to go. :D

    I’m really excited about 2014. Thank you.

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