Reset! The Ups and Downs of Writing Challenges

During the month of December I’m going to be talking about how writers can motivate and keep writing during a long, long year. How to set goals, how to keep expectations and such in a healthy place. So stay tuned.

But right now I need to start these topics with how to deal with challenges and events that cause goals to get pushed aside.

In other words, before I go on, I need to address my own challenges this year, with about one month to go.

The weight challenge…

It was going great until August and I was down 18 pounds from January 1st and over sixty pounds since my heaviest a few years back. Since the death of my friend in August and the estate issues and all the weeks in hotel rooms and traveling, I have gained back five of those pounds, but they are dropping off again now that things have settled. So the year will turn out fine on weight. I should end up about 15 pounds down for the year, which I will be happy with.

I also set out to run a marathon, but thanks to the estate problems, that didn’t happen either. I am resetting that marathon goal for 2012. And to drop more weight, about another twenty pounds before the marathon.

So decent year on the weight, but not a great one. Reset for 2012. More on this challenge right before January 1st.

Short Story Challenge…

The goal was to write, along with my normal novel writing and blog writing, one hundred short stories in one year, all started from titles. Well, that’s not going to happen now this year. Duh… (grin)

In fact, I haven’t written any fiction at all since September. I hope to have the brain back on it shortly, but am not pushing myself.

(I have another issue at the moment. Thanks to the last move part of the estate (long and boring story), a harrowing drive with a big moving truck through the mountains in high winds and downpour rain (not so boring), and slightly high blood pressure from the stress of the fall, I now have a swollen optic nerve. Basically that means I’m mostly blind in one eye for a time, at least two or three months, until it clears. Makes writing these things a little slower, but I’m getting along fine at the moment. Blood pressure back under control and everything.)

During the short story challenge writing part of this year I finished thirty-five short stories. Three sold to traditional publishing markets so don’t count.

In fact one is out just now in Courts of the Fey edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Russell Davis. I published thirty-two electronically through WMG Publishing. You can see the results of that and the story of the writing of each one under “Challenge” tab at the top of the page (or covers of the stories and when they were written down the middle column).

I also did a ton more writing in the last eleven months and hope to do more this last month of the year, (even with a bad eye) but I’m not going to be silly and try to hit the story mark. And I’m not going to tell you how many words I wrote in 2011. Just leave it at a distance past a half million, even with three months almost totally off.

But the challenge is not over either.

I am going to continue the challenge to write 100 short stories as soon as I can, all from titles.  In other words, the short story challenge from this year will just continue on until the day I reach 100 short stories. No more artificial deadline of doing that in one year.

More than likely I’ll now finish the one hundred short stories by the summer. We shall see. Keep following the challenge right here. And remember, the story is only up for free to read until I finish and post the next one.

I have a new challenge to add in for 2012 on top of the short story and weight challenge. As some of you may have guessed, it concerns novels.  And I will talk about that right before January 1st as well.

What Causes a Challenge to Go Sideways?

There are a ton of varied reasons a writing challenge can get off track. Let me list the three major categories of problems.

– You just forget about it. (This is the most common. One reason I was doing my challenge out in the open. I have been known to do this as well.)

– Other projects come in and break the plans. This is normal for a professional writer. Actually, almost any writer. When an opportunity comes, you often have to toss out plans and go after the opportunity. (This used to happen to me all the time during my media writing days. I would have a novel on deck and get two other media or ghost jobs and the first novel would hit the back burner, often never to see the light of day again.)

– Life gets in the way. This is what just happened to me this fall. Somehow life just stops things cold. There are no writers that escape this at one point or another. If you let it make you angry, you will just delay your return. You have to roll with things and just keep going. Sometimes deadlines will force you to keep writing, but not often. If I had had a traditional publisher deadline on a novel this fall, I would have called my editor and asked for a three-month extension.

What do you do when a challenge goes sideways?

-- Figure out what caused it and why.

(For me this year a life event caused the problem.)

– Figure out if the challenge was too extreme or the type of challenge not in your control. (Like selling a book to a traditional publisher…not in your control. Mailing, on the other hand, is in your control. Indie publishing is in your control.)

(For me writing one hundred short stories in one year was a very possible challenge. The challenge itself was not a problem with my normal work methods.)

– Figure out how much the challenge helped you.

(For me I will be down about 15 pounds and have at least 32 short stories I would not have had. Nothing wrong at all with that outcome.)

– Reset the challenge or create a new one.

(For me I am doing both. I reset the weight challenge and continued the short story challenge, just taking out the year deadline, giving myself an extension. I will be adding in a new challenge for 2012 as well right before the first of the year.)

This is a start on the series of upcoming blogs about writing and life that I will do through December. How to set writing goals that are both sane and a challenge.

As I have said a thousand times on this blog, every writer is different. The key is figuring out what is right for you when it comes to setting writing goals for a new year.

Stay tuned.

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62 Responses to Reset! The Ups and Downs of Writing Challenges

  1. Rachel says:

    I have a real problem with failure so when I don’t succeed at a challenge I set myself alarm bells go off in the head. I like your attitude about it. Don’t give up, keep plugging along.

    • dwsmith says:

      Rachel, one thing I learned a long, long time ago about publishing is that it is one failure after another. Nature of the beast. However, when looked at in total from a distance, the successes between the failures add up to a great deal.

      I didn’t fail at my challenge. I wrote 35 short stories, sold three of them traditionally. That’s my best short story year in twenty years. Kind of fun, too. But I liked the challenge so much I want to just keep going with it. Who knows, maybe I’ll see how close I can come by January 1st 2013 to having 132 stories done. (grin) Always just keep going in publishing. Failures must be ignored in this business, otherwise you will never publish or mail anything.

  2. Sam says:

    Greatly helpful and timely post, Dean. I think my goals were too extreme for the amount of time I had available this year. I’ll dig deeper when I sit down and run through your handy points myself.

    Looking forward to your December posts, and best wishes for a speedy recovery, both physically and writing-wise!

  3. Mary Jo Rabe says:

    Try to do everything possible to let your optic nerve recover. Sometimes health issues have to have the top priority. Still, I am (selfishly) so glad you were able to write as much as you did – I loved all your stories!

  4. SL Clark says:

    I’m with Mary Jo, no amount of “accomplishment” is worth descending health. Working heart, eyes and fingers are important attributes for creative sorts and husbands too.

    My wife and I ran this first year without goals and it was a blast, and if life doesn’t get in the way, we’ll create your word count again next year. Yea, our first year out of the box was *that* fun. :-)

    Cheers on a brave new world,

  5. I admire your positive attitude and obvious love of writing! Take care of yourself. Best thing right now is to let that very important optic nerve heal. :)

    • dwsmith says:

      Doc said nothing I needed to do but not be stressed and make sure my blood pressure gets down and stays down. (grin) This was a one-time event caused not by too much writing, but by too much work while exhausted, picking up far, far too many heavy boxes, then a very nasty and long drive straining to see and even keep the truck on the road. Then unloading two trucks when done with the drive in pouring rain. Way too stupid for a sixty-plus person. Too stupid for a twenty-something person, actually. (grin)

      Writing and computer are just slower and I am taking more breaks, but nothing I can really do to speed up the healing I’m afraid. Just one of those things.

      Not writing fiction is just me going slow. My brain just hasn’t returned to it yet, and since I don’t have a book deadline at the moment and no reason to rush, just taking my time. Fiction will be back soon. It always does, sort of sneaks in the back door when I am not looking.

  6. R. L. Copple says:

    Thanks for the inspiration, Dean. Like you, I’ve had a life issue of major significance stall out my writing from about May until Sept. when I was able to start seriously getting back to writing.

    But despite that, I’ve had four books come out this year. One a reprint by a new publisher, the other a “new and improved” based on stories I wrote last year, and indie published a space opera and wrote and just published the past three months a non-fiction on how to make an ebook and put it up for sale.

    So I didn’t quite hit my goal, which was to write four novels this year, but it was productive despite the life issues getting in the way. I actually feel like I’ve accomplished more than I normally do in a year. Which I am thinking, is the point of it. As you’ve pointed out in your note.

  7. Lee McAulay says:

    If your December series is anything like the one you wrote in 2009, I can’t wait. I downloaded all of those posts into one document and read it for motivation whenever I’m feeling disheartened.
    If you put them out as an ebook I’m sure it would be a great success.
    It’s been a delight – and an education – following your adventures this past year. Your words have inspired me to refresh my attitude to my own writing and focus on what really matters. I’ve put out a small volume of stories to support my forthcoming novel, plotted out the next five years of novels, and started a new short story series. Without your inspiration, I doubt I’d have achieved even half of that.
    Many thanks, Dean, and blessings for the future.

  8. I also hope your health issues disappear with rest and care.

    Your challenge was too big for me to copy, but I stepped out of my comfort zone and published a cosy mystery tonight.

    I also have three scifi novelettes almost ready to publish before the end of this year with a fourth planned, but I may run out of time, too. I do not stress over missed deadlines, because I worked for years as a computer programmer (programming projects almost never complete within deadlines) but I am slightly disappointed that I may not to have the fourth novelette completed before Xmas.

    Still, thank you for all your guidence on this blog over the past twelve months.

  9. Jeff Ambrose says:

    Oh, Dean, man, what a great post … and what a great set of future posts. I, too, “fail” at some of my goals … and yet, looked at in another direction, it was a success. I got 36 e-titles published (both shorts and collections) under three different names, and if all goes smoothly, I’ll hit my yearly word count goal of 400,000 words. That’s not too shabby, and yet I’ve been feeling like I’ve failed. Thanks for the different perspective.

    And looking forward to the future posts, too. I read the same kinds of posts you wrote back in 2009, and that changed everything. Well, everything did change five months later when I adopted Heinlein’s rules without qualification, but that original set of goal and motivation posts set everything that’s following in motion.

    And it’s gonna be great, because I’m thinking about what I want to accomplish in 2012, and I know these new posts will really help me clarify my thoughts.

    Hope you get well soon and back to writing!

    All my best.

  10. Mike Zimmerman says:

    Dean, you touch on a very good point about challenges, whether they’re about weight-loss, running a marathon, writing, or any goal whatsoever: Get it out there in public. That’s a person’s best chance for success because it gets friends and loved ones watching, and hopefully encouraging you. You have a terrific community here that is curious about your progress, which is the perfect motivator.

    Private goals can feel good (or maybe stay private because you’re embarrassed about them; if a person wants to, say, back off on the internet porn a bit. Ahem.). But even research has shown that announcing your plan increases your chances for success.

    My challenge? I did pretty well getting more than 20 ebooks up for sale this year, while the goal was actually to master (to a point) the process of self-pub. I also started up a pseudonym in a genre I’ve never tried before, and done far better with sales of the first 5 stories than I ever thought I would. This is all separate from contracted book and magazine work I did throughout 2011, which doesn’t count. The problem with next year is…what to do? Shoot for sheer word count? A set number of novels written? Or simply shoot for consistency of production (my fiction production is always infuriatingly sporadic because my day job doing nonfiction sometimes turns into nights doing nonfiction).

    So there’s a valid question for all: When faced with many attractive challenge options, how to choose?

    Keep your eye on the prize, brother (that’s one bad joke that could not be resisted…)

    Mike Zimmerman

    • dwsmith says:

      Mike, great stuff. And I find it interesting that you and I and many others don’t count books and articles we write that are contracted for. Not that they are less important, they just already have a motivation attached, thus don’t need to be inside of motivating challenges, I guess. Kris pointed it out to me that I don’t count contracted work or blog articles and I just can’t make myself count them. Weird, huh?

  11. TK Kenyon says:

    Hi Dean,

    Yippee! I love your attitude! And you’re absolutely right: every one of those stories and pounds was a victory against entropy.

    Take care of yourself,
    TK Kenyon

  12. Kenneth says:

    Good luck, Dean! I’m really looking forward to reading your next few posts.

    Right now I’m going through a really hard faze where I can write semi-full time and like it, but have too extreme goals. My challenge is 9000 titles in four years. I write 30 stories every 10 days when I’m really rocking. The thing is 30 stories equals 90 titles. 90 covers, 30 proofs, 60 checks, 90 blurbs – it’s a heavy weight at times in regards to production.

    Anyway, a post on dealing with making the transition to being a writer as a full time job would be amazing. (I guess I’m lucky that I get 1 month to try it out.)

    Keep up the hard work and I hope your eye gets better.

  13. Nancy Beck says:

    Like R.L. above, thanks for the inspiration, Dean. It’s because of you, Kris, and Konrath, that I started this whole self pubbing thing (doing it the right way, with your guidance).

    I wanted to get out a novella series by the end of this year, and altho I don’t think I’ll make the original date, I think it will only be off by a few days, maybe a week at the most. :-) So I’ll have 4 books up by the end of the year (3 novellas and a 2-short story micro-mini collection :-)).

    Never thought I could do that in one year – and I only started in July this year. (Yay me!)

    I also have had life intrude in a big way lately, for the last month to 6 weeks. I’ve been alternately angry, upset, and depressed, so my writing had to take a back seat. But I’m back to the grind (which really isn’t a grind – it’s fun!). There’s something about writing fiction that really dilutes the anger, upset, and depression for me.

    And as others have said, please take care of your health.

    • dwsmith says:

      Way to go, Nancy. And being angry is also allowed when life gets in the way of writing. (grin) You can imagine how angry I have been at times this fall… well, maybe you can’t, but it ain’t been pretty. Only thing more ugly is when life gets in the way of Kris’s writing. She makes me look tame. (grin)

  14. Ty Johnston says:

    Always good to set goals and be serious about working toward them, but not worth beating oneself up over if not all goals are reached. With writing and publishing, a long term approach is best, at least for me. If I judged myself on everything I’ve failed to do or just failed at altogether, I’d be locked up in a closet somewhere crying and I’d never get anything done. A big part of my own writing journey has been to learn to allow myself to fail, because without some degree of failure, I’d never accomplish much. Every word I write isn’t going to be golden, and every deadline I set isn’t going to be made (for all the reasons Dean mentioned). It was only when I truly realized this that I became productive as a fiction writer.

  15. Best of luck with speedy healing of that optic nerve, Dean! (That’s actually giving me an idea for a story of something creepy, my inner horror writer leaping on it!)

    I’ve actually blasted past my original goals for this year and I attribute it to having the opportunity to take workshops with you and Kristine. It was a real treat and I’m incredibly grateful for it and for all the wisdom and perspective I get from your blog. I’ve never written so much and had so much fun with my writing and I can’t wait to do even more next year. I am on track to hit 385,000 for the year and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

    I am so inspired by your posts and by the comments. Thanks to you, Dean, and to everyone for some wonderfully inspiring and thoughtful messages throughout the year. I wish everyone great health and fun in the upcoming holiday season!

    • dwsmith says:

      Rebecca, always great having you here on the coast. Glad you are coming back for the short story workshop. That’s going to be a fun one. And thanks!!

  16. Honestly Dean, I get tired just reading this post … my goal setting is slightly less ambitious … it involves a shower and coffee in the morning … beyond that it’s a grab bag.

  17. Jamie D. says:

    Glad you’re back, Dean…and with all you had going on, I’m surprised you escaped with “just” a swollen optic nerve (though I imagine that’s irritating enough). I hope it heals up quickly so you’ll be back to full speed soon.

    I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to challenges/goals – because when they’re going well, I start thinking I can do anything, and then I take on more projects because hey, I can handle it, right? It’s self-sabotage, more or less, and I end up frustrated and not reaching my goals. That’s what happened this year, and why I’ll end the year one novel and one novelette behind where I wanted to be. Dang it anyways.

    Still, I published two novels, 5 novelettes (or will be five by mid-Dec.) a novella and 2 flash pieces, those spanning three genres this year. Plus I have three more drafts in progress, and a novel done that just needs editing. Considering I work a full-time day job that got really demanding in a big hurry half-way through the year, I can’t complain. I haven’t decided yet how I’ll tweak things next year…but all the writing carries over, of course.

    And I managed to lose about 5lbs too. :-)

    Looking forward to your December posts, as always!

    • dwsmith says:

      Jamie, as you are seeing, part of the positives about goals is that when you don’t hit them, you make yourself step back and look at what you ACTUALLY did accomplish. Sure sounds like you did great!!

  18. In software development these days, a popular concept is Agile Development. In my opinion, it’s a lot of hype and blather gathered around a much smaller set of real truths. And one of those truths is that smaller, shorter goals are more predictable and attainable than larger, longer goals. So you try to structure your plans out of small goals that are reassessed and redefined along the way, always ready to change the larger plan structure to fit the reality of the smaller goals.

    I think you’ve done more or less the same here. Your smaller goals are the individual stories. You succeeded at those. Your larger plan had to change to accommodate reality, but you still succeeded.

    So you may be 60, Dean, but you’re Agile!

  19. Bartholomew Thockmorton says:

    Hummm…Not to be an underachiever, but my goal is to produce and indie publish 6 short stories/novellas and one novel during 2012. If I can manage that, I’ll be thrilled beyond imagination!

  20. Linda Jordan says:

    So glad to hear you’re healing!
    Your short story challenge inspired me to write twelve short stories (and one that was the bones of a novel masquerading as a short story) last summer, not a lot but considering I hadn’t written one in over twenty years, it was a big deal for me.
    Now it’s back to getting more novels formatted to go up.
    Thanks for the inspiration and I look forward to reading your thoughts in December.

  21. Ramon Terrell says:

    Wow, glad your alright, Dean. Sounds like you’ve been through a lot these past months. I hope your optic nerve mends sooner than later. Take it easy, drink veg juice. :)

  22. JR Tomlin says:

    I quite definitely did not meet my writing goals this year. Life issues got in the way big time.

    In a way I don’t feel to bad about it, and I do tend to beat myself up when I don’t meet goals, because I accomplished some new goals in self-publishing. The idea that you can reset goals, well, it sounds stupid but it never really occurred to me.

    So thanks for talking about that.

  23. I find that I set goals at the beginning of the year, assuming my life will be the same all year ’round. Or, that the year will be like the previous year.

    This year turned out to be the toughest year, as I started the year assuming I’d still be in the same place in my career. I started the year with a few articles, a few short stories. I’m ending the year with three traditional deals for novels, an audio deal, and a self-published novella series starting.

    I’m sure not knocking the successful year I’ve had, but it sure put a huge dent in what I’d planned to do, namely play around with some short fiction, pull some projects out of storage, etc.

    I firmly believe goals are critical to any author’s success. However, the skill to know when to move/adjust them instead of suck it up and finish them is an even bigger skill. It’s one I sure haven’t mastered yet.

    Good luck with the short fiction and the challenges. As well, I hope that the eye heals faster than expected. Health is something we can never take for granted.

    • dwsmith says:

      Krista, congrats on the great year. And wow are you right about the ability to flow with the changes. That’s the hardest part, something again I learned back in my media days. One day I would be humming along, almost done with my last book under contract and three days later I would have four more. It was wonderful being wanted by New York publishers, but it was a life constantly in flux, constantly working on which book the publisher needed the soonest and the fastest. A fun decade of writing but now I’m glad I have more freedom and a schedule not as much in flux.

      Being able to adjust a schedule and also climb back on the “horse” after life rolls is a critical skill for all of us. It never gets easier. Not sure why. I suppose (extending the metaphor) that after being on my back a couple dozen times in the grass looking up at the horse, I feel a little hesitant to climb back on the thing again. (grin)

  24. A.Rosaria says:

    I got inspired by your 100 short story challenge and made my own 20 story challenge. I’m a month in and I expected having two stories finished by now, but I learned that math is fine but reality screws even the most perfect calculations.

    Not doing well at a challenge does bring a sense of reality to ones capability. I know I can do twenty in a year, but now I know it doesn’t take much for me not to be able to.

    I’m just happy that I refrained myself from announcing that I would shave my eyebrows if I failed the deadline. Guess I’m getting older and wiser.

  25. camille says:

    I have a motto: “Failure is not optional.” You must do it. As often as possible.

    And once you realize that failure is a good thing, you have a lot more fun.

    I’m doing quarterly goals with the “A Round of Words in Eighty Days” challenge now. It’s working extremely well for me. I had multiple waves of life rolls over the past couple of years, and it has really helped me get back on the horse.

  26. John Walters says:

    If there’s one thing that gets in my way – I should say a lot of things – it’s life issues, one after the other. With five sons it seems there’s always at least one who needs attention. In addition, with the economic situation here in Greece both my day job and my wife’s are stressful and unsure. Prices and taxes are going up and salaries are going down. Red tape abounds. Nobody knows whether or not the economy will crash completely. But one thing that gives me peace and helps me keep going is the fact that I know that fall and winter are the busiest, most stressful times, and I don’t try to push beyond my limits. So anything I get done in writing, traditional marketing, and indie publishing I count as a welcome bonus. I set my goals and challenges for spring and summer when I have more time – sometimes a specific daily word count, sometimes a story a week or whatever. But knowing my limits, knowing when to charge forward and when to relax is a key to my peace of mind.

  27. Thomas E says:

    It is a real pity you’ve had such a hard quarter, Dean, I hope things get better for you next year.

  28. Kort says:

    Sometimes goal interruptions are a good thing. I was on track for my goals for this year until about March when some personal health stuff took me from being willing/able to put in 13+ hour days in pursuit of what I wanted to being in bed and needing help to take a shower. All I had for a while there was my computer and time to think about what I really wanted.

    Well, shoot, I came up with a whole new goal set but no idea how to go about it. Then I came upon you and PG and Konrath, all in the same day. Ask and ye shall receive indeed. Now that I’m back on my feet, I’ve got a track to run on and I’m more motivated than ever.

    Self-pubbed my first short story on Amazon, just to see if I could really do it, helped my best friend do hers and we’re off and running, with a goal of one a month, to start, along with finishing our novels. We’ve decided 4 in 12 months should be a good start and then go from there.

    Honestly Dean, I don’t know that I could have done it without you. Good luck and I’m really looking forward to reading in December.

  29. Annie Reed says:

    I think the day job helped me learn to cope with the unexpected getting in the way of the best of plans. While it’s been great training for slogging through life rolls, it’s hell on the blood pressure. *g* It will be nice when I get to the point where the only deadlines are my own.

    Glad to hear the eye thing will resolve with rest and time. After the last couple of months, you definitely deserve some slow-down time.

  30. joemontana says:

    As glad as I am to hear things are getting better, the main thing I took out of this was something you never mentioned.

    Let’s pretend you didn’t have x number of books in print selling.

    Just look at Dean’s indie stuff and backlist he is putting up through WMG.

    He hasn’t had time to ‘work’ since Sept. AND HE IS STILL GETTING PAID.

    And some people wonder why guys like Dean love this new world of publishing…

    You have no idea how much I look forward to the day when I can say ‘hey life kicked me in the teeth and it’s been a tough going, but at least I’m earning some $$ on my work to keep me going’.

    Good luck with everything, Dean!

    • dwsmith says:

      Joemontana, spot on the money. In fact, during the months we were not putting anything new up through WMG Publishing, since I had set myself up as the roadblock along the way, the money INCREASED over the months. We do no real promotion and we put up nothing new. And yet the monthly checks INCREASED. Go ahead, not show up at your job for three months and have them still pay you and give you more money. (grin)

      I do love this new world of publishing.

  31. Dean

    Hope all goes well with the various challenges. “Life getting in the way” is pretty much the story of my writing life. I should have a backlist of a dozen novels to upload as long as I’ve been typing away, alas I do not and feel like I’m starting from scratch for the 83rd time.

    That said, my breaks from consistent writing, wether due to circumstance, crisis and the occasional job that required 80hrs a week from me…have all contributed to my outlook and my writing.

    Nonetheless, thanks for the inspirational message.

  32. Tori Minard says:

    Hope your eye gets better soon, Dean. I’ll bet it’s a wonderful relief to be done with all that estate stuff.

    • dwsmith says:

      Tori, not done yet. But almost done with the ugly part. Only one more truck load to go, one more night in a hotel, and Kris is going to help me pack the last of the books and I got young kids to move the boxes and pack and unpack the truck. So all good this time. Then just a bunch of accounting and paperwork and a house to sell and then it will be done. Next spring some time. But thankfully, the worst is over and I am home and focused back on the writing again.

  33. Carradee says:

    I’m glad you have a healthy attitude about the challenges and won’t be hurting yourself trying to make the 100 shorts in a year.

    Life happens.

    Personally, I’ve had writing goals this year, but I’ve only hit the ones that I posted publicly on my blog. (Okay, so I had some life stuff of my own, but still, that’s an interesting connection, methinks.)

  34. Annie Bellet says:

    I think I’d be shocked if I ever actually completed a challenge I set for myself. I always aim as high as I think is possible so that when I do fall short, I’m still a lot higher up than I would be without aiming for the stars. My goal this year was 950k words, but I just had a happy moment today when I realized that if I’m 5k words away from beating last year’s final wordcount, even if I am not yet halfway to my own goal for 2011. It is good to look and see how far we’ve come, isn’t it? :)

    I hope you have a better new year (rest that eye!) and a quiet winter. See you in the spring!

  35. Big Ed’s priorities for life:

    1. Health and Sanity
    2. Family and Close Friends
    3. Everything else.

    If you don’t have #1, you become a burden on others. Your first priority is therefore to stop being a burden. I.e., get well. #2 provides the foundation of support needed for #3.

    As for challenges, as I’ve written earlier, mine are set quarterly and have a large financial penalty for missing them. Implicit in that is the men supporting me can waive the penalty if they believe I missed my goals truly due to circumstances beyond my control. “Biting off too much” isn’t one of them (it’s why they’re quarterly–better able to actually estimate what one can get done in that time frame), unfortunately, and this quarter I’m sweating for the first time.

  36. Randy says:

    Dean, hope you get well soon, and take care of that eye.

    My mom passed away in October and I couldn’t write a damn thing for almost a month. Then I got stuck in an airport and forced myself to write, knocked out a few thousand words, and I’m back on the train.

    You might want to re-think that marathon thing. After tearing my rotator cuff and two knee surgeries from playing basketball after 45, my doctor told me, “You’re not a kid anymore.” Now I’m left with a bolt in my knee that’s a better weather forecaster than the local meteorologist and I have a hard time picking up a bag of groceries.

    The mind never ages, but the body fails to get that memo. Pay the young people to do the heavy lifting, get a Pilates DVD, and take it slow.

  37. JohnMc says:

    Tad off topic but interesting anyway —

  38. Oh you need young kids to do manual labour? Mine are annoying me. I can Fed Ex them to you overnight. ;)

  39. This is a great post, Dean and really inspired me to go back and look at what I did this year, in terms of the fiction writing. I was surprised, actually, about how the totals all tallied out…not just in terms of “good” and “bad” but just the actual breakdown in what I wrote, (I don’t count nonfiction either, so just in terms of new fiction words). It also made me realize that the simple act of paying attention to how much you’re doing is incredibly motivating on its own. I’m definitely going to be tracking my progress a lot more closely next year.

    Still, all in all, given that the vast majority of my writing year was from June until now (all the work prior to moving to India, the corporate job being insane for the first half of the year and so forth kept my word counts really low for the first 5 months), I’m feeling pretty good about my writing year. If nothing else, it gives me a lot of optimism about next year, and the will to pay attention and keep pushing myself.

    Thanks so much for all of your blog posts (even moreso in that you don’t count them), and hope your eye heals soon and that you’re able to get back into the fiction asap.

  40. David DeLee says:

    Take good care of your health issues, Dean (which I know you will), and get well soon.

    Meanwhile, thanks for another inspirational post. They come just when it seems I need them the most.

    This year, my goals were completely sidetracked by what you call–other projects come in and break the plan. November last year I put my first two short stories up for sale as e-books. Just to see what all the hoopla was about. In December, I made goals to write 365,000 new words of fiction, submit x-number of queries to …blah, blah, blah. Same old, same old.
    But come early part of the new year last year, I realized I had a handful of stories to put up for sale, others to write and a half-dozen novels making the rounds in NY trying to get picked up and seemingly going nowhere.
    At your insistence I did the math, and once bitten by the e-pub bug, I shifted gear and began to do everything I could to learn how to e-pub what I had and to put up short stories to help me learn and maybe make some coin.
    Long story short, by the end of the year, this year I have fourteen titles up (soon to be 15). Ten short stories, one collection, one novel, all in e-format, with the novel and collection also available in trade paperback. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, the dollars are starting to come in at a little faster pace than a trickle, and I still wrote quite a bit of new fiction (but nowhere near my original goals) but, most importantly, I have probably learned more new things in this one year, than I have since my college days, at least.
    I can now format stories to e-pub and print, I can create covers and know where to find art and format documents in PDF, Epub, Mobi, etc., etc. I’ve learned about social networking and how to market and all the new opportunities because of Amazon’s push into overseas and the other publishers available overseas and how publishers think and work and what I’m willing to pay (for a flat fee) to have people do because I can’t (editing & cover art) and what I’ll save money on and do myself, because I can (formatting and covers).
    So while my original output was less this year than I planned for a year ago. I have stories that are selling around the world and making me money and a reputation and not sitting on a desk in NY. I know how to put a print novel together and get it to market and I am perfectly set up to get my five finished novels up and available in electronically and in print format next year, confident that I can make them as professional looking as anything coming out of New York.

    I wouldn’t trade any of that time learning and experimenting for the world.
    As for my plans last year to lose 30 pounds. Well, we won’t go there.

    David DeLee
    Fatal Destiny – a Grace deHaviland novel

  41. Faysie says:

    Feel better, Dean! I’m sorry to hear that it’ll take so long to heal, but glad to hear that it WILL heal. You’ve been an amazing friend/executor, and I hope the craziness subsides soon.

    Of all your posts, your goal-setting ones have been the most personally valuable to me, and I’m really looking forward to this year’s goal-setting series! I’ve been inspired to apply these same tips to my first-priority art form (opera singing) and have accomplished some pretty amazing goals this year.

    But, dang it, I want to start writing again! So, do you or any other readers have any good 2012 goals for someone who is really out of practice?

    I used to write constantly (ten years ago when I was in high school). These days I have lots of ideas, and I enjoy writing my sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction scenarios kindof in the style of a history textbook. But I seem to have zero sense of characters, dialogue, pacing, or, most of all, plot.

    These ideas keep fluttering around and pecking at my skull, so I feel like I gotta write them out of there! I know I need to practice, but I’m having trouble identifying exactly what to practice. Any idea where to start?

    (And if anyone knows a good blog for true beginners, please let me know so I can leave you pros alone until I join your ranks ;-))

  42. Rob Cornell says:

    I’m coming dangerously close to missing my goal of four completed novels in 2011, but I haven’t given up yet. If I can finish the one I just started before year’s end, I’m golden. But you make a good point. My goal is four, but even if I don’t finish this one in time, I wrote THREE novels this year. I have never written three novels in a single year. I’ve never even written two novels in a year. So that’s pretty huge for me.

    Rest easy, Dean. Get well soon.

  43. Camille says:

    Faysie: I had some stuff that put me down and out for a LONG time. Actually it was a series of unfortunate events, you might say. As soon as I got up from one, boom, I’d be knocked down by another. This happened more than once in my life, actually.

    So here’s my advice: first don’t expect to get back up to speed quickly.

    Second — definitely get in on a writing challenge or dare. I like ROW80 because it lets you set your own goals, and it’s long term (80 days at a go). Or do it on your own. In both cases, it can be useful to start a blog or livejournal so you can report your progress. Or lack there of.

    Third — set goals you can control. While you have some control of how many words you write, that varies. The thing that is steady is time. So count minutes rather than words for a while.

    What do you do with those minutes? That depends on you. What works for me, coming off a difficult break, is to spend a week or so focusing on ideas and brainstorming. Then, unless I have a bigger project I want to work on, I’ll dive in to writing flash fiction and poetry and anything small. Getting some finished work under your belt is critical to your confidence.

  44. Sam B. says:

    Hi, Dean.

    First time commenting on the blog, even though we’ve spoken briefly in emails. Sorry to hear about some of the lumps you’ve taken in the past months.

    You’re right about how to view the writing challenge, and other challenges in general – writing 30-odd stories may not fulfill the original goal of 100, but that’s still probably more stories than you would’ve written in the same time period if you -weren’t- setting out to challenge yourself. No real ‘failure’ there, like you said.

    With my own “52 Story” challenge coming up, it’s timely that you’ll be covering goal setting and such. I’m getting antsy waiting for New Year’s, though. May have to start a week or two early, cause I’ve got more ideas than I know what to do with.

  45. Thomas E says:

    “.But, dang it, I want to start writing again! So, do you or any other readers have any good 2012 goals for someone who is really out of practice? ”

    By far the goal I’ve set that has helped my writing the most this year is write 1 sub 1 ( and a blog at ) where you write 1 short story a week, and submit it.

    It is an ambitious goal, and there are others for people who want to submit a story every month, or every two weeks, but write 1 sub 1 is an experience I’d recommend to anyone. And it has a small community of people dedicated to the same goal, which helps enormously.

  46. Faysie says:

    Thanks so much for the advice, Camille, that sounds like exactly the thing to get me back on my feet. I especially appreciate the “flash fiction and poetry and anything small.” It’s tough to accept that even the small things are victories when my long-term goal is to be a multiple-novels-a-year writer like many of the readers on this blog. I guess I need to start somewhere. Thanks again :-)

  47. Hey Dean,

    Sorry to hear about (what I think is) your optic neuritis. Thanks for taking care of yourself and talking to us while you recuperate. Thanks, as always, for explaining your goals and what to do when you don’t reach them, but it’s still a success.

    I have some unofficial goals: 30 items under my name on Amazon by the end of 2011. I’m at 29 now. Four of these are collections/anthologies, but I’ll probably count them, since I don’t want to burn myself out and get optic neuritis. :) But I may exceed this. We’ll see how it goes.

    I also wanted my main novels indie published before I completed my maternity leave. Done. I have other novels to tweak, but I’m not going to worry about them. Just work slowly but surely.

    Finally, I hoped to consistently earn four figures from my writing in a year. Done for the past two years. So I upped it to $5000 for this year. Done. Then I was looking ahead to possible five figures in 2011–probably not doable. Also depends if you count earned vs. actual cheques received (aka Amazon Kindle’s 60 day payout) and gross vs. net. But still a cool position to be in, considering New York regularly ignored me/took years to respond.

    Thanks again. Speedy healing.

  48. Silver Bowen says:

    Faysie – I am a new writer as well. I have written a ton of poetry (speculative/transhumanist) but spent years wanting to write fiction. I was worse off than you, I think, because I had trouble with basic ideas, much less characters, plot, and so on. I started writing in April; this year I completed 26 short stories and am a few chapters away from a a finished novel length MS. I have pt a fairly regular blog called Welcome to the Journey at that you might find helpful, detailing the things I have learned that have helped me (as a raw newbie.) I especially concentrate on helpful process-related concepts and habits. I am far from a heavy-hitter and have much left to learn, but reading some of what helped me get over the hump from no-ideas to regular story finisher might be worth your while.

    And thanks for everything Dean, your blog has done more to help me get going than anything else.

  49. Faysie says:

    Thomas, thank you for the excellent links! It’s so great to see so many different places where writers are sticking together and challenging themselves to produce great work and take advantage of this new world of publishing :-D

    And Silver, WOW, congratulations on your accomplishments and thank you for sharing your journey, that is quite inspiring indeed!

    I definitely don’t want to wait until 2012 to start on this fun journey, now seems like a good time ;-) Dean, thank you as always for providing this space for writers to take care of each other, it is deeply appreciated.

  50. Dean, hope all gets better, and best of luck finishing the story challenge.
    I blame you (among others) for making me crazy, as I’ve taken up the challenge, and will put up a story for every week of next year.
    I put my first one up today, and am now hooked!

    Oh, yeah, and I’ll have a book a month as well.

    Well, you DID say we should be writing a lot of good stuff and putting it up…

    • dwsmith says:

      Fantastic, Dale!! Way to go and keep having fun.

      You make this work and we’ll be trying to borrow money from you in a few years. (grin)

      Have fun!!

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