Christmas Day. Kris and I both worked, both watched some television, had a great dinner, and are now both back at work. Normal day around here and I love it that way. I’m just not much of a holiday person, especially year and year after year. So last night with friends was enough.
Before you read the following, make sure you have gone back and read the three before it, in order, or not a lot of this will make any sense. One week to a new year. A fresh start. A fresh decade, and glad to be in it, to be honest. I’ll talk more about this later on, in a “look back” post, but this is starting my 5th decade writing. I sold a bunch of poetry and two short stories in the 1970′s. I ramped up and sold a first novel in the 1980′s, sold another sixty books in the 1990′s, and then this last decade I just sort of chugged along. So in one week I get to start my fifth decade with writing. I have a hunch it’s going to be the best one yet.
So on to motivation and goal planning for the new year.
If you have followed the previous posts, you know how much time you can carve out of your daily life and you know how long it takes you to write a simple manuscript page of 250 words. Right? And you have the big goal in mind, the big dream. Right?
So what next?
Publishing is a numbers game, all the way through Heinlein’s Rules. A simple numbers game.
For example, to finish one book a year, you should write two pages per day and then not worry about missing a bunch of days to get to the 360 pages of a 90,000 word book. Numbers.
When submitting books or stories to editors, you can’t control what they think of your book, if they have an opening in their list, if their sales department didn’t get on board, if they just bought something like it six months earlier. But you can control the number of editors you mail the book to. You can control the number of chances your book has to sell. You can control the number of different books you mail to different editors. Numbers.
So, with numbers in mind, let’s look at Heinlein’s Business Rules again to set some goals.
Rule 1: You must Write.
If your large goal is to be a professional writer, or just sell regularly, you have to do this. If you hate writing, why are you thinking of doing this? You should love writing, telling stories, having people read your stories. Otherwise, find another job.
“But I just can’t find the time.” Those words come out of your mouth and you are doomed. That simple sentence is the excuse of the masses and what separates a real writer from a want-to-be. You have figured out where you can carve out time, you have your family ready for the carving of the time. When that carved time comes each day, each week, you sit down and type. It doesn’t have to be good. Just type. “Dare to be bad.” as my close friend Nina Kiriki Hoffman said to me once.
She was right. It takes a lot more courage to sit and type and fail (because it’s practice anyway) than it does to not type. So carve the time each day out of your life, park your butt in the chair, and type.
Write one page per day for 360 days to finish one book.
Write two pages per day for 360 days to finish two books in a year.
Write three pages per day for 360 days to finish three books in a year.
Write four pages per day for 360 days to finish four books in a year.
(If you can’t hit writing every day, then cut the number of days in half to give yourself half the year off and divide the book numbers in half. For example, write 4 pages for 180 days in a year to finish two books in a year.)
Rule #2: You must finish what you write.
If you keep typing and carve the time, you will finish what you write. This rule really gets hit with the Dare to Be Bad courage issue. If you don’t finish, you don’t fail, right? Nope, you fail worse. No one likes a quitter. Don’t finish story after story and you are nothing more than a fearful quitter. Blunt but true. Sorry. And this rule is really mixed up with the next rule for most quitters.
Rule #3. You must not rewrite unless to editorial demand.
This rule hits right at the heart of a huge myth, a myth so large most writers never get past it, and thus fail.
Rewriting is a forced process, not in creative voice, but in critical voice, and often leads to the failure of Rule #2 and worse yet, really crappy, dull stories because all the voice and life are taken out for safety sake.
The myth is that a story must always be rewritten until it’s good, right? Snort. How the hell, as a new writer, do you have a clue if a story is good or not? I’ve written a hundred novels and far more short stories and been an editor for decades. I can tell you what’s wrong with your story, but I don’t have a clue when it comes to my own stories. Not clue one.
So remember this simple statement (which you won’t but try <g>). Writers are the worst judges of their own work.
I learned this by selling a lot of poems back in the 1970′s to some really top literary markets before I stopped mailing my poems out. I would always in a submission send one poem that I thought was my best, that I had really worked on, that I thought was “art” and one poem I thought was all right, not great but good enough, and one toss-off poem I thought was silly, had spent no time on, and didn’t care about. I always sold the toss-off poems, never the “good” ones. Those “good” ones are still in my files, I still think they are good, but hundreds of editors of major magazines didn’t. They liked my toss-off stuff. Stuff that I had not rewritten to death.
Here’s how many professional writers I know do it. We do three drafts. Very simple, we do a pounding first draft, racing through the story, making notes or going back and changing any detail that needs to be fixed as you race in a white hot heat through the story. If you make notes, go back after you finish the book and add in only the notes. Everything done in creative mode.
Spell check your manuscript as draft #2. (You should always have your spell checker and grammar checker turned off while writing. Computer people do not know how to write. Trust me.)
Third draft, give the book to your trusted first reader, fix the mistakes and problems they found, and then mail it to editors and start the next book the next day.
Or you can have real courage and do it like Harlan Ellison has done many, many, many times with many award-winning stories. Sit in a store window with just an idea someone handed you, or a simple word, and write a story on a manual typewriter, ripping the pages out of the machine and taping them to the window so the people standing outside can read them.
Rule #4. Mail the story to an editor who will buy it.
With books, you can go to many editors, with short stories only one at a time. But always mail your work to someone who can write you a check. Agents can not write you a check. You can hire one after you get a book offer and should hire one at that time to help with the terms and the contract and a thousand other things. Only editors and publishers can write you a check for your work, so focus on them. (If your first thought reading this was “But…” you are in deep trouble right here. Over this last year I’ve talked a great deal about agents, go back and read some of those posts.)
Here comes the problem with Dare to be Bad. And also the problem with not knowing the quality of your own work. When you finish a book or story, you will think it sucks. You must have the courage to mail it and then work to make the next story better. You honestly don’t know if the story sucks or not. Just mail it and let an editor decide.
In the master’s class, we had the writers attending bring three stories well disguised with pen names and different fonts and everything. One story was a story they thought was one of their best, one was all right, and one story they thought was their worst. And they could NOT tell anyone any of the pen names. Then, along with the stories they wrote at the workshop, we tossed them all into a tub and made them put an anthology together. Upwards of over 100 different stories to pick from, and they couldn’t pick any of their own. They had to do a table of contents and then give that table of contents to everyone.
The shocked look on people’s faces was wonderful. What happened was that their “best” stories seldom sold, but everyone in the room sold their “worst” story many times. And most of those writers didn’t even have those stories in the mail because they thought they were so bad. Writers just don’t have a clue what’s good or bad in their own work, thus you have to have the courage to just mail it.
Rule #5. Keep it in the mail until someone buys it.
The numbers of this are simple. The more editors you let see your work, the more your chances of selling your work. Publishing is ripe with stories of a major bestseller selling after 30 or 40 or 50 rejections or more. Not kidding. You get discouraged because one editor, or three editors said “Sorry” to your story, get over it quickly. Rejection and sales are a numbers game.
During Babe Ruth’s years of playing ball, who struck out the most? He did, of course. If he had been afraid of striking out, we wouldn’t know his name now. Same goes with publishing and rejections. I have thousands, and I do mean thousands of rejections and I still get them all the time. No big deal, part of the numbers game of mailing your work to editors. You have to keep it out there.
So, when thinking of setting these goals, also set goals regarding keeping your work in the mail. That’s a goal you can control. And I will talk about methods of setting these goals, both page count and novels in the mail goal in a new post coming up shortly.
But for now, think about what you want in your large goal and try to find just an extra thirty minutes a week above what you have already carved out in time.
And one more thing. Start working on the attitude that you don’t know if you write a good story or not. You’re just going to do your best and then release it for others to determine if it is good or not.
One last truism that applies to the rules above. “The quality of a book or story has nothing to do with the quality or the experience the writer had while writing it.”
Stick that on a sign over your computer right along with “Dare to be Bad” and you should be a good step toward starting these goals and getting your attitude in the right place to keep going after the month of January is finished.