I sure hope everyone had a good holiday. Now only six days until the new year and the new decade.
Thanks for all the comments on the previous posts. Very much appreciated. So, where were we? Oh, yeah, numbers.
Please read the previous four Motivation posts before trying to wade through this one. I’m going to be doing math and writers, for the most part, hate math. And they hate reality as well, but that’s a topic for a post a little later on in this series.
Done reading or rereading them? Good, time to get to some solid goals and how to set them. I’m going to do some posts on how to maintain a goal you have set, but for the moment, these posts are still in the basics of trying to set a goal that fits for you. You have questions to answer. Try not to talk too loudly when you do.
Actually, writing your personal answers to some of these questions down is a good thing. Writing it down, even on a yellow legal pad, makes them a little more real in your mind. Back to the writers hating reality issue.
Step one: What’s your Big Dream? (Really big dream, like New York Times #1 Bestseller for forty books in a row. That sort of thing.) Chances are this dream is not at all in your control, but it’s a good distant target, like a walking trip from LA to New York. You know New York is way off in the distance and a long ways away, more steps than you want to think about, but at least you know which direction to head in. Otherwise you might end up in Mexico, way off the target. So write down the Big Dream first.
Step Two: Where do you want to be in five years with your writing? This question is going to take some thought. And some reality (that issue again). Aim real but high. Make the Dream seem out of reach for a short five years. Again, notice I’m still talking dreams instead of goals. Dreams are often things out of your control, like selling a novel, but they help aim you, and help you determine what you need to do.
For example, if your dream is to have sold ten novels in five years, then you know you have to write 15 to 20 novels at least in that time and you have to learn how to submit them and keep them in the mail like Heinlein’s Rules. Otherwise the dream is not possible. So Big Dreams and Five Year Dreams are ways to define the road you want to walk.
If your dream is to be recognized as a major literary writer in Five to Ten Years, then you need to get to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshops, and do other things focused in that direction and have other targets for your mailing and what you write. Again, the big dream aims the goals. For the examples below and from here on out, I will assume you want to be a commercial writer, selling novels to New York. Nothing wrong at all with other goals, and you can use my examples to set your own if you want to go other directions with your writing. But for the examples, it’s commercial writing.
Step Three. Take the Five Year Dream and figure out, as I did in the example, what you need to finish in one year to have a chance of hitting that Five Year Dream. Only on this step, keep everything you write down completely in your control.
For example, you can’t control “selling or publishing” a book, but you can control writing and mailing a book. And you can control how much you learn, how much time you spend writing, so on. (I will do future posts on how to keep learning and the goals around that.)
Example: Five Year Dream is to sell five novels. That is a very real dream and very possible. And the number does not overwhelm most writers with myth issues. So let’s use five books sold in five years as a major example now.
Take the five books and figure that to sell them in five years (and you haven’t sold a novel before), you better plan on writing and submitting 10 to 12 books. (And remember, the books you write the last year will not have time to sell, so you only have four actual years in this challenge to sell five within five years.)
So, to have any chance at all at hitting this example goal, the yearly goal needs to be to write 3 books per year. (Here comes the thundering elephant.) I can hear you say THREE BOOKS A YEAR! Crap, only Dean can do that.
Nah, that’s writing slow for me when I’m writing. Remember the math from a previous post? You did read the previous posts, didn’t you? That’s all of about 750 words a day.
Step Four: Figure out how much your yearly goal is in pages per day. Do the math for whatever goal you set.
Now back to the Major Example: Three books a year is simply 750 words (3 manuscript pages) per day for 360 days in a year. So a person needs to write 1,250 words per writing day to make up for the missed days and vacation and sickness and stuff. If you write a very slow 250 words in 1/2 hour, then to do this example, you would need to spend 2 1/2 hours on a writing day. But if you can type, as most of us can, 250 words in about 10-15 minutes, then you have to carve out about 1 1/4 hour to hit your word count.
See how that works?
Another way to look at the same number. Three novels in this Major Example are around 270,000 words. Divide that number by 1,250 words per writing session. You get 216 days of writing sessions. That leaves 149 days off, about three and a half months of misses.
Nifty how the math works, isn’t it. Sort of strips all the excuses away.
So you figured the five year dream, worked it back to how many books a year, then worked it down to a word count per day or writing session. Maybe get two writing sessions on a certain day of the week that allows you a little extra time in your schedule.
So, here comes the goals.
Step Five: (Write this down and show your family.) Figure out one week only.
That’s right, you figured out earlier what time you can carve out in a week. Your focus from now on is only one week at a time and hitting the goal that week.
Back to the Major Example: Five writing sessions carved out of a week that gets 1,250 words done each session. That’s this example’s goal. Period. One week only, with the intent to make the second week the same goal, and so on. But for the moment, the goal is only think of one week at a time.
If you get ahead of your goal on a week and write more pages, forget it and reset the goal for only one week the second week. If you miss your goal one week, don’t worry, you have lots of extra time built in. Simply focus on the week ahead. Sunday to Sunday. Monday Morning to Monday Morning. Whatever works for your schedule.
And celebrate a little when you hit your goal for a week. One week is something that all of us can focus on and keep in our minds. Just one week. Miss, start over the next week, no big deal.
So, let’s keep going and answer the logical question for the Major Example: What do you do when you finish a book since in the Major Example you must write three per year and mail them?
My suggestion is this: When you finish the first draft of the book, schedule the next week off and celebrate. (Don’t worry, extra time built in, remember?) Then the week after that the goal is to fix the problems left in the book, spell check it, and get it to your first reader. That’s the goal that week. The “fix” draft. If you cycle and fix stuff as you write every day as you go along, then skip this week and just spell check the book and give it to your first reader. Remember Heinlein’s 3rd Rule?
Third week after finishing a book, get back on writing with the next book, while the first reader reads the book. Get the next book started, get the pages done, get right back on the weekly schedule. (I’ll talk about the mailing issues later.)
That’s what I would do. But I can’t tell you how many dozens and dozens of times I finished a book one day, mailed it, and fired on the next book the next day.
A summary. Figure out the Big Dream and write it down. Figure out the Five Year Dream and write it down. Work backwards from the five year dream to figure out what needs to actually be done in one year. Then do the math and figure out how much needs to be written, your time available, and how fast you are.
Then focus on only the week ahead, starting January 1st.
Do not look at the big goal, don’t look at the yearly goal. Just stay focused on the weekly goal. And make sure you have lots and lots of time extra worked in, as I did in the Major Example. You will miss weeks. You can’t let that stop you. Just focus on making it the next week. And then the next. That’s how words add up, books get written, and writers are made. One day, one week at a time.
Keep the elephants a long way from your writing. They will stop you cold.
Have fun doing the math. Keep it real. Makes life easier.