Please go read the other posts on goals before reading this one if you want me to make a lick of sense at all. Even then it’s questionable.
I got no new questions on anything this week, that I remember, that is, but I did get lots and lots of good comments about how writers are setting up their goals. Thanks, glad these things are helping a little.
But now to the hard part. It’s fairly simple to take your dream and break it down into bite-sized pieces, to make the huge elephant something that can be swallowed, to extend that awful metaphor a little too far. But (extending it even farther) how do you keep biting and chewing in March, or May, or August?
The problem with year-end motivation and goal setting is that it often doesn’t last past the first month or two. Life just gets in the way and things change and the sun comes out and the snow melts and suddenly there are other things just a little more important at the moment. Rejections make it worse. Months go by and suddenly you realize you have fallen off your goals, so you get down on yourself and then just swear you’ll get back to it, but of course, you never do. Not really, not with any real energy until December rolls around again.
That sound familiar? Yup, to me too. Been there, done that, bought that tee-shirt so many times I have closets full of them.
So, now, here before the year starts, what can you do to make sure to keep climbing back onto the goals when you have a miss, when life just comes up and stops you cold for a week or two? Doing that is what makes a professional writer out of you, and doing that will make you very happy when you get to December 2009 and look back and realize you have hit most of your goals and are that much closer to your dream.
Back to the point that every writer is different, so with this problem, every writer seems to function differently.
First, I’ll try to outline reasons that just keep writers writing day after day, month after month, year after year, then try to give you all a few tricks.
Frighteningly enough, that’s a major reason many writers just keep pounding along. It’s their addiction, or they have used it in replacement for other not-so-healthy addictions. If you have an addictive personality, start working writing into an addiction, one that just makes you cranky if you miss it for even a single day. Man, at times I wish I had this addiction. It makes life so much easier for those who have it to get lots of work done. But it makes it much harder for those around them, however, just as any addiction does.
Stunningly enough and hard to believe for those of you who have bought into the myth that there is no money in fiction writing, fiction writers make a lot of money, and many of us write for money as well as love. So if you have a really crappy job that you hate, pound the keys harder with the idea that for every hour you work on your writing is one hour closer to getting out of the crappy job.
This was my motivation for years and still is in part. Now understand, I have a five year degree in Architecture and went to three years of law school, but I stayed bartending after all that higher education (much to the disgust of my family and many friends). Why did I bartend instead of going and becoming a professional? Because cleaning up someone’s puke at 2 in the morning made me go home that night and pound the keys. I often would get home at 3 in the morning and write until 5, then get back up and write all afternoon until I had to go back to the bar. I lived in a crappy small apartment so that I had very few bills and I spent every free moment thinking about writing and working on my writing, and every spare penny to go to conferences to listen to professional writers. (Also understand at this point I was well into my late-thirties and already had two marriages behind me. I looked like a loser to just about anyone in the real world, which was a ton of pressure as well.)
Yet somehow, through all the pressure, I had the belief that if I wrote hard enough, long enough, and fast enough, I could make my living writing fiction and get out of that bar. My last day of bartending was over twenty years ago now.
NATURAL BORN STORY TELLER MEETS THE MUSE.
Most long term professionals I know have made themselves into natural story tellers. The key is we all LOVE story. We love telling stories, we eat up just about any story put in front of us, and if we had to write a laundry list, it would come out with a plot and a character in trouble. Often that nasty thing that beginning writers call “The Muse” snaps us and makes us write something we didn’t have planned to write. Those are fun stories or books. Romance writers call them Books of the Heart. Often these books will drive a writer harder and longer than any other. The problem is, they don’t often last, and you can’t bring that feeling of fun and desire up with every project, so it isn’t something to be counted on. When it hits, run with it, but don’t plan on it hitting you or you’ll be spending a lot of time in coffee shops talking with other want-to-be writers. Real professional writers sit down and write even when they feel they have nothing to write and no desire to sit there.
IT’S A JOB.
This is sort of like the money part, but not really. Some writers I know can just treat writing like a job and go to it every day with a real job structure, even when the job might not make them any money in the near future. This job attitude is a good one and works well for those of us who were brought up middle class with a work ethic. But there are no easy tricks I can give you to make this switch turn on in your head.
The key with this one is having a good, fair, but hard boss. Yup, the boss is you, and you have to be hard on yourself. The attitude is this: If I would call in sick at a real job and talk to my boss, then I can have the day off of writing. But if I would go to my real world corporate job, then I can’t take the day off of writing. The boss would get angry. And since you are the boss of your own writing job, you need to be firm, yet fair.
This works for me at times, but then other times I just say “Screw it” and don’t show up for work for months at a time. But, of course, I had that attitude about real world jobs as well, so my writing is no different.
Now notice, none of these mention writing because it’s your dream. Every writer has that and it just isn’t enough, sadly, to maintain long term commitment to this business.
So, to some tricks. These are basic tricks to keep you going for a time. If you are lucky, your writing will turn into an addiction, or a drive to make a living, or a job attitude. But to get it there, you have to set down the patterns and these tricks help set that up and get you back on track when life gets in the way.
Trick #1. Challenge.
The challenge has to be for something that matters, that has feedback loops, and is short in duration.
Nina Kiriki Hoffman and I challenged each other to write, finish, and mail one new story per week and we made missing hurt with having to buy the other a dinner and lots of grief. For us, this challenge lasted for years and helped us both set some patterns in our writing and get a lot of stories in the mail and sold.
Notice that the challenge with Nina hit all three of the goals I talked about in the last post. That’s the best kind of challenge. So if you do set up a challenge with someone, or with your family, make it hurt if you miss. Make it so that you wake up worrying about missing. Then you got yourself something that will drive you to the computer on the really hard days and help set up the patterns.
Trick #2. Keeping track of how much you have in the mail on editor’s desks.
Now I came up with a system to do this back in the early 1980′s and it ended up being called “The Race.” It’s an easy number system that gives instant feedback, hits all three goals mentioned last post and is sort of fun as well.
The Race is against yourself, of course.
— You give yourself one point for every different short story you have in the mail.
— You give yourself 3 points for every chapter and outline you have in the mail on an editor’s desk. (Just three points per book, no matter how many editors you send it to at once.)
— You give yourself eight points for every full manuscript you have on an editor’s desk. (Again, max of 8 points per book no matter how many editors are reading it at once.)
When the story or book sells and you get the check, you drop the points. Note I said “Get the Check.” A sale, a contract can often fall through, but once paid, it counts and you lose the points.
Stunning how much fun this silly score-keeping system is. I keep track of mine every week and on one of the writer’s boards of writers who have attended the workshops here, there is even a web site that keeps track for people. It is also always stunning how the writers with the most points make the most sales. Always happens for some reason.
So building your “Race Points” can work as a nifty way to keep track, and also, when a story comes back with a rejection, to keep the point you must put it back in the mail. This “Race” helps with most of Heinlein’s Rules.
Trick #3. Getting a streak going.
Now, this works for those writers who have the ability to be very consistent in life. I’ve known writers who hit two pages per day, 365 days a year (yes, holidays, sick days, birthdays) and kept it going for years and years. Of course, the writers who did this also mailed what they wrote and they are well published authors now. I personally find this stunning and amazing and I admire those who can do it. Loren Coleman challenged me to try this last May, at least one page per day, and I made it one month without an issue, then just sort of went “Yup, I can do that.” And I stopped.
So if you can get a streak going of some sort, it makes a lot of natural pressure to not break the streak. This is like a person trying to stop drinking. You have to take it one day at a time and count the days since you last fell off. This works. Fred Pohl, of course, is known that for decades and decades he did four pages per day, 365 days a year, without a miss. I admire that man a great deal, both for his writing, his long career, and his ability to do that every day. He’s in his 90′s now and still going at it. Stunning.
So, as you set up your goals for 2009, take a look at a few of these tricks, or write me with one of your own, and get that as a firm goal as you start. It will help you keep focused on making it through the hard months and to a place in December 2009 when you look back and are happy with your year.