Daily/Weekly Writing Goals: What Make Sense?

Writing in the Time of COVID: Two Golden Rules of Word Count Goals

As our daily lives have been uprooted in the most unexpected if not the rudest of ways, I’ve been seeing A LOT about writing goals lately. Setting writing goals. Meeting writing goals. Not meeting writing goals. Adjusting writing goals. Changing writing goals.

With three school kids at home, and a husband who might as well be, it’s enough to make a gal want to panic. I’m going to put your mind at ease. Hint: there is no magical word count.

But first, some reasons why it’s not as easy as “don’t worry about it.”

Alice In Wonderland Cartoon Cheshire Cat N4 free image

I’ve been a huge advocate for setting goals. As a marketing professional helping business owners, I would always ask my own version of the Alice in Wonderland question: If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?

In this case we know the ultimate goal: finish writing your book. As that is an intimidating goal, as scary as finishing a marathon when you’ve never run before, it’s best to take it one step at a time. Break it into pieces. No one expects you to stand up one day and run 26.2 miles; you’d train and run a certain number of laps/miles a day and eventually get there. Everyone has their own pace, it doesn’t matter how fast the person next to you is. They might be naturally-gifted runners. Or have a personal trainer. Or ran races for 15 years. You are running your race, they are running theirs. They finished first? Good for them. That doesn’t mean you can’t finish too! Your accomplishment is every bit as valid as theirs, regardless of how long it took. So let’s look at the first Golden Rule of Word Count Goals right off the bat:

  1. Don’t compare your goals or progress to anyone else’s. This is your journey, not theirs.
Learning Log 128 – Final Coaching Session (aka eating that elephant) – The  Public Health Informationist
from michaelhealthlibrarian.wordpress.com

As far as your ultimate goal is concerned, let’s not focus too much on that end result right now. You know what it is, we all know what it is. We don’t need to keep saying it. The world is hectic. Home life is weird. They are both unpredictable. Trying to eat a entire elephant right now just might not be possible. The last thing you want to do is set yourself up for failure. So let’s look at eating that elephant one bite at a time. As the great Judy Blume said at the #SCBWI conference this summer, you can write a novel spending two hours a day. Yes, two hours a day would bring great progress. But I can’t repeat that lovely nugget with a straight face. Who has two concentrated hours a day right now? We need to take what we can get, and eat whatever part of the elephant we can get our hands on. Don’t concentrate on eating the entire elephant by sitting at the table two hours a day right now. All that will do is set us up for failure. Let’s look at one part of the elephant and take it very seriously. Can we commit to the legs? One leg? An ear? OK, just the tail for now? It doesn’t matter if we eat it fifteen minutes at a time while the kids are zooming their hearts out, or a half hour before bed, or if it means we THINK about eating it while taking that weekly shower. Pick ONE thing, and do it. Do it well. When you’re done, pick another. I’ve got this bio idea in my head. First I need some research. So my goal is to interview people that knew her. Until I do that, I can’t get much further. So my part of the elephant is interviews. Back that up, and you’ll see I need to figure out who to interview, what to ask them, figure out how to get in touch with them, how I will approach the confidentiality of anything they may want ‘off the record,’ etc. So there is more to the goal of interviewing those people. It’s not a simple check mark. It’s not something I can complete two hours a day, especially since them getting back to me is not under my control. But with that as my goal, I can continually be working towards it. If I’m at a standstill, I can press a virtual pause and look at the next mini goal to start on in the meantime. Yes, that means all the steps/goals should be written out. Not having a word count goal doesn’t mean you don’t make yourself accountable for the steps required to meet your goal. It just means the number of words written per day isn’t on that list. That brings me to our second Golden Rule of Word Count Goals:

2. Word count doesn’t mean hooey.

Think quality, not quantity. You might make more progress with the sudden realization a side character or chapter has to be cut than any number of words you could have placed on a page that day. You might figure out a plot hole and spend time thinking through how to fix it–without a single word added to the manuscript. As long as you’re writing or thinking about solutions to what you’re working on, you’re making progress. Even if you end up scraping a day’s work, you now know what DOESN’T work; you’re still closer to your goal. I think it was the late and wonderful Sid Fleischman who used to say the only thing wasted on experimental writing is a piece of paper. Don’t focus on the number of words per day or week or month. All that will do is stress you out. It might force your butt in the chair, sure. But at what expense? Maybe you’re better off taking a day or two away from the ol’ laptop and giving your muse a mini vacation. (Make sure she’s earned it!) There is simply too much going on right now to worry about the number of words you are or aren’t cranking out. That brings me to the Bonus Golden Rule of Word Count Goals:

What Makes a Good Mother Anyway? | Psychology Today

3. Be kind to yourself.

Don’t beat yourself up over missed opportunities or time away right now. It’s OK if you skip a day or two. Nothing bad will happen if a file is left unopened three days in a row, no curse will leak out of the USB port. It will all be there when you’re ready. Write a blog post (LOL). Send an email to an old friend with a fond memory. Call your parents or brother. Bake cookies for your sister or neighbor. Draw a tree. Or do nothing at all. Don’t force creativity if it’s not there. We know it’s a fickle beast. It’ll come back when it’s ready. In the meantime, let yourself know you’re doing the best you can. It’s all you can do. When it ain’t got than swing, numbers don’t mean a thang. I’m proud of you not matter what you’ve done so far.

YOU’RE NOT A WRITER IF…

Writers tend to doubt themselves, amiright? “I’m not a real writer if I’m not published yet” or “Sure, I’m published, but compared to so-and-so I wouldn’t really consider myself a writer.” Knock it off. If you write, you’re a writer.

Unless…you’re not.

In Feb (2020) I held a “You’re Still a Writer If…” blog event at WriteOnCon. In honor of that event, I’m giving a quick preview list of the opposite…ways you can tell if you are NOT a writer. Hopefully you do not check any of these boxes, my friend.

You’re NOT a writer if…

  • You’ve posted a FANTASTIC blog/tweet/chapter and are waiting to go viral (or be discovered)

Yeah, sorry. No one is going to just happen upon you, discover your brilliance, and offer you a million-dollar book deal. That’s not how it works. Publishing isn’t a passive sport. You need to get off your duff and hit the virtual pavement. You need to find THEM. You need to seek out the best editor or publisher or agent for your work. Chronicle Books, for example, gets over 1,000 kidlit submissions A MONTH. You think those hard-working editors have time to proactively scour the internet looking for a diamond in the rough? If only. You are the captain of your ship, the coach of your team, the driver of your bus, the director of your movie, the beater of your drum. You can’t sit there and wait.

Wanna call yourself a writer? Then don’t just sit there, man. Go out and get ‘em.

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Let’s say you now submit your story, but you’re not a writer if…

  • You cranked out a story in record time
Time-lapse Photography of Brown Concrete Building

I always say writing a picture book is easy. Writing a good one is hard. There are formulas and formats and industry standards and protocols…things you can only learn by putting in your time.

Can you wake up one morning, never having run a day in your life, and win the Boston Marathon? (Uh, correct answer is No. Nice try, optimists.) Writing is the same way. You have to train: do your homework, hone your craft, edit, rewrite, edit some more. Perfection can be simple, but it’s never easy. Writing crappy stuff doesn’t make you a writer. Not to me at least.

After a talk I gave about how to start writing children’s books, a young man and his lady friend came up to me. Or should I say he swaggered over and she quietly followed. He proudly announced he had just written a children’s book, how he had never written one before, and how excited he was about it. His lady friend was duly impressed. I congratulated him. He told me he knew it was good because it took him “only about three minutes.” I tilted my head, paused, and said something about how that’s a great start and encouraged him to consider spending some more time on it, maybe joining a critique group and getting feedback before going any further. He shook his head and waved his hand at me as he said “No need,” and proceeded to tell me because it came to him “just like that” <with a snap of the fingers>, that meant it was good. Finished.

Now you have to understand, in the hour-long presentation he had just attended, I talked about reading 100 (current) children’s books to get a feel for the industry, how you still need a solid plot, the importance of word choices and word count, to set aside your first few drafts for a few weeks, etc. But this guy here, having perhaps (I’m guessing) read his last children book 13 years ago when he was five, was convinced he wrote The Next Great Picture Book in three minutes.

I wished him well, and he swaggered off into the proverbial sunset.

I am sure he was well intended.

He was not a writer, though. He was a poser.

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Let’s say you now take time to edit, but you’re not a writer if…

  • You listen too hard to other people

Heck, maybe that person is me. I never saw that guy’s manuscript, maybe it IS genius. <insert shrug emoji lol> Writing is subjective, sure. What works for you might not work for me or someone else. Just because I don’t read magical realism, for example, doesn’t mean there isn’t value in it. But you’d be best off getting a critique partner that knows (and likes) the genre rather than someone unfamiliar with it.

giving feedback
image from unsplash

There are certain aspects and styles and formats and rules that we all need to follow to some degree, though. I always say follow the rules the first time, and once you’re “in,” break all the rules you want. Even that advice might not work for you. Remember when I said you’re the captain of your ship, the driver of your own bus, etc? You still need to be in charge of your own writing and editing. It’s yours!

OF COURSE other people’s opinion’s matter—that’s how books are sold (how any product is, really—people need to like or want it). You need to listen to the right people. I know, I know, that’s the tricky part—figuring out whose advice can best steer you in the right direction. It’s been said that a critic suggested F. Scott Fitzgerald “get rid of that Gatsby character,” and we’ve all heard how many times the Harry Potter series was rejected because it was too long, not kid friendly, considered not commercial enough, blah blah. Clearly those writers knew well enough to toss those kernels of advice. When you ask for feedback, such as at critique groups or a paid conference critique, please keep an open mind when people give you feedback, especially in the beginning, and consider what other people have to say; I’m not saying to toss all of it. (I do listen to unsolicited advice from well-intended friends that aren’t in the industry, because almost all readers are potential buyers and they might actually be my target audience one day, but just like taking parenting advice from someone that’s never had kids? Please.) The longer you’re in the industry, the better you get at discerning valid feedback (“Wow, I never thought of that, thanks!) vs opinions that are not in line with your vision (“Gee thanks, I’ll try to keep that in mind…”).

But if you listen too much and change TOO MUCH (your style or genre or main character’s motivation or whatever), then you’re not a writer. You’re a robot.

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Let’s say you now have a solid story, but you’re not a writer if…

  • You don’t read

Read, read, and read some more. It’s not about knowing what your competition is up to (they aren’t your competition anyway, this industry honestly isn’t like that, they are your colleagues). It’s staying on top of what’s trending, what to avoid, and knowing who is who. You’re educating yourself on the book industry overall, the one you plan to play a large role in some day. Don’t you want to know what’s going on? You gotta stay educated.

Reading can give you inspiration. It can offer effective roadmaps that you don’t have to (re)create from scratch. It shows you tricks like layering or effective use of metaphors or good old distractions that allow for a spectacular twist ending. I mean, you can read a How to Write a Mystery manual, but there’s no better teaching method than reading an actual mystery that’s well done and watching it unfold before your own cute little eyes. Can you imagine taking your driver’s test having only read the DMV manual, without ever being in a moving vehicle or having seen a car? [Wait, in that case I’m saying you can’t just read a book and then do it but I think you see what I’m saying…] You have to experience it, not just hear someone tell you about it.

You can’t be a writer without being a reader.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

Stephen King

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Let’s say you now read lots, but you’re not a writer if…

  • You don’t write

“Writer” is a verb, not just a title.

Stop making excuses! Taking a break is fine, but breaks have end points. Stop spending so much time finessing your bio about how you’re writer that you’ve left no time to actually write. Stop surfing social media. [Seriously. Give yourself a window, and ONLY check in at those times. I try to check in midmorning, AFTER I’ve done some work, and later in the afternoon. Sometimes at night too, but never late b/c it tends to agitate me and disrupt my sleep (there’s so many distractions!).]

Yas needs ta write to be a writer! If you’ve stopped, start again. If you are just getting started and are frozen in fear, dude get over it. Start writing. Anything. Outlines. Summaries. Notes. Story ideas. Character names. Backstory. A list of potential future titles (I have a friend that has written TWO books after a cool title popped into her head). Anything that will get your pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard. You don’t need an arbitrary daily word count or daily number of minutes/hours toiling at your desk; not every successful writer has them. You don’t need to write every single day; not every successful writer does. You don’t need to feel like writing; not every successful writer is magically inspired at every given moment. But you know what all successful writers have in common?

They write.

I can’t believe I have to say this…but you’re not a writer if you don’t write.

End of story.

Are ya with me? What you need to do RIGHT NOW is stop reading this, and get back to work.

You’re a writer, afterall.

[Don’t forget to pop into WriteOnCon at some point (any point really), the best bargain in the business, starting at $15 for access to all blogs, keynotes, Q&A, and live workshops like the HOW TO MARKET YOURSELF BEFORE YOUR BOOK EVEN COMES OUT live workshop I also gave. #shamelessplug]

What are you doing still reading? Get back to writing!

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To Write or Not to Write

Inevitable? My friend made me this to remind me to keep at it.

I’ve had a long slump. I’m IN a slump. One long train of rejections that keeps chugging by, practically waving in my face as it passes…

I told a friend of mine last week that if I didn’t hear back from a certain house by Friday, that I was done. I had shopped this particular manuscript around with fast and early interest rapidly fizzling into radio silence. That glowing promise, I think, is what has stung the hardest. Because after what I was certain was a sure thing, it’s gone nowhere. I’ve received the highest level of feedback I’ve ever heard on this one, and yet also received the fastest rate of rejections. I don’t get it. And I’ve. Had. Enough.

I’ve been frustrated for months. “Nothing of mine has been picked up for a few years now,” I told my friend. “I’ve had a good run…21 books. But I’ve got to face the new facts. I’m not cutting it. I need to move on. It’s okay, no hard feelings. No regrets.”

She didn’t say a thing. So I continued:

“I don’t get it. This sh*t is good. Borderline great. I mean, quite frankly it’s my best work,” I bragged lamented. “Agents and editors have flat out told me! Yet for one reason or another, it’s ‘not the right one for them.’ ARRRGGGH.” (I may have shaken my fists to the sky in a trite manner before toning it down a wee bit.) (OK, fine, I may also have let a few swear words fly before caching my breath.) (But I did not punch her, or the wall, or the poor guy walking by with fear in his eyes as he gave wide berth.) “I can’t control others, I can only control myself,” I said, sorta calmly. “So if I don’t hear back from [said house that I’d been really optimistic about] by Friday, I’m done. I’m getting off this train. I’ve submitted dozens of new manuscripts this year alone.” I scrunched my face and self corrected. “Tens? Well, at least five. Some better than others, I can admit. This last one can be my swan song. Time to jump ship. Or long-waving train car, whatever.”

“Everyone has a slump. That doesn’t mean you abandon ship. Shut up–I know you’re gonna say train. You know what I mean. What’s your problem? Why now?”

“The problem is, nothing that I’ve felt with my heart and soul as NEEDS TO BE TOLD has gone anywhere. My older stuff I’ve let go of, it’s crap, but some of this stuff I haven’t been able to abandon because I’ve truly thought they’re worthy. Yet guess what–after years and years of trying, they aren’t published. I’ve got to see that for what it is and recognize maybe my work is just not good enough. I need to move on. It’s okay, I’ve really thought it through. Been thinking about it for years, actually, and only now have the nerve to do it. I’ve made peace with it. ”

“Can you, though?” she asked, her question boring through my heart like a fire-heated rod.

“Can you really give up writing?”

My friends, has anyone ever asked you a question that stopped you in your tracks? One that called you out and showed you who you are? One that perhaps caught you off guard because you thought you already thought through all the ramifications and possible outcomes and were fine with all of them, but that one question made you realize you were just PRETENDING to be okay with said decision?

That’s what this question did to me.

Especially because this decision was based on an arbitrary if not fake deadline, with all hope pointing to a house actually getting back to me by said fake deadline, because I really wanted to hear back from them so I could continue writing. I mean, if I wanted to quit, I’d quite, right? None of this “starting tomorrow” business. If I wanted to stop swearing (HAH!) then I’d take it seriously and quit–not starting next week as long as no one pissed me off before then. I guess it’s like an addiction?

Swearing Writing is part of who I am. It’s what I do.

So no dumb, fake deadline is gonna make me quit.

Spoiler alert: As you may have guessed, that house hasn’t gotten back to me. It might never get back to me. Yet here I am. Writing. I’m still looking, still pounding the pavement, still pandering, still waving my LOOK OVER HERE flag. I’ve chosen another house to send to–three in fact. (I never said I was exclusive in the submission and unless requested, these days most assume you aren’t. I’d really like that first one. But tick tock, I ain’t got all day to hear no, lol. I can retract my submission to the others if that one signs me. Wouldn’t that be a great problem to have?)

So, yeah, here I am, writing again.

Does it feel good?

Better than not writing, that’s for sure.

Gift from my sisters to encourage the ongoing warrior in me. I share it with the ongoing warrior in you!

Thanks for joining me on this writing journey. I bet you’ve got “I’m done” stories too. Let me hear about them!

Twitter 101: The Basics, For Writers

Twitter 101 for Writers Part One

The past few writers’ conference presentations I’ve given about Author Platforms have prompted many of the same questions. Most surround social media. I’m gonna tackle one biggie here: Twitter. Let’s look at the very basic concept of Twitter in this post, for the true beginner. How to use it effectively will be a different post, so be sure to keep looking around on my site if you need more help or detail.

“I know what Twitter is, but I don’t know how to use it like I should. Is there a specific process?” “Why do I want to use Twitter in the first place?” “What is Twitter anyway?” Let’s start with the very basics. Here are some definitions of Twitter:

  • Twitter is the best way to connect with people, express yourself and discover what’s happening. – Twitter

That’s kinda broad. Let’s look at a different definition:

  • Twitter is a free social networking microblogging service that allows registered members to broadcast short update posts called tweets. –WhatIs.com

Okay, that’s not really helpful at all. Let’s give it one more try:

  • A stupid site for stupid people with no friends, who think everyone else gives a sh*t what they’re doing at any given time. –UrbanDictionary.com

Haha well that sure is one way to look at it! I view Twitter as a huge cocktail party. You interact as much as you want, you come in and out of conversations as you see fit, you listen to other people rant or rave, you observe trends and popular topics, you initiate some conversations and contribute to others, you walk around to see what’s happening over in that side of the room, and yes maybe you enjoy a few people so much that you follow them around a little bit.

Looking at some statistics, it’s clear that social media is here to stay.

  • Facebook: 1.23 Billion users as of Dec 2013, 81% outside of U.S. (Facebook.com), 57% American adults, 73% 12-17 year olds (Pew Research)
  • LinkedIn: 277 million users as of Feb 2014 (Digital Marketing Ramblings)
  • Instagram (where you share photos and up to 15-second videos, image filters are offered): 150 million active users, 1.2 Billion likes/day (DMR, Feb 2014)
  • Vine (users share 6-second videos) : 40 million users (Vine)
  • Twitter: As of Aug 2013, Twitter reports

    280 Million users

    500 Million tweets/day

    Average 5,700 tweets PER SECOND

    135,000 new users/day

A tweet, or Twitter post, gives you 140 spaces, called characters, to say whatever you want. “Happy birthday” is 14 characters (without the quote marks), and “Happy birthday!” (without quotes) is 15. With quotes, they’d 16 and 17 characters. Anything that takes up a space, even a blank space, counts as one. The good news is you are forced to be brief. The bad news is it takes practice to get your point across succinctly.

Once you’ve got the hang of 140 characters, why keep going? What’s in it for you? Plenty. When used effectively, Twitter can: