This sad truth holds especially true for beginning authors. If we’re honest, most writers will tell you that we have at least one manuscript that has sat half-written in the bowels of a desk drawer somewhere for years. In my case, I have about 24 fiction pieces of varying lengths which are all unfinished right now. Of those 24 I plan to finish about half. Of the other half, well, I tried…
So why do we do this? Why do we kill our dreams through neglect before they can even bloom? More importantly, how do we fix the problem? I think that the answer lies in the method we use to plan our goals and in the ways we work to carry them out.
Maybe I’m the only one who does this, but I tend to start out each year with all of these grand goals I want to accomplish in my work and in my personal life. I’m so excited by all of the things I want to do. Two months down the road, however, I stare overwhelmed at the sheer length of my list and wake up to reality. I’m not sure what possesses me to write down too many goals, but I do. And so half the time I fail to accomplish my goals because I simply have too many. This problem leads me to our first solution.
Trim the Fat
Goals need to be large enough to challenge us a little, but small enough to still be attainable. In other words, we need to understand when a fantasy is too far from reality to prove practical. Case in point, last year my main goal was to write at least 75,000 words of fiction by the end of December 2014. It wasn’t a huge goal by professional writers’ standards, but it was larger than anything I had yet accomplished. This turned out to be a great goal for me because it pushed me to see what I could do without making me feel overwhelmed. Make sure that every goal you make does this. Also make sure that the list of goals you give yourself is large enough to push the boundaries of your comfort zone without making you panic.
Take Smaller Portions
Now that we’ve paired down the list and adjusted the size of the goals, let’s find practical ways of approaching them. Writers often spend so much of our professional time being creative that it just doesn’t leave a lot of time or brain-power for us to stay organized. This disorganization can cause a lot of disorientation. And that confusion is often the culprit that derails stories and sends them smoking down into the pits of writer’s block.
So how do we combat this disorientation? We organize the chaos by breaking it down into smaller pieces. For example, when I made my goal to write at least 75,000 words of fiction by the end of 2014, I didn’t just leave that as my goal and be done with it. Instead I broke down that big goal into tiny “bite-sized” goals. I set a small goal to write 300 words every weekday that year, so that I could meet my big goal at the end of the year. Writing 300 words a day was something I knew that I could do, so I pushed myself to reach that goal every workday and then I watched as that small work accumulated into something huge by the end of the year.
To further organize my progress, I also kept an Excel spreadsheet documenting my writing word count every single day. The spreadsheet worked so well to keep me organized and motivated that I made a new spreadsheet for 2015 with the new goal of writing 400 words a weekday for a total of more than 100,000 words for the year. If you want to use it, here is a blank copy of my Fiction Writing Tracker spreadsheet .
Do the Work
Of course, no person can call himself or herself a writer unless he or she, you know, actually writes. Being an author isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. It is a long-term career. Professional authors typically don’t have one or two books to their names; they have 10 to 20. Consequently writers who want to make a career from writing need to be prepared to write a lot for a long time. To be a writer, you must be willing to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from your experiences just as any professional does.
Rotate Your Workouts
No writer is perfect. In fact we all start out as illiterate. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t the fastest writer or the greatest speller or even the best with plot points. If you stay persistent and determined, you can and will overcome your weaknesses through practice. Each story presents its own set of challenges and lessons. This is why the more you write, the more you learn. Writers never stop learning and that fact is one of the fun parts of the craft.
Play to Your Strengths
As in any profession, you must play to your strengths even while you’re bolstering your weakness if you want to make it to the top. Understand though that most writers won’t make it that high and that is okay. Some authors are meant to capture a wide audience while others write for a very small niche group. There is nothing wrong with either of these tracks because readers are served either way. Whether you are small or large, write well and write often. No matter what your passion is, write to the very best of your ability.
Budget Your Time
As awesome as writers are, we can’t do everything, so we have to learn how to budget our time and juggle our work to get the most out of every day. A professional writer has enough experience and self-discipline to write new material, edit old material, and market finished material daily. I usually manage to do about two out of three of these things per day so I am still learning. Some writers I know say that they prefer to spend 40 percent of their time writing new material, 30 percent of their time editing old material, and use the last 30 percent of their day marketing their finished works. This time division helps them to use small bites of time and work to accomplish huge goals. If you’re just starting out, focus 60 percent of your time writing, 20 percent of your time editing, and 10 percent of your time marketing. After all, you can’t sell what you don’t have. Whatever you do, work to stay organized and stay focused. It will give you less stress whether your writing experience is a sprint or a marathon.
I hope each of these suggestions help you better organize and maintain your writing. Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!