Each week, I put my goals in a black permanent marker. Then each day, I add in red if I’ve hit my goal, and blue if I don’t. Why blue? Because I wanted green, but I only had blue. Why green? Because any day with words is a good day, even if I don’t hit my goal.
What about those days with no words? Sometimes, that’s going to happen, and it is okay. You’ll note I hit my weekly goal both weeks, even with a few empty days. 4000-5000 words a week is more than a few, and at that rate, my book would be well over 200k in under a year. (For reference, The Fellowship of the Ring is around 177k.)
There are currently 75,000 words in my draft, but that includes multiple versions of the same scenes and several areas of notes. Let’s assume 50k for actual, non-repeatable story words. I have no idea how long it will be, but I suspect 125-150k. With my rate of writing and that target, I should be finished by the end of June at the outside. Just in time for my birthday!
That is a long time from now, though. It could get depressing. Day by day, thinking, “Oh, I didn’t do much today. I’m never going to finish.” That’s where this calendar comes in, as I can look at it each time I have those thoughts while writing and see that yes, the elephant is getting eaten. One bite at a time.
This also prevents me from worrying about how much “more” I could get done if I just worked a little harder or stayed at my desk a little longer. I have other things in life to do, like feed the cats and defeat Daedra in Elder Scrolls Online. There’s also that full-time job thing as well, but who is counting? I can rest easy in my hobbies after work, knowing I have accomplished my daily goal for writing.
I’d like to end this year and begin next year by recommending a book to you. This fall, I read Finish by Jon Acuff, and it changed how I approach all of my goals. I didn’t expect this outcome, as I usually finish things (like novels). But this has made it easier and less stressful to do so, and I feel like I’m doing even more than I was before. You might be shocked to learn it is because I’m expecting less of myself.
“What was astonishing to me is something that should be more apparent to all of us: the exercises that caused people to increase their progress dramatically were those that took the pressure off, those that did away with the crippling perfectionism that caused people to quit their goals. Whether they were trying to lose a pants size, write more content on a blog, or get a raise, the results were the same. The less that people aimed for perfect, the more productive they became.
It turns out that trying harder isn’t the answer.”
Acuff, Jon. Finish (pp. 4-5). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
A few years ago, I did vision therapy for several months. I was disciplined and always did my exercises. I always attended my appointments. But one thing kept popping up as a problem – I was trying too hard. In order to improve with the exercises, I had to relax. I had to try less. This sounded ridiculous because I was spending a lot of money on this therapy. I really wanted it to succeed. But I did as I was told and tried to relax. The crazy thing? It worked.
But did I try this with anything else? No, don’t be silly. This is America. Trying harder is always the answer.
There is a lot about writing which is subjective, so I’ve always known there is no perfectly disciplined approach that will yield an entirely predictable result. However, it is safe to say if you don’t work on it, it won’t happen. So I worked on it. And I worked on it. And when I didn’t work on it, I felt terrible.
If I didn’t hit the word count goals I’d pulled from thin air, I had failed, even if I had written something. I could beat myself up for failing to complete my task. The funny thing here is I’ve finished two books in two years; it isn’t like I was slacking. It just always felt like I was.
Last year after the Writing Excuses Cruise, I did very little work on the draft of my second novel. It stressed me out to think about it because it wasn’t very good. I wasn’t very good. I wasn’t working on it, so I wasn’t improving. I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing. The draft wasn’t finished until spring, and I’m still not happy with that book overall.
For this third novel, I still have targets. But I set them with the tips in this book in mind, so they’re very manageable. I frequently outdo them. I also don’t follow as many “rules” on how to write the draft. Last week I rewrote an entire scene, just to see if it worked better without one of the characters. It did. I’ll keep both versions in my draft folder. I’m counting all those words.
I can get hung up on the inefficiency of this method. Write a terrible first draft with all sorts of extra scenes where I figure out what I want to do? Wouldn’t it be faster to figure out what I’m going to do ahead of time and write it down that way? Turns out, no, not really.
In trying to make the perfect product right out of the gate, and in trying to follow my perfect plan in writing it, I ended up doing nothing at all. And nothing at all is horribly inefficient compared to something.
“Once the streak is broken, I can’t pick it back up. My record is no longer perfect so I quit altogether. This is a surprisingly common reaction to mistakes.”
Acuff, Jon. Finish (p. 9). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
I’ve started using this book to help me with my fitness goals, as well. It turns out I’m a lot like other people in this area of my life – I come up with a great plan, follow it for a bit, and then as soon as I fail once, I stop. Why do it at all if I can’t be perfect? How will I maximize the impact of my exercise if I don’t follow the plan?
This is silly now that I write it down, of course. If I’m supposed to walk five times a week but only walk four, that’s four times more than the zero I’ll walk if I quit. That’s still a big health benefit. Will I see all the same gains in lifting weights if I miss a session like I did last week for Christmas? No, the gains will not come as fast, but they will come.
I just set some goals for 2020 in terms of health. I used to associate a certain number of words or hours writing with an increase in money I could spend on frivolous things in video games, but I’m switching that to health in 2020. Every X number of points gets me Y number of dollars. Thanks to this book, I came up with the max number of points I could earn in a week. Then I set the goal at half. Because I’ll likely get more than half, but this gets me to at least half, and half is half more than the none I might do if it looks like I’m not going to make it.
“Perfectionism is a poison that pretends to be a vitamin” Jon Acuff’s Instagram
It is easy to think if we just try harder, plan better, and become more disciplined we can do anything. Or more often, we can do all the things. If we were better people, we could do so much more. This thought process can motivate us for a bit and make us feel like it is wise advice, but in the end, it does nothing but cripple our progress. We can get overwhelmed, fail, and then quit instead of taking the small (if imperfect) steps forward to our goal.
If any of the above sounds familiar to you, you should consider reading Finish by Jon Acuff. There are eight chapters with ways to change how you approach goals. It is easy to read, insightful, and funny (bonus). I plan to reread it this week as we enter the new decade as a refresher, so let me know if you read it and we can compare notes!
Greetings, friends! November was quite productive for writing, as I hit 50k on Thanksgiving for NaNoWriMo. Some people apparently don’t know what that is, so I’ll explain. National Novel Writing Month occurs every November, and writers from all over the world attempt to write 50,000 words during the thirty days of the month. Averaging almost 1700 words a day isn’t easy!
After finishing the first act of my third novel, Our Sister’s Mage, I sat down and tried to reorganize the outline for the rest of it. I ran into so many problems! I finally realized I had too many threads for the size I was thinking it would be (which was the size of my second novel), and briefly considered getting rid of some. Then I remembered I’m writing epic fantasy so more words really aren’t a problem! What this means thoug,h is I have no real idea of when I’ll complete the draft, even if I hit my goal of 1,000 words a day. Guess we’ll all be surprised!
I’ve been getting some feedback on my second novel, Dragon Herald. People seem to like the first few chapters, where I’ve done a lot of revisions over time. The book as a whole though may be lacking, especially toward the end. Actually, I know it is lacking at the end. Once I finish the first draft of the Mage book, I plan to go back and revise this further while the Mage draft rests for a bit. We’ll see how it goes!
The first novel is published here on the blog, for now. You can find all the chapters of Defiant here.
We are 17 days into nanowrimo, and at the end of yesterday, I had 35,000 words. I could write a little more than 1000 words a day and hit the 50k by the end of the month, so there’s some good news.
50k does not make a fantasy novel, however, so I will still have plenty of work to do once I “win.” I’ll slow down a bit at that point, and I don’t have a great way to tell how long my book will be, so I’m setting a goal of the end of February to complete the draft. This estimate is likely wildly inaccurate! But I like having a plan.
When the first draft of the third novel is complete, I’ll return to editing the second novel. I’ve had some feedback and continue to get more each month. I’m also learning a lot in writing the third one I can apply to the second one.
But let’s return now to the first novel I wrote, Defiant. This is the last, very short, chapter. I have problems with endings, which is something I hope to fix in edits for my second book and perhaps even avoid in book three? We can hope.
Greetings and happy November! As promised last week, I’ve started NaNoWriMo. We’ll see how it goes. Last year, I decided to cut my effort short as I had too much going on with other parts of my life. Work gets busy during this time, and although I don’t spend a lot more time there, I do spend a lot more of my creative energy. So far, so good though! I have over 8000 words heading into today’s writing times.
Let’s continue our read-through of Defiant, with Chapter Twenty-Two, which begins our thrilling conclusion to Aida’s journey.
Greetings, readers! I am sorry about skipping last week; these things happen when you’re planning your next novel! Nanowrimo starts this Friday, and all of my plans are in place to crush the 50k goal. You can find me there at “julieowrites” if you’re joining in the fun!
The second book is still resting on the shelf as some people read it, but I also had another group read the first chapter. I got some great feedback! By “great,” I mean it was kind and positive, but also included a lot of problems. The great news is I know how to fix all the problems. I’ll do the same thing with the second chapter next month.
In the meantime, enjoy Chapter Twenty One of Defiant!
We are all the way up to Chapter Twenty in our journey through my very first novel. There are twenty-four chapters total, so we are wrapping it up soon. What would you like to see next?
Novel Three continues in the planning phase, kicking and screaming. I’m using Scrivener, Excel, Aeon Timeline, Wonderdraft, and Scapple to organize it as much as possible in the hopes of having a usable outline at the start of November. If that happens, I bet I can hit the 50k for Nano no issue.
Knock on wood.
Greetings and happy Sunday! I’ve sent off the third draft of my second novel, Dragon Herald, to some readers. This week, I’m working on the outline for the third novel, The Sister’s Mage. If everything works according to plan, it might be ready to draft in time for Nanowrimo. We’ll see!
Here’s chapter 19 of Defiant while we wait!
Wow! It has been one week since the Writing Excuses Cruise, and another change from last year is I have all the energy in the world to write. I’m wrapping up the third draft of my second novel. Once it is out to readers, I’ll continue planning the third novel, and then start drafting it sometime in November or December.
We’re on to Chapter Eighteen in my first novel, Defiant. As a reminder, none of these novels I discuss are related. This is a stand alone work and the first novel I ever wrote.