Writing Toward a Goal
Portions of this blog first appeared on Savvy Authors on 10 June, 2014
I've always got a handful of new projects in the hopper, and that means every now and again it's time to break out the organizer and start scheduling.
Top of the list right now is the third book in my Blood and Fire series. My vision for this book: a full-length novel of 100k words, done by April 1st.
That's a significant goal and a tight deadline. So, this article is all about how one goes about meeting such a goal.
The first step is to break it down.
1. Find Your Inspiration: This, honestly, is the hardest part of the process. Everything else can be controlled, scheduled, measured. The inspiration is the tough part.
Personally, I can't start with the theme. I have to find the story first, and discover how it can fit the theme, before I put down anything worth reading. As with everything I set down to write, I have to feel the story is organic. If I start by trying to meet a theme, without a story that naturally aligns, I find I'm fabricating. That's me, though...I have no trouble believing other authors can start with a theme and go from there.
2. Decide Your Words-Per-Day: Beginning with the total word goal--in this case, I have 50k words to go--and our we spread it out over 33 days. That's only 1515 words per day. This is less than it takes to complete National Novel Writing Month, an event in which I regularly take part. So for me, it's not an unfamiliar Words-Per-Day goal.
If you're not used to exercises like NaNoWriMo, there are lots of hints, tips, and tricks out there for ways to reach such a goal. One of my personal favorites is word wars (or word sprints, for some). This is an exercise where you time yourself -- usually our NaNo groups go in spurts of 10 to 15 minutes -- and see who can write the most words in that time.
3. Consider Other Elements of Writing: You have to throw in time for research. You can't short yourself on this. Writing in sprints to your goal is all fine and good but if you don't include time to research, your plot is going to lack foundation and realism (unless it's a subject in which you are a certified expert, and even then I'd suggest a research session for the sake of being thorough).
When I wrote the first two books in the Blood and Fire series, I did a lot of looking into European folklore and the history of the countries in which they were set (Edo Japan and Napoleonic London, respectively). That doesn't mean I'm ready to write the sequel without boning up on what I know. First off, I want the story to be different, so it's going to have to include new and fresh information, characters, and conflicts. I have to look into new history and geography, too, to expand the world I started with. So research time has to be figured in to my "per day" goal, too. I may not have to research every single day I write, or for the same amount of time, but I can't forget to put the time in where it's due.
4. Make Sure You've Got Time to Check Your Work: On top of research, you'll need time to edit. My personal estimation for editing time for a 100k novel—as long as there's time to be had—is a month. I'm a stickler for editing/polishing every submission to its absolute best before I send it to my editor, so my timing may feel a bit excessive to most. One can, of course, adjust this timing to the particular needs of their story, but given I'll be writing in sprints, I expect I'm going to need very thorough edits.
One things I've learned from my editor is that the best polishing can only be done if you're ready to read through the story from beginning to end, again (and maybe again). With my last novel, which ended at 53k words, this part wasn't as demanding. With Lotus Petals and its sequel, Satin and Steel (75 and 85k words, respectively), this takes longer.
5. Adjust Your Parameters: For sake of argument, let's say I'm on a exceptionally strict deadline and I have to keep things moving. So I'll cut my editing time a little and give myself 10 days
This, though, means I'm going to be putting my best foot forward, the first time, with a vengeance. From the get-go -- meaning when I start typing today -- I'm going to have to be putting in a full effort.
6. Measure Your Progress: Lastly, any good goal-setting plan includes setting measurable goals you can track. I use a very simple, free app called WriteChain. I set my goal for the day (1515), and set a cruise limit. This means how many days I can go without meeting my goal and not break my chain. For this project? I set a cruise limit of zero. There are lots of similar apps you can find, or you can keep pace with an Excel Spreadsheet. This really makes my goals feel very real and achievable, with visible results.
Writing on a deadline is a rigorous and demanding task. It's part of the work of being a writer. Even if you don't have a deadline, though, you can use these tips to keep a daily writing goal, improve your skills, and be ready when those deadlines come along to attack them with a real, dedicated determination.
It's good planning...and it's also good practice, for any author.