Friday, September 09, 2011

The 3 Rs

by Bente

I’ve been talking to a friend about goals lately.

Specifically, word goals.

She’s a brand new writer, who hasn’t completed a full manuscript yet. And a few days ago she emailed me to ask whether I thought October 31st would be a reasonable deadline to aim for, for a new, completed manuscript. This happened the middle week of August, so basically, she was looking at two and a half months to write a brand new book, beginning to end.

I told her it depends. How many words would her book have? How much time can she devote to it per day? How fast does she type?

For me personally, a new book in two and a half months isn’t a goal I’d set myself.

That’s not to say I can’t do it. I can. I’ve written 90K books in two months before. If someone were to tell me, right now, that they’d pay me $50,000 if I could turn in a complete novel two months from today, I could do it no problem. I might kill myself in the doing, from the sheer stress of knowing I had to finish on time, but I’d manage. I can easily write 90,000 words in two months. I’ve done it before, so I know it’s possible. That doesn’t mean I’ll choose to put myself under that kind of stress. I’d rather give myself three months, and aim for 1,000 words per day—knowing it’s a rare day that I don’t write more—and be done early.

There are people out there whose goal is 365,000 words per year. One thousand words per day. Every day. Christmas, July 4th, their birthday, the day their kid starts school, the day they come down with the stomach flu and can’t drag themselves away from the porcelain ring long enough to answer the phone.

Not me. I know I need downtime. There’s gonna be days when I won’t write. There might be a week or two when I don’t crack open the computer because I’m on vacation or because I finished a book and I’m not ready to start the next yet.

Or—since writing isn’t just about adding words to the manuscript—there’ll be days when I’m revising. Lots of days when I’m revising. Days when I don’t add a single word to the count. Days when I take them away instead. Days when I do copy edits or when I proof read. Days when I’m at a conference doing a workshop and a signing. Days when I just don’t want to write; I want to read instead.

If my goal is 1K/day, I’m going to have to make up for those days. If I spend a week revising, suddenly I’m behind my goal by 7,000 words. In just a week. And when you’re behind 7,000 words, it can be hard to catch up.

And so we come to the three Rs.
  • Reasonable.
  • Realistic.
  • Right.

Set a goal for yourself, by all means. Goals are great. Most of us are motivated by goals. If you’re not, then feel free to ignore this post.

Just make sure your goal is Reasonable and Realistic. Make it a goal you have the ability to meet. If it’s so far out of your reach that there’s no way you can possibly get there, you’ve missed Realistic by a wide margin. And if it’s so simple you could do it in your sleep, it’s not a really goal at all, and so not at all Reasonable. And finally, don’t choose to write three books a year because someone else does. Your goal is your goal, and it has to be Right for you, no one else.

So what about you? Do you have word goals? Or deadlines? Self-imposed or otherwise?

FYI, the ebook of Close to Home, Cutthroat Business mystery #4, is now available through Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. Anyone who wants a freebie review copy can email me for a Smashwords coupon code.



Peg Cochran/Meg London said...

My goal, while I'm actively working on my current manuscript, (I have two due within the next 10 months) is 1K a day. I'm finding that I can do it! Some days easily, other days it means seeking out pockets of time (still have the day job). But I'm doing it. If I hadn't set the goal, I'd be floating along thinking I'm making progress when I could be doing much better.

Steve Ulfelder said...

For a long time, my goal was 1000 words a day. With the book I just finished (the second Conway Sax novel, untitled as of now, coming in May 2012 from Minotaur), I had an aggressive deadline, so I bumped my wordcount to 1500 per day. I made the deadline, but I found that by Friday, I was burned out; I seldom got the full 1500 words, and felt guilty about it.

For Conway3, which I'll start writing in October, I'm tweaking my plan: I'll write 1500 words a day 4 days a week, and Friday will be reserved for editing (both line edits and more substantial revisions). This way I get 6000 first-draft words per week, but rather than feeling like a slacker on Friday, I'll be productive and (I hope) end up with a completed draft that needs relatively minor revision.

Smuggy Smith's First Year said...

I was bumbling along writing about a thousand word a day. Then I realized that I would be just over 86 years old when I finished the novels and short stories I've already outlined.

I punched my schedule up to 2k and now to 3500 words per day for a first draft. Typically, this is 4 hours of work and that leaves time for all the other stuff like rewriting etc. I work eight hours a day.

My secret. I've learned to outline on a scene by scene basis instead of by the chapter or in the case of a short story the whole thing.

I don't use outlining as a method of driving the development of the story but rather to imagine the story and saving it.