Every year as November rolls around, I think about joining in the National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo for short.
The idea is to challenge yourself to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That’s an average of 1667 words per day. That is quite a challenge to many writers, myself included. On an average day I am generally happy with 500 – 1000 words. On a good day I might stretch this to 1500, and on a fabulous – albeit very rare – day I can even get over 2000. I think my best day was a super 3000 words, but that mean about 10 hours of work.
I considered joining the challenge again this year, but realistically I just don’t have the time with my many responsibilities outside of my writing.
Poem a day
So instead I am going for an easier, softer and far more achievable goal: a poem a day for the month of November. So far I’m on track. I might even publish a few of them here on this site. (The first one appeared here.)
I have done this successfully before. On a six week holiday in Ethiopia, Morocco and Spain we were away for 45 days and I wrote 55 poems. Admittedly, some of them were haiku, but I achieved my goal. And I wrote some great poems as well.
Thought: perhaps I will create a new habit and write a poem every day of the year. Now that’s a challenge I can achieve.
Most writers dream of being published.
That’s a given. Sure, there are a few people who just love to write with no intention of getting published. That’s fine. I have written many things which will never reach another reader in my lifetime. An example of this is my private journal. I use this to record events in my life, reflecting on how these events have shaped and influenced me. This journal is just for me but it might be read in the future by my children or even my grandchildren, but I doubt if they will have the stamina.
Getting back to my theory that most writers dream of being published I realise that many aspiring writers will inevitably be disappointed. It is a tough gig and getting tougher to break into the established publishing world. Ironically it is also becoming easier – if you consider blogs and ebooks. That is a topic for another day.
Some unpublished writers love the idea of having written. They dream about someday writing a book. The problem is – they don’t realise the effort it takes to write a book. It takes enormous discipline and single-mindedness to finish a book. My latest children’s novel went through 17 drafts. Significant portions of it were rewritten many times. Large slabs were written – only to be deleted later. Most people don’t have that sort of patience. Mind you – I had some help in the discipline side of things. The novel was for my Masters degree and I had two supervisors gently pushing me along, not to mention an insistent wife.
If you want to be a published writer you have to do two things: read widely and write daily.
Oh, I forgot… those two steps may take you five or ten or twenty years – or even a lifetime before you see your name in print.
But, I hear you cry – I don’t have the time to do that. So the only solution is to make the time. You can’t be a published writer with a string of publishing credits if you spend five hours a day watching television. It won’t happen. In fact, there are many things you will have to sacrifice to be successful as a writer. An article I read recently lists 7 things to give up so you have more time to write. The author makes some great points, but for me I’d add several more:
- Severely control how often you access social media. They will suck the time out of your day.
- Sacrifice some sleeping time. On a cold winter’s morning it may be tempting to sleep in. Don’t.
- Housework. Sure, some housework must be given attention, but would you rather have a reasonably clean home and be published – or a spotless home and nothing written.
I’m sure you can think of time and energy thieves in your life.
At this time of year many people make New Year’s Resolutions. That’s fine, but it is my observation that few people actually keep them.
I prefer to set some firm goals instead, especially in relation to my writing. I find this far more practical and achievable than some nebulous resolution. I shy away from airy-fairy resolutions like “I am going to be a better writer in 2011.” What does that mean? How do I achieve it? How can I measure how successful I’ve been?
My firm goals are often numerically based – so that they can be measured. For example, here are some of my writing goals for this coming year:
- I plan to average 500 words per day. That’s over 180,000 words for the year – quite a significant figure.
- I plan to average 3 hours of focussed writing per day. That’s well over 1000 hours for the year – another large number.
- I plan to write and submit at least 20 short stories to magazines.
- I plan to write and submit at least 50 poems to magazines.
- I plan to edit and submit 5 picture books to publishers.
- I plan to edit and submit 3 novels to publishers.
- I plan to write and post 200 articles on each of my 3 blogs.
That’s the plan at the moment. It may have to be adapted with changing circumstances but they give me something to aim at. I keep detailed records on each of the elements of my plans so it’s easy to see how I am going.
A special note about items #5 and #6 – the texts of these books have already been written. They just need editing, some rewriting and then submission. If I was to allow myself to have one resolution for 2011 it could be: “The year 2011 will be my year of getting published.” And knowing the way publishers work with their long lead times, this resolution may have to stretch into 2012 as well!
Further reading on this topic:
I am reasonably goal driven with my writing.
I like setting goals that stretch me and keep me accountable to myself. Over recent years though I’ve learned to be gentle with myself when I don’t reach a particular goal. No one else cares, so why should I beat myself up over just missing a goal by a small margin? The important thing to remember while reflecting on the issue is that I tried. I gave it a good shake.
One of my goals each day is to write at least a 1000 words. On the good days I can achieve over 3000 easily; other days I struggle to get a few hundred. Generally I know I can comfortably average over 700 per day every day for a whole year. That takes commitment, discipline and determination.
Yesterday I passed the 250,000 word mark for the year so far.
I’m very pleased with this achievement. It means that I’ve achieved the same amount now for four consecutive years – that’s over a million words in four years. Not bad. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this writing thing.
The words I have written this year cover a wide range of writing activities: a novel, numerous short stories, many poems, writing exercises, essays, emails, nearly 300 blog posts, hundreds of comments on my blogs and a journal.