Writer, How Do You Hit Your Word Count Goal?

My ideal writing output has changed over time. I’ve tied the satisfaction with my work to words per week, hours allotted, and pages per month. Most of this effort is me trying to trick myself into writing as efficiently as I can during a challenging point in my life.

My key to finish any work is simple – do whatever it takes to keep going. The easiest way for me to keep writing is to take my focus away from the project itself and instead focus on the steps I need to take to complete it.

Stone steps 1

I enjoy taking something complex and tearing it down into smaller bites that help me understand it or conquer it. This is true whether I am building a desk, mowing the lawn, or driving to someplace I’ve never been, my mind is constantly looking for steps I need to take, like a map unfolding before me. Writing is no different.

I firmly believe if you sit down and tell yourself you are going to write an eighty-thousand-word novel, you will fail. If you start out and say “I am going to write the first scene or thousands words” and go from there, you have a better chance at succeeding. For me, writing has always been a joy. But doing the same thing day in and day out, even if I am creating new and exciting content, can grow old. And I, like you, need to figure out the best way to keep moving forward.

But for the writer, production is what we seek. The ability to create more stories. This week I am going to try something new.

I am going to write down seven different word count goals. 500 – five times, and 1000 – two times, on the dry erase board near my desk. Before I go to bed, I must erase one of these numbers. If I am tired, it is 500. If my wife has a project or is going out for the evening or it’s my writing evening, it’s a 1000.

By doing this, focusing on a small portion of words, I will have a better chance of hitting my word count goal on each one of the projects I want to accomplish.

2 blogs (300 word-ish each)

2500 on my YA novel

1500 on my e-book about writing with a family, job, and other life obligations.

To keep momentum, I will come to the blank page with a solid idea of what I want to write about by leaving a note where I left off. This should prevent me from losing the story thread between days.

This is just one method – focusing on bite sized pieces of larger projects. Once I am done with these pieces, it’ll be time to develop a process for editing. But one step at a time.

How do you keep going?

How do you ensure you keep moving forward with your books?

 

 

When You Feel Like Giving Up

Have you ever started a project with gusto and then while in the middle of it realize that you may have made a terrible mistake?

It could be a book, an organizational task, a move, or a garage sale. But you and I have both had that sinking feeling of “Oh no. What have I done!”

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Photo Credit: TheNoxid via Compfight cc

My blogs, books, and several of my moves over the last ten years have felt this way. I stand there, wondering what the next step is, and consider eating seven slices of pizza as the answer to feeling overwhelmed. It’ll never get done anyway.

I wrote a while back about the U shaped journey of the creative referenced in Todd Henry’s book Louder Than Words. The visionary starts their journey with joy. They can see the other side and it should be a quick hike down into the valley and up the other side. Once the sun is out of view, however, the forest grows tall and dark, and the traveler hears a wolf howl. So they stumble forward with suborn single-mindedness and soon enough, find ourselves out the other side.

Life is not this easy. But the truth is that anything worth doing is bound to get really difficult. I am not sure who said writing books and having four kids was easy but they were lying. Sure I love my novels and non-fiction stories and love my kids even more than that but I’d like to commiserate with you and say we’ve all been there, feeling like everything we do is terrible.

That ___ is a mistake.

That ___ will amount to nothing.

It wasn’t always this hard or energy sapping but it feels like it will forever be so going forward.

Friend, great writers weren’t magically endowed with the writing gift when they were born. Sure some might have a leg up, but I know many writers that are incredibly talented that struggle with doubt in the middle of every project.

I have heard it said that when you get to the place of being really uncomfortable or feeling like you are lost then you have crossed the border between imitation and originality in art.

If you feel like giving up, I implore you to move forward. There are so many books and blogs that have encouraged and inspired me on my journey. I know that it may seem impossible to continue onward but I hope you do. Remember the joy that came at the beginning and write from there.

It will take time but keep writing. That is the one and only way to know if your work will be worth it in the end.

Do you feel like giving up?

How can I encourage you today?

 

What Do You Think Of When You Hear The Word Commitment?

Commitment is a tricky word. If you Google the definition you’ll get some fairly sad synonyms. Responsibility, obligation, duty, tie, and liability.

The word can read more like shackles to throw off than a noun that could inspire you to move to the next level in your book or entrepreneurial ventures.

But commitment gets a bad reputation with those doldrum definitions.

Wedding ring

You’ve heard the classic line after someone gets married. They now have a ball and chain. They are taken, cooped up, unable to enjoy the freedoms that individuality can bring. Thankfully, commitment has other meanings as well.

Dedication

Devotion

Allegiance

Loyalty

Faithfulness

If you are writing a book, in a relationship, or employed these words can mean the difference between being successful and an unfinished or tragic end.

Often for me, time passes too quickly and I can become dissatisfied with my writing output. But I have to remind myself that I am not in it for the quick fix or euphoria of a day. I am writing for the long haul. I am committed to my craft. This requires time. It also requires an epic amount of commitment.

What do you think when you hear the word commitment?

Do you need to commit or recommit to something or someone today?

The Biggest Myth Non-Writers Believe About Writers

Before I started writing I thought writers were mysterious beings that heard a song that the rest of the world could not hear. These creatures, I thought, disappear for six months only to reappear with a book that was perfect, required no editing, and had the power to enrapture a generation.

The reality? It doesn’t work that way.

typewriter

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction and I am in the middle of Creativity Inc., by Ed Catmul with Amy Wallace. It’s about leadership more than anything else but in it Mr. Catmul details some of the creative processes that Pixar Animation and Disney Animation implement to create and develop their stories.

Up is one of my favorite Pixar movies and I was shocked to discover that it’s first draft looked nothing like the finished product. Mr. Catmul explains that the bird and the title Up are the only two things that survived the first iteration of the story. The first draft was about two boys that lived in a castle in the sky.

Even Pixar’s first drafts are bad.

The process of writing a book is a lot like this. Once a first draft is done, there is a mountain of refining that takes place. The idea is usually hidden in the drivel but only through careful counsel and thoughtful consideration on the writers’ behalf can the non-fiction book be rounded into form or the fiction story be shaped into a coherent, compelling tale.

Perhaps the biggest mystery is not how writers do it but how they persevere when others may not be able to see the vision of their story.

I don’t know what possessed me to start writing. Maybe it was my Grandma Evenhouse who always had books around and stories to tell. It could have been the allure of Lowry’s Book and More in my hometown or maybe it was the college professor that told me I could be a writer, out of the blue, or the encouraging email or comment about a recent blog post, but I find myself among writers now and even call myself one.

If you are a writer and your ideas don’t come out right or you are stuck, don’t worry. Great stories take time to shape. You have to try to poke holes in them, let it fall on the page without editing, and then build it back up or mold it into something new.

If you’ve ever thought of writing, and still maintain that desire, I challenge you to start now, with the advanced knowledge that the road will be hard and perseverance is your only guide through.

Why Today Can Be The Best Day You Ever Had

Nearly every day I put my son to bed and then his two older sisters. My wife handles our three month old. And almost every evening my daughter Clara asks me the same question.

“Daddy, what are we going to do in the morning?”

I’ve had many answers to this question. Occasionally, they morph into a fictional story but lately I’ve been answering it this way – “Well, tomorrow can be anything you want to make it”, which usually produces a frown and furrowed eyebrows which mean she’s either confused or unsatisfied with my answer. So I try the excitement angle.

“Tomorrow is open honey,” I say. “You can do anything you want! It can be the best day of your life!” Her eyes sparkle and she smiles.

Sunrise

Somewhere along the way we grown ups can lose our enthusiasm and sense of adventure. Part of the reason can be the responsibilities we have but I think it is because we have beaten paths in our lives that are familiar, comfortable, and easy.

It’s much easier to sit at home and browse my iphone than it is to get up and go browse the books at the local library. We prevent our kids from jumping in puddles or building a tent in the living room with the couch cushions because they create messes and as adults we’ve learned that messes make our lives difficult, regardless of the joy they can bring.

There are days I can be a curmudgeon. I can easily revert to cranky and ornery. These are the beaten paths I’ve plodded in my few years.

But as I told my daughter, each day can be new. Each day can be the best day we’ve ever had. But, in order for them to be so, we must ignore these familiar ways we traverse every day. We must search for activities that bring about joy and restoration to our soul.

I hope you are active today. That you take a hike. You play with molding clay or dust off your guitar or maybe even do something as simple as take a different road on your commute.

Whatever you do, do something different and do something that brings joy.

Writers And Entrepreneurs Need Rest Too

When I was in elementary school, I broke my foot. I flipped off my bunk bed, landed on the ground and all of a sudden my foot would not work without a piercing pain. I hobbled to the kitchen where my parents played cards with my aunt and uncle and informed them of what occurred and soon learned how to use crutches.

I remember when I tried to place pressure on my foot prematurely that it hurt and I was angry, but not because of the pain. I was upset because my foot did not function like it did before. This was my first experience with the injustice that not only can we break our bikes and every door in the house if we kick them, (sorry mom and dad) but also ourselves.

Painter sleepingI mentioned before that the most recent season at work was brutal. I thought I broke myself mentally. I could not remember simple tasks. I had little to no energy to play with my kids when I got home. And writing? The thought of spending another moment with a computer made me ill. It was rough all around.

A week ago, after things slowed down at work, I became angry that I could not just dive into another blog. I needed to get going because I had books and a website to launch. The more I thought about it the more I stewed. The angrier I was at my inability to write, the more I became frustrated that I was doing nothing. It was a vicious cycle. The pressure to produce weighed on me and I could not shake my lethargy, or so I thought.

It’s taken sometime to learn a lesson that I should have learned when I was young – I am not a machine. I can break – emotionally, spiritually, and physically. The stories of Sherlock Holmes living off no sleep and cocoa leaves are just not possible. Sure you can go on little sleep for a while (I have four kids) but sooner or later you crash.

There are different seasons of life. Some of planting, harvest, and rest. I needed to let my mind settle and heal by simple reading and planning.

Grace is what I needed most in the aftermath of a stressful experience.

Grace to be.

Grace to breathe and not feel the stress that comes from the need to produce.

But as with all seasons there is also a time to move on to the next one.

Now, my workload at work is back to a normal pace and I have more bandwidth for other projects at home.

This past Friday night, I did not feel like mush. So we ordered pizza. Then my kids got into their pajamas and we turned up the music and resumed our long-missed after dinner dance party. Then, by the encouragement of my lovely wife, I went to the bookstore to write. 

And you know what? Just like when my foot healed and I did not need my crutches any more it felt amazing to write again.

How To Integrate Your Dream Into Your Busy Life

When I first started writing I had no children. I could get up as early as I liked and stay up as late as possible, as long as my full time job did not suffer. At one point, I got up at five thirty every Saturday morning and wrote for four hours. It was a magical time.

Fast forward to today, I am lucky if I get fifteen minutes each morning. So how do you balance that change? Going from four hours a day to fifteen minutes?

I like making checklists. I didn’t realize I did until I got further into my sales career. Before I leave for the day I write down what I need to accomplish the next day. This keeps me focused and on task no matter what happens during my morning commute.

How does this relate to writing? Because knowing what I am going to do with the brief block of time I have matters immensely. As a busy writer, I cannot approach time casually. I must be intentional about how I use it whether I am writing, doing the dishes, or relaxing. Having a plan on how I am going to use my time goes a long way to spending it well.

I wrote a checklist before I started my writing block this weekend. Then I listened to music on the way to my writing destination to get me in the writing mood and journaled as soon as I arrived. Usually, these are my first two actions before I have a writing session. They help me focus on what I need to do. Then I can attack the checklist. If you don’t like checklists, do any action that helps you track progress. For me, crossing items off a list is extremely satisfying.

When I create my checklist I start with writing first. I may need to send an email or tweak a portion of my website or do some research but I write first. I can do admin tasks on my lunch break during the week if I run out of time. On my checklist I put two hundred and fifty words or whatever I need to remain on schedule for my current project.

The reason I put a limit on my words is because my time is limited and I like a target to aim at. It also helps me not burn out. I cannot possibly sit down and write five thousand words and still be present with my wife, kids, friends, or work.

So I create a checklist, get my mind in the writing mood, and then do my writing first. I also limit the word count to feel accomplished and limit burn out. These three things help me be prepared, build momentum, and execute.

I would like to leave your with this caveat, however. If you chase a dream, you must be flexible by keeping your expectations in check. Life can change in a moment and we must be ready to leap forward and take advantage of a sudden gap in time, or throttle back as it requires.

What To Do When Battling Self-Doubt

These past two weeks at my job have been the hardest I’ve had in years. Not because of a potential job loss or trouble with a coworker or boss but because it’s so busy my brain literally hurts when I leave.

Last week, in the midst of this furious pace, I had a thought I haven’t had in a long time. A little voice stepped up to the podium in my mind and declared that no matter how hard I try I will never be a writer.

It also added, as if one leads into another, that I am a terrible public speaker, I’m not good on video or encouraging people, and my fiction is terrible too so I better just stop and save myself the pain of rejection.

The strange part about this thought process? less than twelve hours before this thought, I shared my 2016 goals with my writers group. I said I was thrilled about the possibilities that this year holds.

Self-doubt is a sneaky little jerk. I know that I am a writer. I know that I did a decent job in my last conference talk, however, I was foolish to believe that I was over self-doubt because it was simply waiting, lurking around the corner, until my guard was down.

Want to know how I stopped that voice speaking in my head? The same way I stopped a goalie that would heckle me during a hockey game.

I went to work.

I became competitive and started writing this post even as the voice grew louder. The surprising thing? I can still hear its voice but I am no longer afraid. It’s like a tiger in a cage at the moment. I am no longer frozen in fear, with the thought I cannot write because I just did. And soon I’ll publish this post and get some edits in on my next e-book.

Self-doubt never leaves us. But it’s what we do in response that says who we are. Sometimes self-doubt is reinforced by a dry spell of writing or in the form of an off handed joke by an uncle or cousin or parent or friend.

Keep in mind that Someone laughed at Disney’s dream, but he kept working anyway. So should you.

 

Why You Don’t Need To Be Disciplined This Year

Every once in a while I’ll get the itch to play the guitar again. I’ll start by learning an easy song, play it until my wife wants to punch me, then abandon it. It happens every time.

I knew each time was going to be different. Then it wasn’t. Months later the guitar is gathering dust, again.

Why is this?

calendarI listened to a podcast called 10X talk with Joe Polish and Dan Sullivan a while back and Dan said something that shocked me. He said discipline is a bunch of garbage.

To Mr. Sullivan, you can be disciplined but you don’t just get it at the store. It’s a description of someone that has formed desirable habits.

Whether you are a runner, writer, or worker, we all struggle from time to time. If you find yourself in the place of perpetual failure consider this. You don’t need to be disciplined. You need new habits.

Starting a new habit or kicking an old one can be extremely difficult. Here are three ways to help you make them stick.

  1. Journal daily progress. Make it simple. This doesn’t have to take you an hour.
  2. Ask a friend to be your kind drill sergeant and keep you accountable.
  3. Do it (whatever you want to form good habits for) with someone.

Kick discipline to the curb. Replace it with new habits.

An event for poetry lovers coming this February

Jot: The GR Writers Mini-Conference

We’re thrilled to announce a new Jot Writers Conference event! On Wednesday, February 17th, 2016, in partnership with Schuler Books and Music, we’ll be hosting Poetry and Conversation, a free event on the power and beauty of poetry. Here’s the official write-up:

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Poetry and Conversation is a free event for lovers of the written word. Three poets from West Michigan—Matthew Landrum, Kelsey May, Z.G. Tomaszewski—will share their insights on writing and publishing, and will read from their published works.  Attendees will be encouraged to share original poetry at an open mic following the presentations.

Matthew LandrumMatthew Landrum is poetry editor of Structo Magazine. His work has recently appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, RHINO, and The Baltimore Review. His chapbook The Lonesome Savior — translations from the Faroese of Agnar Artúvertin — was published with Cold Hub Press in 2015. He lives in Detroit.

Kelsey mayKelsey May

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