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?



Focus On The Long Haul

We live in a microwave society. If you want something you can have it now. Right now.

We sit down to write a novel and after the first page or maybe the first sentence we get stumped. We had this grand idea and suddenly it evaporates before our eyes. We’re left with drivel. And writers hate drivel. We scrapped the idea whip up a fresh one and start anew.

This idea turns out the same as the last. It is garbage. Pure garbage! It is then we get mad. Our novel isn’t good. We wasted our time and soon decide we’re not cut out for it. So we start a different dream. We’re going to open a bakery!

MicrowaveBut we need to focus as amateur writers on the long haul. We need to focus on the slow plod step by step. Writing a novel and becoming a novelist does not happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a day. Or a month. Or year. Or two years.

But what happens over those days, months, and years if you stay faithful to the path? You become better.  You find one sentence you can love. And a page! And 90 pages!!

And soon a few years down the road we have a novel.

If you’re frustrated today and your idea is just not working out. If you’ve been haunted by that same sentence for the last month. Keep things in perspective. As a novelist, we’re in for the long-haul. Not something quick and easy. We aren’t making this out of a box. We’re growing our own vegetables. Creating our own recipes. This is going to take some time. Let’s just hope we have the gumption to continue on. Because in the end that’s what matters.

If you’ve taken your eyes off the prize of finishing your novel, keep going. Understand this isn’t happening in a second. Understand we are going to have to reference books and reread the things and take classes and edit our work countless times.

Writer, I hope you can find some encouragement in this. Good novels do not happen overnight. If you’re still working on yours and it’s been over a day, perhaps yours will turn out to be a great one – if you keep at it.

Keep writing and take advantage of your weekend. Elbow out some time to write!



My Book’s Afraid of Rejection

A few months ago I was talking with Josh Mosey, a member of my writers group the Weaklings, about my novel. I had just talked with an acquisitions editor which turned out to be a very shady experience and I was ready to look for another place to submit my novel.

About a year previous, I submitted my work to agent. She loved the idea but said it needed a lot more polish. Between now and then I ran into her at a few writing events and she would always ask if I was still writing and to send her my stuff when I’m done revising.

I would tell her I’m working on it and I’m still plowing ahead. And I was. I wasn’t lying. I was Really.

Recently, having after having a discussion with Josh, he encouraged me and basically said; look it’s time to send it to her. You need to do it. I emailed and asked if she would take another look.

After a few weeks, she contacted me and asked me to send my manuscript. Two things happened in that moment. One, I was unequivocally exhilarated to pursue my writing career with everything that I had in me. Two, I began to be afraid.

Night SkyThis is every writer’s dream, right? The moment of truth. But, I didn’t look at it that way. Instead, my mind started to race. I got to the point of sending it and relented. I knew deep down that it needed another good edit. It’s not every day an agent gives you the green light to send over your work and I wanted it to be great.

After doing some soul-searching I replied saying that it wasn’t ready after all. There are a few more things to tweak. She replied saying to send the best book possible when I’m done.

Right now my book is about 93% done. I’ve drafted it about ten times. Some parts even more. There are little nooks and crannies that I still need to shine some light on as well as a few pages that I just need to kill.

Though I’ve been writing for years, I honestly don’t know when a book is done. I constantly tweak and pick at it to make it more polished. However, I realize that some point I am stalling. I’m worried about what lies on the other side. What if the agent says no? What if they say yes? Either way it is a road to a lot more work.

Be brave.

Keep writing.



Write When You Don’t Feel Like It

I’d much rather be sleeping right now. In fact, I would like to read or watch a movie or TV or even do housework, yet here I am writing. I don’t write these things because I am about to give up, it’s just how I feel at the moment.

Sooner or later writing can lose its luster and fill us with an unappetizing melancholy. Our former story that was once clever and came surprisingly easy, suddenly becomes work or we don’t have the gumption to begin a new one.

This happens to everyone. Then in our frustration, we make a huge mistake. We stop.

We put that project on hold for a month or take a break and watch some football. What we are really doing, when we admit it deep down, is giving in to our inner voice of doubt. We start to believe the lies we tell ourselves, or lies told to us.

We aren’t good enough. Our ideas are stupid. No one in their right mind would try to make it in life as a ____.

Then all of a sudden we don’t think something is hard, we know it is impossible to finish this book or story. We wasted our lives being delusional and following our dreams.

If you’ve been here or this sounds familiar, I have three words for you – Don’t give up.

A Well Tended Novel, er Garden.

These three words might sound trite or lame, but if you truly want to do this thing, If you want it more than anything, how about showing a little tenacity? How about sacrificing an hour of sleep or TV to rekindle the love?

Like any untended garden our dreams can become riddled with weeds. These can choke and pull us down. If we aren’t out there every day or once a week working on our writing, our love for it will die.

If you are here now and still have that small kernel of hope to finish, I have three steps I would like you to take below.

1. Write down your dream on a note card. Put it by your desk or workspace or in your car. Put it someplace where you can see it and be reminded of your end goal every day.

2. Then, look ahead to your week. Find an hour. Find a half-hour. Find some time throughout your week to commit to writing. Do not compromise it. Use that time to work and focus on your project and don’t get distracted.

3. Repeat.

If you have done something that reignited your passion for writing and got motivated about your story again let me know in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you and I’m sure the other readers would benefit as well. Thank you in advance.

Write 500 words today!!



Is Your Book Missing Something?

Have you ever finished a short story or novel and after reviewing it thought hey, wait a minute, it’s missing that thing. You don’t know what that thing is. It’s just not there. And it can be as frustrating as a strange smell in your house that you cannot locate or understand what is causing it. Then you remember the banana your two year old walked away with the other day and you don’t remember it being in their hand when they came back in the room.

Anyway, the thing, let’s come back to it. After pouring over your recent masterpiece you realize it has no flavor or omph or the secret ingredient that old Italian lady knows for her marinara sauce. It just does not explode on your literary taste buds or get the vote of confidence from your peers you hoped to receive.

I’ll tell you what was missing from my book. Tension and conflict.

Get back here!

I’m sure some of you reading this have felt the same way. And knowing what it is and weaving it back into your story can be as painful and annoying as Peter Pan trying to catch and sew his shadow back on.

If you cannot tell what your book lacks, my guess is that it is probably some mechanical piece of storytelling. My advice to help you find this elusive thing is to ask someone you trust to read it. If you don’t have a writers group, I’m sure you know someone who is an avid reader intelligent enough to understand what needs to be sprinkled in. Be brave. Someone has to read it someday if you are going to be an author.

If you find yourself in this position don’t despair. Don’t give up. Keep reviewing and keep digging. Don’t look for the easy way to publish. You won’t be satisfied with that ending. Put it aside if you have to and come back to it later. After all, a simple steak can be great. But a steak marinated for two days, rolled in a spice blend, and then grilled to perfection will always be better.



Developing Characters – The Blind Date Approach

Characters make or break a work of fiction. No matter what perspective you are writing they have to be real, convincing, and unique to survive your entire book.

I’ve read a lot about creating characters. Not so that I can whip up bland cookie-cutter personalities but to learn how to develop them. Our readers want our characters to grow through whatever journey we take them. This does not mean the journey finishes with an end of the rainbow ending, but it does mean that they cannot be the same person at the beginning and at the end.

This is why I believe we should reveal our characters as if they are on a blind date with our audience.

I have not been on a date in about a decade. I’m happily married. But a blind date is a simple enough concept. You don’t start by telling them you are interested in getting married right now, or tomorrow at the latest. And you don’t ask them to see your parents tomorrow or move in. Relationships take time to develop.

Introduce your main characters with a few descriptive details. Not – he was old, fat and lazy. Instead – his hobby was TV, his favorite food was anything found in a gas station, and he kept a fridge next to his sofa so all of his snacks were within arm’s reach.

Okay that description may have been a bit lame but you get the point. Don’t tell the entire history of this person in three or four pages and interrupt the flow of the story. If you do it you, the author, are drawing attention to yourself with this magnificent sidebar. The introduction should feel natural and then take opportunities through the story to reveal the character through action and conversation.

I encourage you to go back and check each time you introduce a character. See how many pages and paragraphs you use to do this. Keeping it short and sweet can help keep your audience in what John Gardner called “the vivid dream”. They will be carried along by the current of your plot as they get to know the people you’ve created.

Keep Writing.



On Sacrificing Sleep

I want to be good at a lot of things. I want to be a good husband. I want to be a good father.  I want to be a good friend, worker, and man. I also want to be a good writer.

These areas of my life pull me back and forth like a current and are simultaneously in conflict with each other. To be a good husband I have to let someone else be a father to my kids for a few hours while I go out and romance my wife. If I want to be a good worker I have to leave my wife to go to work and sometimes stay at the office a little later than planned. To be a good man I have to be sane and with two kids and one due any day – it can be a struggle.

When writing invaded my life, I told my wife I would never allow it to become something that would take away time from her or my kids. I am not going to come home and then leave for six hours to get a chapter out.

I began to realize that something had to go.

That something was sleep.


Sleep and I have had an interesting relationship over the last few years. Yes, I realize that you need it. I acknowledge it as I slam another cup of coffee. I toy with it and lay down for twenty minutes in the middle of the day. But, our relationship has been rocky at best and though I crave it nearly every second of the day I do whatever I can to fight it off.

Why you ask? Why do I torture myself like this? I already said I wanted to be a writer didn’t I?

As my family grew I began to understand that twenty four hours is not actually a lot of time. In fact I think it is a joke sometimes. Really? It’s 10:30! Come on clock, you’re kidding right? But alas, no, it is not.

Great writing takes time. I once evaluated how many hours I wrote one week and it was not enough to fulfill my writing aspirations. I knew I needed a schedule. Using an excel spreadsheet I evaluated how I spent every single hour each day. When I was finished there was no time left, other than sleep. That is all I have to sacrifice.

So, I plan to get up at 5am every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This will be tough especially when a newborn enters our family in the next few days.

I want to be a great writer. I want to produce short stories, novels, blogs, and articles. These all take time. By sacrificing sleep I might have enough time to accomplish it all. After all, if this is the life I want I should be living it now. Its time I started to act like it.

Do you struggle to find time to write? What sacrifices have you made or are you willing to make?





The Meticulous Edit

Lately I’ve ignored my blog. Not because I did not want to write on it, but because I am working on a self imposed deadline and I have had to dedicate all of my writing time to my novel. It’s the great tug of war between project and platform and I’ve lost. But I’m okay with that.

The joy of my novel has returned after being sucked dry by the upheaval and Editingenhancement of various plot details. Now, I’m flying through while examining each comma, period, adjective, and sentence. I’ve become a better writer and am editing faster and faster as I encounter the same mistakes. It’s like revisiting a photo album and watching yourself grow up as a writer as the novel goes along.

Here are some things that I’ve done to reduce waste. I realize the more I strip down each sentence, the better the flow of the story is.

  1. Destroy all prepositional phrases. Most of the time I realize these are unnecessary and each sentence is clearer when they are removed.
  2.  Delete long meandering paragraphs of description. I had a lot of these and they were darlings but I had to kill them. When I examine them in compared with my target audience (children 14-18), they must go. Young adult fiction has no time to wander about as it must contend with video games, online videos and the like.
  3. Look for duplicate words in the same paragraph and either cut them out or add something new.
  4. Be wary of adverbs. Excitedly, jovially, whatever-ly. I try to remove them all. However there are times when I feel they belong.
  5. Look for descriptive but non-descriptive words – large, small, box, red, dirty, bad smell and replace them with another more colorful one – gargantuan, miniscule, trunk, crimson, soiled, and pungent. Sometimes you’ll find one of these words takes the place of three.

These are just a few problems that I look for when editing and is just the tip of the iceberg. The main objective is to make each sentence as lean as possible.

If you are editing and have tips of your own, please share them in the comment section below. Otherwise, happy writing and editing.



Tips for Editing Your Fiction Novel

Editing can be an intimidating process. After months or years of slaving over your novel, going back through it again (at least for me) can be debilitating. I think the hardest part of writing is that you learn so much through the process of a draft that by the time you are done and go back to view the beginning, it can be unsatisfying. Not because the novel was unfinished, but because I’ve come to realize it is only a small percentage of the work that lay ahead in the wild dream of publication.

So here I am carefully editing like one would analyze a game of Jenga. There are parts that are poor and plot points that need to be removed. The key is knowing which ones to remove. If I kill one which zigzags through my story like a stray bottle rocket, I lose the continuity of the others. And if these unnecessary plot points are not cleanly removed, they will sit like a resplendent spiral staircase to nowhere. Oh the joy!

To get through this editing crucible I’ve developed a plan. Though it has been a slower process than I expected, I am gaining traction. 402px-Jenga_distorted I hope these tips will assist in editing more efficiently to help you get through the rewriting blues.

  1. Write a list of your plot points. Find out which ones are maintained through the book and which ones you no longer need and cut them out. If needed, sprinkle them in so they stay fresh in the readers mind.
  2. Look at each chapter and make sure it is necessary.  A beautiful snowy vale or slow walk on the beach has to mean something, it cannot a spectacularly scene of literary drivel and not advance the plot.
  3. If you have not already done so make a list of characters and be sure they behave how you intended them to behave. Keep them in character. Don’t have the villain help someone up or notice a sunset, unless that fits, etc.

Now, you have three large chunks evaluated: Plot, Chapters, Characters. So,

  1. Review each paragraph. Make sure they can be understood by themselves. Especially watch the pronouns in scenes where multiple characters appear.
  2. Examine your work for repetitive phrases. See if you have said “Oh my!” a hundred times. Or perhaps you use Verily, or the same descriptions, rewrite or cut them out.
  3. Grammar. I left this for last – intentionally. If I focus on this as I edit I loose… well – focus. I’m not an accomplished multi-tasker. It is best for me to print off my chapters, double spaced, and find a quiet place to read them aloud. I take my time to try and catch any and every mistake. Also, if it is helpful, keep a grammar book nearby. The book will help with coma usage, which or that, and other common misuses.

Lastly, don’t worry about font or page numbers. Most of the technical things are left to the publisher’s discretion. Also, you’ll just end up reformatting anyway because each agent/publisher/acquisitions editor will have their own submissions process and guidelines.

Keep Writing.



When Is A Manuscript Done?

I’ve been editing for some time now. It has been nearly three weeks since I started the process of cutting and manipulating seven chapters of the latest draft of my novel in order to submit it. I’ve found so many mistakes and plot lines that either needed to be removed or drastically accentuated that I am shocked I thought this draft completed in the first place.

This has caused me to do some serious reflection on what a draft is. I used to think that it was another step in the right direction, but a lot of times it is not. Lately I’ve deleted more words than I have kept. I’ve probably been more frustrated with writing through this process than I have ever been. However, I feel as though I am breaking through to another layer of writing that will make me that much better because of all of the toil I experience now.

The main question I wrestle with is, when do you know when a draft is done? You can have friends read it, have them pick over it and give their assessment, make changes based on those assessments, and then redraft. But at some point you have to get it out there. It might sound silly but at times I feel like I am coaxing a little bird along the edge of a branch preparing to push it off so it can take flight. The problem is I cannot be sure this little bird is ready to fly. I know I am ready to move on, but I don’t want to commit a novice mistake and get a rejection just because it is not ready.

I suppose it comes down to believing in your story. That your voice will shine through, and that the editor or slush pile surfer will forgive any inconsistencies that you missed. Hopefully, by the end of the week, I will pluck up the courage to push this feathered little manuscript out into the world. I just hope it flies.