A New Goal, a New Day

As you all know, this is the year I got serious about writing every day.  I set a daily word count goal of 250 words a day (91,500 words per year), which I knew I could meet.  Now, 250 is not a lot of words per day, but I knew I’d be better off setting a small goal that I could meet than a big one that I might not.  After all, success breeds enthusiasm, which breeds more and greater success, but failure breeds discouragement (you can see more about my reasoning here).  I wanted to succeed, and that motivation-boost was more important than the raw numerical output.

Well, everything was going just fine until a couple of weeks ago.  You see, right around the end of April I met my yearly writing goal of 91,500 words.  At that point, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make a new word count goal (equal to the number of the days remaining in the year times 250, plus the 91500 I’d already written) or just enjoy being “over 100%.”

Well, I basked in my success for a few days, but by the end of the month, a malaise of demotivation (and not the funny posters) started setting in.  Fortunately, I knew the cure: setting another quantifiable goal.  Specifically, 250 words per day for the rest of the year (May-December), plus the 91,500 I’d already written.

So, now you see the new goal (in the upper-left corner of my blog).  I’ve left the old word count up, however, because it’s fun to see how much further I’ve gone than my original, New Year’s Resolution goal.  I’ve learned in life that consistency is the key to any victory, and I’ve finally managed to apply that to my writing, thanks to an achievable goal, a spreadsheet, and a little word count meter (thanks, Svenja Liv).  This consistency of writing has allowed me to finish a number of unfinished projects, which has given me the inventory necessary to actually start indie publishing as a business, not just a far-off dream.

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Lagniappe: That Little Word-Count Meter

(I know I normally post on Monday, and I plan to post again next Monday.  In the Gulf South, we call this Lagniappe, or a little something extra.)

No, I’m not three months late for NaNoWriMo (or nine month’s early for this year’s), but I do have a daily writing goal, and I’m using this meter to make it public.  Thanks to Svenja for programming the meter.  You can click on the actual meter or follow this link to set up your own.

My daily word count goal (fiction only; blogs and such don’t count) is a gargantuan, world-shaking … 250 words.  One double spaced page.  I know, I know: it’s a herculean effort, but I think I’m up to it.

Seriously, though, I chose 250 words because of something Zoe Winters wrote, this post, actually, and this followup, back in August.

To make a long story short, a 1,000 word per day goal was discouraging, even intimidating, but Winters found that she could motivate herself to write every day, consistently, if her goal was short and easily reached.  She said she could do 250 words in 15 minutes.   It usually takes me 30, but who doesn’t have half an hour?

When I made my New Year’s resolutions, I knew one of them would be to write every day.  Thinking back to those posts, I set 250 words per day as my goal.  It’s absolutely attainable, even with my work schedule (even if at my busiest, I can take the time to write 250 words).

The thing is, just like Zoe Winters predicted, when I get started writing, I don’t want to stop at 250.  I’ve averaged over 800 words per day this year.  Will that rate continue?  I don’t know; I’m quite certain my work load will be increasing in the next couple of months.  Still, I’m very happy with how it’s going.

So if you want to write every day, I’d suggest setting a small goal, one that you know you’ll reach.  Success, and especially excessive success, feels a lot better than failure.  Writing 900 words feels like a failure if you have a 1,000 word per day goal, but that same 900 words feels like a triumph if you have a 250 word goal.  Success is encouraging, and reinforces good behavior.  Failure is discouraging, and pushes you to give up and abandon your goals, making it harder to press on.

And check out Zoe Winters’s blog, and her books as well (I’ll be discussing her one nonfiction work, Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author soon enough, as one of my “Honorable Mention” books on writing).

The Three Best Books on Writing I’ve Ever Read, Part Two

This week I’ll talk about a book I heard about in a discussion on Dean Wesley Smith’s website, the late Algis Budrys’s, Writing to the Point.  I’d always had a tremendous difficulty in putting together good plots, especially endings, until I read Writing to the Point.  Budrys lays out the basics of plotting, with incredibly clear examples, and does it in all of 64 pages.  Seriously, this is the author’s Book of Five Rings.

It sounds ridiculous, a writer who isn’t good at plotting, like a drummer who can’t keep rhythm or a skater with poor balance.  But I was there, and I think a lot of new writers spend time in that dark valley: you’re bursting with ideas, characters, and themes, but without a plot, you don’t have a story.  Without an internalized plot that you understand, you don’t have direction, and your writing goes in circles, wandering in the wilderness for forty revisions (well, yours might not, but mine did).  King Solomon said, “Without a vision, the people perish.”  Well, without a vision, my writing perished.

Combined with my buying into the myth of endless rewriting, this sucked me into an endless series of rewrites and revisions, and every time I finished one pass, I realized I had even more work to do on the next pass.  No matter how hard I pressed the gas, I always got further from my destination.  It seems like that would be an obvious sign that I’m going in the wrong direction, doesn’t it?

Writing to the Point was road map, GPS, and a passenger-seat navigator all rolled into one.  Within the first couple of chapters, Algis Budrys laid bare everything I’d been doing wrong, and showed me how to start doing it right.

I don’t think I’ll get in too much trouble if I give the basic seven-point story structure Budrys describes.  I’ve even heard online that it predates him, but you know how (un)reliable blogs and forums are. J

1) A character (or characters).

2) In a setting or context

3) With a problem (or a goal)

4) Basic attempts to solve the problem/achieve the goal (calling the police, or realizing the police aren’t equipped to deal with a zombiepocalypse, for example.  This is mostly there so the readers know the characters aren’t carrying the idiot ball).  Clearly, this can’t work, or you don’t have much of a story.

5) Two or three escalating attempts to solve the problem/achieve the goal.  Of course, these have to fail to resolve the problem, but they don’t have to be ‘failures’ in the sense of nothing getting accomplished or the protagonists being defeated.

6) The climax of the story.  Budrys calls this “Victory or Death,” and it’s the time when the main characters either stand or fall.

7) The denouement.  Budry calls this “Affirmation.”  Essentially, the reader needs to be assured that the conflict is over.  The goal has been achieved, the problem has been solved, or the character has failed utterly.  It’s done.

I’ve found this outline useful for writing everything from short stories to novels.  I’ve not yet written a novel with a single 7-step structures, but both Blood for Blood and Blood Guilt are composed of several of these story-structures with an overarching theme and timeline.

Part of being a writer is actually writing successfully, and plotting is absolutely foundational.  I can hardly express how helpful Writing to the Point has been for me on this point.  I think every writer, especially new and beginning writers, should read this book.

PS – On a related note, Writing to the Point is allegedly out of print, and people are trying to sell it on Amazon.com for $45, which is better than the $200 they were charging a year ago.  Even though the advice is well worth the price, don’t pay $200, or even $45 for a used copy: Action Publishing has new editions for $10.50.