Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Getting Ready for 2018

Sort of a Look Forward… A Really Long Post

Part of this is new, part of this is an older post from 2012 that I thought still made sense today. So once again, the way back machine strikes again.

Every time I do this post, or talk with writers at the end of the year, I hear goals being set that are seemingly impossible when you do the math. I’ve set a few of them myself, to be honest, over the decades.

I honestly have no problem at all with impossible goals. None, as long as the person setting the goal understands that the likely failure can also be deemed a success. But most writers I know don’t understand that simple detail.

Fail to success.

Like I tell writers taking a challenge with me, even if you don’t get the novels or stories done, you did more than you would have and learned stuff about yourself and that is a complete success.

For example: Two years ago here I set a goal to write from titles and publish here and online 100 short stories. And even though slightly behind, I felt I was pretty much on schedule to hit that goal when one of my best friends died and I took over his estate. I turned away from writing almost completely to do the estate and only did what deadline work I had.

So did I fail? Nope. I wrote and got out over thirty original short stories in the challenge, plus a number of stories for original anthologies that didn’t count in the challenge. Not the year I hoped, or even my best year, but not a bad year considering all the factors. It would have been far, far worse without the challenge.

And now, going into 2018, I am considering that same goal again for fun to combine with my Writing 67 Goal. We shall see.

But most writers I know, when faced with actually missing their goal, just stop all together. The problem is that the goal sets them up for a failure, and then they use the failure or life issue as an excuse to stop writing.

So caution when setting goals so extreme like I often do. And if you do set an extreme goal, have fall-back success levels.

A Sign of the Classic Want-To-Be-Writer: Another Warning

Every long-term professional fiction writer can spot a hopeless want-to-be fiction writer easily.

— They are the fiction writers who talk about writing, but never finish anything.

— They are the fiction writers who feel jealous of all your writing time because they can never find the time.

— They are the fiction writers who come up with one idea and spend years on it, talking about it, researching it, workshopping parts of it, but never finishing it and moving on.

— They are the fiction writers who believe they will never succeed because they don’t have a major fan base like a major writer, so why bother. Or worse, they finish one thing and spend all year “promoting it.”

— They are the fiction writers who decide they are going to write in the new year, but set no plans, no goals, no structure.

— They are the writers who just get to their fiction writing when they can, when the muse strikes, because ideas are hard and writing is hard.  They “just can’t find the time.” And then the following year they try the same thing that didn’t work every year before.

Be a writer who makes your production of new words important this new year.

 How to Set Fiction Writing Goals in 2018

Remember, I’m just tossing out suggestions here. There is no one way for every writer, or only one way for the same writer from year-to-year. Use what strikes you in these ideas, alter them to suit your needs, and set the goals for you.

And also I think it would be fine to combine some of these suggestions.

Idea #1

Set your plan to strictly follow Heinlein’s Rules.

The rules are:

1) Write

2) Finish what you write

3) Do not rewrite unless to editorial demand. (There are no more editors, so just use this as Do Not Rewrite. Period.)

4) Put it on the market for someone to buy it. (Readers buy works you know, so get it out there.)

5) Keep it on the market. (This means leave it alone.)

If you are one of the very few who have the courage to even try this, let alone succeed with the attempt for an entire year, you will be stunned at how far you will move toward your writing dreams and how much fun you will have.

Warning on this one. Deceptively simple looking rules, fantastically difficult to actually follow because of all the myths that swirl around fiction writing. You will find yourself spending a ton of time coming up with excuses to not follow them. (Please, don’t comment on your excuses here. These rules are a Yoda situation. Either do. Or Don’t.)

As Robert Heinlein said about his own rules. “But they are amazingly hard to follow — which is why there are so few professional writers and so many aspirants…”

Idea #2

Set a new word count you would like to hit for the year.

“New words” means finished words that can be either indie published or sent to traditional  magazine editors. Rewriting, researching, and all the other excuses you have do not count. New words only.

(If you hear yourself say right there, “But…” you may have an issue to deal with.)

Here is how to do this:

Say you would like to finish a quarter of a million new words this year.  A very solid, but scary goal. A very large elephant.

1…. So divide the total word count desired into 50 weekly parts. (Two weeks off for vacation.) Example: 250,000 words divided by 50 weeks = 5,000 new words per week.

2… You have determined you can do about 1,000 words per hour.  So divide the 5,000 words by 1,000 = 5 hours of writing per week.

3… Look at the fiction writing time you have figured you have each week and find about eight hours total to get those five hours of writing done safely in your schedule. (The extra three will give you a cushion.)

4… Then protect those eight hours and write during that time every week to make sure you get the 5,000 minimum words per week done.

At the end of the year you will look back and have finished one quarter of a million words. And trust me, you will be a much better fiction writer at the end of the year with that much practice, and if you finished and mailed or published everything, you will be on your way.

A quarter of a million words a year sounds like a great big elephant. But 5 hours of writing per week does not. Yet one equals the other. Weird how that happens, isn’t it?

And note: I will be talking a great deal about a week as a unit. We can all handle keeping a week in our minds because the world has trained us that way. So use that training when setting these goals and stay focused only at a week level. And better yet, a daily level.

Idea #3

Set up a production goal.

A lot of people, me included, like production goals more than word-count goals.

When I started seriously writing, I set up a production goal to write and mail one short story per week. That sort of breaks down to the same word count as Idea #2 of 5,000 words per week. But the focus for me was on the finishing and mailing. (I was following Heinlein’s Rules religiously also during the challenge and still do, which is why I am still a professional writer.)

My ongoing challenge is also production based, doing 67 books from November 10th 2017 to November 9th 2018.

The reason production-based goals sometimes work better is because of the end date. If your goal is to finish one short story every week, that keeps your mind off of the larger goal. You only focus down on one project at a time.

If you are writing novels, I would highly suggest you break it down into smaller goals, such as finishing a scene per day or a chapter per week. And then only focus on that small bite.

Again the key with eating an elephant is to not think of the task, just chew up one bite at a time, only thinking of the bite.

Idea #4

Get one new book up indie published every two weeks. (Take two weeks off, so you are aiming for 25 by the end of the year.)

This is a great challenge a friend of mine is running and a lot of people are taking part on a private list. Set up your own group.

The idea is that the book can be a short story or a collection or a novel. And the key is to have the total at the end of the year.

So if writing a novel, a month or so will go by with nothing new up, then do some short fiction and then a collection before going back to the next novel.

Also, if you have some stories you have written and haven’t sold, or backlist of stories that were published and you now have the rights back, get those up as well. They would count.

There are lots of ways of doing this, and it really works. And having 25 new books in print by the end of the year is something you are going to be very happy about.

Reporting In To Someone

Here is the key to success for every major method of goal-setting. You must have someone, or some method, or some way to keep you on track.

If you don’t make your weekly goal or word count, you must tell someone you didn’t make it. If you did make it, you must tell someone you did.

In the novel challenge for writers sending me their three novels in three months, they must report in to me every week on their progress. This helps them stay on track.

Sometimes you can put your progress on your web site as a weekly update. Even if not that many people show up to your web site, you know some will and your failure or success will be out there in the open. You can even use one of those word counters that you can get as a plugin for your site if you are doing a word-based goal.

When I was writing media novels, I had very hard and fast deadlines. Sometimes I was trying to beat the movie out when I wrote novelizations. There could be no excuses. (I have done about twelve movie novelizations, including Rundown, The Core, 10th Kingdom, Final Fantasy, X-Men, and so on.)

Sometimes this person you report to is just another writer, sometimes it is a family member, sometimes a post on your blog. But with every small goal achieved or missed, report to someone or post it somewhere where people will see it. Set it up ahead so that person knows what you are doing. (No I will not be that person for anyone and you can’t use these post messages for the task either. Sorry.)

And if you don’t report to the person you have set up, make sure they know to ask you how it is going.

If you hate this idea of reporting in some fashion or another, check in with yourself to see where the fear is coming from. And then use that fear to drive you even more.

An important reminder right here. NEVER SHOW A WORK IN PROGRESS TO ANYONE. Protect your art. You can say you finished chapter 52, but don’t show it until you are ready to release the entire book to the world.

 What Happens When You Fail?

Everyone with a family and a day job and a life will fail on short-term goals set at the beginning of the year. There are almost no exceptions to that rule. And if you think you will be the exception in 2018, you are delusional, I’m afraid.

So what do you do when life derails you?

Climb back on the next week. Or as soon as you can.

Say you are doing a short story per week with the intent of getting to fifty by the end of the year. Suddenly life gets in your way and you miss three weeks in April.

DON’T TRY TO CATCH UP. Just get back on the focus of the weekly goal and keep going. At the end of the year you will be very happy with 47 stories finished.

But if you let it stop you cold, you won’t be happy by the time the end of the year rolls around. And these year-end check-in-points just keep happening every year for some reason.

So here are my suggestions when life derails you and you miss your short-term goal.

1… Don’t even once think about catching up. Can’t happen and will make things worse.

2… Climb back onto your production challenge or weekly page goal as soon as you are able.

3… If life alters so much as to make the original weekly pace impossible, stop and reset a new goal for the year and for each week and then stick to that.

4… Somehow, with help or with some mechanism, remember these suggestions.

Chances are you will not remember.  Sadly. You will be buried in a life crisis and then when that clears you will be mad at yourself for not doing the impossible and protecting your writing time and meeting your weekly goals. And you will be swirling in the failure instead of just focusing on being successful the following week.

Wow, was that easy for me to type and so hard for any of us to do.

The real key to having a successful year writing fiction is that when you get stopped, and you will, to start back up as soon as you can.

In Summary

— Get your available writing hours figured.

— Get your writing speed per hour figured.

— Tell your family and friends around you how important what you are going to do is. Be prepared to remind them all the time.

— Get ready to protect your time. Set up an office without distractions and a computer without e-mail or games only used for fiction writing.

— Figure out a yearly goal for words or production, then back it down into weekly goals that will get to your yearly goal. Make sure your weekly goals have extra time in them for small life events.

— Plan in time to keep learning, to go to a conference or two, to take a class or two, to read some writing books.

— Set up someone or some place to report your progress and failures to.

— Then decide to have fun.

That’s right, I said have fun.

If the act of fiction writing isn’t fun for you, get out of this chase now.

If you aren’t excited and scared about the coming year and the learning and writing, get out of this chase now.

Fiction writing isn’t brain surgery. It is entertainment.

You are trying to be an entertainer in 2018.

For heaven’s sake, have fun doing it.

2018 is a brand new year. The world didn’t end. And more fiction writers than ever are making money with their fiction.

It’s a new golden age for fiction writers.

Have fun.

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  • Elise M. Stone

    Re Idea #2:

    Every time you do the math on this, I’m amazed at how little actual writing time is required to accomplish a word count goal. I’ve set a goal of 200,000 words this year, twice as many as last year (a goal that I exceeded by a few thousand). It was looking like a lot but works out to approximately four hours–give or take–a week! Since I’ve also decided I need a schedule (thanks to a Chris Fox video on YouTube) and have penciled in three hours per day five days a week for writing new words, there doesn’t appear to be any excuse not to meet it.

    But I’ll keep in mind “failing to success.” I had several disruptions in 2017 and didn’t publish two books I intended to finish, but did get those 100,000 words and publish one book. So not a bad year after all.

    • dwsmith

      That’s the attitude. Look at what you did accomplish and take pride in that. The goal is only to help you accomplish. Hitting it, coming close, or even trying at it is the success. Have fun with the writing.

        • dwsmith

          Seems like a success to me, Edward. There always has to be a first time. Always a success for things like writing goals.

  • Mark Kuhn

    Dean, finding someone who cares to report in to is a problem for me. My wife lost interest in my writing a couple years ago. She is one of those people who believes that the only good books are the ones recommended by Oprah Winfrey.

    I have a couple people lined up as first readers based on genre. (My wife is out of the loop entirely.)

    If it’s okay with you, can I come here on Saturday or Sunday and post my word count for the week? If a few other writers want to join in that would be great, too.

    • dwsmith

      Mark, I would rather not. I clutter this place up enough. (grin)

      But you should have your own web site as a writer. Just set up a place in a sidebar to post them, or do a short blog. That will keep you focused because it’s about your writing and reporting about your writing on your own web site. Amazing how something like that will help.

    • Elise M. Stone


      I totally get the accountability part of posting goals and progress and wanting several like-minded people to do this with. I’ve been a member of goalsetting groups for over a decade, and it certainly helps knowing that every Sunday I need to report my progress and set goals for the coming week. The one I’m currently in is a subgroup of an online Sisters in Crime chapter.

      You need to reach out to other motivated writers and form your own group. Are you a member of any local writers groups where you could propose this to the members? Anyone can set up a Yahoo group to keep in touch. And it doesn’t take very long to participate.

      If there’s nothing close to you, are you on Facebook? While FB can be an incredible time-waster, there are many (many, many) writer groups where you might find others who want to do this. You could set up a private or secret FB group to use for sharing goals and accomplishments.

      Any group that requires commitment is tough to sustain. Like critique groups, more people are interested in talking about writing and what they’re going to do than actually doing anything, so don’t be surprised if it takes a while to get something going. That online chapter I talked about has 800 members and the goals group has something like 40 members. Only three or four of us post consistently. But it really works for me.

    • J.M. Ney-Grimm

      Mark, I can say that having a spot in the sidebar of my own author website for reporting word count was really effective for me while I wrote the novel I published in last April. I don’t have a ton of visitors to my blog, just a handful each day, but knowing that they would see whether I had added to my word count on WIP (or not) gave me a little extra motivation to get the butt in the chair and the fingers on the keyboard. I know I produced more because of it.

      I continued the sidebar reporting for my current novel, because I liked how it worked for me, but I’m sensing that I’ll need to change that going forward. My mother died this October, and my brain essentially went off line altogether in response to her loss. I’m hoping to get back to writing this January, but I need to write a different story altogether and I need to write it absolutely only for me and privately.

      But once I’ve done that (assuming that my brain *is* back on, as I hope), I plan to return to the novel that came to a screeching halt in the wake of my mother’s passing, and I’ll try the sidebar reporting again. All of which is to say that Dean’s caution – that what works for one project and during one interval of time will not work for every project and all the time – has been true for me.

      Good luck!

        • Christopher

          Mark. Just letting you know that I’m participating in a writing challenge along with a few other writers and she is wanting to post on her site. Let me know if you’re interested. The challenge runs for a year. I’m pretty much in the same boat as you are. Also somebody who I had reading for me for fun of story thought they were going to help me out and took some editing course on line.he thought I should change my sentences and add a few words here and there. Pretty funny really but ittitating. Let me know if you’re interrested.

  • Kate Pavelle

    Yes to the above. Also, I’d like to report to Dean that I had an utter marketing failure of a perfectly good book. (It happens.) Because I did the 30-story challenge this summer, I KNEW I could write fast and well. Because I took the Self-Editing workshop, I had learned to become entirely responsible for my work. So I went and wrote a novella, which took me fat 10 days (holidays, y’know…) and it’s out now.
    So, thank you, Dean and Kris. Now I can breathe in relief at crisis averted, and enjoy cooking up a story a magazine requested me to write just for them. (That’s a first!)
    The system works. Habits are incremental (I still have a terrible time keeping to that one screen-free day a week,) but at least I can produce now, and once again, I am having a lot of fun writing!

    • dwsmith

      Kate, the key is the fun, which then brings the confidence to shove back the critical voice that then brings more fun and so on. So well done!

  • Kessie

    Each idea here is like brain candy for me. I also happen to know my exact measure, which is a 50k novel every 2 months …. when life is boring and stable. We shall see what 2018 brings, but I hope to publish 3 books, like I did last year and the year before that.

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, didn’t check that link from all those years ago. Duh… It now goes to a page where I am talking about them. Thanks!

  • Leah Cutter

    I am in the middle of Life Rolls currently. Good ones, but still, my focus is going to be divided between the first of the year and April. So I have a simple production goal for those first few months: short story a week. Period. Nothing more.

    I already have a reminder set in early April for resetting my goals. I don’t know what I’ll do at that point. My life is in transition right now. Maybe I’ll start writing novels again. Maybe I stick with short fiction. Maybe I’ll jyst do production for a month. Who knows?

    So for me, a year long goal this year makes no sense. But a short term goal with a reminder to set the next goal does make sense this year.

  • allynh

    It’s good to know about The Core novelization. I tracked down a copy. Thanks…

    I enjoy collecting novelizations and comparing them to the movie. If they are the same as the movie, or better, or worse, each helps me see what works. Some novelizations are limited because they were based on the shooting script, not the final cut. Some novelizations are better than the movie.

    These are what the movie should have been if they had been a miniseries instead.

    Superman Returns

    Man of Steel: The Official Movie Novelization

    Every year I resolve to avoid ordering stuff after Thanksgiving, and then I discover a bunch of books that I’d somehow missed and order them despite the holiday shipping nightmare. HA!

    This time, I found James Alan Gardner, and Rick Cook. I saw the covers and they were so familiar, yet I did not have them. How is that possible. The books are trickling in.

    Thanks for the help.

  • paladin3001

    Good ideas and points. I know I have set a daily challenge for myself and report to my fiance if I have or haven’t achieved it. There are periods where I just get overwhelmed with day to day issues and I can’t write or create new words. I just deal move on and try to hammer out words.
    The typical goal I set is just 500 words a day. I figure 500 is good. Reality is most times completely different. As in I am writing more than 500 words sometimes much, much more. I try not to let the extra days lead to slack days, just knowing that I can write that much helps for my low count days.

  • Gaelen Foley

    This is OT but urgent, re. WMG on Teachable. I emailed days ago but haven’t gotten an answer I’m sure due to the holidays, no big. But I really need to know. Will the Workshops that one is currently enrolled remain permanently on our Teachable dashboards like the Lectures do, or do they disappear once the class is over?

    I ask because if it’s the latter, I need to budget the time in this latest crazy holiday week to watch all 6 weeks of Author Voice before it disappears.
    Thanks very much,

    • dwsmith

      They remain into the future. They do not disappear as they used to, although to anyone not signed in, they are no longer there. But to those signed into a workshop, they remain for as long as you want to have it on your dashboard.

  • Crista Crown

    As I hit each of your ideas, I was happy to say, yep, I’m doing that… all in combination currently.

    It’s thanks to reading you and Keis and others for years that when I finally got off my butt and published something (and it made money) I knew how to hit the ground running… by keeping my butt in the chair and writing.

    I was a wanna be writer for years. There were always excuses for not spending the time, but life forced me into having the time when my job let me go November 2016. I still didn’t publish my first book until April, and I only wish I’d gotten over myself and started publishing sooner.

    I write full time now. I have written over 500,000 words since April, published 16 books, and can quite possibly exceed my very nice previous software developer income with my writing in 2018.

    Setting the too-high goals works for me as well, but like you said, you need to know your fall-back levels of success. Last month, my goal was to write and publish 4 novellas and 120k words. I wrote 3 with 100k words and felt successful. This month I had the same goals, yet between holidays and The Depressions, I wrote 60k words and published 2 novellas and had my highest sales month ever… but because all three of those failed my epicly high goals and I didn’t have fall-back success markers, my husband had to wrestle me into seeing how successful I actually had been.

    So now I have two goals—which isn’t a rock hard defense against beating myself up, but it’s better: if I can write 60k while taking several days off for holidays and mental health, slogging through the words like molasses, that is a good bottom line success month. I can and will set my “reaching for the stars” goals to keep me aiming beyond what I “think” I can do to reach heights higher than I knew were possible.

    • dwsmith

      Sounds like you have a great fall-back check-in with your husband because those are great successes. Also remember to add in health. Must keep yourself healthy, so make that part of your goals with writing as well, to stay healthy and paced. And celebrate each month what you do finish, then push forward. Have fun.

  • Michelle Mulford

    For those who want accountability beyond just posting on their own website, Facebook groups can be helpful.

    Thanks for the story math refresher, Dean. The first quarter of my 2018 is going to be hectic. Looking at my schedule, I have 3 days per week when I can write, and 7 hours divided among those days. If two of those hours are a cushion, then I could still aim for 5000 words per week.

    This would be great if my writing speed was actually 1000 words per hour, but I’m struggling to get above 500. You’ve said in the past that this speed is likely critical brain hampering the flow of words, so my primary goal is to shut up the critical voice and just tell stories.

    One short story per week for three months would be 12 stories total – this feels ambitious, but achievable. And I’ll keep the “fail to success” principle in mind.

    • dwsmith

      Ambitious is always a good thing because it pushes you and even if the goal isn’t completely hit, the failure is a success almost every time. So the key is to have fun, kill the critical voice and finish stories. Enjoy the process.