On Writing,  publishing

The New World of Publishing: Getting Knocked Off a Goal

This is another fixed and updated post from a bunch of years back. But it still works fine right here.


Got the goals? Dreaming the dreams? All set for 2015 and a good year of writing?

Standing here at the beginning of the year, every writer I know says, “Ready!”

And they mean it.

But sadly, ask all but the most driven writers in May the same question and life will have stopped almost all writers cold. And they will not be back at it.

And the year will pass and around Christmas many writers will wonder what happened, swear they will do better in the new year, set new goals, and off they go into yet another new year to repeat the same problem.

Sounds horribly cynical of me, doesn’t it? But alas, it’s not. It just normal human action that I am reporting.

I wish like hell I would be wrong, and I always am happy when a writer proves me wrong on this. But alas, for the vast majority of writers, I will be correct in my horrid assessment.

But there are ways to keep going, to start again in May or August, to climb back on the old horse you mounted on January 1st, and keep riding toward the end of the year. And thus end up having a great writing year.

But these ways are only used by the most driven writers, I’m afraid. And those of us who do this for a living. (You think this gets easier once you are making a living, think again. It gets harder.)

Once you learn and can apply some of the tricks and methods and drive I am about to talk about, you will have helped train yourself to be a long-term professional fiction writer. At least on the production side.

And if you just can’t seem to get past critical voice, fear of not having a perfect manuscript, or the gut-twisting desire to just rewrite the poor dead story one more time, then you need to take the productivity workshop. Not kidding.

So, I am talking to everyone with the hopes the most driven will remember this in a month or three when the world knocks them for a loop.

Stopping is Not Failure

Failing to restart is a failure.

Giving up is a failure.

Failing to even start in the first place is a failure.

Letting critical voice and fear stop you is a failure.

And that is not the type of failure I was talking about in the first post. Stopping and not restarting is a form of failure that is deadly at all levels.

But once you are going and get stopped, which will happen at one level or another, you have not failed at that moment. You have only failed if you don’t get back to writing.

So let me be very, very clear here. Everyone who starts a challenge or sets goals for 2015 will get stopped at one or more points along the way in 2015.

Everyone. No exceptions.

It’s a very long year out ahead of all of us.

The stops will range from not getting to writing at all for a few weeks, to a nasty sickness, to life events like the estate one I dealt with three years ago. Friends will need help, people will die, day jobs will need more attention, family and friends will suddenly need to take writing time you hadn’t planned on.

It’s called living. Duh.

And you can’t control all the living aspects of the world and people around you, so don’t even try. Doing so will just make you crazy and writers are crazy enough.

Let me say that again. Back to control. You can’t control what comes at you, so don’t try.

But you can control how you act in response to the life events.

And you can control when you get back to your writing.


Most beginning writers I know do one of two things when major life events hit them.

One… They just put the writing away until everything is done. (This is normal and caused by focus. Your focus has been ripped away from writing. Most times this is the only option when an event is very, very large.)

Two… The writer gets mad at the event and gets into blame games and makes restarting writing seem like a HUGE event. And thus never does restart.

So what kind of response is sane and professional?

When the dust has cleared, meaning you are able to think about your writing again, you look at the situation. Cold and clear-eyed, not angry or emotional.

Ask these questions:

1… How much time have I really lost on my goal or my writing? 

2…How far behind am I on any real deadline? (contract deadline with publisher)

3… With the new situation, is the old beginning-of-the-year goal still possible?

But what I skipped and made sound easy is the very, very first step: Remembering. 

Sounds like a problem you would never have? You can only hope.

Because when life comes flashing at you throwing curve balls, only the most dedicated writers even think about writing. Most do not. Most do not remember the January 1st drive and excitement.

Most just forget the writing.

I even did some blogs about this in the summer of 2014. I call the summer “the time of the great forgetting.” Works that way for most writers.

But assume you do remember, assume you have looked at the questions and got the answers. Assume writing is suddenly important to you once again. Then you are ready to start again.

Sometimes, you can just pick up and keep going. By the end of the year a two-week slip won’t even be noticeable in the large total.

Or if the old goal isn’t possible, you reset the goal.

Some Help in Getting Back On the Horse.

Assuming you remember your writing challenge, that you really, really want to get back at the writing, and it is healthy to restart, let me give some tricks on how to restart.

Trick one: 

Plan out ahead what you are going to work on first when you restart.

And write it down! I don’t mean outline, I just mean know what story or novel you plan to work on when you start back writing.

And maybe have two or three out ahead of you. Example: Tomorrow plan to work on X-Novel. Chapter 10. Friday plan to work on X-Novel, finish Chapter 10 and start Chapter 11. And so on.

If you have three or four writing sessions out ahead, roughly planned, it will cut down on the panic of the restart.

Trick two:

Have a back-up project to work on.

And have it written down on a back-up list.

Example:  Plan to work on Chapter Ten of X-Novel, but for some reason, that’s just not coming, so back up plan is to work on Y-Short Story about (blank).

There is no such thing as writer’s block, but there is “project block” so be ready to move to a new project and fire at a moment’s notice. The moment you do that, the pressure on the other project will ease, your subconscious mind will figure out what was stopping you, and you can go back to it later.

But as you restart, it’s a good idea to have two or three projects ready to switch to.

Trick three:

Set an emergency back-up time each day for writing.

You have your writing time figured out, and you have told your family you are getting back to writing. But life is nasty at times. Be prepared to have that time yanked. So prepare for that.

For example, you plan on a writing session between 7 and 9 in the evening, but alas, family gets in the way and you’re going to miss. Nope. Your back-up for the day is after the family goes to bed, you’ll stay up and get the minimum pages. That way when you wake up the next day, you’ll feel amazingly good about overcoming yet another life issue and still getting your pages done.

And that good feeling adds up and fuels more writing.

Again, this time is emergency time only. But it will really help you keep up a great attitude along the way.

Trick four:

Set up a “report into” person.

You may have already had this set up when the challenge started. Tell them you are restarting and ask them if can you start reporting into them again?

Knowing that you have to report in will drive you even more. We all hate making excuses and missing. Especially since you just came off a miss. It will drive you to write in your emergency time more than not.

Reporting in to another person is one of the most powerful tools in structuring new habits and rebuilding ones you think you lost in the down time. (Please don’t report in here. One of us doing it (me) is enough. (grin))


You have your goals all figured. You have your daily or weekly work total figured. You have told your family and friends that you have a set writing time and you plan to protect it.

In other words, you are set to get into a great year of writing in 2015.

Now, somehow, in some fashion, when life bumps you off your goals, off your pace, you need to do the following things to keep the year in writing going.

First: Remember your writing. It might not be on the top of your mind in the emergency, but as things clear, bring it up. Make it important.

Second: Plan your restart. Don’t make it into a big deal. Just do a little planning and then get some words done.

Third: Never try to catch up. Be willing to change your goal, change your plans. Setting a yearly goal is artificial at best.

Stopping and getting knocked off track is going to happen to every writer this coming year. I have never had a year when life didn’t send me spiraling off into strange directions away from my writing. It’s normal. Treat it as normal instead of some big disaster.

Then get your butt back in the chair and get back to typing and having fun.

Stopping is normal.

Not restarting is a deadly failure.

Have a great writing year, everyone.


Copyright © 2014 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

And you know, if you like what I am doing here, you can always support this blog on Patreon. Just hit the button below. A buck or two per month is very much appreciated. Thanks!