On Writing in a Year without Big Goals

Each of the last couple years I’ve started January with big ideas for what I wanted to accomplish for that year. My goals tend to be ambitious, but still within the realm of possibility. Still, I’ve learned that it’s difficult for me to project progress on any long-term project more than a few months out–or sometimes more than a few weeks out.

Creativity Sessions writing process. Evening Satellite Publishing.

Looking at my annual goals posts from 2020 and 2021 may give the impression of a writer who overshoots and under-delivers, and that’s not inaccurate. I have had some big goals in mind over the last couple of years, notably the publishing of my still-in-progress novellas in The Herb Witch Tales series. I just also know that there have been other factors at play. The usual suspects come to mind: family, work, existential dread, a global pandemic.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s tough for me to project my progress on something more than a few months out. Projecting how much I can write in a year is a murky endeavor. Trying to throw the entire editing, revising, proofreading, and publishing process on top of that is basically insane.

At least, that’s what I’ve learned over the last couple years.

I’ve also learned that I am not the publish-something-every-year-or-two type of writer. My last meaningful publication was my 12-part short story, “The Grand Mythos of Úr’Dan“, which I ran as an experimental monthly serial throughout 2019. It’s probably more like every “few” years, depending on when I click Publish next. Basically, I’m closer to Patrick Rothfuss than Brandon Sanderson–in publishing cycles, not skill level!

The Year without Goals

That all is to say that I will not be posting an ambitious book marketing/publishing post this year. I definitely have goals, and I will detail them through my monthly Write Day posts. What has changed for me recently is that those monthly goals are enough for me at this moment in my life.

My long-term goals have necessarily and totally predictably shifted to bigger things: navigating the whole *waves arms emphatically* world right now; raising two boys, one of whom has learned the f-word from daycare (yea!); beginning the house-hunting process in the next year; family and friends and holidays, which all require a lot of extra planning and consideration and fuckin’ caution than they used to.

It’s a lot, and it means that thinking about where I might be in the publishing process in autumn 2022 is just not a concern for me today.

Writing Rhythm

However, that all doesn’t mean I haven’t picked up on a few of my writing habits…

  • I know that I can be a productive writer by writing immediately after work, or right after getting the toddler to bed.
  • I know that writing a couple days in a row or more than three times per week motivates me to continue, regardless of how much or how little progress I make in those sessions.
  • I know that once a character is embedded in my brain I find it easier to write them, which just takes practice and patience–not trying to churn out an entire novella in a month.
  • I know that motivating myself to write regularly helps my self-confidence, my self-worth, and my overall mental wellbeing.
  • And I know that writing 10,000 words each month is very doable if I stick to each of the above points.

That’s really my only writing goal this year–not to write 120,000 words on the dot, but to aim for 10,000 words each month, to build consistently and steadily until, come December 31, 2022, I will have written a whole hell of a lot.

I’m currently on pace for about 9,000 words in January, so maybe in February or March I aim for 11,000. The point is, it doesn’t matter much right now.

I’m moving forward. I know what the ultimate goal is, but I also know I need to focus on the day-to-day first.

Steve D

December Write Day: Rounding Out

Ah, the optimism of the pre-holiday season, doomed to be crushed under the weight of festive preparations. November was such a weird month, but not really because of the holidays, like at all.

I mentioned in my post two weeks ago that I had a rough bout with some kind of illness around the middle of the month. Well, just a week later, our toddler caught hand foot and mouth disease, which is basically a beefed up cold with a rash. The boys were both home the entire week leading up to Thanksgiving, and I took a day off work to stay home with them. We flipped our Thanksgiving plans around and were basically on constant guard for any sign of the virus in our 3-month-old, or ourselves. Somehow, we have as yet escaped unscathed, and the toddler is just about healed.

So, yeah, November was a weird month. As you might imagine, my NaNoWriMo progress was greatly interrupted by these happenings.

Last Month’s Goals

  1. Complete NaNoWriMo! This 50,000-word challenge is the perfect opportunity for me to rewrite New Earth, The Herb Witch Tales #2. I’m aiming for about 45k words for this story, to keep it in line with Uprooted, so as long as I finish the story, I’ll call this a success.
  2. Keep reading through Uprooted. This is a stretch goal for me. I don’t want to be too distracted from NaNoWriMo, but reading through my first story could help me be productive when I hit a block on New Earth.
  3. Keep reading in general. While I’m not committing to reading a certain amount this month, I’d like to read something other than my own work. Again, this can serve as a bit of a mental break from writing/revising when I need it, and that’s just as important as the writing itself.

Complete NaNoWriMo?

Not even close. I started out slowly and fell behind within the first few days, but at the midway point I thought I could at least hit 15,000 words or so and get a good head start on New Earth, The Herb Witch Tales #2.

I wrote 8,500 words total in November, and almost nothing during the final week. Oh well. 8k is a solid total any other month, so I’m glad I at least hit my average.

I like where New Earth is going, as well. It started out slowly because I realized I needed a bit more set-up at the start, and the plot is changing more than I had anticipated. Still, it’s given me an opportunity to rethink how this story fits in with part 1. Speaking of which…

Keep reading through Uprooted?

Not really. I was hyper-focused on writing during the first part of the month, and then the wheels fell off during the second part. This will be one of my goals this month, when I’ll have some real time off around the holidays.

Keep reading in general?

Yes! I happened to finish two books in November, one of which I’ve already reviewed. I’ll likely review the other one next week.

I’ve gotten my hands on The Gathering Storm, book 12 of The Wheel of Time, and I’m already excited for it. Barely a chapter in, this book carries the weight of an epic finale on its shoulders. It’s also the first book in this series co-authored by Brandon Sanderson after Robert Jordan’s death. Sanderson’s writing style is definitely different from Jordan’s, but what I’ve seen of the main characters so far, he stays true to their spirits. I’ll have a tough time putting this one down.

Goals for December

  1. Write 8,000 words for New Earth. This feels like a small goal, but we’re quickly approaching the holidays, and I’m still trying to figure out my writing schedule now that I’m picking up the boys from daycare in the afternoons. I think I’m starting to get the hang of it, but this month will hopefully be a bit more normal than last month.
  2. Read through Uprooted. This is no longer a stretch goal. I need to spend some quality time with this draft before I forget everything about it. I want to allow myself to be more multi-faceted in my writing projects. In the absence of writing for NaNoWriMo last month, I managed to take some quality notes for other projects I’ve been mulling over for some time. It felt good to make progress on something, even if it wasn’t on my primary thing, so I want to be more flexible when the mood to think about something else strikes me.
  3. Read 3 books. At least one of these will be The Gathering Storm. I was stuck on a couple of longer reads through October and November, so I want to finish out my Goodreads goal strong. I’ve read 21 of 24 books so far, and I’m well within range of achieving that goal.

Steve D

NaNoWriMo Progress: Halfway Point

Every year, I seem to forget that by the time we get halfway through November, it’s a week before Thanksgiving, and the month is effectively over. National Novel Writing Month started off pretty well for me, and then took a nose-dive. I will be revising my goal for this month at the end.

While I wasn’t churning out 2,000 words per day, I was making solid progress on my draft of New Earth, The Herb Witch Tales #2 for the first ten days or so of the month. I saw early on that the 50,000-word pinnacle was slipping from my grasp even as I continued writing, but I didn’t let that discourage me. I was still writing every day, sometimes multiple times per day.

Then, two things derailed me simultaneously:

  1. My writing schedule got thrown off
  2. and I got sick

No writing schedule?!

Up until this month, I had been pretty diligent about logging off from my work laptop (working from home) and logging on to my home computer to write for short sessions in the evenings. This worked well, because my wife would pick up our toddler from daycare and start getting dinner ready while I had 20-30 minutes to write before spending the evening with them.

Then, our youngest son, the three-month-old, started daycare, and we flipped our schedules. Because my work schedule tends to be top-heavy with meetings each morning, we agreed that I would pick the kids up from daycare. It didn’t occur to me that this would erase that precious, if short, writing session I could lean on at the end of my work day.

Now, I logoff from work and pretty much immediately have to run out to get the kids.

I try to write at night after dinner, with some success, but I’ll need to find a new way to carve out time from my day. I’m considering writing early in the morning before I logon to work…

…but early mornings have never been easy for me.

The sickness

I caught a stomach bug over the weekend from my toddler that sapped my energy and basically took away 3.5 days of writing time. I’m still recovering, although doing much better.

It’s completely out of my own or anyone else’s control, but it was frustrating to lose a weekend to being sick — not just because of writing. I missed a family birthday celebration and basically didn’t move for three days.

NaNoWriMo the Second Half

So, here I am just over halfway through the month having written 7,000 words. There is no way I’m hitting 50,000 at this point, and I had accepted that even before I got sick. 7,000 would still rank in the top half of my monthly word count totals for this year, so it’s definitely not nothing.

However, I still want to finish strong. With Thanksgiving being my favorite holiday of feasting and family, I’m not going to have the pressure of writing over that weekend hanging over me. So I’m already cutting four more days of writing time in favor of other priorities.

That gives me about 10 days to eke out a writing schedule and make some more progress on this story.

Revised NaNo Goal: 15,000 words total

NaNo Stretch Goal: 20,000 words total

It’s always good to have a realistic goal and a stretch goal, just to motivate a bit more, so there it is. 15k feels doable to me, and if I’m really disciplined, 20k might be, too.

Steve D