Writing Goals: 7 (+1) Simple Steps to NaNoWriMo Success
NaNoWriMo Getting Ready Series 3
This article is thanks to reading an article by Donnabeth Aniban and then watching “World War Z” last night. (Yes, both were pretty dark stories, but read on to find the light that shown through…)
Writers fail at the end only because they give up. But your “failures” are simply lessons to learn from.
Getting everything lined up so you can write is harder work than writing. Review your copy of “On Writing” by Stephen King, and you’ll see in that memoir the absolute hell he had to go through in order to make a living so he could write.
That’s about the sequence you start in: make a living so you can write. One of the more succinct formulas for success was given by Jim Rohn. He joined a part-time network marketing gig that changed his life. Because he got this one datum: “Work full-time on your job, part time on your fortune.” Because your job pays your bills, but your writing builds your fortune. Now, don’t think your fortune is just money. We’ll get to that in a bit.
The point is that there is a joy in writing, and when you follow your bliss in this area, you can gauge how successful you are by how you are feeling. Of course, that automatically gets some “na-na-na” thoughts about how that is all “woo-woo” (love these metropolitan memes, don’t you?) And that brings us into the first point:
0. First habit: Let go of what other people think.
You have to get over the idea that people know what they are talking about. 95% of the people out there will retire broke, living on a fixed income, and dependent on other people to keep them going. It’s been that way since at least 1956 when Earl Nightingale talked about it in his “Strangest Secret” recording. Check out the more recent Social Security reports and you’ll see it’s is still true.
If people knew what was really going on, they’d be rich. If they simply put away 10% of their savings from every paycheck for the 40 years they were working, by retirement they’d have around a million dollars. Then they could live off the interest. (Of course the Fed is trying to make this impossible right now, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep it in a bank, just somewhere safe where you’ll get decent interest every year.)
You’d think we’d drum that into our kids head all the way through school. But you can’t go to “entrepreneur” school or even take classes in it. (Our educational system is set up to help you get a job, not create your own business and make jobs for others.)
The 5% who succeed are those who are constantly creative, who don’t listen to the conventional “wisdom” of the crowd. (See “The Art of Wonk“)
To succeed, you have to let go of three things: needing approval, needing control, needing security. After that, as you continue to let go of things that don’t help you, you become fearless. Meanwhile, you just have to practice the courage of believing in yourself.
Get out your old copy of “Think and Grow Rich” and dust off your personal “Burning Desire”. Then start achieving the success you want as a writer.
The first habit you have to acquire in your life is letting go of what other people think about you. It’s not building a “thick hide.” It’s simply letting go of everything people say. Like those fake reviews Amazon needs. Sure, get people to leave them, but only read the 3-star ones. Everything else is fake and useless. The 3 stars are the ones you can learn from. The rest are either trolls or puffery.
You need to practice into letting-go as a habit, because 95% of those people out there will defend their bad choices to their dying day. They won’t change their mind.
Consider it this way: if only 1% were interested in buying your books, you’d be the richest writer on earth. Figure that out of the millions who buy on Amazon every day, you only need a tiny fraction of that to make a personal fortune. Just the ones who are really interested in your type of books and stories. If you needed to care what anyone thinks, it would be those readers.
The trick is that you won’t find these readers unless you write first, and publish second.
1. Two habits: read a lot, write a lot.
Again, Stephen King tells us this in his memoir above. Successful writers are that way because they are prolific readers as well. They read daily and they write daily. Preferably, they read a lot and they write a lot. That is how they train their inspiration to work for them. That is how they train their inspiration to come on demand. Writing can be an on/off switch. King’s approach was to read before bedtime, and then write in the am. Not too surprising, this is also the best way to keep inspired. What you read at night, your subconscious absorbs and digests for you, then prompts you with new ideas (and dreams) that you can write stories about the next morning.
That’s a really old datum. It works. And there are plenty more tactics like this in “Magic of Believing” by Claude M. Bristol. You’ll have to figure out your own schedule, what’s best for you, but that’s the key point.
You need to have the habit of reading daily, and writing daily. Preferably a lot of each.
2. What you can measure, you can improve.
Start writing down your numbers every day. Numbers about your word count. Numbers about the words you edited or got edited for you. Numbers about how many words you published.
Many authors set daily goals for word count. King set goal of 2,000 words per day. Dean Wesley Smith said 3,000 words per day was getting into the speed of the old pulp fiction writers, and would produce 80K words per month and a million words per year.
As a point, NaNoWriMo has you writing somewhere just below King’s output every day for 30 days.
Of course, once you work that habit into your life, you can keep it up. Providing you also work out the rest of your life to support your reading/writing habits.
The trick is to record your words every day. A calendar, a spreadsheet, use something. Then you can look to see if you’ve done very well or not so well. After awhile, you’ll find where you write best and when you write best, and start doing more of these.
3. The journey is worth more than the ending.
This is pretty obvious. The crap people promote in their pitches to authors is how making 6-figures or more is so damn important.
These courses aren’t pitching how to help you get your words written every day. They just want your money. So they tell you dumb things about how “it takes money to make money.” Money is only “made” in those government printing offices. Everyone else earns their money.
Money itself is just an idea. It only means what you think it does. Money comes after you do something, and then allows people to pay you for the value you gave them. You have to do something valuable, and you have to let them give you something in return.
Authors who never publish can’t get paid. Authors who only put their stuff up on free sites can’t get paid. Authors who demand payment before giving something of value seldom get paid. Joe Pulizzi in his studies for his “Content Inc.” showed that all the successes he studied all put a ton of great content out there first, and built their audience. Then they started monetizing it. That’s also the secret behind the books “Wool”, “The Martian”, and “50 Shades of Grey”. Those authors all had their stuff out there for readers long before they put it on the market. But they did put it on the market, and then people swarmed to buy their work.
The trick to the big payoff is enjoying what you do. You have to enjoy writing in all it’s various stages. Then the “big payoff” is simply icing on the cake.
Also, when you blog your content, or post it on Wattpad, you get feedback which helps you improve it. Another payoff.
Finally you publish. Then people will pay you what it’s worth – to them. Yes, it can be more complicated than that, but you simply need to enjoy the ride, not wait for the destination.
Once you arrive, then another journey starts. Obviously, you are spending more time journeying than arriving anywhere in life. Enjoy every second of everything.
4. Write for someone, not everyone.
This is real audience building. You write to one person, not to everyone. The attitude that works for all the authors I’ve studied is this: Tell your story to one person.
Of course, they all describe it in various terms such as avatar, etc. The point is to write your story as if you were telling it to a very patient friend, or a typically attention-deficit nephew or niece. They will pay courteously pay attention to you for just so long before their mind travels elsewhere. (And is exactly how Twain wrote his bestseller “Huckleberry Finn.”) So you make every paragraph/sentence/word count for all it can. They must each move the plot or character along.
(And before you say, “Well, I write non-fiction…” I would remind you that all non-fiction text has to add up to that person learning or buying something.)
Every book has a plot – you are plotting to get that reader to avidly look to (and buy) your next offering. You are the one who is plotting. And like every good mystery, the arch-criminal has carefully figured out and set in place whatever the detective (your reader) is destined to unravel.
You are writing for someone very much like yourself. In fact, if you had a twin sibling, that is exactly who would most like your work. This point of “writing to market” is more like finding that set of people most like yourself who would love to read more books and stories you wrote.
The trick is: the best way to find these people is to look up sites where they have stories you like to read and then post your stories there, with a link back to where they can find more stories like that.
You write for one person, and then let those “one persons” find you.
The reverse is pure and repeating failure. People who want to “make money” by writing “popular fiction” in (insert money-making genre here) will never accomplish it. In general, people do not want stories “just like the others”. They want something new and different.
That new and different is your own voice. And you only find this by writing and sharing what you’ve written.
This is especially true for non-fiction, and the example of Internet Marketing. Their emails are all the same, and you can keep them around just to see how long they take to unsubscribe you. Meanwhile, look at all the very bad ideas you shouldn’t write. Instead, keep track of what emails you actually click on. That is the person you should be writing for.
Get a pile of stick-on tabs (post-it notes) and use these with all the story collections you read. Tab the stories you think of for days after, meaning they need a tab if they don’t already have one. Later, when you run short of inspiration or want to prime the pump some evening, scan your shelves (or stacks) and pull out some book with one or more of these tabs in it. Something in there is exactly what you should be writing to that one person.
5. Order your life so you can write.
You’ve heard all this before, but it bears repeating:
If you don’t order your life so you can write, your life will be ordering you around so you can’t write.
Get rid of your debts. Pay down your bills so you have a minimal of monthly requirements that you can easily fill. Cut out the silly expenses that other people think you should have. Once you’ve paid everything down, then live within your means. Meanwhile, your writing will be increasing those means. De-cluttering, minimalism, these are all useful ways to simply cut the unnecessary “stuff” out of your life. (See “Why You Got All That Stuff” – of interest is that it ties right into Campbell Monomyth that 95% of all people use to run their lives.)
Sure, you’ll have interruptions. Certainly, kids have their own demands. One writer I’ve studied got her writing done once she got them all off to school and wrote until they came back that afternoon. Another works in half-hour “sprints” where he can work his writing in around his 8-month-old.
The point is to keep to your habits, however you can structure your life around them. Read daily. Write daily. Put the rest of your life in between those two habits as bookends.
Eventually, your part-time work at your fortune will start earning enough to pay all your bills so you don’t have to work for someone else full-time. Then you can concentrate on creating your fortune full time with your writing.
6. Put stuff out there to sell and keep it out there.
This is via Dean Wesley Smith. Robert Heinlein posted seven rules. Two key ones:
- You must put your story on the market; and,
- You must keep it on the market until it is sold.
Heinlein was a prolific writer. Those seven rules he used to run his business as a writer. The first few deal with writing, the last couple at how to monetize it. Altogether, they tell you how to write and make a living at it.
You write stuff and get it out there. You should always include a link about where to find your other books they can buy.
This isn’t some sleazy marketing tactic. You aren’t selling anything. Your readers will actually be disappointed with you if you don’t allow them some way to give back. So you always give them a link, even if it’s just a donate button. Even if it’s just “leave a comment.” The best approach seems to be to get them on your mailing list so that you can directly contact them. (Getting “followed” on social media simply doesn’t sell books.) Ask them to visit a site where your books are available. Preferably your own site where you can get them to join your list. (Amazon won’t give you their emails, and will try to sell them a lot of other stuff.)
You have to write regularly. You have to post your stuff. You have to put it on the market and keep it there.
Read W. D. Smith’s articles on this at that link and throw away all the advice you’ve gotten otherwise. Life is simple. People make it complex just to “keep it interesting.” Go for simple. Let go of “interesting complexities.”
7. Money comes after success.
This one datum Earl Nightingale repeated several times. And you can find it today because people found those essays valuable enough to share.
Money follows success. Success is doing something you set out to do.
Whatever you set out in front of you makes you successful as you work toward it. The end doesn’t justify the journey. The joy you experience during your journey is a measure of your success.
In that same transcript link above, he also said,
“People who have goals succeed because they know where they’re going.”
The relationship of money is always after your success. You only get paid after you put in the work. Your goal during work at your job was to fulfill certain functions for a given amount of time and then you’d receive payment for successfully completing those goals.
When you write, and post what you write, and offer it for sale, then the money comes in. You have to do the writing first. Set your writing goals, make them, get paid. Simple.
“Success is not the result of making money; making money is the result of success – and success is in direct proportion to our service.”
There’s your success. Right out in front of you. All that money just waiting to find you, once you’ve filled your end of the deal.
Use these seven-plus points to get started on that journey you’ve always wanted. Or use them to streamline what you are already doing.
Use competitions like NaNoWriMo to hone your existing habits and streamline your life into a better, more enjoyable journey.
If you can only write 500 words a day right now, then that’s a good start. (And the second-best time to start is now.) If you can get up to or pass the 1,666 words a day to meet your NaNoWriMo goals, great. When you can consistently get upwards of 3,000 words per day, then you can crank out a novel per month and a million words per year.
But all those goals mean writing daily. And that means organizing your life so you can write daily. If you want to get paid for your writing, you need to set up ways for people to contribute to your success.
Good Luck with this.
Books Mentioned and Of Interest
Also published on Medium.