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Writing Productivity TIP #6—SET GOALS FOR YOURSELF…AND STICK TO THEM

A series of eleven tips to help you get more time for writing, and to produce more writing when you do have time.

I’m a goal-oriented person. Give me a target, or a list, and I’ll set out to accomplish the task, milestone by milestone.  When I moved to Colorado, I got a book listing all 54 mountain peaks in the state higher than 14,000 ft, along with hiking or climbing routes to each summit.  I immediately made up my mind to climb all of them—and I did.

Castle Peak (14,265 ft) near Aspen, CO

Similarly, if you set yourself a writing objective, you have a target to shoot for, and a greater chance of achieving it.  Make up your mind to set aside one hour per day of dedicated writing, or produce four pages a day, or complete a new story each month.

A caution:  Know yourself well enough to set realistic targets, rather than ridiculous ones.  If you repeatedly fail to meet your goals, day after day, you’ll get discouraged.  Once you learn how to meet your goal of 1000 words per day, for example, then up the stakes to 1500 words a day.  Push yourself.

If you find yourself making too many excuses to yourself, try a more clear-cut goal to keep yourself accountable.  A regular writer’s group may provide you with incentive, if you need to finish a story before the next meeting.  Or you can form or join a support/competition group of your own. Groups can set goals for their members (e.g., each member must submit a piece of writing at each meeting for the other group members to critique).

Rather than viewing this as undue pressure, you can see the friendly competition as mutual support among your fellow writers.  The members of a highly successful group in Oregon regularly engage in competitions among themselves.  In “the Race,” they compete with one another, keeping track of who has the most submissions in the mail at any one time.  The reward is a dramatically increased writing output, as a group.  The penalty?  The loser buys the others dinner. But no one is the loser, really, because even the person with the lowest output is more productive than he or she would have been without the inspiration of those fellow writers.

Each November is National Novel Writing Month, where entrants challenge themselves to complete a novel manuscript in 30 days.  In this year’s NanoWriMo, participants produced 2.8 billion words in a single month.

Try entering writing contests, such as those listed in Writers Digest or Writers Market.  All of these contests have deadlines which force you to complete your entry by a certain date. In the science fiction and fantasy field, one particularly successful contest is the Writers of the Future; it’s been around for more than an quarter century, and my wife and I are both judges, along with many of the most respected writers in the genre. We highly recommend it.

There are plenty of contests you can track down on the web, and the prospect of winning, as well as a set deadline for entries, may give you the nudge you need. (Beware:  Avoid contests that claim all publication rights to submissions. You shouldn’t have to give up your story, no matter how good the contest sounds.)

This blog series is part of a lecture I’ll be presenting at the Superstars Writing Seminar in January 13–15 in Salt Lake City, a three-day intensive workshop focused on business and careers in writing.  Other instructors include Brandon Sanderson, Sherrilyn Kenyon, David Farland, Rebecca Moesta, and Eric Flint.  We hope to see you there.

www.superstarswritingseminars.com

Writing Productivity Tip #4—DARE TO BE BAD (AT FIRST)…THEN FIX IT

A series of eleven tips to help you get more time for writing, and to produce more writing when you do have time.

This tip comes from prolific and bestselling author Dean Wesley Smith, and the more I’ve pondered it, I’ve come to believe it’s one of the most important pieces of advice any struggling writer can hear.

Repeat after me:  It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be finished.

It’s easier to FIX existing prose than it is to write perfect prose in the first place.  The crucial step is to get it down on paper!

Your draft words or descriptions might be redundant.  So what?  They can be fixed later. 

 You might make grammatical mistakes.  So what?  Promise yourself you’ll fix them later—after you’ve got the story written.

A few years ago, I wrote my award-winning, #1 bestselling X-Files novel Ground Zero in six weeks, start-to-finish:  300 published pages, 90,000 words.  The publisher had already scheduled it for a breakneck production pace, and everyone was counting on me to deliver the manuscript.  I could not be late.  I absolutely positively had to turn in an acceptable novel on time.  The only way I could do this was just to tell my story, get it down on the page, and trust my writing skills.

I managed to write 25–30 pages a day on that book, seven days a week, until the draft was finished.  Although this isn’t an exercise I recommend for most writers, the sheer, intense concentration did increase my writing speed and, I believe, my writing quality as well.  By writing straight through, one scene after another after another without wandering back to earlier chapters to tweak the prose, I built up a “story momentum” that propelled the book along at a breakneck pace.

As soon as the first draft was done, I had allocated as much time as possible to polish the words, editing the manuscript again and again until the last second.  (Keep reading—I’ll devote an entire upcoming tip to this subject.)  Surprisingly, when I went back to the initial pages, fully intending to spend weeks on major editing and rewriting, I found that the constant, intense practice had taught me to produce crisp, fast-paced writing as compelling as if I’d spent hours agonizing over each page. 
 Giving yourself permission to be “bad, then fix it” frees your mind just to create.  For the first draft, don’t worry about how good it is or how you can revise it.  Just do the writing.

This blog series is part of a lecture I’ll be presenting at the Superstars Writing Seminar in January 13–15 in Salt Lake City, a three-day intensive workshop focused on business and careers in writing.  Other instructors include Brandon Sanderson, Sherrilyn Kenyon, David Farland, Rebecca Moesta, and Eric Flint.  We hope to see you there.

www.superstarswritingseminars.com

Note that Early Bird pricing goes up on December 1.


Superstars Writing Seminar: How to BE a Writer

Over the past months I’ve posted a handful of blogs specifically tailored for serious aspiring authors, including this current series on writing productivity.  If you have enjoyed them and are ready for a full-blown “boot camp” of the things you need to know to be a career professional writer, consider attending the second Superstars Writing Seminar, which will be held this January 13–15 in Salt Lake City (Thursday–Saturday, the weekend before the national holiday of Martin Luther King Day).

Three days of intensive instruction taught by six international bestselling authors, Brandon Sanderson, Dave Wolverton, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, and special guest instructor Sherrilyn Kenyon.  In addition to the writing productivity lecture (which this blog series is based on), topics include:

  • Economics of Commercial Publishing
  • How Editors Look at Manuscripts, Novels, and Short Fiction
  • Dissecting a Book Contract
  • How to Read and Understand a Royalty Statement
  • Dirty Secrets: What You Need to Know About Being a Professional Author
  • How to Leverage Your Intellectual Property
  • Balancing Acts: Writing World and Real World
  • Agents
  • Networking and Self-Promotion for Authors
  • Understanding E-Books
  • Pitching the Big Proposal
  • Two Heads Are Better than One: Collaborations
  • How to Get an Edge with New Media
  • Movies, TV, and Authors

—and more, including open Q&A sessions, a special limited-seating VIP banquet to get to know the instructors, and plenty of networking opportunities among the teachers, other writers, and fellow students.

The Superstars Writing Seminar is a practical, no-nonsense course on business topics for the professional writer.  We don’t teach you how to write; we teach you how to be a writer.

Prices increase by $50 on December 1.  For more information and to sign up, go to www.superstarswritingseminars.com.

INSTRUCTORS:

Kevin J. Anderson—award-winning, international bestselling author of the new Dune series (with Brian Herbert), the Terra Incognita and Saga of Seven Suns series, X-Files, Star Wars, and numerous comics; he has published 100 books, with more than 21 million copies in print in 30 languages.

Eric Flint—A master of military science fiction and alternate history, Eric is best known for his 1632 and Belisarius series (with David Drake). An expert in electronic publishing, he was also the founder and editor of Jim Baen’s Universe online magazine.

Rebecca Moesta—Award-winning and New York Times bestselling Young Adult author of Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights, Star Challengers, the Crystal Doors series, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Little Things. She also holds a Masters of Science in Business Administration from Boston University and is the CEO and business manager for WordFire, Inc.

Brandon Sanderson—A New York Times bestselling author in his own right for his Mistborn series, Brandon was selected to complete Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time. The first volume, The Gathering Storm, immediately reached #1 on the bestseller lists.  He also writes successful Young Adult fiction and lectures on creative writing for BYU.

Dave Wolverton—Author of 50 novels, Guinness World Record holder for the largest single-author signing, multiple New York Times bestselling author (under the names Dave Wolverton and David Farland).  Dave worked for nearly a decade as coordinating judge for one of the world’s largest writing contests.

Sherrilyn Kenyon—Bestselling author of the Dark Hunter series, The League, and the Chronicles of Nick.  In the past two years, Sherri’s books have hit the #1 New York Times bestseller spot an amazing 14 times.

Stormtroopers and Star Challengers

On Saturday, November 13, the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado Springs, CO, held a special event:  A moonbase simulation adventure open to the public (all available slots sold out a few days in advance), coupled with a book signing for the new Star Challengers novel, Moonbase Crisis.  June Scobee Rodgers, co-creator of the series and founder of the Challenger Centers, was there with authors Rebecca Moesta and Kevin J. Anderson.

Also as surprise guests, fully uniformed members of the international Star Wars fan club, the 501st Legion, came to show their support for the books and for the space program.  (Kevin and Rebecca are both honorary 501st members.)

After the signing, June, Rebecca, and Kevin appeared at the Colorado Springs public library for lunch, talk, and another Star Challengers signing, also open to the public.  At the end of the event, Kevin recorded an interview for the 501st podcast.

That evening, Kevin and Rebecca hosted June and her son Colonel Rich Scobee and his family at their castle for a home-made lasagna meal.

The second Star Challengers novel, Space Station Crisis, has just gone into production for release in January to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Challenger accident.

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