What's the best way to fail as a writer? Not writing. What's the next way writers fail? Not making their work available to people who can pay for it. Robert A. Heinlein's business rules for writers make these points abundantly clear. Today it pays to release books fast. These quick techniques can help you release books faster so that readers can discover your work. I'm putting these into practice myself to get my backlist up and available.
Challenge: Write and Submit a Short Story in the Next 4 Hours
Here's the challenge: write a complete 3,000-word short story from idea to finished copy and submit it to a professional market within the next four hours. I've created this guide to help you succeed with the challenge. Have fun!
Travel introduces you to new settings and people and makes writing a challenge. It's great for writers—you get so much more to write about—and scary if you are a stay-at-home introvert like me. Travel disrupts writing habits and routines, making it hard to get words written and meet goals. There are some things you can do to keep a basic foundation of your creative routine. Continue reading
Writing doesn't take much time. If you figure on a 1,000 words per hour pace, you can plan how much time you need to write a novel. If it's an 80,000-word novel—80 hours. At a 17 Words Per Minute (WPM) typing speed. You could cut the time in half simply by typing at a 34 WPM rate. The bigger question isn't how fast you can type. Without deliberate practice and focus on your typing speed it probably won't change much. The real question is when can you fit in the 80 hours, 40 hours, or 120 hours it will take to write your novel? That comes down to goal setting.
The Double-Edged Goal
Goals cut both ways. They can help you slash through distraction—and they can gut you when you fail to meet your targets. It gets even worse when you consider that most of us go through our days juggling dozens of different goals. If you're like me and have a career outside of writing, you'll have goals for that career. It may take up most of your time and energy. You may have goals around your family. Your health. And goals related to your creative practice. Often we don't think about all of these as goals. We might consider some to simply be tasks that need to be completed. A task might be mowing the lawn because it is the first sunny day we've had in weeks. You could even say that your goal is to have a lawn that looks good and the task of mowing is just one of the things that you do to reach that goal.
That's fine. Taking care of the lawn is one of those never-ending goals, same as taking care of your own health, and it is evaluated at any moment when you ask yourself if you are meeting the goal.
People also like to talk about projects as larger efforts that might contain many goals with related tasks. You might consider writing a novel a project. Whatever term you choose to use—your life is full of things to do.
External vs. Internal Goals
Your boss giving you an assignment is their way of accomplishing a goal (or several goals). In turn, you create goals based on that assignment, e.g. don't get fired for not getting the work done. Often we have less resistance when given external goals that are tied to “work.” We get up and go to work each day. We work to reach our goals as well as organizational goals.
Often it isn't the same with our creative practice. For one thing, it runs into other goals, ours and other's goals for us. I might want to spend the day writing and working on illustrations but I also need to do our taxes. I have other chores to do. My family also has goals for me. My son wants to play or code together. Our families understand that our jobs will take a great deal of our time. Naturally, they want to spend time with us when we're home. That's great! I definitely want to spend time with my family too, and I'm endlessly grateful that I have a family. I'm also fortunate in that they are also creative and artistic people. They have their own creative practices too.
Setting Our Goals For Our Creative Practice
With that in mind, I need to set realistic (and challenging) goals. I can't compare my productivity to someone else. What they're doing doesn't matter. I need to figure out what works for me. I might want to write a new novel every two weeks, spending 40 hours per week. That's not going to work with everything else in my life. Instead, I need to work back from what it will take to write a novel. If I need 80 hours to write the book, how much time can I spend on it each day?
Let's say that I figure I can manage a half-hour on my lunch breaks to work on the novel. That's about 500 words or 2,500 words during my work week. If I don't do any extra on the weekend it'll take 32 weeks to write the book. If I don't take days off I can finish it in 23 weeks. Figure that I'm bound to miss some days and call it 6 months to be safe. That gives me confidence that I can meet that goal.
Write a novel in 6 months by writing 500 words per day, 7 days per week.
That also lets me use streak-tracking to help with my motivation on the book. I'll need to change parameters if I want to complete the book faster. Write more than 500 words (either by spending more time or increasing my speed). I need to keep my other goals in mind, things like blog posts, short stories, publishing, marketing, and illustration. Plus everything else in my life. I don't write in a void.
What About You?
What tips do you have for setting goals? How do you balance your career and creative practice? Share in the comments.
This tip comes from Dean Wesley Smith, as part of his Tip of the Week series.
Use a different computer for your writing, and only for your writing.
I've heard Dean and Kris say this many times over the years in different ways and I finally listened when I watched that tip. Go subscribe and get weekly tips from professionals. That isn't an affiliate link, just a great deal. I highly recommend listening to professionals further along the path you want to follow and their lectures and courses are worth your time.
The basic idea here is that you set up a computer that has nothing except your writing on it. No internet. No email. No games. Nothing. Back up your manuscripts on a USB drive and use that to transfer the files to your connected computer where you do everything else. Keep your writing computer strictly for writing. It will help your gray matter. When you sit down at that computer you know the only thing that you will do is write.
Setting Up the Scrivener Laptop
I like being mobile. I want to write on breaks at work. I want to write in different places. The trouble is that I have used both my desktop and my Chromebook for writing and everything else. The temptation is always there to check social media, email, read, watch shows, and everything else. I'm writing this blog post on my desktop.
I am rebooting my writing career this year. I'm focusing on learning and creating as much as I can manage. Dean's points make sense. When I finished listening to the tip I decided that this was something that I could implement to help me move my career forward.
What did I do? I bought a small, inexpensive Dell Inspiron i3162 Bali Blue laptop for $183. This is not a high-powered machine. It's a small 11″ Windows 10 device as cheap as my Chromebook. I only need it to run Scrivener. The laptop arrived yesterday.
After the initial setup, I removed all unnecessary programs that came preinstalled:
- Office 365 (I'll be using Scrivener).
- McAffee Security (Windows Defender works great, is free, and I won't be connected).
- Miscellaneous Dell software cluttering things up.
Then I went to the start menu, right-clicked each tile and unpinned everything. I resized it to just the menu width. I don't need a bunch of tiles. I did install Scapple along with Scrivener and pinned both to the taskbar. I set the taskbar to autohide since I don't plan on using it either. I navigated in the Windows file explorer to Users > [User Name] >AppData > Roaming > Microsoft > Windows > Start Menu > Programs > Startup and added a shortcut to Scrivener. Now Scrivener launches automatically when the laptop boots up.
Wifi is turned off.
Now I have a machine that just runs Scrivener. I plan to use it for my fiction writing. If I want to go online, I'll use my desktop, Chromebook, or phone. No lack of options there!
I have a USB drive I can use to backup and transfer files.
What do you use to get into that writing headspace? What do you think of having a dedicated device just for your writing?
Self-editing a novel or story presents challenges for many writers. It is very easy to read past mistakes, especially when you are very familiar with your work. Listening to your work read aloud can help.
Why You Shouldn't Read Your Novel Aloud Yourself
You could read your novel or story aloud yourself to try and catch errors. It can help, but I don't recommend it. There are a couple issues with reading aloud yourself.
- Your familiarity with the story can still lead you to read past errors.
- When you focus on reading the text out loud your attention is split. You're trying read the words and also looking for mistakes. If you're looking for small errors like typos you might miss larger issues such as whether the sentence or paragraph makes sense. Focusing on the story while you read can lead to missing mistakes.
You could also ask someone else to read your story to you. I don't recommend that either. It might be very annoying for your reader if you're having to stop them and ask questions. Plus they're also likely to skip errors, unconsciously make corrections, or focus too much on looking for mistakes.
Fortunately, there is an easier (free) option.
Let Your Computer Read Your Novel to You
Most modern computers, tablets, or phones have text-to-speech options. That is, the device can read selected text to you with a synthesized voice. This key feature for accessibility also turns out especially useful for writers looking to self-edit their work.
- The device reads the text, one word at a time, as it was written. A spell-check won't catch it if you used the wrong word. Grammar checkers, such as Grammarly can prove very useful to highlight text with potential issues. It's another useful tool for writers self-editing. That's still different than your device reading each word of the text.
- The voices available don't sound human. They don't add emotional inflection to the text as they read. This makes it much easier to hear what is actually written.
- Easier to focus your attention. Since you aren't having to read the text, you can focus exclusively on listening for problems.
Since it is likely already available, it's just a question of how to turn it on and use it.
Editing Along With Your Computer's Reading
So how do I use this for editing? I open a Word version of the document, select a section, and click the Read Aloud button. (Check out my notes below for steps to enable text-to-speech options on your device.) I follow along as the computer reads, making corrections as needed. The control bar allows you to pause/play, and change settings, such as voices and playback speed. Do keep in mind that the software may also mispronounce words, particularly those you've made up for your latest alien language!
This still takes focused attention. Take breaks if you think your attention is going to drift from really listening to what the computer is saying. Sometimes you'll find that your eyes scanning the manuscript have skipped right over an issue and the computer's reading will catch your attention. If you need to stop and come back later, just make a note of where you left off.
What Other Self-Editing Tips Do You Have?
Are there other things that you do when editing your manuscripts? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Read on for tips on getting text-to-speech set up on your device.
How to Get Your Windows 10 Computer to Read to You
You have a few different options to get your computer to read documents aloud.
- Read Aloud in Microsoft Word. Add it to the Quick Access toolbar at the top of Word, then just select the text you want it to read and click the button.
- The Narrator (press Windows logo key + Ctrl + Enter to start) provides many accessibility options. To read your manuscript aloud, start Narrator and then press Capslock + M to have the computer begin reading it back. Press ESC when you want it to stop.
Commercial text-to-speech options include programs like Dragon's NaturallySpeaking, NaturalReader, or free programs such as Balabolka. If you want to save audio files you'll want to use software that can create the file. I haven't done that because I'm typically going through the manuscript making corrections as the computer reads. You might also be interested in other software if you want to use text-to-speech in many different applications, or you simply want better voices.
How to Get Your Chromebook to Read to You
Chromebooks have a built-in screen reader and a select-to-speak option. Once enabled in the advanced settings accessibility section, users can hold the search button, select text, and have it read aloud. Another option is using a web-based service such as NaturalReader's online version, where you upload or paste your document.
How to Get Your macOS to Read to You
As with other platforms, macOS offers text-to-speech options under System Preferences > Accessibility > Speech. After enabling the option, select text and use the option+esc key to have it read aloud. Apple users interested in a commercial program may want to look at GhostReader. As a PC user, I lack experience with the macOS. If you do use text-to-speech on an Apple device, please share your experiences in the comments.
How to Get Your Phone or Tablet to Read to You
Just like computers, phones also offer text-to-speech capabilities designed with accessibility in mind (whether that's implemented effectively is another question). On Android, go to Settings > Language & Input > Text to turn on the option. On iOS, Settings > General > Accessibility, Speak Selection.
Talking Back to Your Computer
These days many systems also come with dictation options that you can use to transcribe your words into text on the device. Windows 10 recently added dictation with the fall creators update. Google Drive has a voice typing feature. While Dragon NaturallySpeaking has been the professional tool to use, the widespread integration of these technologies will hopefully spur improvement and use.
When did you last feel like you had all the time in the world to write? How long since you had a day free from distractions and demands on your time? Do you regularly find yourself in your ideal writing environment, with everything you need to be at your best and most creative?
I don't think I could answer those questions. I don't have days like that. I don't even know what my ideal writing environment would look like! I do, however, have four techniques that I use to include writing in my day.
1 | The 15-Minute Writing Sprint
As hard as it can be working full time at something other than writing, with a family and demands on my time, most days I can get fifteen minutes to write. The concept is simple enough. Set a timer and write!
It doesn't have to be fifteen minutes. Maybe you only have ten minutes. The point is to give yourself that small window of time to make use of it and write.
When to schedule it? You probably won't schedule it unless you're literally scheduling every block of time during your day. Instead, grab it when you have the opportunity. Look for moments you can seize—and seize them! You might snatch the time when you first wake up. On the way to work. When taking a break. If you need to get out of the workplace, go sit in your car or on a bench outside for your break. If you don't have a place to get away to, stick in headphones.
How much can you get written in fifteen minutes? That depends on your process. For example, I find it easier to get started writing when I have a work-in-progress. It's also easier with progress. Whatever your situation, it is still more writing than you would have done otherwise.
2 | Consider Hand-Writing
When trying to fit writing into the time available, the tool used may make all the difference between writing or not. As a teenager working at my first job in a local pharmacy, I strapped bound ledger books to my bike rack when I went to work. The 14-inch page length gave me more room to write. I'd take my break and write by hand.
Before you recoil in horror at the idea of hand-writing stories, keep in mind that I didn't have the options then that are available now. Writing in a notebook does offer several advantages.
- No startup time. Open the notebook and start writing.
- No connection issues. It's entirely offline.
- No lost files. Every stroke is saved as soon as it is written.
If I'd known shorthand I would have tried that instead. Shorthand coupled with a smart scanning system might still be a viable alternative (80+ Words Per Minute), though I don't know if there is software available that could easy transcribe it.
When I wrote by hand the big disadvantage was retyping my work. That wouldn't have been so bad except I used a typewriter at the time and often had to retype stories more than once to make corrections!
3 | Use Anything Except a Computer
Try something other than a standard laptop. I use a very inexpensive Chromebook. It's small, light, and affordable. I don't have to wait for it to start up or wake up and the battery lasts all day long and then some. I don't have to worry about charging it at all. I plug it in at night and it's ready when I need it.
Another good alternative? Your phone. Whether you're using an Android or iOS device, there are many app options to help you write. Even the popular Scrivener writing program is available for iOS now. A phone has the advantage over a tablet because you usually have your phone with you. Using a phone means you can grab even a few spare moments waiting in line to write.
4 | Dictate Rather Than Write
Dictation offers similar advantages to using a phone or Chromebook and that of shorthand with automated transcription. With a small digital recorder (or an app on your phone) you can dictate when the opportunity presents itself.
A program such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking transcribes the recording into text, which you can then edit. There's also a mobile app version that provides transcription on your phone.
You can also use a free option with a Chromebook and Google's Voice Typing.
Monica Leonelle's book Dictate Your Book: How To Write Your Book Faster, Better, and Smarter covers many of the details if you want a guide to help you get started.
What techniques do you use?
I'd love to hear what techniques you use to fit writing into your life? Do you have something that works for you?
I think many writers suffer from a lack of focus. I know I do! My friend Kristine Kathryn Rusch calls this “popcorn kittens.” Ideas pop up and I'm immediately drawn to that new and shiny idea. As I came into 2018, after having finished my MLIS degree, I found myself chasing a bunch of different ideas.
Kill your darlings for more focus
You'll gain focus by killing your darlings. It isn't only self-indulgent writing that needs to go. You're a busy creative with many other demands on your time. You can't afford to chase every new idea—no matter how cute!
You can't take them all. You need to pick which ideas will get your attention and time. An attack on my websites convinced me that I needed to not only reboot my writing career—I also needed to cut back to a single site with a specific focus.
Avoid productivity block by picking a system and sticking with it
You've heard of writer's block? Often it isn't writer's block that is the problem. It's productivity block. Have you experienced this? You sit down to write and end up checking email. Your kid asks a question. The dog whines to go out. Then you have to get lunches ready and get everyone out the door.
Writers talk about procrastination. Or distractions. Or the demands of juggling work and life.
This is a productivity block. You know what needs to get done but don't have a system for managing all the demands on your time. Without a system, things happen when they happen. I know for me this is often the case. If the stars align and the Moon is in the right phase, I get my writing done. Or if I have a system in place.
Saying that procrastination is the cause feels like blaming. “I procrastinated and didn't get my writing done.”
Saying I didn't write because of distractions feels like making excuses. “If I could get fifteen minutes to myself, I might actually get some writing done.”
Pick a system that works and stick with it. I've always seen success when I have a system in place. For this year, I decided to go with Michael Hyatt's Full Focus Planner (save 15% with the referral link before June 30th, 2018).
Full Focus Ahead!
The Full Focus Planner incorporates concepts that Michael Hyatt has taught in his courses and in his book Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals.
The basic structure Mr. Hyatt describes for setting goals works for me and is built into the planner. From annual goa , to details about each quarter, to the big three weekly goals, all the way to your big three daily goals.
Goals in Mr. Hyatt's system fit a SMARTER structure. Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-Keyed, Exciting, and Relevant. He also defines goals as either one-time achievement goals or as habit goals.
The planner helps with defining and reviewing all of these goals. It's a system that resonates with me. I like that he calls for risky and exciting goals. I found reading the book was a good companion to the planner and the tutorial videos that go along with the planner.
Find your system
I don't believe that there is only one system that will work for everyone. What systems have you tried? What do you recommend to others? Share your thoughts below.
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