Writing Streak

How to Start a Writing Streak (Even If You Have No Time)

I'm a full-time librarian with a family and a writing career. The best way I've found to get words on the page is incredibly powerful. It's also a bit like trying to build a fire with your bare hands. Many writers try starting a writing streak after hearing about the benefits—and it works about as well as most New Year resolutions. I'm going to share the simple techniques that I use to start a streak and build it into a powerful force in your writing career.

A Writing Streak is a Habit

Resistance kills habits as quickly as wet leaves might extinguish your attempts to build a fire. If you're going to start a writing streak, you need to identify what resistance you currently face. Why don't you have a writing streak going already?

A writing streak is nothing more than a daily habit of writing. We all have daily habits. Your habits might not look like my habits. We may share some habits, and not others. For the longest time, I didn't floss daily. When I decided to floss, I made it easy. My floss is out each day for me at my computer (not the bathroom), and I put a daily reminder on my to do list. I see it whenever I'm going to turn off the computer. Even though it wouldn't be hard to get up and walk the short distance to the bathroom, having it at hand means I floss every day now.

A writing streak follows the same rules. You have to uncover what resistance you face that prevents you from writing.

If you look at your productivity killers, you'll probably identify time that you could shift to writing. It won't happen, however, unless you make it simple and easy to overcome resistance.

Suppose you've got a habit of picking up your phone first thing in the morning. You flip through your feeds, check on news, email, etc. It isn't much time, right?

Except it adds up. All of those little moments of time accumulate. There's nothing wrong with it, and I'm not suggesting you have to cut everything else out of your life in order to write. You don't.

Just decide that writing is important. 

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Now is the Best Time

The best time to write is now. Yes, literally right now. I'm happy you're reading this post, but you could use this time to write a bit on your current story. It doesn't matter when you write. The best time to write is the moment when you actually get words written. The barrier isn't the writing itself—it is getting over the resistance to get started.

If your writing is important, find ways to make it clear to yourself that it is important. Just as I did with the floss, make it easy to get started writing. 

  • Startup right. Set your computer to launch your current story when you start up. Make your story the first thing you see, before anything else.
  • Turn off your keyboard/turn off the power. This might sound odd, but if you write on a different machine than your writing machine (I use a laptop for writing fiction), unplug your non-writing computer. Or, if you have a wireless keyboard, turn it off. Make it harder to log on and spend time doing other things before you write.
  • Turn off your phone. This wouldn't have been something to worry about when I was growing up. Today, if you find yourself checking your phone often, turn it off until you get your writing done.
  • Set up in advance. Whatever you use to write, set it up in advance. Make it as easy as possible to pick up your writing and get some words down.

Put Your Writing First

If your writing is important, put it first. Not before family or your non-writing career. Make it more important than the scraps of time that get away from you each day. The easiest way to do this is by making your writing literally the first thing you do each day. Get up, rub the sleep out of your eyes, take a drink of water, and start writing. If you set things up in advance and turned off distractions, you should have minimal resistance to starting.

You don't have to write for an hour. It could be five minutes. Get down some words. Then take a break and go about your regular morning routine. You might find that you're less inclined to do other things once you've already started. You'll shower and come back to your writing. Maybe eat breakfast while jotting down some notes or a few lines. If you're fortunate enough to have good public transit for your commute, you might find that you use that time to get more words written. At about 20 WPM, you can get a page/250 words written in fifteen minutes. Even if it's just five minutes here and there, surely you can get that done during the day.

Defining a Writing Streak

How much weight does a streak carry after three days? A little, but it's still light-weight. How about after 30 days? That's got quite a bit more power behind it. If you've gone a month writing every day, it's much harder to miss a day. Imagine the power after 180 days! It keeps growing. 

Your streak should be something concrete and easy to track. Word counts work well. You don't have to set an insanely high word count to have an effective streak. Start with something like 250 words. It's easy to check. Write it down. Make it visible. Keep track. It can be as simple as writing your daily word count on your calendar (print or electronic). It could be a spreadsheet. A tweet. Whatever works for you.

If you're not interested in word counts, pick something else that's consistent. Pages work well too. As do stories. Every day is easiest, but you could do a weekly count instead. If you're going to track a weekly streak, I'd recommend something like a story each week. 

Set a goal that won't take you long to meet. You can always do more. If you're at the end of the day and haven't met your streak yet, you want to be able to take the few minutes it will take. I like to have some benchmark, like 250 words (a page), as a minimum count.

What's Your Writing Streak?

Share your writing streak in the comments below. I started a new writing streak yesterday, minimum 250 words/day of new fiction. Blog posts, emails, etc., don't count for my streak.

If you're interested in creating a word count tracking spreadsheet, check out the next post on setting up ​a simple spreadsheet.

Inside of a coffee shop with drinks, laptop and customers

How to Write Anywhere You Get the Chance

Writers and coffee shops go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Especially when the coffee shop sells delicious dark chocolate peanut butter cups. You'll also find writers working in libraries. And at work. If you're a busy creative with a full-time job, finding those moments when you can work on your writing is key to productivity. The tools have changed over the years, but the one thing I have done is write anywhere I get the chance to write.

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Forget Perfect—Write Anywhere

Last night while I watched an older episode of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon mentioned the Yerkes-Dodson law. It came up again today in a post on surviving readathons at BookRiot. As tempting as it might seem to try and create the perfect writing space, that's also very limiting. If you need the perfect space to write, you will only write in that space.

I've worked since I was old enough to get a job. As a kid working my first job, I strapped notebooks to the back of my bike and took them to work with me (I'm sure there must be a reason I didn't use a backpack). I learned to write anywhere along with learning to write. Doing so has enabled me to finish multiple novels each year even while working several jobs and going to college.

Instead of perfect, figure out the tools or process that you can use to unlock time to write. I'm going to suggest several options that I've tried over the years.

Write Faster T-Shirt

Write Anywhere With Pen and Paper

I started this way—and I still use it for some things that I write. Who doesn't love a new notebook and excellent pens? When I started out I used ledger-sized lined notebooks because they were cheap and the extra length made it possible to write more per page.

Today, I've used Moleskines, Field Notebooks, and others. I use Frixion pens or Fisher space pens, though I have a bag of other pens and pencils for drawings and sketches. I frequently combine drawing and writing in my notebooks. Most of my writing falls into notes about ideas rather than finished work.

Pros: Quick, easy, works anywhere, doesn't need batteries, WiFi, perfect lighting or much space.

Cons: For most work, it needs to be converted into a digital format. Whether that's retyping a story, or scanning a sketch, it takes extra work and time.

Write Anywhere With A Phone or Tablet

After notebooks, I moved up to Palm OS PDAs with addon keyboards. Initially, these had tiny monochrome screens, but even in the limited platform they had great word processing software. Over the years since, I've gone through several variations including phones and iPads. The options now have only gotten better and even include using Scrivener these days.

Pros: Quick, pretty easy, works anywhere, easily syncs content to cloud and desktop for additional work.

Cons: Electricity! Though batteries last longer now, travel anywhere and see how many people are looking for spots to plug in and charge their devices. Lighting can also prove problematic for some devices.

Write Anywhere With a Laptop

From simple and inexpensive Chromebooks to MacBooks, laptops are the goto device for many writers. A laptop can replace a desktop. I choose to use inexpensive devices for mobile work. I use a Chromebook for online work. When it comes to writing new fiction, I'm currently using my Scrivener laptop. It's a low-power, low-cost laptop that I use just for Scrivener. I back up files on my USB drive to transfer them to my desktop. I find having a dedicated writing device helps with the creative process. Sitting down with it, I'm in the frame of mind to write. It doesn't matter where I am because my writing environment goes with me. I even use it when I'm home.

Pros: Greater choice of software and options. Easy to sync with other devices. Potentially larger screens and keyboard options. Able to replace desktop, if desired.

Cons: Cost varies from inexpensive to very expensive. May not start as fast as some devices if you have to wait for it to boot up. Heavier.

What about you? What techniques do you use to write anywhere? Share in the comments!

RescueTime Productivity Killers

3 Productivity Killers Many Writers Face

I struggle with being productive, as I'm sure you do as well. I think most writers run into issues around productivity. I don't know about you, but I'm easily distractible. It could be anything from a TV show, to my son wanting to play, to a game, or a book that I want to read. Or even just checking email or social media. I even have the RescueTime app installed on my computer to help me with this issue. I've identified three common productivity mistakes I make—and I think that most writers probably deal with these as well.

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My Biggest Productivity Killers

What is your biggest productivity killer? What sucks away the time you might have to lead a productive career?

Minecraft.

It isn't always Minecraft. This month Minecraft has taken up a surprising amount of time. It's easy to spend time on one task after another in the game. Before you know it, time has gone flying by.

Minecraft Productivity Mistake

I'm not suggesting that you should give up entertainment, whether that is games, sports, television, movies, or social media. I think we all need to to relax and have fun. I have fun writing, but sometimes it's nice to just relax and explore some chasm or build up a village.

Productivity Mistakes Graphed

Analyzing Productivity Killers

I use RescueTime to track my time spent on my desktop and phone. I haven't set it up on my writing laptop because I use that offline. RescueTime reports on categories, websites, and applications that I use. It ranks activities from very productive to very distracting, and assigns a productivity to score to the results.

With a big list of books to get out, I appreciate seeing where I'm spending my time on the computer. What about time spent offline?

The app does have options to manually input offline time. I don't tend to use that feature. I want to track how I'm spending time on the computer because that's when I have a choice. Do I play a game, or work on a cover for the next book on my list? Do I create a new tee shirt design, or watch shows on Netflix?

Write Faster T-Shirt

The Top 3 Productivity Killers

Enter your text here…

Book Relaunch Image

24 Books To Go | Relaunching My List

Book relaunches take planning. I have 24 books to relaunch in my backlist, plus new books that I'm writing. To help me keep everything organized I use Trello. I'm going to show you my simple Trello board and talk about how I'm using it to help stay focused on on track for this project.

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Book Relaunch Trello Board

For my book relaunch project, I'm using Trello. I've recently simplified my board as I refined my project. You're welcome to take a look at my Book Relaunch Board.

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The board currently has four lists.

  • Information and Titles. This section contains information about the project, the titles, and cards for upcoming titles. I'm in the process of updating the cards with new custom fields.
  • Up Next. This list shows projects I plan to work on next. I may have done a few things with the book, but I haven't focused on it yet.
  • Works in Progress. In this list, I have the titles I'm currently working on. You can see two above.
  • Published. The final list contains titles published. None yet in this new project.

I may add additional lists in the future, such as a marketing list to track which projects I'm focusing on for my marketing efforts. I need to get some titles done first.

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C. Auguste Dupin expects simple things out of his day. A sunny spot beside the fountain to nap. His tuna delivered at precisely the right time by librarian Penny Copper. He didn’t expect someone to stuff bodies in the book returns and disrupt his entire day!The only thing left to do? Apply his considerable intellect to the task of identifying the killer while guiding Penny to the answer.

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Information and Titles

This section contains information or planning cards, as well as cards for each book on the title list. I'm flexible on due dates. As a full-time librarian, my time is split. It's hard to set firm due dates for the projects because the needs are also different. Right now, I'm working on updating my scheduling plan.

When I first started, I pictured finishing every format of each title before releasing the book. I've changed my mind. Instead I plan to focus on releasing the ebook editions first. Then I will add paperbacks on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), followed by IngramSpark for paperback, hardcover, and large print hardcovers. Eventually, I'll also do audiobook editions. 

Along the way, I plan to finish new titles and get those out as well. At that point I'll have books in progress at different stages.

Up Next

This list features projects that I'm starting to work on, but haven't focused on yet. I might be reading over a book, playing with some cover art concepts, or taking notes about what I want to do with the book. It doesn't have my focus, but it shows me what is coming up so that I'm thinking about it. The books on the information and titles list aren't in any particular order. In this list, the books are in the current order I plan to approach them. Of course I can change that order with a simple drag and drop. It's one of the things that makes the Trello board so nice. It's very easy to reorganize cards, add notes, files, or other elements to the card. I aim to only have three titles on this list at a time.

I use the Custom Fields power-up to add the status, format, and series to the cards. This feature recently lost functionality as they work on a new version. It no longer offers the ability to have custom fields only show on the back of the card, and you can't rename the custom fields button any longer. Hopefully that functionality will be restored soon.

Write Faster T-Shirt<img class=”tve_image wp-image-751″ alt=”Write Faster T-Shirt” width=”466″ height=”460″ title=”writefaster” data-id=”751″ src=”//ryanmwilliams.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/writefaster.jpg” data-link-wrap=”1″>

Works in Progress

I track my book relaunch details on the cards in this section. I attach cover art, create checklists to track progress on edits and other steps. I use labels for the type of project and genre. Ideally I'd keep this list focused on one book, but as the image shows right now, I sometimes have multiple projects in progress. In this case the one on top is the current project that is taking most of my attention.

Published

The published list keeps a reverse chronological list of titles published. Each card is format-specific, so titles will appear on the list (and board) each time with multiple formats. In the future, I plan to pull from this list over to a marketing list when I'm working on marketing a particular book.

My Book Launch Board

There you go! That's my book launch board. It's pretty simple. Feel free to take a look, and let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

Book with text

5 Ways to Release More Books Faster (Without Going Insane)

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.

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Focus on your cover first

Covers matter. A cover that doesn't entice readers to check out your book is a cover that fails—no matter how attached you might be to the artwork, design, or other elements. It's the single biggest factor on whether or not anyone gives your books a chance. You want to release books fast, but start with your cover.

I've released plenty of books without effective covers. I'm working to fix that now. My problem? I want to illustrate my own covers. That's terrific, except that I don't have many of my titles available and my available books don't have effective covers. It's a weakness that I plan to address as I work to release all of my books.

Your cover will change

I run into the trap of imagining the perfect cover. It doesn't exist. An effective cover now may not work in five years. Tastes change. Standards change. Your cover needs to change with the times. Look at current design and get a cover that works.

Don't worry about cost

If you can't afford (or don't want to) pay for someone to design your cover, you can figure it out yourself. Look at covers on books like your book and come up with something that will work. Do the best you can right now. Change it later, when you can, when it's needed.

Focus on one format

To release books fast, pick one format for your book to focus on first. Get your books up as e-books on Amazon. Don't worry about print, large print, audiobooks, hardcover vs. paperback, going wide or being exclusive. Figure that out later. To get started, simply have a clean file of your book and a cover, and upload them to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

Why KDP? At least in the US, it's the biggest market. Start with the biggest payoff. You can always add other markets later (even if you're initially exclusive in KDP Select). I think it makes sense to expand to multiple formats and markets. I plan to do that too (I have with other titles). Right now, however, I have more titles that are not available than those available! I need to get my books up, and work on improving them when I have time.

Write more books

If you want to release books fast you also need to write more books! And write books faster. Mostly that means being consistent with your writing. You might want to check out my quick guide to goal setting. Figure out how much time you will spend writing your book and decide on a schedule. If you're like me and work a full time job, you may not write as fast as you'd like, but being consistent counts.

I already have a backlist of titles to put up. I'm also working on a new book right now, with a long list of additional titles to write. Some in my current series, others in new series, as well as some standalone titles. Figure out what you need to do to make time for yourself to write. Have fun!

Writer T-Shirt

Use boilerplate templates

Use boilerplate templates to release books fast. Create (or have someone create for you) a template that you can easily use for multiple books. Save time on your interiors by using the same templates. This works especially well for novels, even more so in a series, since they will have a consistent appearance. Make sure that you use styles. One of the biggest issues I see people run into is formatting selected text instead of using styles. Whether you're working in Word or InDesign (or something else) find out how styles work and use them! With a style you can modify the details of the style and instantly change all text with that style. It's a huge time saver and also lets you tweak and customize your templates (say for different series) with a few clicks.

Analyze your methods

With each book, take a look at your methods and processes. What can you improve to help you release books fast? You don't have to improve everything or analyze everything. Pick one process and ask, how could I do this better? Test your processes. Track how long it takes, make a change, and track it with the next book. With each book try to find one or two things that you can do better. It will pay off over time.

I also recommend that you use these methods when you start and don't hire someone. Learn how all of this works. Figure it out. Test and improve. Identify those areas that have the biggest payoff in helping you release books fast. Later, after you have worked through the process with many books, you'll have a better sense of whether or not it makes sense to hire someone to take over parts of the work. You'll have a much better idea of what you can give someone else to do, and a better idea of how long it should take (and cost), if you've been doing it yourself first.

What ideas do you have?

What ideas do you have to release books fast? Share in the comments!

Laptop, glasses

How to Write, Finish, and Submit a Story in a Single Day

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!

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30 minutes | Writing Your Opening Scene | 0 to ~500 words

Writing Your Opening Scene

Write the opening of your story. Start with your character in a setting, facing a problem or situation. It doesn't need to be the main problem of the story.

Don't worry if you don't have a fleshed out idea! Dive into your character and write about their immediate problem and setting through all of their senses, with their opinion and voice.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for 500 words that introduces your character, setting (all senses and opinion), and the initial problem.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

It's important to take breaks. If you're sitting at the computer get up and stretch. Walk. Take a drink of water. Take care of yourself so that you can continue to write.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

Next 30 minutes | Complicating Your Character's Life | ~500 to 1,000 words

Complicate Your Character's Life

If the initial problem wasn't the main problem of the story, it should be introduced by now if you haven't yet.

Faced with the story problem, your character makes an intelligent attempt to solve it.

And Fails!

The character discovers the problem doesn't have an easy solution. Their attempt to solve the problem makes it more complicated.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for 500 words that develops the problems and complications.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Time for another break! Move. Stretch. Look into the distance. Meditate for a few minutes.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

30 minutes | Things Get Worse | ~1,000 to 1,500 words

Things Get Worse

Now your character knows that the problem they face doesn't have an easy situation. They recover from the initial failure and come up with a new (intelligent) attempt to resolve the problem.

And Fails!

 Fails, and their attempt to solve it makes the problem worse. Things don't look good!

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for at least another 500 words.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Time for another break! Move. Stretch.  Stay off social media, email, and all of that. Get away from the computer.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

30 minutes | The Situation Turns Dire | ~1,500 to 2,000 words

The Situation Turns Dire

Ever attempt your character made to solve the problem has made things worse than ever. Even so, they rally, dig deep and attempt to solve the problem again.

And Fails!

For the third time the character has failed and things are worse than they ever imagined. All paths seem closed off.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for at least another 500 words or so. Be sure to keep the reader anchored and the emotions high.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Time for another break! You probably don't want to take a break at this point. Do it anyway. Step away and rally your strength for the final push.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Don't look back over what you've written! We're moving forward with the story.

 

30 minutes | Final Attempt | ~2,000 to 2,500 words

Final Attempt

This is it! Your character takes the only option left, all cards on the table, the last big push to resolve the problem

And Succeeds!

The final attempt, the character's last heroic effort succeeds in solving the problem.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. Aim for at least another 500 words. Put all of the emotion and detail on the page. Don't stop!

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

It feels like the story is done, but not quite yet! Take a quick break and come back refreshed to finish the story.

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Almost there, you're doing great!

 

30 minutes | Resolution and Validation | ~2,500 to 3,000 words

Resolution and Validation

Your character succeeded in solving the problem with their final attempt. This last scene wraps up the outcome of that resolution.

In the very end, provide a validation which tells the reader that the story is over.

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Keep writing for 30 minutes. This may not run a full 500 words, but be sure that you provide the reader with validation.

 

5 minutes | Take a Break

Take a Break

Final break before you dive in to finish up the story and submit it to an editor.

Get away from the computer!

5min

Set Your Timer and Start!

You've written the story! Take a final break before the last sprint.

 

30 minutes | Clean Up and Submission

Clean Up and Submission

Many writers struggle with this part of the process. The fear of sending out the story keeps them coming back at the story, editing it until they strip out anything original about the story.

Spell check. Go back and fix anything that you noticed that needs quick corrections. Make sure you use proper manuscript format.

Then send it out to a market!

30min

Set Your Timer and Start!

Right now, this is the hardest part of the challenge. Don't hesitate. Submit the story. If it makes you feel better, take another look at it if it comes back, but submit it before your time is up!

 

Conclusion

Conclusion

Congratulations on getting through the challenge!

You've written a complete ~3,000-word short story in 4 hours, cleaned up the manuscript, and submitted it to an editor. Great job!

I'm sure that there are questions. I've answered a few below, ask more in the comments!

240min

Questions

What if I want to write a story shorter or longer than 3,000 words?

Great! Go for it. The challenge isn't meant to suggest that a story needs to be that length, or that it needs to be written in 4 hours! It's a challenge meant to help writers overcome blocks that prevent them from completing a short story and sending it out to editors.

I can't send my story out without spending more time editing it!

You can. You're afraid to send it out but I doubt anyone is preventing you from doing so. If you completed the challenge trust yourself and send it out. Nothing terrible will happen. If it doesn't get accepted you can look at it again with more distance.

Oregon Beach Ocean

How to Write While Traveling (And Keep Your Sanity)

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

WPM Gauge

The 5-Minute Guide to Goal Setting for Writers

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.

Laptop with Scrivener

Don’t Use Your Computer For Your Writing

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

Laptop with Scrivener 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).
  • Games.
  • 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.

That's it!

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?

 

Earbugs

Why you should let your computer read your novel

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.

  1. Your familiarity with the story can still lead you to read past errors.
  2. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Quick Access toolbar

You have a few different options to get your computer to read documents aloud.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.