4/300: The Writing Goal

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. Well, high school anyway. I’d carry a folded black and white Meade notebook in my back pocket, write bad poetry and even worse philosophy. I became a journalist young and was mad when, at 28, I hadn’t yet published a book.

I finished my first book at 30 and over the last seven years have followed up with eight more. Four of these are my own. One was published regionally, another with a big New York publisher. Two were published on Amazon only – by choice. But for the last three, almost four, years, I’ve written books almost exclusively for other people. Ghostwriting is a nice way to bring in extra income, learn new things and keep my restless mind busy.

It is not, however, tremendously satisfying personally. It’s not that I don’t like doing it. I do, very much. It’s just that the ideas aren’t mine so the work becomes more work than art or expression. Over the last few years, I’ve been keeping a running list of books I want to write. A couple non-fiction. A couple YA novels. A couple chapter books for younger readers. That I’ve never before published fiction has always been a source of intimidation and lead to a lot of ‘some day’ thinking and procrastination. I would tell myself that I’ll write the stories that exist in my mind when I have the time; that I’m too busy right now.

It was a conversation two years ago with internet marketer and blog-father Chris Brogan that got me really thinking that there is no such thing as ‘some day’ only today and no such thing as being too busy to write the things you want to write. He told me the best way to get over these fallacies is to punch the keys – a little bit, every day.

I wrote in blog 2/300 about hacking time. I figure out I can comfortably write 1,000 words in 30 minutes or less. In blog 3/300 I addressed how scheduling needs to be reflective of my actual available time – being busy with a wife and kids and a job means I don’t have long stretches to write and I need to allow some flexibility for missed days. To that end, I resolved to spend a half hour writing six days a week. I can do that. I can do it over lunch breaks or waiting for a plane. I can do it in the morning. If I do it, I’ll write 312,000 words in 2016 – more than enough to write my books. My first two books were 100,000 words each. It seemed like a good amount. But I looked at the books I love, looked at the market of best-sellers in the categories I’m interested and realized that 100,000 words is too long for the kinds of books I enjoy and am interested in writing. The novels I like tend to be in the 40,000 – 50,000 word range. The chapter books my sons read run roughly 25,000 words and most non-fiction business/ideas books I really like are about the length of a novel or sometimes shorter.

I won’t reveal my outlines here, but I plotted out the books I want to write in terms of word count. Here’s how that breaks down:

Two YA novels= ~95,000 words

Two Chapter books = ~50,000 words

Four non-fiction books = ~145,000 words

A half a non-fiction book co-authored with a friend = ~22,000

It might seem like I’m treating words like commodities, but I’m not. Words are, to me, units of time. Time is a writer’s most precious resource. A thousand words = 30 minutes. When I started to think this way, when I started to think in terms of process instead of product, I realized that I’m capable of a lot more output than I ever before imagined. This year, I should be able to double the number of books I’ve written over the previous seven years all because I broke things down. I removed the intimidation of completion and the tyranny of starting and committed myself to do the thing I love.

And by thinking in terms of units of time, instead of the full weight of a project, this approach should not stand in the way of work, family or even ghost writing projects that might come up. It’s ambitious, but doable. The writer James Patterson – and say what you will about his products, but the man is prolific – writes an hour a day every day. When he co-authors a book, he writes a 90,000 word treatment. He put out 16 books last year.

My writing goals are big for this year, but the level of effort on a daily basis is small. I’m iterating my way toward writing the books I always wanted to write but didn’t think I had the time to write before now.


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