So…you promised yourself you’d finish your novel this year. Congratulations!
Uh…it’s the same promise you made last year? And the year before? You are far, far, from alone…and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Trying to make it as a writer before full-time income flows is basically having a part-time job forever, and not many of us have time for that.
The question isn’t whether you should be embarrassed. You shouldn’t.
The question isn’t whether you should be discouraged. You probably are.
The question surely isn’t whether or not you’re cut out for this. We believe in you.
The question is: what will you do differently this year, so you make it happen?
In our experience, there are three areas that fail when authors don’t quite meet their goals. There’s their tools: the hardware, software, and skillset they bring to their writing tasks. There’s their team: the people in their lives who help or hinder their writing process. There’s their time: what hours they have available, and how they use those hours.
Today, we’ll take a quick look at all three. If you find this article helpful, let us know and we’ll do a deep dive on each of the three Ts to give you even better chances of getting that novel finished.
The First T: Tools
Every professional has good tools. They’re not usually the most expensive tools on the market, but they are high-quality and reliably get the job done. For writers, those tools fall into three categories: Hardware, Software, and Skills.
This is any physical object you need to get your writing done. Some of the most common examples include a reliable computer, a desk, a workspace, notepad, pens, and a decent chair. (Even if you write from a standing desk like I do, it’s still nice to have a comfortable place to sit and think when you need to.) Although it’s not technically physical, I’m counting an internet connection here since it stems from physical objects.
Whether you have a well-kitted-out private office at home, a laptop and a favorite seat at your local Starbucks, or something in between, think about your hardware situation.
- Does your working equipment cause problems, like an old computer that crashes all the time or a chair that hurts your back?
- Is your work space somewhere people keep bothering you while you’re trying to work?
- Does your internet connection fail often enough to slow down your work?
- Does your internet connection mean you’re on Facebook when you should be writing?
- Do you organize your notes well enough that they don’t eat up writing time?
If you answer those, and related questions, with a “yes”, figure out how to change your hardware. This is not an invitation to spend too much money on the perfect setup, and it absolutely is not permission to procrastinate from your writing while arranging your workspace. But do check your hardware to see if it’s creating any blockage to your writing process.
This is the program you use to produce your books. For most of us, it’s where we write the books, but for some it includes layout, design, editing, etc. You can find countless blog posts out there analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the dozens of writing software options available, but here’s the thing:
Unless there is a specific problem new software will solve, you are almost always better off with the software you already know how to use.
So ask yourself if your writing software is causing productivity issues. If so, consider a new option. If not, stick with what you know.
The most common problem with software is the stuff that’s not your writing software. Do you need one of those nanny programs that won’t let you use social media until you’ve written for an hour? Is it time to delete your favorite video game from your writing laptop so you focus more? Do you need speech to text so your hands don’t fall off?
As before, don’t take this as a reason to spend a lot of time or money making a change. Just assess your software situation. If there’s a problem, solve it. If not, don’t.
Now we’re going to get personal. You already know how to write, but sadly that’s not the only skill people need to finish a novel. A (very) incomplete list of other skills that go into this project includes:
- Touch typing or voice-to-text jockeying
- Time management
- File management
- Saying “no”
- Developmental editing
Is there a part of your writing that either takes much longer than it should (because you don’t know how), or that you keep procrastinating about (because you don’t think you know how)? If so, there’s a skill gap you might want to fill.
The Second T: Team
Though writing is often viewed as a solitary profession, you’re not alone in this process. The people in your writing team include Friends and Family, (ideally) a Writing Group, and (hopefully) some Conferences and Events. Understanding and mastering your relationship with all three can definitely help you get your book written on schedule this year.
Friends and Family
This is often the biggest challenge facing the schedules of would-be professional writers. You like your friends and family, and enjoy spending time with them…but it seems they don’t take your writing time seriously. They think nothing of asking you to come help with a chore, or just drop in to spend time with you. Because (as previously stated), you like them and you feel bad about saying no.
There is no easy way to fix this, but there is a mindset that seems to help the most reliably. Convince yourself, and announce to your friends and family, that this writing thing is a part-time job. If you took a part-time internship in a career you wanted, nobody would call you up mid-shift and ask you to help them move some lumber. Your kids, much as you love them, wouldn’t run into the office for you to resolve a dispute.
Bonus: you also wouldn’t skip a shift because you’d had a rough day, or had “intern’s block”.
Start by taking this mindset on yourself, then communicate it to the people you love. I’m not promising this will be easy, but it’s the best solution I’ve seen so far.
If you do not have a writing group — a gang of 3-5 fellow writers who show each other early drafts and get advice from — you should probably get one. Being a member of a writer’s group provides accountability because you promise them you’ll write a certain amount by a certain time. It also provides valuable feedback and help.
We’ll be doing another post next month about the pros, cons, and pitfalls of writing groups, but here are a few basic rules of thumb:
- Have 3-5 members. Less lacks enough diverse viewpoints. More gets unwieldy.
- Meet once a month. Less and you’ll fade out. More and it eats up writing time.
- Try to get at least one member who’s further along in their writing than you.
- Get people who take it seriously and do the reading.
If you can’t get a writing group together, at least get an accountability buddy — somebody you chat with quickly once a week, where you both promise certain productivity goals and help motivate each other to keep them.
Conferences and Events
On one hand, writing conferences and events take time and money — both resources you could instead put into your writing. On the other hand, they are immensely useful.
Going to a writing conference will energize and motivate you like few other things. You’ll spend time with your people and leave more fired up than you’ve been in a long time. You’ll meet successful writers from a broad spectrum of careers and genres, who can remind you that it’s possible to move forward. You’ll have a chance to take classes that help you solve whatever problems you’re facing in your writing.
But only if you do it right. We’ll also be doing a post this spring about how to best use conferences. For now, though, just remember to come to the conference with set goals, to leave the conference with those goals fulfilled, and to act on one thing you learned each week for the next three months.
The Third T: Time
With the exception of “Friends and Family keep getting in my way”, this is the thing would-be authors most commonly tell me is in the way of getting that novel written in a year. And when you think about it, that thing about friends and family is also about time.
What I’m going to suggest here is a proven method for reaching productivity goals in your writing. It will work. You might know a method that works better for you, or you might not like this method and opt for another option. That’s fine. But this will work, so I encourage you to consider it.
Your Game Plan
Start your year with an understanding of what “write a book” means. Do you mean finish a first draft? Do you mean take your batch of scenes, write the connective tissue, and edit that into a manuscript? Do you mean complete all the changes suggested by your beta readers? There’s no right or wrong answer so long as it’s accurate.
Once you have that definition, define it in numbers. If your goal is to finish a first draft, and you figure that draft will be 75,000 words long, then you know you need to write 1,500 words a week to get it done. It’s okay to fudge and guess. Just be close enough that you can make reasonable adjustments as circumstances change.
Your Day to Day
Once you have your game plan, it’s pretty easy to see how that slots into your working weeks and days. Continuing the above example, by now you know about how quickly you can write 1,000 words. If it takes you two hours, then you can make your game plan happen with three writing sessions per week, each of one hour.
From there, it’s just a matter of figuring out which days of the week you can put that hour into. It’s a good idea to add an extra session per week in case you have to miss one, or you have a bad writing day and fall behind.
Promises to Yourself
This is another mindset shift, and it has to do with maintaining the day-to-day, week-to-week consistency you will need to finish this process. Start thinking about goals as promises you make to yourself.
Now, think about what happens with solemn promises you make to people you love. Would a bad day, or a bad mood, or a daunting challenge prevent you from keeping those promises? No! Would having a “promise-keeping block”? Absolutely not!
It’s time for you to keep the promises you make to yourself just as passionately and unrelentingly as you keep the promises you’ve made to the other people you love. If you combine this with a solid plan for finishing your book in a year, nothing can stop you.
Okay, So Now What?
After reading this, you’re probably in one of three mindsets:
- You feel like you have all of these well in order, and are frustrated because you don’t know what to do.
- You’ve already spotted what to work on, and have a plan for making things better.
- You’ve spotted so many problems that you’re overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.
Here’s our advice for each of those mindsets.
If you’re in zone one, there’s one of two things going on. There might be some other roadblock in your way, and it’s your job to identify and overcome it. More often, in my experience, it’s something on this list and you just didn’t see it. Go over it again and look unflinchingly at why you keep not meeting this goal. Once you’ve done either, you’re in zone 2 instead.
If you’re in zone 2, there’s not much else to do here. You have a plan — now go work the plan until it works for you.
If you’re in zone 3, you’re far from alone. A lot of writers feel that way at one point or another. The trick is to pick one thing — either the one you think will help most, or the one that will be easiest to change. Focus on just that (plus your writing) until it’s in working order. Then move on to the next. Repeat until everything is ship shape.