[This blog post first appeared on the LearnHowToWriteANovel web site in January 2020].
So 2020 has rolled around, and our social media feeds are full of writers setting out their goals for the year. One novel. Two novels. Marketing and promotion. Getting a publishing deal. Getting that pesky book finally onto the screen. For me, 2020 will be a year of writing two new novels, marketing the two novels already in the market, and launching my third – Where the Road Bends – in June.
First, let’s be real about reaching your goal. Your 100,000-word opus won’t be written by March. Even if it is, the quality may not reflect your talent. So be real about what you achieve. Or just say you hit October and your word count sits at 1,234. Your scrambling to fill a word count in the lead-up to Christmas won’t necessarily be your best work.
But while goals are great, how do you get there? Unless you have a way of reaching it, it will remain just a goal … and probably another regret for New Year’s Eve 2020. I wrote three novels inside 16 months, so here are some things I’ve learned to help you put a very satisfying tick in your 2020 box.
Once you’ve set your goal, it helps to be specific about the milestones on the way there. Putting milestones along the way helps to remove the sense of being overwhelmed. A whole novel is a massive project – but you don’t need to think about the whole thing at once. And once you actually define the next step, your brain starts focusing on it. It’s tangible.
Just say you’re targeting 80,000 words and you’d love to get a draft written by June. Do the math: that leaves you just over 13,000 words per month. Or 3,300 words per week. Once you’ve done that, it’s a simple case of lowering your eyes and aiming for that target. (And don’t edit while you write – you’ve promised yourself a FIRST draft by June). If you get ahead of yourself because you tap into a rich vein of creativity – great! Get ahead. You might need it for those times when things dry up.
If numbers do your head in, then just write a chapter a month. Push the story along and you’ll find momentum grows.
Or say you’re writing a three-act novel. Act One needs to be done by the end of February. Act Two by April. Act Three by June 30. It all depends on how you write, but I’ve found these milestones help break down the daunting task of “writing a novel.”
Maybe it’s as simple as “by the end of February I’ll have plotted out my story, by the end of April I will have profiled my key characters.”
If you really want to be focused, here are some must-dos for all writers:
- Switch off all other devices while you write. Facebook won’t break if you don’t check it for three hours.
- If you can’t – or don’t want to – do that, put your phone in another room. Unless you’re waiting for an emergency call, detach yourself from your phone for an hour or two.
- Turn off all notifications on the computer/laptop you’re working on. Nothing breaks your concentration like a “ping” only to find it’s more spam about making a fortune in 10 days. Or that message back from Great-Aunt Susan waving at you because she’s just figured out how Messenger works.
- Create a playlist, and play only that. I do this constantly – setting up playlists that I only listen to when I write. And these songs are tailored to the book I’m writing. My next novel – Where the Road Bends – is set in outback Australia, so my playlist included Aussie rock like Midnight Oil and the tracks from the Crocodile Dundee soundtrack. My ears hear that and I’m transported into the world of my story.
- Go somewhere inspiring and write there. For me, it’s this floor of Adelaide’s Mortlock library.
Goal-setting is fun, goal-reaching can be punishing. It’s important to be kind to yourself as you go. Life happens; things get in the way. And creativity isn’t always a mechanical process. So make sure you:
- Reward yourself along the way for hitting key milestones. You know that 80,000-word book you’re writing? Reward yourself at 20,000, 40,000 and 60,000 words. Then celebrate the end of the first draft.
- Share your milestones with your friends. The support you can get from other authors – who are on a similar journey to you – is a way to build kindness towards yourself and your art.
- Cut yourself some slack if you need to. If you don’t hit a target for legitimate reasons, then refocus your goals and recalculate your targets. And avoid the urge to feel bad about it.
I wish you well on your writing in 2020. I’ll see you at the end of December when we can reflect on a year which made the most of all of our collective talents.