Even though I am relatively new to the writing game, aspiring writers often ask me for advice. While I am still waiting on the day when others begin attaching labels like "award winning" and "best selling" to my name, others still see me as being a few steps ahead of them in the journey that is writing. So naturally they will want to know how to get to where I am, for the sake of their own pursuits. I do my best to answer each of those inquiries with simple and practical advice.
I know everyone wants to find a secret route to success, and more often than not, a shortcut. To the disappointment of some (many), that is not my advice. In fact, my advice is not secret, uncommon, or even my own. The truth is, I offer the same basic advice that any author will. To write every day and to read as often as possible.
Now before you say, "no crap dude," and leave the page, I want to ask you one simple question. Are you doing that? If you are like me, the answer is no. True story. Yeah, I am an author with great aspirations, but the fact that I live in the state of Maine is about the only other thing I have in common with Stephen King. I don't get to spend all my time reading, researching, and writing my next novel. Nope, that's not my life right now. Maybe you can relate.
Yes I am a published author. I have achieved one of my lifelong dreams. I am selling books that I poured my proverbial blood, sweat, and tears into (Don't worry, your copies will be free of most stains and odors). However, my glamorous writers life includes waking up at 5:30 to go to work all day, doing things that have nothing to do with writing. Then when I get home, I try to find time for my three small children, my wife, exercise, dinner, and chores around the house. Then, if I am lucky, I can try to hunt down my ambition and motivation before 9:30 for a rousing late night writing (or reading) splurge. Then somewhere around 11:30 I will head to bed, so I can start the cycle over again.
I don't share that to impress you or garner sympathy, I share it to make a point. I was finding that by the end of my long days, it was far too easy for me to not write. When I had those few moments to unwind and relax, I was finding myself doing everything but writing. I noticed that days, weeks, and embarassingly enough—sometimes months would pass by with little to no substantial progress made on my works in progress.
I knew that this wasn't an ability issue or any writer's block nonsense. I knew I could write, and I could even write fast when I wanted to. I had written the vast majority of Dragon's Fire in about three months time (despite the overall novel taking far longer). I had experienced days where I produced over 11,000 words and entire short stories. I knew I could do it. However, I also knew that I lacked writing discipline. When I did have small moments of time, writing wasn't always my top priority (after family). I needed to develop writing discipline, I needed to develop better habits.
I will spare you the details of my various ideas and methods of building a habit of daily writing (which you would think would just come naturally), and instead get to what worked. I began tracking my daily word count. I found that I needed to track my daily progress, or lack thereof. In order for me to hold myself accountable, I needed a way to visually track how much and how often I was writing.
So I made the decision to record a number every day. Somedays I was able to jot down that I wrote 800 words, while somedays I struggled to just get 300 words. Then kids, wife, and weekends happened, and many of those days I wrote down the number 0. Regardless of the circumstance or outcome, I made it a point to record a value every day. Now I have only been doing this for a few weeks, but I can already tell you that it has made a drastic difference, because I have begun developing a new habbit.
Now the habbit isn't that I met my word count every day. That would be great, but often we need babysteps (otherwise we would already have all the best habbits, right?). The habbit that this did create though, it that it forced me to do a self-examination of my writing habbits themselves. It forces me to take a look in the mirror everyday. Now what is happening is that I am more consciously aware of my weekly word count. So when I contemplate whether I should read more Patrick Rothfuss or watch crazy cat videos on YouTube, I can then say, "Dude, you word count sucks this week. You gotta step up your game!" The crazy thing is, it actually works.
Now I am not talking about neglecting your family or your work, but it is about reprioritizing the free time that you already have, which truthfully, is probably more than you realize (even for busy parents). Despite not gaining a single additional hour in my day and still keeping a healthy family balance, I am now producing an average of over 500 words per day. It isn't an amazing number, but it is a starting point. My goal, however ambitious it may be, is to work up to 1,000 words per day. Maybe it won't happen this month or even next, but I can at least see where I am, and where my goal is.
What is your writing goal and how are you getting there?