How to Write 261,000 Words in a Year: Update #1

In my last update, I stated my new goal this year is to write 1,000 words every weekday. If I do that, I will have written 261,000 words in one year, or the equivalent of 3 books of just under 90,000 words each. For me, drafting 1,000 words a day is pretty straightforward. I make myself sit down in my cosy armchair and I make my fingers move, without caring whether or not the words are any good. I’ll worry about that part later, during the rewriting process, once I actually have something to work with.

I started a chart at the beginning of September—my favourite time of year to start new goals—so that I can track how much I’m writing and what project I’m working on. Even with taking weekends off, which may or may not be the best thing (but I think I’ll make that a separate post), I’ve been able to meet my goal so far. So where am I at? Take a look at the chart below to see my progress for the past week.

Currently, I’m a bit over 5,000 words above my goal. I’m excited about this, as it means my goal is at the right level. Some days, I can barely manage to squeeze in the 1,000 words, and others it’s easy to double that, and occasionally, as you can see on Wednesday, I have so much other stuff going on that I draft no new words at all (though I try really, really hard to get at least a half hour of straight typing time in every day).

You can see the names of my projects on the right, too. Factor of Safety is the name of my current work in progress, a literary fiction novel that I hope to be able to share with the world one day. Weekend is not a project, just an acknowledgement atet it’s okay that I didn’t write any words that day. You’ll see on occasion other titles cropping up in this column, as I’m always working on more than one project, though at the moment all my other project work is focused on rewriting aspects (an no, I don’t count rewritten words in my word counts, my rewriting I do on an hours per day basis and I don’t currently track that, though maybe I should?).

Are you doing any writing? Is it going well? I hope so!

JEH

My Writing Life: Updates and New Writing Plans

It has been a long time, a long, long time, since I’ve had real time for the blog. For the past year and a bit, I was working a crazy, busy, but fun day job. I took the job with one main goal: to save enough money to comfortably fund a few full time years of writing time, and I’m happy to announce that I’m finally there, I’ve arrived. I am once more a full-time writer.

It is a challenging thing, to be a fiction writer that makes money. I see it over and over again and if you search, “how to make money as a fiction writer” online, the returns will be full of a general response that sums up to, “you can’t.” I don’t believe that is true, however, it is very difficult when compared to a day job that pays a regular salary with benefits. So for the past year my focus was on buying my own time, and for anyone that wants to writer, I would recommend this path. Not only is it great to be where I am now: sitting in my office writing this blog, it was a rewarding year full of experiences, regular paycheques, and expensive coffee.

However, it was challenging to find time to write, and I didn’t manage to finalize the projects I’ve been working on for over a year now. I hope, however, to have something new out soon, but I have so many different projects sitting around, and one main project that is the focus of all my commitments, that I can’t promise anything. But the fantastic thing about funding my own writing journey for the next couple of years is that I’m free to work on projects as they capture my interest. It’s all just about slow and steady progress, reaching my daily goals, and thinking fresh thoughts.

That said, I have been fleshing out my minimum goals. As a writer, no matter if it’s full-time, part-time, or on the side, it’s always been important for me to have goals. A few years back, my goal was to write 365,000 words in a year (approximately four books). It sounded impossible, but when you break it down into 1,000 words a day, it sounded achievable, and it was, I did it!

So, with it being September and my favorite time to make goals, I decided that I would set a minimum goal of 1,000 words every weekday. In a year, this will come to about 261,000 words! With still taking my weekends off! Again, I believe this is a highly achievable goal, and will still give me plenty of time for the business side of things and rewriting, which will take up a large part of my day since I have some great projects that I want to make better.

I’m also hoping (fingers-crossed), that this will leave me with a bit of time each week to check in on this blog, mostly because checking in here keeps me honest, makes me compare my progress to my goals, and is a reminded to myself of what I’m setting out to do.

Do you have any new goals for the next 12 months? If you do, feel free to share them below, and best of luck on your goals.

See you next week!
JEH

Writing Routines in Strange Times

A few weeks back I posted about writing during COVID-19. How does one write during quarantine? It should be easy, right? At first, it was difficult, but I’m happy to say that I’m getting into a bit more of a routine.

As I’ve adjusted to using my dedicated creative space for both my day job and my creative pursuits, things have become a little bit smoother. I find the mornings to be a boon—now that I no longer have to commute and do the school run. This adds up to extra time in the morning when I can write (or in the case of this morning—read), and morning writing for me is fantastic because my creative juices are so much fresher!

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For years I’ve heard of writers who wake up early and get their work done before the day really kicks up. But not being a morning person, I just couldn’t do this. I tried once or twice but always ended up back in my same routine of hitting the snooze button five times. Now that all I have to do is get dressed and sneak downstairs for both hot coffee and notebooks, it’s easy. Maybe it also helps that that are no late nights out…

But yet I still felt I needed a bit of an extra boost, so this month I also signed on to do Camp NaNo. I don’t usually do Camp NaNo, though I’m a regular participant of regular NaNoWriMo. What I like about Camp NaNo is my ability to set my own goal, and this year I set it at 15,000 words since I’m also sticking to my plan from my last writing post of writing by hand.

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Writing by hand is so much slower but much more rewarding. It’s a nice break and it a good hand-mind connection. So far I’m only one day behind (and I’m hoping to catch up today). I’ve written 2,500 words since April 1st, which is nothing to sneeze at, in my opinion.

I’ve also found more time for blogging—something I haven’t had in a long time!

I’m going to post regular updates through April about my Camp NaNo progress, and I’ll also be putting out a few more writing prompts and book reviews (I’m rather behind on those too!). I look forward to connecting with you all again, and I hope you’re finding your own routines in these strange times! Below is a song from The Moody Blues, which was one of my dad’s favorite’s bands. Enjoy!

Writing During COVID-19

I’m sure you’ve heard about COVID-19, unless you were on a 12-Day silent retreat like Jared Leto, you can’t miss it. It is everywhere, and it is all the time, and it is time-consuming. Where I live, we’ve recently been asked to all work and stay at home. Try not to leave, use social distancing, oh, and kids have no school so watch them too.

It sounds like a writer’s dream, but I’m struggling. My writing has been on major pause for at least a full week now. There is so much information coming at me, so many changes day after day, but I think the biggest change is the complete alteration of my routine.

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Currently, I’m a writer with a day job, but for the past seven months or so I’ve found pleasure in taking a morning coffee break from my day job at a cute little café across the street. A half-hour might not be a lot of time, but it was enough to get a page or two of writing done. And at a page a day, that’s a novel a year. I felt like I was making good progress. Now, I haven’t even been writing that one page a day.

So this afternoon I had to sit down and have a talk with myself. I needed to plan, to work out what I will work on during this lockdown so that I use this time at home to the best of my ability.

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Part of what I find hard about writing when stuck at home is that I’m a people watcher. I love watching people, observing them (not in a creepy way), but in order to see what makes us human, what makes us tick. I like to try to understand people and the choices we make. And I can’t do that anymore.

Sure, there’s social media. I’ve been on Twitter more than I have in a long time, but that is a black hole that’s easy to not come back from, and some of the news I read on there sets me so off-kilter that writing is even more difficult afterward. Social media just isn’t where I need my head to be at these days. So my first decision was easy: less social media, less news (I was checking at least once an hour), and more time with PAPER that won’t tempt me to check for the latest update or fake news headline. This is why paper is great, another reason why I will always love paper books, and writing in paper journals because when you’re focused on them, you aren’t sidetracked by a blinking light or a ping or low-power warning.

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My second decision was more difficult. I need a project that will consume my attention, that I am so tempted to be with that it is easy to write. I have many projects. I’m always working on more than one thing. And while I want to finish absolutely everything I start (I’m that kind of person I guess), some things take a lot more effort to get through than others. So, for a while, I’m going to switch focus. I’m going to continuing finishing my first edit of BY SAPPHIRE LIGHT, my young-adult fantasy steampunk novel that I love, but I’m going to press pause on the second edit because editing is WORK. In order to keep myself happy and writing while this whole COVID-19 thing is going on, I’m going to let myself go back to drafting, and I’m going to draft by hand a fantasy novel that I started a few years back and haven’t spent much time on, mostly because I promised myself I would write the entire thing by hand, and I haven’t had that kind of time. But now I do, so this project is perfect these times.

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And lastly, I’m going to continue journalling because journalling makes me feel good, it helps lighten my anxieties and sorts out my thoughts and my plans and my head in general.

So starting today, that’s my plan. Did you make a writing plan for COVID-19 and lockdown/voluntary isolation? What are you doing to keep working?

JEH

 

A Writer’s Plans in 2020

So far the start of the year has been incredibly busy! That’s a good thing, since I’m gearing up for a big year in 2020. The blog has been pretty quiet lately, and it will likely continue to be so until summer. Why? Because for the first half of 2020 I will continue to be a writer with a day job. This means that like 2019, I won’t get as much done as I dream of, but I still have plans. And what happens in the second half of 2020? Well, my savings goal will have been reached and I will once again be transitioning to full-time writing. I am so excited for this that the impatience is quickly growing.

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On the docket for 2020 are a number of things, first and foremost to continue working on my current work in progress, By Sapphire Light. This is a young adult steampunk fantasy that I just love working on! I finished the first draft in December, and have recently begun the first rewrite, which is moving along nicely! In early January, I also worked on a few other small projects that I plan to continue with for the rest of 2020.

My main goal this year is to get the entire trilogy for By Sapphire Light drafted. This means two more books to draft, and the first one to finalize. I would love to have this done by July 1st, before I transition to full-time writing, since I have many other projects that will be vying for my attention at that time.

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The good thing is I have a writing retreat booked in late February, which will carve out sometime in the first half of the year for writing. I’m continuing with my Wednesday writing night, and have been pretty good at chipping away on my project on evenings and weekends. I’m hopefully that I can get one more mini-retreat in before June as well.

When I did my writing goal planning for 2020, I actually only planned for the first six months, since I’m not exactly sure how things are going to line-up for July. I’m trying to let things flow, and see what comes more naturally now while I’m balancing work life-home life-and writing life. Here’s to a great year in 2020 for everyone!

JEH

How to Be a Writer with a Day Job: A year’s roundup.

At the start of the year I was planning to write a post a month about how to be a writer with a day job, in other words, how to find time for writing when you’re working 40 (or more!) hours a week! I managed to get out two posts! Which may tell you a lot about where my priorities lay when I’m a writer with a day job.

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It was much easier to fit in blogging when I was a full-time writer. But being a full-time writer isn’t always the most economical decision (though it is the most heart-lightening one). I switched my day job in June of 2019, and that day job currently takes up a lot more of my time than my old job did, but all for a greater purpose. I changed jobs (well aware that I would lose writing time) to make more money, to save more, to then get back to being a full-time writer sooner (once my cushion is adequately plumped).

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And taking that job has also taught me a lot more about being a writer with a day job. Here are some tips I picked up over the past six months:

  1. Make social media your last priority. Yes, that’s right. If you want to get writing done, or even worse, the dreaded rewriting, don’t go on social media. This may result in your on-line presence lagging, but hey, I didn’t get into writing fiction so I could write for social media 24/7. That said, I’m still trying to make time for some blogging, but I do this by trying time to pre-post once a week—or month! But even that doesn’t always happen.
  2. Keep your goals tight. When you have a day job, you don’t have as much time, which means you can’t pursue as many projects. While I love to have multiple things on the go: short stories, novels, novellas, fantasy, general fiction, I can’t work on them all when I’m already spending 40 hours a week at my day job desk. So pick one and work on it until it’s finished. Then pick something else.
  3. Find a community. I still get the majority of my writing done at my Wednesday night meet-ups. My like-minded community of writers knows we have to set aside time to get work done, so that’s what we do. But beyond writing together, we also have regular goals meetings to hold each other accountable to the goals we set at the beginning of the year.
  4. When you burn out, take a break. Having a day job might mean that you burn out sooner, more often, and harder. Make sure to give yourself a break, a night off, a night out, a morning to sleep in. You can always pick up the pen tomorrow. Just make sure you do.
  5. Drink a lot of coffee. I’m pretty sure that one explains itself.

Hopefully at least one of those tips resonates with you. It’s been a long haul this year being a writer with a day job, but I made it, and next year is going to be even better yet!

JEH

How I Won NaNoWriMo, and How I’m Winning My Writing Year

I did it! I won NaNoWriMo again! And this was probably the easiest year for me because I love my current Work in Progress so much! I’m very happy that I managed to push through NaNo this year, especially given that I’m in the middle of a major house renovation (Hello New Office! —More on that later).

First I want to talk a bit about how I managed to win NaNo when I’m so busy, when I have an incredibly busy day job, a busy personal life, and a major renovation going on right now.

I did it by making time. Every night I did some writing. If I didn’t make the full 1676 words per day one day, I tried to make sure I could catch up the next. I booked time for myself on the weekends to get extra words done, I made it to my weekly writing productivity meet-ups, and we had one Saturday marathon where I wrote a whopping 11,000 words to pass the 50,000 word mark. (I may have bought myself a box of chocolates to cheer myself on… They may also now be all gone…). You can see my daily wordcount summarized below, along with my wordcount since July 1, 2019, when I decided I would write 500 words a day for an entire year!

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So, I won NaNo, and I did it by making time, but also by focusing on my task. When I sat down to write, I wrote. I didn’t daydream or browse the internet or get lost in research like I often do, I just got to it because I knew that my time was limited. This is why I love NaNo, because it gives me a deadline, and deadlines can be the best motivation of all.

Did you do NaNoWriMo this year? What gave you motivation to work?

JEH

How to Be a Writer with a Day Job: Part 3 – Making Progress

The one thing I have been struggling with most lately, as a writer with a rather demanding day job, is progress. What do I mean by progress? To me, progress means writing a page of new words, rewriting a book scene by scene, or sending something out on submission. It means moving further along on the path toward finishing something. But lately, I’ve been standing in a deep puddle of stagnated water, the finish line far, far away.

I’ve been here before, I know how to get out of it. But when I come home from work exhausted and tired of computers (already having stared at one for 8 hours), sometimes I just want to curl up and binge watch Grey’s Anatomy (after not watching for a couple years, I’m three seasons behind and have a lot of episodes left to go! Tempting!)

As a writer with a day job, exhaustion can be your worst enemy. There are many ways to try to combat this, ways you can trick yourself into sitting down in your desk chair with your writing computer and start. Not all of the following suggestions will work for everyone—they certainly don’t all work for me. But if you try them all, hopefully, you’ll find one that works. Because one of the most important things about being a writer with a day job is consistency. Here are some small things you can do to continue making progress on your Work-In-Progress.

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  1. Wake up Really Early – I’m going t be honest, I do not do this. I am not a morning person and this would not work for me. But I know a lot of writers who do follow this practice and it works for them. This is about setting aside to write before heading to your day job and spending your best time writing before you feel wiped out. If you’re a morning person, this might be for you.
  2. Write Really Late at Night – This is my chosen method. I find that when I first come home from work, I’m exhausted. I need a break, so I give myself one. I open up my computer after I’ve had three or four hours to compress from the day job, maybe done some exercise and had supper. Then I take about a half an hour to get some work done. The key thing here is to not do this immediately before going to bed since staring at a computer screen might mess with your circadian rhythm. Instead, work up until 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep, and then switch to reading or some other calming activity. IMG_5388
  3. Write on a couple specified days a week (most likely the weekend) – Almost everyone out there says to be a writer you have to ‘write every day’. If you have a day job, this is likely not your reality and I don’t believe it has to be. Writing can mean more than sitting down and getting out words every day, it can just be thinking over your plot lines or character development or doodling in a notebook. But it is important not to let too many days go by or you might forget where you were at (on this note, make sure to leave yourself a good note about what you need to do next). Lately, I’ve been squeezing in writing time on Wednesday nights and on Saturday or Sunday, and I find this is often enough that I don’t forget what I’m writing about.
  4. Find a Writing Group – As mentioned about, I have a writing group. We meet weekly just to sit in a quiet space and write. This group is all about productivity which is what I need right now. A writing group that spends hours talking and providing feedback might not fill the same purpose, so consider what your needs are when looking for a writing group of your own.
  5. Set Goals and Track Them – This can be important, especially for those that are motivated by seeing numbers on paper. The other year, when I wrote 365,000 words in a year (only 1,000 words a day), my productivity shot sky high. I tracked my daily writing goal in an Excel spreadsheet, and seeing the running total was a big motivator for sitting down and getting stuff done. (I’m no longer doing this and my productivity has dropped, surprise surprise).

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No matter where you are in your writing journey, it is important to a writer’s happiness to see progress being made. Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be large progress – you don’t have to write a book in a week, or even a book in a month, but you do need to move forward if you want to reach the finish line!

JEH