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My simple writing plan for 2018

Took a little longer to put these together than I had hoped, but here we are finally.

It’s a simple plan. Of course, simple doesn’t doesn’t mean easy.

My 2018 writing goals:

1. Write fast, publish slow (or at least, slower)

Goal: Write 250,000 publishable words

In 2017, I published new fiction every month. A lot of that was short fiction, but I did also manage two new novels. Although I learned plenty from that experience, this year I’m moving away from the monthly publication schedule to put the focus back on writing. Specifically, writing novels. Monthly production goals are useful, but I found myself up against a deadline too many times, often moving away from a potentially more impactful project because it was too far from complete to finish in time for the cadence I had committed to.

So this year, my goal is to write a quarter million publishable words. No specific publishing goals—yet. I’ll definitely be publishing new books this year—several, I hope—but I’m not going to put arbitrary deadlines on them right now. Success this year is whether or not I have written. The books will be published when they’re ready. That’s it.

A quarter million words may seem like a lot to bite off, but you don’t run a marathon all at once. You do it one step at a time. So let’s break it down.

  1. 250,000 words is roughly four novels of ~60k words each.
  2. That’s about a novel every three months.
  3. On average it takes me an hour to write 600 words (which is slow by pro writer standards).
  4. At 600 words an hour, it will take me about 417 hours to reach my goal.
  5. Divide 417 hours by 50 weeks (with 2 leftover for vacation), and I need to spend just over 8.3 hours a week writing.

That doesn’t seem like so much, does it? I’ve spent that much time watching Netflix in a single weekend.

I’ll be throwing in some extra padding since I usually manage to spend closer to 10-15 hours a week writing fiction. As long as I’m actually writing, and not doing other busy work, this will be no problem.

More on focus in the third goal. For now, it’s good enough to know the goal is highly achievable.

To keep myself accountable, I’ll be tracking my wordcount goal on my website this year. Check out the sidebar to the right, where you should see two progress bars—one for total words, and another for Translocator 3, my current work-in-progress.

2. Start an SFF book club

Goal: Connect with my readers

This is something that’s been stewing in the back of my brain for a while. I finally decided to go for it.

I’ve been trying to find a way to combine my passion for reading into something that gives you, dear reader, more of what you want. Putting together yearly writing goals is super helpful to me, the writer, but I recognize that most of you probably don’t care (except maybe to find out when my next book will be done!)

However, if my instinct is correct, you DO still want to know about other good books to read. And since every reader reads more than one book, this benefits everyone. I myself read about 40-50 books a year. I know other readers who read twice as much.

For years, I’ve read widely across traditional and indie science fiction and fantasy, exploring new worlds, finding new authors, and digging up the classics that stood the test of time. For the most part, this has been a private passion. But  why not turn this time I’m spending into something useful for everyone? I’m already doing the reading. I’m also already networking and finding new authors every day.

Creating an SFF book club will let me provide ongoing value at ZERO cost to my readers, and help some of my fellow authors in return.

The best part? I get to read even more awesome books! It works on so many levels.

So I’ll be curating and delivering weekly reading recommendations through my newsletter, doing more fun book giveaways, and building a community with thought-provoking discussions.

Join my newsletter to be a part of the SFF book club! A Facebook group for the discussion aspect will be announced via email soon.

3. Focus better

Goal: Get more important work done

This last one is a personal mindset goal.

There’s always a lot I want to get done. The main problem I have is staying focused when distractions present themselves, as they inevitably do. The phone rings, Facebook pings, new emergencies are always around the corner…

To reach the goals I’ve laid out above, I can’t afford to waste time. I need to cut distractions. A weekly book club requires planning and focus. 250,000 words a year, while not setting any world records, still takes the 417 hours it will take.

“Focus better” is also a reminder to focus on the work, and not allow myself to be swayed from my purpose by busy work, the opinions of others, or (perhaps most of all) my own negative opinions of myself.

Finally, this is a reminder to focus on health and mindfulness as a foundation for the work. Cliché or not, I’ve come to realize that if you don’t have your health you’ve got nothing. This means eat well, drink in moderation, spend time with family, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep.

•••

The basics matter. I’m going back to basics this year. I’ll be focusing on writing 250,000 good words, and I’ll be focusing on connecting with my readers.

Here’s to another full year.

2017 Writing Goals Retrospective

At the end of the year, I like to check my ego with a hard dose of reality by comparing the year’s writing goals to my actual output. This exercise helps keep me honest, and frankly I like having a record to look back on in future years. Memory fades over time—this blog is my stasis pod.

On January 1st, 2017, I had two main writing goals:

  1. Publish something new each month — a novel, a short story, or a collection with a story of mine in it
  2. Write a lot of new material

Let’s see how I did on each aspect of this mission.

1. Publish something new each month

This one is simple: Mission accomplished.

I had sixteen publications in twelve months.

The Republic
The first novel that I published in 2017. Click these covers to learn more!

A few things to note…

What do I mean by a thing? I counted each novel, short story, or anthology I was in as a thing. That means that some of the 16 titles are, in fact, repeats. For example, the short story collection I published in December, Boys & Their Monsters, repackages 5 previously published post-apocalyptic adventure stories into a single volume. And my novel The Republic was originally serialized in 7 episodes that each counted as a thing.

One more caveat to keep in mind is that I learned nearly as much about marketing this year as I did about writing. As a result, a few months after the Tales of the Republic serial was collected into a single novel, I quietly rebranded it by changing the title and cover. Then I removed the old episodes from Amazon.

It was the right move from a marketing perspective, as the novel started selling better almost immediately. Anyway, since I was counting each episode as a thing, you now know why those individual episodes are crossed out on the list below.

The Alien Element
The second novel I published in 2017, The Alien Element. Also the second book in the Translocator Trilogy.

Here’s the whole schedule with release month and word count for each.

Published by M.G. Herron in 2017

In total, that’s 227,000 new words published in 2017.

2. Write a lot of new material

Boys & Their Monsters: Post-Apocalyptic Stories
The third major book I published this year was this collection of post-apocalyptic adventures.

This goal was more vague than the first. However, I still feel like I can count it as a win. If I had to score it, I’d give myself 6 out of 10; I did pretty good, but I know I have a long way to go.

That might seem harsh, but the thing about how I design my writing goals is that it’s all upside. No matter what happens, I still have more words than I started with. I call it failing forward.

Could I have done more? We’ll never know. When you look at this upside, does it really matter?

The upside of 2017

  • I wrote the better part of three and a half novels.
  • I wrote six new short stories.
  • The majority of what I published this year was new material.
  • I have two new novels in various stages of production that will be published next year.
  • And I have ideas for a great many more…

Also, I want to point out that I probably could have written even more if I didn’t also take a few online fiction writing classes, and read several books on writing. By doing that reading, and watching those videos, and turning in those assignments, I learned an incredible amount about the craft of writing, and stumbled on many new insights into my own writing process.

Totally worth writing a little bit less to be a better writer and storyteller than I was at the start of the year.

What’s on deck for 2018?

I’ll have another blog on my 2018 goals in a few days. For now, I just want to say that I have many more stories to tell, and a lot of positive change is already in the work.

Here’s to a productive and fun 2018. Happy new year!

 

Jab jab jab…

Knocking out one thing after another this weekend. It began with a bunch of personal errands yesterday. I reported to jury duty for the first time, picked out a (crappy) new healthcare plan for 2018 (they’re getting so expensive), and took my car to the shop for an oil change and checkup. The Wrangler needs more work, unfortunately, but I’m hoping it’ll be covered by Jeep as a known issue.

Then today was writing and other not-very-exciting business and marketing stuff. The fun part came when I started putting together the ebook edition of Boys & Their Monsters, for which I need to write a proper introduction this week.

This book is just a collection of short stories but it also feels like a milestone. My first collection of shorts in very specific genre, all with a similar authorial voice and tone, even while having unique characters and situations in each story.

Three years ago, a book like that was nothing but an outline in the fog. Now, it’s a technicolor vision.

I should have the cover to share with you soon. The book won’t take long to publish, if I get my act together and write that intro this week.

Glad to have caught up on a lot of stuff this weekend that, while not necessarily urgent, was weighing on my mind. Feels good to have a lot of it out of the way.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got less than a month to publish a collection and finish writing a novel. Stay tuned.

Systems Thinking

The last few days have given me pause and reason to reflect on the systems I’ve built around my writing business.

There’s a constant tug of war between what wants to be done and what needs to be done, and frankly I’ve been dropping the ball on some of it lately.

(I’m trying to keep a little perspective, too. How much has changed in 4 years!)

Fortunately, that has led to some other realizations on ways I can change and grow, and it’s my conviction now that the business—not to mention my level of anxiety and ability to perform at my peak—will be better for it.

I’m grateful for all the people who have been there to talk it through with me. Who have listened to me patiently as I figure it all out. You know who you are.

Still so much to learn. Still so much to do. I’ll spend the evening reflective but grateful that I get to spend my days making up stories for fun and for fun companies.

Even knowing that I’ve got a long way to go to get where I really want to be.

This is the other secret…

This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.

– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

A chance for more sci-fi stories here

I’m a science fiction writer first, so I’ve been contemplating the best way to get more SF stories onto this blog.

I always post snippets from my upcoming novels, of course, but I don’t produce full length books fast enough to keep those snippets running for long. (The next book in my Translocator series won’t be out until early next year, for example, and that’s good for about 3 snippets, or 3 days worth of blogs.) I have occasionally posted short stories on the blog, but they have historically been few and far between.

If I add a weekly column like I’ve been contemplating, something like “Flash Fiction Friday,” where I publish short short stories (likely less than 500 words) once a week, that would be fantastic…but it would also add more to my workload. That time has to come from somewhere else.

So the trick to getting this right is going to be about timing and effort, and finding a balance between the two.

So here’s a couple things I’ve got to sort out, and what I’ve been noodling on while I consider the best way to make this shift without losing ground on the daily blogging streak (which has been super fun and gratifying!)

  1. Have a plan. Right now I have problems, not plans, but I’ll get there. Whatever the plan is, it needs to be sustainable.
  2. Gather the prompts/ideas ahead of time. Either come up with some process that generates infinite combinations of SF writing prompts, or buy books of sci-fi writing prompts, or just make and keep a massive list. Most likely it will be “all of the above.” Having the prompts takes the hard decision making out of the writing—simply open the prompts, pick one that sounds neat, and you’re off!
  3. Build up a backlog. So that I can plan ahead for holidays/times when I’m just busy.
  4. Start short. Start with flash fiction and short short stories. 50 word stories. 100 words. 250 words. No more than 500 words, TOPS. One day, I’ll have a back catalogue larger than you can believe, and I’ll be able to run full short stories (5-8k words) once a week on the blog…but that’s years away.
  5. Think long term. I plan on reusing the stories of course, bundling them together into books when I have enough to publish. So I am already thinking about themes and genres and certain series characters that would fit together in a book. Being able to publish stories later in books/collections, makes me feel like the time I spend on stories for the blog is not wasted, but is contributing to another product that helps grow my author business. That’s important to me, too, because one day I plan on making a living writing fiction.

So that’s it, basically. Publishing more short fiction here is something I want to do, but it’s always presented a challenge of time and effort. For the past few years, the vast majority of my fiction-writing time has been dedicated to creating publishable stories and books. For the foreseeable future, the vast majority of my fiction-writing time STILL NEEDS to be dedicated to publishable stories and books.

But if I can eek out a little more from my time and regularly publish flash fiction here, especially stuff that can eventually be wrapped up into SF flash fiction collections, that will be good for me and good for finding new readers.

So it looks like the next step is gathering a ton of writing prompts, and coming up with a process to nail down SF flash fiction ideas quickly.

More soon, I hope!

Belly full of cake

Shelly and I did a cake tasting tonight, for the wedding in March. I’m so full of cake! It was delicious. Wonderful flavors like peaches and cream, and blueberry bourbon, and all sorts of chocolatey caramel deliciousness. The caterers we found are very talented.

As for my writing projects, I’m making solid daily progress on Translocator 3. Up to 41k words now, past the halfway mark and into the third act (of four). I’m at the “shut up and type faster” phase, which is a great place to be because I’m not worrying about the words so much, just trying to get them down as fast as possible.

Meanwhile, I’m daydreaming about a sci-fi mystery series I’ve decided that I will one day soon create. Taking notes on that, since I don’t want to get distracted by starting a new project in the middle of another one. The new ideas will be 2018 slate for sure.