In my search for the ‘correct’ way to write, I’ve read a number of articles and books about the accomplished writer’s interactions with non-writers. It’s true! A co-worker discovers that you write books, and he marvels over it, mentions that he’s always thought about doing that, then asks your advice. ‘How do you write a book?’ I have a one word answer:

Write.

Of course, it’s never that simple, is it? Maybe I should beef it up a bit…

Write. LOTS.

Okay. Still doesn’t quite cut it. (Here’s where I learn how busy his life is; that he has this great idea, but no time to write it; maybe if he tells me his idea, I can write it for him! My advice is to run — don’t walk — to the nearest exit.)

I think the best tool I ever learned to do was how to set goals and report my results. The goal setting thing is dead simple, really, so long as you begin with a moderate number that doesn’t cause you to wail and gnash your teeth, dooming yourself to be forever a failure at such an easy task. (Not that writing is easy — it’s flippin’ work! Wish somebody would have told me that before I started… Wait. I think they did.)

I’m not a people-person (I know! Shocking, isn’t it?) The idea of joining a writer’s critique group gives me hives. Years ago, I attempted to find an internet alternative where I could hide behind my computer in relative safety. My search resulted in Forward Motion. This community was started by author Holly Lisle, and is going and growing strong years after its conception.

It might not look like all that much, but once you register you’ll realize you’ve just found a treasure of piratical proportions no longer buried under the sands of anonymity. Not only is it a way for you to discuss life and writing with hundreds of others on the same path, but you can read transcripts of various classes that volunteers have conducted over the years. There are daily writing prompts, discussions about marketing and agents and what trouble the children are getting into, and monthly challenges and dares to keep your nose to the grindstone.

It was here that I learned about setting realistic goals. I had finished two fanfics, Warlord Metal and Tiopa Ki Lakota before finding this site. My writing was sporadic and, unless I really got fired up about something, it wasn’t consistently scheduled. The only reason I completed the four pieces mentioned above was pressure — I purposely posted unfinished manuscripts, knowing the emails of people demanding the next installment would force me onward. (It worked, too! Too bad it took me a while longer to learn how to discipline myself to complete novels without the added goading of people wanting new chapters.)

Goals can be set in a number of ways. There are word counts (which I think is what the majority of writers follow,) or scene and chapter counts.

My first attempt at a goal was to sit down for an hour every day. There I sat, staring at the blank screen, wishing I was doing something else. Words weren’t coming, my housecleaning to-do list loomed, and I still had to get ready for work. What’s that noise? Do I smell lunch? I really should toss out the left overs from last week. Is that the toilet running? I should talk to the apartment manager to get that fixed. Oh, yeah, remember to wash that shirt I really like before the weekend. And so it goes.

This method didn’t work out all that well for me.

My next attempt was word count. Considering my first failure, I gingerly approached this one. What if it took me three hours to write two hundred words? I’d already spent hours in front of the screen with nothing to show for it! Who has that kind of time every day? So I set myself a 250 word count limit.

Hey! It worked! In fact, that’s only about a single page of double-spaced manuscript…I’m not ready to quit writing yet!

Let’s go up to 500 words…

Dude! Fantastic! I’m actually getting this blasted story out of my head and into the computer! Yay me!

Unfortunately, after the first blush of success I started slowing down. If I sat down to write, I’d nearly always get my word count. In fact, I raised it to a thousand words a day and made my goal more often than not! It was the ‘sitting down’ part I had difficulty with.

This is where Forward Motion really helped me. There are forums there to set your goals for all to see, and report out on them. It’s the reporting that became vital in my case. I could set all the goals I wanted, but if I had no one to share them with, who was going to kick my behind for falling short? Other writers, of course! People who know exactly what I’m going through, and have any number of resources and viewpoints to help me when I need it.

So now I write a thousand words a day, with a monthly goal equivalent to the number of days in the month. This month, I need to make 31,000 words. I have the freedom to not write when my day job schedule gets screwed up, my arthritis gives me fits, and I don’t have enough energy to get through the day. Most writing days, I make at least 1,500 words which counts to the end of month total. (Let me add that being on a contract deadline has helped immensely for my motivation!)

You won’t make your goal every day. Don’t let it get you down; keep plugging away. Join Forward Motion and check out some of their monthly contests and activities. Head into their chat room where people hang out at all hours for ‘word wars’ and brainstorming. Or find another avenue of support that will keep you doing what needs to be done. And remember:

Write. LOTS.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know! The comment form below will require a valid email address to ensure you’re a real person. (I don’t collect the addresses or do anything with them, so you won’t be getting future spam from me.) If that’s not to your taste, you can email me — the link is up above on the right.