Setting Writer Goals
For a writer, the most terrifying spectre can be The Dreadline, especially if the kids are off school! Our columnists share some great advice for getting those much-needed words down on paper when you have 1001 other things to do.
Rachel Louise Dove ~ Be Realistic
So, I am definitely not going to tell you that I am writing this article after the article deadline, or that my current book is due in a month, and I still have a sizeable chunk of book-clay to mould into something good, and hopefully beautiful. I am definitely not going to tell you that I am writing this piece whilst making tea, and sorting out my cupboards at home to clear the way for the huge loft conversion we are having next week. Or that my kids just broke up for six weeks from school, and I don't book childcare, as I work from home. No one cares.
At the end of the day, we all have commitments. Work, families, volunteering, exercise, hobbies, a slight Love Island/Netflix obsession (I am currently binge watching Mind Hunter). We also have the same twenty-four hours in a day, the same as Beyonce and Richard Branson. Fair enough, we don't have their bank balances, but still. Those people get stuff done.
When I get a new book contract, they normally set the deadlines, to coincide with their proposed release dates, so that the book is ready and has plenty of time to be edited and publicised before release day. What I would suggest is, if you know that deadline is too much, or you have a commitment you just can't move, then talk to your editor—they are there to work with you, but if you blindly agree and then fail to deliver, then that helps no-one, and stresses everyone out. Make sure it's workable for you.
I use an app called Writeometer—it's free and is a brilliant app to use. I have several projects on the go at the same time, and this app helps me to schedule the work, record my word counts and see where I am at. It works out how many words a day you will need to write to hit that deadline, and there is a timer app that I use daily. For twenty-five minutes I do nothing but work—then at the end it asks for your word count, and updates your work. Easy. You can get a lot done in twenty-five minutes, and you can do the timer as many times you like in a day. I do this, then I might have lunch, or put some washing in, make a call, walk the dog. Then I do the next twenty-five minutes. I find it very focusing, plus I can see where I am at with each book/project, and be efficient. Writing is a job after all, so dealing with it as such and giving it the time you need daily has to be a priority.
I write when and where I can. I write late at night, early in the mornings, in the car. I write when I am tired, and when I hate my book so much I think it's total poo. Nothing will get your book written other than you applying your bottom to a chair and typing or writing out the words.
I have written at the side of football pitches, swimming pools, and even with a baby asleep in my arms. It is possible to work when children are around, women all around the world do it, it's more about the balance. Find that, and you are good to go. Children grow so fast, so for now, I am happy to grow both steadily, and not prioritise one over the other. Hopefully, when my children are eighteen and off, I shall have a stack of photos and very happy memories, alongside the stack of books I wrote in the snatches of time in between. That's my goal.
Carolyn Hector Hall ~ Get Organized
I did nothing productive this summer! Let me start off with the reasons why I struggle with the summer—it’s hot and it’s hard to focus. I entered CampNaNoWriMo and struggled with my loose schedule. You think once school ends you’ll have all the time in the world, but you don’t take advantage of it. So I welcome the back-to-school season and its nuances—like little thin plastic swift tacks torn from new clothes litter the carpet that just don’t quite make it into the trash bin. Stacks of college ruled paper hunkered down on the dining room table instead of in their backpacks, or how the lead from mechanical pencils is already missing. But still… It is the most wonderful time of the year. Back-to-School!
Back in my day, I did my best writing seated at one of those tablet desks, the ones with the right-elbow rest and basket underneath using my time-saver Trapper Keeper® filled with college ruled paper, and my trusty multi-color retractable pen in the black, red, green, and blue colors. Most of my creativity came when I was supposed to pay attention in class. Not much has changed, but a few things have. I’ve exchanged my Trapper Keeper® for a Big Happy Planner, and my single pen for several gel pens. But I still struggle with time management, between raising a family and getting my writing in and meeting my deadlines.
In order to raise my five boys and be an author, I need organization.
A typical week day for me means waking up at five to make sure three boys wake up, eat and get to their
bus stop by 6:15 a.m. They’re not always happy risers, so I pull up my laptop and I write in fifteen minute intervals with breaks in between—to knock on their doors, pull off their covers, and eventually bang pots and pans in their rooms—before they’re off for the day; which gives me at least 300-400 words depending on where I’m at in my book. By the time I leave for work, I’ve written about 1,000 to 2,000 words in the morning.
As a hybrid Pantster/Plotter, I plot what I’m going to write in the mornings the night before. This helps me stay on track while writing between five and six in the morning. Another way I get my word count in with all these boys and their after-school activities and sports, is by using my AlphaSmart Neo. It’s light-weight, portable, and I don’t need the internet. A district track meet is a goldmine of getting in a good 5,000 words. These meets last a good three hours!
You’d be amazed how much you can get done. Let’s say if you woke up and wrote 1,500 words a day, multiply by five days of the week, you’ll have 7,000 by Saturday morning. If you do this for four weeks and add in at least 5,000 words once a week by writing during school sports/activities, you could end up with close to a 50,000 word novel. (However, I’m a writer, not a mathematician).
So by the end of June next year we’ll have to follow-up with this article and title it, “What I Did Over the School Year”.
Manda Ward ~ Don't Be Too Hard On Yourself
'It’s that most wonderful time of the year’... I’m not sure if anyone can see the sarcasm dripping from my keyboard with the intro to that Christmas song. If you can, then as authors and parents of school-age children you either love, loathe, or cope with the school holidays and the kids being at home 24/7.
Here in England it varies between six to seven weeks, depending on county, and as I write this article, Blighty is experiencing unusually hot weather so I am wilting. Now, normally, the weather pre-break is divine, and then on the first day of the school holidays the weather turns manky for the whole time the little ‘darlings’ are at home.
Anyway back onto point. How to keep the writing going if like me you have a barrage of “I’m hungry, I’m bored, more time on the computer, the internet’s slow, she’s looking at me, he’s breathing...” I think you get the idea. Well, there’s several ways.
First: Accept that every author/parent has their own lives, their home life is their own and how they deal/cope with the school holiday is theirs. Everyone is different.
Second: If, like me, you’ve downed tools until September, keep notebooks handy and any ideas for a novel, poem, even something you’ve seen people watching, write it down. If it relates to a particular project, then a specific-coloured post-it note on the page will remind you where you wrote it.
Third: Read. When you go away or have stay-at-home holiday—read. Try catching up on the genre you write in, or for something a little more fun, give reading a new genre a go, or maybe a non-fiction book on a subject you enjoy. After all it’s a holiday of sorts for you too.
Fourth: If you really feel the urge to write, and you can while chaos ensues around you, then do so. If you need peace and quiet, get up before the children and type some wordage in. Maybe in the evening, when they’ve finally gone to bed, get some writing done whilst indulging in a bed-time drink. Perhaps give yourself a goal of 500 or 1,000 words a day.
Fifth: Please do not compare yourself to other authors, be they published or aspiring.
Sixth: It’s not a crime to disconnect from technology and take a break yourself. Sometimes time off from the online world, including social media, can give some much needed relief.
Seventh: Have fun with your family, especially if you’re going away somewhere together. Make memories you can cherish and look back on together. I cannot stress this piece of advice enough. I have four older kids in their twenties and two now have children of their own. Blink and they’ve grown up. Handy extra tip. If they do something embarrassing, make a note and remind them of it when they start dating…. Hey, there’s got to be some parenting perks, right?
And finally... Even though it’s not an ‘authorly’ piece of advice, it’s something I’m going to attempt. Try writing something positive/funny or even weird that’s happened each day of the school holidays. A memory you can smile at, and perhaps give you a spark of inspiration for your next masterpiece.
I admit I find the school holidays an ordeal. I have a mental illness I am struggling to recover from, three children aged sixteen, twelve and nine. My sixteen-year-old son has special needs and has ADHD/ASD/Dyspraxia as well as other behavioural disorders. As I write this article we are on our third day, and despite arguments, going through more milk in a day than a cow can produce in a week, and my food stocks slowly dwindling… They are still breathing!
For the majority of world’s population the New Year starts on January first. For me my New Year—and diary—starts on the day all my children are back in school in September, and instead of toasting it with champagne, I very much look forward to a pot of tea drunk in abject silence. It’s a quirk of mine I’m afraid.
I hope these tips help. If any reader feels I have missed something, I'd love hear from you, or let me know in the comments below.
Amanda (Manda) Ward loves to hear from her readers, so check out her website to get in touch, as well as to get the latest info on her new releases.
What are your top tips for meeting deadlines? How do you manage your time when the kids are off school? Do you set yourself writing goals for the week, month or year and if so, how often do you update them? Are you a plotter or a panster when it comes to organization? Tell us in the comments below, or on social media using the hashtag #WriterGoals.