Keeping Up with the Joneses

Hi Folks,

A writer and friend once asked in a comment over on my Daily Journal whether I would

“address the issue of setting the bar of productivity so high that [some] of us … can’t possibly keep up with you? As much as I want to, I can’t keep up. I’m guessing that eliminates me from the ‘professional writer’ category.”

I did respond in a comment (on the Journal), but I know a lot of readers don’t go back and read comments. Also, there are at least two separate issues in his question, and I didn’t answer them both.

First and foremost, please understand, I don’t set the bar of productivity for anyone but myself.

Your job as a writer isn’t to keep up with me or anyone else. Your job as a writer is to write. Period.

And that’s a job you took on yourself voluntarily. You can quit if you want.

We all live different lives with different requirements, different interests, etc. I wouldn’t dream of setting your goals for you. You have to do that yourself, or not.

Here’s what I recommend to calculate or set your own productivity goals if that’s something you want to do:

  1. Figure out about how many publishable words of fiction you can write per hour. (Same goes for other kinds of writing.) Most writers who practice writing into the dark tend to get 750 to 1000 words per hour (that’s only 13 to 17 words per minute).
  2. Figure out realistically how many hours per day you can write. This doesn’t have to be every day. It’s your schedule, so set it up the way you want to. (If you feel that you have zero free time every day, email me and ask how to find extra time. I’d be happy to fill you in.)
    • If you write only one hour per day and you put out 1000 publishable words per hour, you will write 30,000 publishable words in a typical month. That’s 360,000 publishable words per year.
    • I started to add that if you write only two hours per week, you will write 110,000 words per year, but that isn’t really true. The numbers are there, and it’s possible. And I’m sure there are exceptions that prove the rule. But the fact is,
    • if writing is such a low priority that you can find only two hours per week to practice your craft, chances are great that other things will take over and the writing will fall away.
  3. Prioritize. Do remember, please, that only you can set your own priorities in your life. If you’re in prison, then many of your priorities are set for you, but otherwise you set your own priorities. The fact is, when we want something badly enough, we find a way to make it work. When we don’t, well, we don’t. That’s priorities.
  4. Write. You can’t be a writer unless you write. Yes, it’s a free country. You can SAY you’re a writer even if you never write anything more substantial than a grocery list. But you can’t BE a writer unless you write.
  5. This is a bonus. Know that there is power in streaks. If you want to be a writer, set goals and challenge yourself.
    • If I hadn’t set a goal to write a new short story every week back in April, 2014, I wouldn’t currently have 92 short stories on the site at HarveyStanbrough.com and another one due by Monday at 9 a.m.
    • If I hadn’t set a personal daily goal to write a certain number of publishable words per day back in October, 2014, I wouldn’t currently have six novels and a novella finished and be over 25,000 words into another novel. And finally,
  6. It doesn’t matter WHAT goal you set, as long as you set one and then strive to reach it.

Okay, that’s one question answered.

Second, if you can’t keep up with me does that automatically eliminate you from the “professional writer” category?

No.

  1. I don’t keep up with Dean Wesley Smith, but I still consider myself a professional fiction writer.
  2. I don’t keep up with ANY of the old pulp writers. Many of them routinely hit over 1,000,000 (that’s one million) words per year of published fiction, and they did it on manual typewriters.

As I said above, it isn’t about keeping up with anyone else. It’s about setting a goal and then striving to achieve it.

Only you can decide whether you are a professional fiction writer. But don’t judge yourself based on what I do or on what anyone else does.

In my world, if you’re a “professional” anything, that means you engage in a certain activity as your chosen profession.

If you’re a professional automobile engine mechanic, you repair engines. If you’re a professional house painter, you paint houses. If you’re a professional teacher, you prepare lesson plans and conduct classes. If you’re a professional writer, you write and you put your work out there so readers can find it.

As I wrote at the outset, I didn’t write the Daily Journal and post my numbers to intimidate anyone or even to challenge anyone. To be honest, I posted the numbers “in public” primarily to hold myself accountable. Secondarily, I post the numbers to show other writers and would-be writers what is possible if they follow Heinlein’s Rules and if they practice Writing Off Into the Dark. I posted my Topic of the Night pieces to share my knowledge. (shrug) Nothing more to it than that.

If my postings here or on the Journal encourage any other writers to greater heights with their writing, good. I am honored.

Finally, just so you know, I blatantly stole the idea for my Daily Journal from Dean Wesley Smith, who does something very similar. He calls it Writing in Public.

Honestly, I think he got the idea from Harlan Ellison, who at one time set up a chair and small desk in the display window of a department store and wrote short story after short story “in public.”

He wrote the stories on the spot on a manual typewriter, and as he finished each page, he stuck it to the display window so the readers gathered outside could read it as he wrote it.

How’s that for confidence in your ability as a professional fiction writer?

Happy writing,

Harvey

5 thoughts on “Keeping Up with the Joneses

  1. I used to work with a cowriter. When we submitting to agents, I told him we needed to learn to write faster. He poo-pooed it, saying everything was negotiable. I had a horrifying vision of me scrambling to meet a deadline while he sat back and did nothing …but got half the money. It hit me then that he didn’t play any priority on writing at all. Everything else was more important. That’s the way it is with a lot of writers. They complain about never having time to write, or how long it takes to write … but they don’t put a priority on actually doing it. Books don’t get written because you say “I want to write a novel.” They get written because you write.

  2. Hi Folks,

    I originally wrote and pre-posted this a long while ago. To truly show what is possible, I offer this CURRENT update to #5 above. The updates immediately follow the original numbers below:

    If I hadn’t set a goal to write a new short story every week back in April, 2014, I wouldn’t currently have 92 (UPDATE: OVER 160) short stories on the site at HarveyStanbrough.com and another one due by Monday at 9 a.m.

    If I hadn’t set a personal daily goal to write a certain number of publishable words per day back in October, 2014, I wouldn’t currently have six novels (UPDATE: 24 NOVELS) and a novella (UPDATE: 3 NOVELLAS) finished and be over 25,000 words into another novel.

    Keep writing!

  3. H,

    Here’s a ‘hell-yes-Amen’! Once again you succinctly hit the nail on the head with a single blow and drive it flush to the board… without leaving a mark! [Aside: I don’t think, in my lifetime, I have used as many exclamation points as I have in the last few years of double-thumb texting (which I still can’t do), I use my pointy-finger! (grin)!!!

    R

  4. I write. I sell my writing. Therefore I am a professional writer.

    I am NOT, however, a professional author.

    There’s a distinction, in my mind. An author is one who’s primary source of income is derived from the act of writing. I’m not there yet.

    As for goal setting, targets, and writing:

    1) Set a goal (daily, weekly, monthly, annually) that you can easily hit. Try it out for a while.
    2) If you’re too comfortable, up that goal.
    3) Keep upping that goal until it’s uncomfortable, then up it again.
    4) Your goal isn’t high enough until you can no longer REASONABLY meet that goal. You still need to have a life in there somewhere.

    My goal used to be average 1000 words per day for a year. Never hit it. After two years with little writing, I upped it to 1200 per day and something weird happened, I tried harder to hit it and regularly surpassed it. During Lent, my goal was 2000 words per day. I nailed that goal for the first time ever. I’m now trying out 3K per Day Til May. It’s…interesting. I haven’t succeeded yet, but I think I found my sweet spot. It’s challenging to get to and I’ll write about the whole experience next week on my blog when the full two weeks has passed.

    As you said, this is MY GOAL! Not yours! It’s what works for me! I want to write a HUGE amount of words and books and stories. My brain has been cluttered with thousands of characters for decades and I feel I’m finally setting them free. I made writing a priority. Almost as if it were a part-time job that required my time and attention. This has helped push me and to force me to excel at what I’m doing.

    The biggest thing anyone who wants to write can do, is write. How they get there is a personal journey and you can never NEVER compare what you’re doing to what another is doing. Sit, write, publish, later, rinse, repeat. It’s really that simple. Put in the hours, and you’ll have all the success your effort is deserving of.

    • All good points, JR. I also distintuish between “writer” and “author.” For me, “author” is a haughty and almost derogatory term. A writer is one who writes, period. An author is one who has written. 🙂

Comments are closed.