Note: The seed of this post first appeared in my Daily Journal.
I was fortunate to meet and make a friend of science fiction Grand Master Jack Williamson in the mid-1990s. One day, in his home office, the walls of which were lined floor to ceiling with shelves that held only one copy of each translation of every novel he ever wrote, he told me that his habit was to write 100,000–120,000 words of fiction (two novels) per year, year-in and year-out.
I was amazed, but not at the number. 100,000–120,000 words per year is only an average of only 274–329 words of publishable fiction per day (about a quarter-hour of work). What amazed me was the sheer number of novels he’d published with such a quiet level of production. I said so, and Jack only laughed and shrugged. “The secret is to do whatever you do year-in and year-out.”
In other words, follow your own path, but be determined. Be disciplined.
Which brings me to looking back at my own production for the past year. To do so, I opened my 2019 Annual Production spreadsheet. It was eye-opening.
My own usual level of production is around 750,000 words of publishable fiction per year. But this year, I fell down. Hard.
This year I wrote only 450,000 words of publishable fiction. Somehow I still managed to put out 10 novels (as of early December), one novella and 4 short stories. I hope to finish another novel before the new year begins, a departure into the Horror genre.
So although this has not been a good year for me in fiction writing numbers, it has been a raging success in number of works published. In other words, if I’ve failed at all, I failed to success. Despite falling short on my numbers, I have 15 new works out there for readers to discover.
My all-time largest fiction month was a year or two ago with around 120,000 words of fiction, an average of around 4,000 words per day. Really, there’s no good reason that I can’t do that every month. For one thing, I’ve done it before so I know it’s possible. For another, I don’t have an outside job, etc. No excuse for me. Your life/results may vary.
This year, I had two good months with 83,000 and 76,000 words of fiction. Those were followed by a few fairly good months — one with 59,000 words, two with 44,000, and one with 45,000 — and that’s pretty much it. The other months were poor, with 7000, 16000, 6000, 5000 and 12000 words, respectively.
So two good months, four more fairly good months, and then five paltry months. And one month when I didn’t write any fiction at all.
At the end of November, I decided to use December to build momentum for January and the new year. To that end, I set a paltry goal to write 1000 words of publishable fiction per day. Every day. In other words, the primary focus of the goal is to force me to the chair to write every day, no matter what else is going on. Once I start writing, I can stop anytime after I reach 1000 words. Of course, I seldom do, and that’s the trick. And it does work. As of December 7, I’d written 12,000 words of fiction (rounded up), an average of a little over 1700 words per day. (Even if I only write 1700 words per day every day in December, that’s 52,700 words, enough to finish another novel.)
You can achieve the same thing with a daily goal, whether it’s 1000 words per day (an hour’s work) or 250 words per day. You only have to sit down, write the next sentence to prime the pump, and then keep writing.
If you’re taking your productivity prompts from me, note that my effort will not be frantic or hurried, nor should yours be. It’s all about resetting priorities and putting yourself back on track. Or to borrow the British tagline, Keep Calm and Write.
Of course, it’s also time to establish goals for the upcoming month and year. Probably you’ve already done so.
My goals for 2020 are to write
* 12 novels for an average of one per month
* 1 short story per week, for a total of 52 on the year
That’s it. I’m not setting a word-count goal for the year other than to write fiction every day when I can, when life doesn’t interfere).
Stay tuned and we’ll see how it goes. And if you’d like to share your own fiction numbers or goals, please feel free to leave a comment.
‘Til next time, happy writing!
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