Stop Just Going Through the Motions in 2016
Like most of my writing, this is mostly a reminder to myself but hopefully it has some relevance to others as well. My thoughts are geared specifically to those aspiring authors and mid-term writers (meaning they have a book or two out) who are having some difficulty “doing it all”, but there could be some useful nuggets in here for anyone starting anything.
The other morning I got up like I usually do, I showered and I started getting ready. All while I was getting ready I was thinking about an idea that I wanted to write as my first article on Publishing Insider. I just knew that if I could nail my first article it would do wonders for MY author platform over at rebenjamin.com.
Anyway, while I was getting ready I grabbed my deodorant, took the cap off and then I had another idea. It consumed my thoughts for just a split second. I put the cap back on my deodorant, finished getting ready and headed off to work.
On the way to work I realized that I never actually put the deodorant on. I had just gone through the motions of my routine and subconsciously thought I had completed the task.
Luckily I have spare deodorant at work because I ride my bike a lot. But I realized that I had been totally focused on everything other than getting ready for the day. I was distracted.
How does this relate to aspiring authors, students, bloggers, me, you and us?
We need to stop just going through the motions and focusing on the wrong things!
As a new author I want to make sure that everything I’m doing will have an impact on building my fan base so I don’t launch my books to crickets. I’m writing on my own site, I’m posting on Medium, I trying to engage people on Reddit & other social media and now I’m guest posting on a few sites.
It’s a lot of work but I’m starting to see the fruits of my labor. But here’s the deal… the one thing I’m avoiding doing while I’m doing all this other stuff?
I’m not actually writing my books. I’ve missed a few days (the entire month of December counts as a “few days” right?) because I’ve been so focused on email lists, and articles, and adding social share buttons, and all the stuff that orbits around the real thing that I should be doing as an author.
“But I’m building my Platform!” I yell to my more practical self.
“Yeah, but if you want to be a writer you have to actually write.” He tells me back.
So how do you do that? Here are a few things that I jotted down for myself and hopefully you find them inspirational as well – or at least mildly functional. These aren’t really in any particular order other than how they landed on the page.
Make it a habit
Technically, you can start calling yourself a writer today but that doesn’t make you a writer until you actually start writing. You have to make writing a constant in your life. It has to become a habit.
The infamous Steve Scott has built a very solid income off of his writing – and ironically enough his writing topic of choice is on habits. Not only is he a great example of self-publishing success, but his success is BECAUSE of the very topic he chooses to write about. He has made writing a habit.
Because of this he has been able to crank out over 40 books in the past few years (and give himself a very solid income stream as well). As could be expected, he has even written a book about writing books and how you can do it in as little as 21 days.
He writes every day and he has daily goals to keep him in check. Every (and I mean every, I follow almost 40 successful self-published authors), every one of them says that the most effective thing you can do for your writing career is to make writing a habit.
And habits don’t just come because we want them to. They take some work and focus – and probably a few goals.
Set Clear Goals
How much writing is enough? That’s up to you, but once you figure it out you should set some goals around it and protect that time like a mamma bear protects her cubs.
A couple weeks back I wrote an article about setting goals and how, for me, setting SMARTER goals has been effective. I laid out some of the Big and Hairy goals that I’ve set for myself for 2016. My original idea for this article was going to be around the idea that I’ll never reach those goals unless I actually write – I think that still applies.
Whatever you do to approach effective goalsetting is a personal choice, but I know for me that a goal is most effective and impactful when it’s measureable. Your goal doesn’t have to be word count. It could be hours, minutes, pages – whatever works for you but you’ll get more out of your goal if you can measure it.
I have set a goal of writing an average of 1100 words per day. By doing this I will write just over 400,000 words for the year and that should break down to anywhere from 3 to 5 good-sized fiction books. That should put me right in the ballpark of my overall goal of publishing six books in 2016. I arrived at all these numbers by backing into my main goal (publish 6 books) and then figuring out what that would take each day.
Reality Check – I won’t publish anything unless I start with my daily goal of 1100 words.
Yet again, it boils down to putting my butt in a chair and hitting the keys. And ultimately writing this blog post, asking friends to “Like” my Facebook page or trying to learn the “BEST” way to build an author email list will get me no closer to actually publishing my books. I will never reach my goals if I don’t spend the time writing.
Block out the time to write
I mentioned above that you have to block out your writing time and protect it at all costs. If you are serious about becoming a writer, then time must be dedicated to the craft. And spending time on forums and websites learning about writing doesn’t count.
I “won” NaNoWriMo this year writing just over 51K words in the month of November. I went back this past weekend and re-read what I wrote during that month. I’ll be honest – I was surprised at what I wrote. At the beginning of the month my writing was choppy, it lacked detail and color but by the end of the month I had to check to make sure that it was still my writing. I had improved tremendously just by writing more. I had improved because I was practicing.
Block out time to write.
If you have a desk job – like I do – then you can just put a reminder on your calendar to spend some time writing. I show up to my job an hour early each day and leave an hour after everyone else. During those 2 hours I spend time writing. I do it this way so I can protect my time when I’m home (focused family time) but also I don’t do personal stuff on work time. I know I can write after my “work” is done.
Side Benefit – it looks like I’m a super committed employee since I’m always at work before my boss and I leave after.
I block that time out on my calendar so the occasional meeting isn’t scheduled over MY writing time. Does this work all the time? No. Sometimes I have to stay later or show up earlier to get my writing in. But if I don’t do it during the day then I have to do it when I get home and everyone else is in bed. It’s not ideal but it seems to work. So I have a third chunk of time blocked out from 10-11pm for emergency writing if I don’t get to it during the earlier blocks.
But that time cannot be filled up with checking email, looking at your Google Analytics or writing emails for your autoresponder series. That doesn’t count! Write during your writing time. You MUST make progress on your actual work or the time is just wasted (no matter what else you’re doing).
Make Incremental improvements
If you want to lose weight you have to “undo” the damage that you did to get you into your current physical situation – that was done over time, ounce by ounce (or gram by gram for you non-imperial folks). So you have to undo it the same way, remove a gram here and an ounce there. If you want to change something about your life you usually can’t just make the change in one day.
And most people can’t crank out a book in one day either.
A book is built word by word.
Some people follow the great Nick Loper from Side Hustle Nation. He sent an very interesting email recently (recently to me anyway, it might have just been part of his autoresponder series) about pushups and how he ran an experiment on the number of pushups he could do at one time. He talked about his pushup challenge where each day he would try and beat the number of pushups from the day before. This went on for 30 days. Day one he did 27. Bet you can’t guess where he ended up after 30 days… I’ll tell you below.
The pushup challenge kinda relates to goals. If I were to set a goal for “number of pushups done at one time at the end of a full month of training” I would probably say that I could do 35 or 40 pushups. This is knowing that the most I have ever done at one time is 25 – that’s for my entire life. I’ve never been better than that so I would say that my max was just above that (at the most) and I would work toward that goal. But that might actually work against me – it might limit my potential (surprising as that sounds).
In Nick’s challenge he would just try and beat the number from the day before so he was making incremental improvements. There was no end goal or target other than just do more than the day before. After 30 days he was able to do 72 pushups at one time!
The takeaway? He didn’t limit himself in the beginning by any biased assumptions. He forgot a couple days here an there and he didn’t improve a couple times but he kept at it and in the end he did much better than he expected. (Side note: I started this challenge last week myself. I could barely complete 22 pushups on day one. Last night I did 30! Already better than I thought possible. There’s something to this…)
Just write more today than you did yesterday. I mentioned before that my goal is an AVERAGE of 1100 words per day. Some days I write more than that, some less but the goal is 1100 per day – but every day I start fresh. What I did the day before only matters in that I’m trying to do better than that. If I didn’t write then 200 words is technically better and I can start there.
If you’re like me you might be fretting about actually diving into whatever it is you want to do. It might be a big scary thing to attack. I was nervous that I didn’t quite know how to outline my book or structure a story – and frankly my first book is still sitting unfinished at almost 70K words because I decided it was boring. But I realized that it’s not really a huge deal because I can fix it. As long as I’m writing each day I’m making progress.
The manuscript can be improved in editing but you can’t edit a blank page. Put something down.
Make incremental improvements until your first draft is done. Then improve the draft bit by bit until the story is a solid draft. Then work with an editor until it’s polished. After that you can publish and start promoting it and then each day you can try new ways to improve sales. Everything will get better eventually but it has to start with a few words.
By all means – just WRITE.
If you want to be a writer then you can start calling yourself a writer today.
But if you want to prove that you’re a writer you have to start putting your work out there.
Prove that you’re a writer in 2016 – write and publish… or just write because you like it. Either way – if you want to become a writer you can’t just go through the motions and call yourself a writer. At some point you have to actually write.
Once this happens, all the satellite projects – the marketing, promotions, email list building, publishing, sales, etc. will all become more effective and rewarding. Those activities will have an impact and the motions will have direction.
Ironically enough JA Konrath must have had similar inspiration because I found his recent post just before I posted this one… when it’s all said and done, a writer has to write!
Here’s to your success in the coming months! Please take a second and leave a comment to let me know what you’re working on currently and if you have any thoughts to share.
**You can replace the words “Writer” and “Author” tools throughout this article with whatever it is that you’re working towards and it should be a pretty good guide for you as well.
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