What to Do When Your Writing Goals Seem a Long Way Off

What do you want to achieve with your writing?

You might have all sorts of goals. Here are just a few possibilities:

  • You want to win a short story competition.
  • You want to make an extra $500/month freelancing.
  • You want to make a full-time living as a fantasy novelist.
  • You want to sell 100,000 copies of your latest book.
  • You want to get a book onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Some goals are more “realistic” than others. Some goals might take years or even decades to achieve.

Whatever your writing goals are, you might feel like they’re a very long way off. If you’ve currently written a total of two short stories, ever, then making a full-time living writing fiction is going to take a while.

When your goals seem so far away, it’s easy to get discouraged – or even to give up entirely. If you’re going to keep writing, you need to do three key things:

  • Set intermediate goals
  • Get support from other writers
  • Review your progress regularly

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Using Google’s “My Maps” to Keep Track of All the Locations in Your Novel

I’ve got a particularly bad writing habit – and I suspect I’m not the only person who does this…

All too often, I leap straight into the next scene with very little thought about where exactly my characters are located.

If I was writing something focused on a single place (neighbours in a small town, friends at school) then this might make sense. But in my Lycopolis trilogy, my characters are scattered across the UK. Often, they need to journey from one place to another … and in drafting the novels, I tend to simply ignore the finer details of where exactly everyone lives and how they get from A to B.

(I’ll admit that geography isn’t my strongest point in real life, either: if I’m going anywhere new, I tend to look at a map every 30 seconds, and even then, I often take a wrong turn…)

My lovely and longsuffering editor, Lorna Fergusson, often has to pull me up on this – reminding me that readers will want to know what road a character is driving down, or where a particular house is located.

And she’s absolutely right.

The best tool I’ve found for keeping track of everything is Google’s “My Maps”. This is really handy for not only pinning down points on the map, but also for checking driving (or walking or cycling) distances and times between different places.

Note: Obviously, this won’t help you if you’re making up a location (whether that’s a fictional town in the real world, like Sophie Hannah does with Culver Valley in her crime thriller series, or an entire fantasy world).

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Why You Should Join – Or Start – a Local Writers’ Group

Do you belong to a writers’ group?

Some authors don’t feel they have much benefit … and I’ll agree that if you’ve got several published books that are selling well, you’re probably rather beyond the local writers’ circle stage of things.

If you’re at an earlier point in your writing career, though, a writers’ group can be a very helpful, nurturing part of your writing life.

When you meet with fellow writers on a regular basis, you’ll (hopefully!) find that:

  • You feel supported and understood. It’s hard to overstate how critical this can be, as a writer. If no-one in your family or current group of friends “gets” what it is to be a writer, and sees your writing as a weird hobby at best (and a waste of time at worst), then you need the presence of fellow writers in your life.
  • You get practical help with honing your writing. While not all writers’ groups will workshop members’ writing, many do, and you can also approach other group members to set up a private manuscript swap.
  • You set aside time to write. Some groups exist primarily as opportunities to write alongside one another – if you join a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) meetup in November, that’s how it’ll work. Other groups do a writing exercise or two each time, then move on to other activities for the rest of the session.
  • You’ll learn more about great writing. Your group might invite speakers, or members might take it in turns to give a short talk about a particular aspect of creative writing. If you’re workshopping one another’s works-in-progress, you’ll also find you learn a lot from examining other people’s mistakes (and strengths).

While there are lots of excellent online groups out there, and these can be a great support, I’m focusing here on local groups that meet regularly in-person. It’s hard to achieve that kind of interaction and focus online.

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How Can You Keep Writing if You Work Long Hours?

“I currently run an IT staffing agency and work in excess of 60 hours during the week, not to mention what gets handled on the weekends. So my question is this: how would you balance that with a love and desire to write?”

This is what Bryan wrote to me a few weeks ago … and I wanted to address his question on the blog, because I’m sure he isn’t the only person in this situation.

Maybe you’re struggling with something similar. It might be a 60-hour week, or caring for small children, or looking after elderly relatives, or working two jobs to make ends meet … whatever’s going on for you, there simply isn’t much time to spare for writing.

And let’s be honest: there are no easy fixes here. If there were, you’d have found them already!

For the sake of this post, I’ll assume that you can’t reduce your working hours (or get help with other areas of your life).

And yet you really want to write.

A lot of the conventional, tried-and-tested writing advice simply doesn’t apply to you. You simply cannot write for an hour every day, or block out two evenings per week to write. You don’t have the time – and you definitely don’t have the energy.

When I asked other authors about this in the Alliance of Independent Authors members’ Facebook group, the general consensus was that:

  • It is hard to write when working long hours – cut yourself some slack!
  • You need to accept that you can’t write much, or for long.
  • Use little scraps of time to write … five minutes here and there add up.

Here are the two solutions I’ve found in my own life when time (or energy) has been at a premium:

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Editing Your Novel on Your Kindle: Creating a .Mobi File and Using Send-to-Kindle

Editing your novel on your kindle -- creating a .mobi file and using send-to-kindle

You’ve got a finished draft of your novel – hurrah!

Of course, you know the hard work isn’t over. You’ll want to edit your novel (and quite possibly run it past some beta-readers).

Like many authors, I prefer not to dive straight into an edit on-screen. I think it’s really helpful to read through the whole manuscript first, getting something closer to a normal reader’s experience of it.

In the past, I used to print draft manuscripts using Lulu. I’ve still got the very early drafts of Lycopolis:

For the past few years, though, I’ve been transferring draft manuscripts onto my Kindle Fire and reading them like any other Kindle book. (I also give them to my earliest readers for their Kindles.)

The best way to do this is to turn a Word document manuscript into a .mobi file for Kindle. Luckily, Amazon provides an easy, free way to do this.

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Do You Need to Take (Yet Another) Writing Course? Here’s Why it Might be a Bad Idea

Over the years, I’ve taken quite a few writing courses and classes, both online and in person. They’ve ranged from afternoon workshops to a two year part-time Masters degree.

On the whole, the courses I’ve taken have been very helpful.

But I know just how easy it can be to think that another course (or class, or conference) might be The Answer.

If you want to make money writing – which many people do! – then it may seem perfectly sensible to take a course, particularly one that suggests it’ll lead to financial reward.

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What Are Content Mills … and Why Should Freelancers Avoid Them?

If you’ve been around freelance writing world, you’ve probably heard the phrase “content mills”.

So what the heck is a content mill?

It’s a large website that offers lots of low-paid writing gigs – either writing for the website itself or with third-party clients.

“Content mill” is a somewhat pejorative term, so you won’t hear sites proudly proclaiming “we’re a content mill – come and work with us!”

I don’t imagine any new freelancer starts out thinking that they’d love to write for peanuts … but sadly, many fall into that trap. They look for writing jobs online, and they come across a content mill; they sign up, with the promise of easy, regular writing work … and they end up making an incredibly low rate, like $5/hour.

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Getting Out of a Writing Slump – Part Two: Re-entering the Writing Zone

Last week, we looked at some of the practical things you can do to clear some space in your life for writing.

Simply having the time and energy to write, though, isn’t enough. You need the desire to write too … and that’s what today’s post is all about.

When you’ve not been writing for a while, you may feel unsure whether you even want to write. I know I felt this way back in mid-2008: I was exciting about making a living writing non-fiction (I’d just left my day job) … but I was set to start an MA degree in creative writing! I felt like I’d lost all interest in writing fiction.

Nine years on (and with two novels out there, a third soon to come, and a novella at first-draft stage) … you can probably guess I got out of that fiction slump. 😉

For me, the cure was – in retrospect – a bit obvious. I needed to start surrounding myself with fiction writers and with material on fiction writing again. From day one of my Masters course, that urge to write fiction was back!

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Getting Out of Your Writing Slump: Part #1 – Get Re-Energised to Write

This is the first of two posts about writing slumps; in this post, we’ll be tackling some of the non-writing things you can do to get out of a slump … and in the second post, next Monday, we’ll take a look at getting back into the writing zone again.

Are you writing?

Do you want to be writing?

Every writer I’ve ever known has gone through some sort of “slump” at some point, when they do want to write but they simply don’t seem to have the time, energy or focus to do so.

Writing slumps are normal. Going through a slump doesn’t say anything about your ability to do the work, and I firmly believe that you’re still a writer when you’re not currently writing.

Your writing slump might come after a long period when you have been writing – or maybe you’ve never written much at all, even though you want to: you’ve started off in a slump.

Slumps are often linked to a particularly busy or difficult period in your life, a time when a lot of your energy and focus is being used up by other things.

Maybe:

  • You’ve started university and you’re living away from home for the first time
  • You’ve started a full time job and you’re commuting to work
  • You’ve had your first child (congratulations!)
  • You’ve had a second (or third, or fourth) baby
  • You’re going through a period of ill health (physical, mental, or both)
  • Your day job has been particularly hectic
  • You’re grieving the loss of a friend or family member

It might be that you’ve come out of a very busy or difficult period, but you’re still not writing. That’s normal too: it can be hard to pick up where you left off, if you’ve not written for months (or even years).

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Why Repetition Can Be Powerful … and How to Get it Right

Is it ever okay to repeat the same word or phrase in your writing?

Unintentional repetition is something that authors are (quite rightly) warned to watch out for, particularly in fiction.

Intentional repetition, however, is a powerful tool: it can be used to make your points more memorable in non-fiction or to emphasise a particular motif in fiction. (And of course you can probably think of plenty of poems, or even children’s books, that use repetition.)

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