Recently my local writers group conducted a weekend retreat based on Productivity. Keeping up with the changing landscape of publishing is difficult, but one thing remains true: It never hurts to have an extensive backlist. Sales of new books will boost the sales of backlist books--that much remains true. And if you want to speed up your writing process, you’re going to need a plan.
By this time, you’ve probably already set your goal. Do you want to finally finish a book this year? Do you want to increase your output from one book to two books? From two books to three books? Chances are, you made a decision on January 1st.
Setting a goal is the first step. By now we should all know the ‘smart’ rules of goal setting:
- Time Related
But there’s more to setting goals than simply writing them down.
If you were building a house, would you simply stand on the empty lot and declare your intention? No! You’d have a plan. You’d gather tools and supplies and you’d put together a team of builders.
Writing a book is no different. Whether you’re committed to finishing a project, or you want to write faster and more efficiently, you’ll need a plan.
Goals = Life Changes
And life changes are difficult. You need more than willpower for success, which is why I’ve outlined a five-step plan for change based on the book, Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield and Ron McMillan.
First, decide on a Value.
Picture yourself achieving your goal. Are you holding three finished manuscripts at the end of the year? Are you writing, ‘the end’? (And let me tell you, there is no better feeling than writing, ‘the end’.)
Picture your success. I’ve always been skeptical of this step, but more and more I’m realizing the value. Years ago I wrote a ‘mock’ biography of myself as a published author. Some of my grand predictions ultimately came true: award-winning and multi-published to name a few.
And, honestly, what do you have to lose by picturing something?
Second, work on your Skills.
When I started writing, I printed dozens of articles on craft. I poured over how-to books and attended seminars.
If your weakness is plotting, then work on plotting. I tend to be a bit of a ‘pantser’ and that can slow me down. This year I vowed to always end my writing day on a hook. That way, I’d have a solid place to start the following day. While I still don’t outline my books in detail, I always have ‘plot points’ to keep me on track.
Figure out your weakness and get to work.
Third, you’ll need a Support Team.
In life, there are accomplices and there are allies. Accomplices are those people who encourage our bad habits. When you’re on a diet, an Accomplice will encourage you to eat cake…one piece won’t hurt! Accomplices aren’t bad people, and we often subconsciously create them to feed our own insecurity. When I began my journey, I had an acquaintance who had been writing for over a decade and had never finished a project. When I published, she said, “That’s great. But I would never take that much time away from my children.”
That statement was a reflection of the excuses she used to justify the fact that she’d never finished a project. It had nothing to do with my success or me.
An Ally will encourage and celebrate your success. Allies are coaches and cheerleaders. As you consider the people who influence you, be aware of Accomplices versus Allies.
Fourth, you need Incentives.
Reward yourself! When you finish a book, get your toes done. Celebrate. Take a day off. If you’ve achieved your writing goal for the day, STOP. Really. This one was hard for me. I figured if I had made my goal, I should push ahead. I should do more.
Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.
Sure, sometimes you’re in such a good place, you WANT to write more. Just remember, it’s okay to meet your goal and relax.
Really. Taking a break will not kill the butterflies.
Fifth, create an Environment that’s conducive to your goal.
This doesn’t have to be complicated. When I started, the only computer I could afford was a netbook. I propped up the pillows on my bed, set my cup of tea on the nightstand, and wrote.
I had exactly 2 ½ hours while my youngest was in preschool.
I didn’t answer phone calls.
I didn’t grocery shop.
I didn’t surf the net.
Are distractions creeping into your writing time? Are you spending more time blogging and less time actually writing? Are you Shadow Writing?
Shadow Writing is a deceptive killer of productivity.
Shadow Writing includes all the little tasks clustered around writing. You plan. You research. You check your email. You write a blog. You start a blog. You join a blog. You rearrange your desk. You take a class. You read an article.
The only thing you don’t do….Write.
Monitor your productivity. Is Shadow Writing chipping away at your word count?
I have two friends, Cindy Kirk and Renee Ryan, who meet and plot together in an intensive session. Once they have a plot in place, they write 20 pages a day for two weeks, then they go back and edit, edit, edit. Each day of writing they send their progress to each other and they only allow ENCOURAGING responses.
As they said in their workshop: What do you have to lose? If you have two hundred and eighty awful pages at the end of two weeks, so what? Haven’t you wasted two weeks of writing time on less? And, chances are, you’ll have something worth saving.
They put all five steps to work. They’ve honed their plotting skills by working together. They picture their success. They are good allies for each other. They use incentives. They create an environment conducive to intensive work (frozen meals and crockpot dinners).
No matter what, be realistic about your goals. Most published authors will have revisions, line edits, promotional tours, etc. etc., etc. These things take time and concentration. Know your obstacles.
It’s not enough to ‘say’ you’re going to do something.
(Four frogs sat on a log. One of the decided to jump off. How many frogs were left? Four. Because deciding to do something and actually doing something are two totally different things.)
Remember, it’s okay if your method changes over the course of your career. As you grow and learn, you’ll develop new skills. This reminds me of the story of the woman who always cut off the ends of her ham before cooking. One day, her husband said “Why do you do you cut off the ends?” The woman replied, “Because that’s how my mother did it.” Having never questioned this step, the woman approached her mother and asked the same question, “Why do you cut the ends off the ham before you cook it?” And her mother said “Because my pan was too small.”
Sometimes we rely on old habits because we’re too afraid of change. When I first starting writing, I’d work on the synopsis first. Because, OF COURSE, that makes perfect sense. Program the GPS and then start the trip. After a few books, I realized that I needed a few chapters to ‘get to know’ my characters. I realized my process was evolving. Now I start with the characters, their backstory and conflict, and the inciting incident. I take these pieces and write the first three chapters, THEN I finish the synopsis.
It’s okay to change. You won’t kill the unicorns. They were never here in the first place....
Whatever you have planned this year, whether you want to finally finish that book, or if you’re going to write a rough draft in two weeks like Renee and Cindy, make sure you have the five steps in place first!
Sherri Shackelford is an award-winning author of inspirational, Christian romance. A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul.
Sherri is busy writing three more books for her Cimarron Springs series. Her current books include Winning the Widow’s Heart and The Marshal’s Ready-Made Family. The Cattleman Meets His Match releases in August of 2014. You can find her here: website | Facebook | Twitter
The Marshal’s Ready-Made Family received 4 ½ stars from RT Magazine. Susan Mobley says, “A lovely marriage-of-convenience story, the interaction between the two main characters is a joy to start.”
Gentlemen don't court feisty straight shooters like JoBeth McCoy. Just as she's resigned to a lifetime alone, a misunderstanding forces the spunky telegraph operator into a marriage of convenience. Wedding the town's handsome new marshal offers JoBeth a chance at motherhood, caring for the orphaned little girl she's come to love.
Garrett Cain will lose guardianship of his niece, Cora, if he stays single, but he knows no woman could accept the secrets he's hidden about his past. The lawman can't jeopardize Cora's future by admitting the truth. Yet when unexpected danger in the small town threatens to expose Garrett's long-buried secret, only a leap of faith can turn a makeshift union into a real family.
Comment today to be selected as one of TWO winners of The Marshal's Ready-Made Family, ebook or paperback. Winner announced in the Weekend-Edition.