Tag Archives: Goals

How to Set an Unconventional Writing Schedule

If you have read anything by me on this blog before this post, you know I’m all about the unconventional way of doing things. What works for one person might not work for me, and similarly, what works for most people does not work for me. For example, I don’t write every day. I don’t make myself sit, ass to chair, for hours until something happens. If I couldn’t possibly force myself to write that day, I do something else, usually creative. Sometimes a week goes by and I haven’t brainstormed, written, or edited a single word. On the other side of that coin are some extremely productive spurts. I’ll write a novel in a month. I’ll write a short story in a day. I’ll outline an entire book in a week or less. You can probably deduce where I’m going with this. Absolutely stay true to this one thing, if nothing else: listen and obey what works for you.

What I propose is not an easy road. It requires you to be in-tune with yourself every day, and be honest with yourself. That means if you know you will not produce your best work today, then you might want to do other creative and important activities instead. That also means you should make yourself sit down, ass to chair, if you are perfectly capable of churning out prose but you just don’t feel like it. That’s where being honest with yourself comes in.

As an aside, what other creative things could you do instead?. Plenty. You may be stressed, tired, irritated. Try coloring, cooking, painting, even cleaning if that’s what will satisfy your brain and calm you down. If you sit and write and you’re rushing through every sentence to hit a word count, then what’s the point? Good work can’t be rushed, and if it is, it can’t be expected to be great work. It may even make more work for you in the end as you’re editing.

Ask yourself a series of questions to get an idea of how best you work.

  1. Do I work (not specifically writing) best in the morning or evening? When do I feel the most focused?
  2. Do I like to have people around when I write?
  3. Is silence best when I write? If not, do I prefer ambient noise or music?
  4. At what time durning the day do I start getting tired?
  5. Would I feel better if I got my writing in at the beginning of my day?
  6. Would I feel best if I wrote when my day concluded, all responsibilities done and taken care of?
  7. Have I noticed if my writing is more rushed or hurried if I am hungry, tired, or cold?
  8. Do I tend to nod off when I’m writing? What are the conditions (early morning, too warm, late at night)?
  9. When do I have the most energy in my day?
  10. Have I noticed a certain time of day where I do not feel like writing at all?
  11. Have I noticed a certain emotion that negatively affects my writing? A positive emotion that helps my writing flow better?
  12. Is there a month each year where I’m consistently not writing due to busyness or stress?
  13. After I write a novel or short story, do I prefer to have a time to let the writing rest before jumping right into editing? Do I need to jump right into editing to keep up the momentum?
  14. Under what conditions do I experience burnout?
  15. Are there activities in my life that are in direct odds with my writing and/or writing time?
  16. Do I like to think of work on a project-to-project basis or a day-to-day basis?
  17. Do I like to work on one piece of writing at a time or multiple pieces?

As you answer the questions, you might have some important realizations. If you still aren’t sure or can’t find a good time or season for writing, consider keeping a simple daily log of your writing time and note the time, how you feel, the room temperature, if you’re hungry/full/just right, any large stressors in your life at the time, and how you feel about your project right then. Feel free to add more things to note to the list. Over time, you’ll come across patterns in your writing times, what worked best, and certain things that bombed your working time.

Many writers have kept curious schedules throughout history. Henry Miller’s morning consisted of “if”s: “If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus. If in fine fettle, write.” Ernest Hemingway, who wrote standing, said, “When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.” To read more about other famous writers’ routines, visit https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/11/20/daily-routines-writers/.


Also consider this graph of creative peoples’ routines in a 24-hour period. Note also that these schedules may have changed over time. Because the most important rule is and will always be: do what works for you.

While it can take weeks, months, or even years to nail down a routine that works for you, there’s something to be said for just jumping in. Once you’ve taken a personal inventory of your habits and routines, you may find a suitable writing time daily or a chunk of weeks in which to complete a project. It may not be perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. It will never be the perfect day or the perfect moment to write. The key is hitting a time that nearly is perfect, and running wild.

Goal Setting: Another Perspective

“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right!”

—     Rudyard Kipling, winner of the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature, first native English-speaker to attain that prize.

The above is taken from a poem entitled ‘In the Neolithic Age’, which is a piece of comic poetry.  Kipling was good at comic poetry.  For that matter, he was good at a number of styles of writing.  Look up the Nobel committee’s motivation for giving him the prize to see what they thought.

The reason I led off with this quote, though, is because, comic or not, it is a solid truth about writing.  You’ve probably gathered that already if you’re a regular reader here at Fictorians:  there are many different ways of practicing our craft and art.

What does this have to do with this month’s theme of goal setting and attainment?  Only this—I don’t do the whole goal setting thing.  So I’m writing today from the position of heretic, or at least Devil’s Advocate.

Do I have no goals at all about my writing?  Of course I do.  That’s not what I mean when I say I don’t set goals.  I agree that everything living has at least some goals in their lives, even if it is nothing more than to survive until sundown.  But I follow goals in a personal manner.

I do not set out at the beginning of a year (or any other regular time period) and establish a defined set of goals to keep in the forefront of my mind.  I do not try to shape my productivity and my behavior to attain those goals.  I don’t have a list of bullet points pinned to the wall above my desk, nor do I have them serving as wallpaper on my laptop or tablet or phone.  I don’t have yellow sticky notes with hand scrawled encouragements stuck up in my workspace.  I don’t review my performance daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly to determine how well I am performing in attaining the ‘current’ goals.

Why not?  Well, I’m not really sure.  I haven’t really thought about it much.  One possible explanation is that I am by nature an introvert, and the establishment of a rigid structure of goals feels to me like something imposed from outside.  Artificial, you might say.

Another explanation might be that I am a seat-of-the-pants (or organic, if you prefer) writer, given to much flexibility in my compositional styles and processes, so that I would find a lack of flexibility in other areas of my writing career somewhat distasteful.

A third explanation could be that I feel that all the brainstorming and monitoring sucks up energy that I would much prefer to pour into the creative processes.

And last, let’s not ignore the fact that I am a champion procrastinator, as well as just a smidge on the lazy side.

So if I have goals, but I don’t do the detailed specific kinds of goals that are very measurable, what are the goals I do have?


  1. Write. This, more than anything.  Just plant my posterior in my chair, put my fingers on the keys, and start flowing words.  If this doesn’t happen, nothing else is of import.


  1. Tell good stories. Tell stories that make people feel the emotions of my characters.  Tell stories that make people laugh; tell stories that make people cry; tell stories that make people say, “Damn, I wish I could have seen/heard/felt/experienced that!”


  1. Keep my promises. If I tell someone I’m going to write something for them, then do it.


  1. Have some fun along the way, even if it’s just imagining the look on the face of my alpha reader when he gets to this scene.


  1. Finish what I start. I can’t sell incomplete stories.  I can’t present my craft and art to readers if it hasn’t been brought to fruitful culmination.  And, not-so-incidentally, I won’t get paid for unfinished work.


Those are my goals.  I may come up with more as I mature in my craft, my art, and my career, but that’s what they are today.


How well am I doing in following them?


—     Since 2004, I have written and sold over 400,000 words of short fiction, all but one story of which have been published.


—     Last year Baen Books published a story collection and a novel.  Let’s just say that sales are good.


—     My co-author and I just turned in to Baen a novel in an established series which should be published next year.  (Approximately 175,000 words.)


—     The one short work which hasn’t been published?  A 33,000 + word novella sold to a hardcover anthology.


I currently have four projects in progress:  one on the front burner, one simmering on a back burner, and two have been started but are waiting for my limited mental creative space to open up for them to be further developed.


My approach seems to work for me.

Remember Mr. Kipling’s words above, “. . . every single one of them is right!”  If the rigid detailed goal setting doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, just like it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you if you write organically rather than by outline.  It just means you need to explore other approaches until you find one that will work for you.


But goal #1 always has to be “Write.”  Otherwise, the whole exercise is worthless.


Have fun.

Love it. Do it.

Do What you loveMerry Christmas!

This is my favorite time of year.  I love Christmas and everything it stands for.  It is a time of good cheer, family, and giving, regardless of religious belief.  I am religious, so I celebrate that part too.

It struck me this week that Santa represents one of the best examples of someone making a crazy career choice and turning it into a successful, long-term enterprise.  Many people regard writers in the same not-quite-connected-to-reality category as Santa Clause.  And when we first start out, it can be hard to see past the detractors and the naysayers and keep pursuing a passion that has absolutely no promise of producing any financial return.

I’m a perfect case in point.  I’ve been writing for almost ten years, and my expense-to-income ratio so far is so lopsided, it’s laughable.  And yet here I am, still writing.

I love it.

I love stories.  I love consuming them in every form, and I love creating them.  Not only do I love to write, but I’ve set ever-challenging goals to drive myself along this writing path.  It may be a long road, but it’s a road I’m happy to travel.

I’m not the only one who believes that working at what we love is the best possible work choice.


Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.

~Ray Bradbury


There is no scarcity of opportunity to make a living at what you love; there’s only scarcity of resolve to make it happen.

~Wayne Dyer


If you are not doing what you love, you are wasting your time.

~Billy Joel


2014 was a banner year for me.  I set extremely high goals, and succeeded at many of them.  But what really made the year was that I managed to work more hours writing than I did at my consulting job.  I’ve been working toward this milestone for years, but I reached it almost without noticing.  I was so busy writing and doing, that I didn’t pause to reflect until I had already made the shift in my schedule.

The purely pragmatic side of me admits to nervousness as I allow my consulting business to trend downward to make more room in my life for writing.  My computer work is still how I pay the bills and support my family, and it’s a job I really enjoy.  However, I LOVE storytelling.  Despite long success in computer-related fields, I made the choice to move toward writing as a full-time career.  It’s taken a very long time to get to this point, but to me it’s worth the effort.

Loving this work means I Work at it.  This year, I completed three new novels (I set the goal to complete four), along with a lot of other work, including a frantic juggling act preparing novels for a fast-approaching publishing blitz.

2015 will be even bigger.  Eight novels published in eight months is the goal, and I’m doing everything in my power to reach it.

I love writing.

So I’ll work harder at this job than any other.

Do what you love.  Commit to it and let nothing stop you or convince you that you can’t.

It may take a while, but the time’s going to pass anyway.  Why not use it working toward a goal that means something to you?

Goals vs. Objectives – Who is Really In Control?

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” ~Helmuth von Moltke

I am highly motivated by progress and will often get frustrated when I feel like I am spinning my wheels in a task. This probably explains my penchant for lists. I know that I’m not the only one who gets a sense of satisfaction by drawing a bold stroke through a particularly challenging line item. However, I have found that it is all too easy to focus on the list itself and forget that it exists to serve my objectives. Recently, I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into living a purposeful life, driving towards and realizing my objectives to the best of my abilities. Through trial and error, I have found that the key to effective progress is self-aware honesty, maintaining a life balance, and having the courage to change course when results do not line up with what was intended when I set my goals.

The first step to living deliberately is to determine what you truly want out of life. There are countless voices in the world, some benevolent and others selfish, that seek to guide our desires. Many people never look past what society, advertising agencies and our loved ones tell us we want. If they are happy that way, all the better for them. It takes work to quiet all the voices and achieve the self-awareness necessary to decide what you really want free from the influence of others.

Once your objectives are set, it takes practice to be able to manage all the distractions and necessities that the world demands of us. Though there are a thousand obligations competing for our time and attention, many things that we view as “essential” can actually be minimized or eliminated entirely. It is a matter of understanding one’s priorities. Once you achieve the self-awareness to determine your life’s objectives, sorting the essential from the non-essential becomes much easier.

Finally, I have found it necessary to be proactive in evaluating and adjusting my goals. Though it is easy to simply stay the course until things start to fall apart, it is a much less effective strategy than taking time periodically to honestly evaluate the results of my efforts. If a course of action isn’t working, isn’t supporting my objectives, there is nothing holding me to them. Try to make a change and see what effects come. I look at it like sailing by the stars. Having a heading does no good if you don’t look up every so often.

I started out my blogging year with the Fictorians by describing the system we use to set annual goals at work. Though I stand by the idea that goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time bound), I have come to realize that they need to be adaptable as well. Action is not progress unless my objectives are being achieved. Therefore, goals should be designed and maintained to support objectives, not the other way around.