Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Writing Goals and Submitting Stories

At the beginning of December, I went over my list of goals for the year in order to evaluate and revise them.

One of those goals involved writing. I wanted to spend at least X number of hours writing fiction in 2009. I even specified that I shouldn't count the time spent writing about setting material toward achieving that goal. I know my habits in this regard.

Well, I did not meet that goal. I can't say for certain how far short I fell, because very early on I stopped keeping track. I just know that I would have had to write an hour a day every day (and then a little extra) to meet it and I did not do that.

In the past I've had similar goals, all based around writing for a certain amount of time or to produce a certain number of words on a daily basis. Because I've heard lots of advice that you should write every day to develop the work habits and professionalism needed to become a success.

My current approach is different. Now, instead of trying to hit daily writing goals, I'm trying to finish stories. That's pretty much it. My goal is to write roughly one short story of moderate length (say, 5,000 words or so) every month, or a very short story (like a flash fiction piece of under 1,000 words) every couple weeks.

In terms of how much I write on any given day, this goal doesn't necessarily translate into a lot of new words on the page or a lot of time at the keyboard or notepad. But it has occurred to me that those daily writing goals tend to focus upon the peripheral aspects of writing rather than the end result--a story I like well enough to submit to a paying market.

How has this worked out so far? Well, at the moment I'm a bit ahead of schedule. I started writing on December 7th and yesterday I submitted my second complete flash fiction story to a paying market: Flash Fiction online, no less. That tops my entire short story output for the entire year.

I think the pace of a story a week will taper off as I start to work on freelance projects. But I think my initial goals are still achievable. Thirty days to write 5,000 words works out to less than 170 words a day.

The truth is that the writing has come in bursts. I wrote one story in its entirety in a single day and then spent the rest of the week revising it, probably accounting for no more than 150 new words. But they were important words. The other story I wrote in a couple bursts and then rewrote quite heavily in another chunk.

In between working on the stories, I spent time thinking about the stories and what I was trying to achieve with them. I also sent them out for comments by friends and family. Then I spent my writing time each day going over the story in some detail and tweaking it as I thought necessary.

Since my goal is to complete stories and submit them to professional markets, I don't think quite as much about the process as I used to. I'm concentrating more on the stories themselves. As a result, I'm working in more of a natural flow. Some days are just more productive than other days in terms of raw output, but other days that are superficially less productive are just as vital for the flashes of insight into a story that they provide. Focusing on shorter lengths has also helped keep my wandering mind from digressing down too many paths.


Mikael Behrens said...

Sounds great! It reminds me of Johnathan Coulton's "Thing a week" method of getting his music career started. I'm not a big fan of his stuff, but he's often cited as a pioneer in using the internet to find a niche audience.

Doug said...

That's funny, I was reading about him recently in the same context (self-produced and distributed Internet pioneer), though I'm unfamiliar with his actual music.

My creative approach may be similar, but I'm not trying anything so daring as carving my own niche at this stage. The markets I've targeted so far are not only paying markets, they pay pro-rates (a minimum 5 cents a word). I'll have to see how well that tactic works!

My not-so-secret goal is to meet the requirements for membership in the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America): publications in three different qualifying professional publications and earnings of at least $250. May not sound like much, but it would be a huge step up from where I'm at now.