Writing Goals… Do They Work?

I set some writing goals at the beginning of the year and jotted them down in my diary on January 1st…

For those of you who can’t read my scribble (ie: everyone), they are…

  • Launch The End of Magic and get it to as many readers as possible
  • Relaunch and sell 10k copies of Back to Reality by Glastonbury weekend
  • Self-Publish one or more of the Woodville books
  • Find a publisher for Interstellar Mega Blaster

Have I reached them? Sort of… Well… no…

The End of Magic had a great start and is ticking along very nicely in the UK. A fab launch, great reviews and it topped quite a few Amazon charts. I’ve set myself a target to sell a thousand copies in the USA by the end of the year and it’s been tough so far.

Back to Reality didn’t hit 10k, but we did sell over a thousand copies and it’s given the book momentum.

I have finished the first of my Woodville novels (a series about three witches in a Kent village in the Second World War: think Bedknobs and Broomsticks meets Pratchett’s Witches), and I’ve started the second, and I was all set to self-publish, but my wonderful agent read it and it made him cry on the tube (twice… in a good way) and he wants a shot at selling it. He calls it “commercial gold dust”, which is nice.

And Interstellar Mega Blaster is my middle grade science fiction adventure, which has had a few encouraging rejections. All par for the course.

The more astute of you will note that I’ve not achieved any of these goals (so far). Does this mean I’ve failed? Heck, no.

Goals aren’t immovable objects like Stonehenge. You can shift them, squeeze them and even toss them away. And no, that’s not cheating.

Really, it isn’t. Okay, you might reasonably ask, What’s the point in setting goals if you’re just going to keep moving them? Well, if you’re like me, they’re what get you out of bed in the morning to start writing. They’re aspirations, dreams, and even if we fall short we’re still ahead of bugger-all, which is what we started with.

One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned on the Bestseller Experiment podcast is that setting a clear goal, a definite deadline, and making a public declaration are the most effective things you can do to boost your writing.

Be ready for real life to give you a swift kick in the nadgers every now and then, and be just as ready to pounce on the new opportunities that come along, too. Set a goal. Today.

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Do you have a writing goal? Tell me about it and maybe I can help you make it happen.

I offer all kinds of bespoke services for writers, from reader reports to full edits. Drop me a line here for a free consultation.

Five tips for writing around a day job…

Writing while holding down a full-time job can be a bit of a ‘mare at the best of times. Some authors write late into the evening, some get up at the crack of dawn. I’m lucky enough to be able to weave into my working week, and I thought you might want to see what my typical writing week looks like, followed by five tips that you might find useful. Firstly, here’s what this past week looked like…

MONDAY
AM
I live out in the sticks now, so on a weekday the whole family is up at 6, out the door by 7, and on our various busses and trains by 7:30. My commute into London takes about an hour and forty minutes. Plenty of time for writing! I’m fed and caffiened by this point, and raring to go. I generally get my best stuff done on the morning commute.

This particular morning, I was working on my first Woodville book. I’m currently about halfway through and it’s like wading through treacle, but progress is progress.

LUNCH
Mondays are podcast launch days, so I spend my lunch break on the social media for the new episode.
My wife Claire is a gardening blogger and author, and I worked on uploading her new gardening eBook to KDP.

PM
I’m working on a couple of projects with Jon Wright at the moment and he had been tweaking a pilot script we’re working on, which I reviewed on the train home and made a few light edits.

TUESDAY
AM
More Woodvile work. Averaging about 500-800 words each morning.

LUNCH
More Bestseller Experiment social media and I also send a newsletter out on my mailing list with details of the show.

PM
Worked on formatting Claire’s new eBook on Parsnips… very different to my usual stuff, but it’s nearly sowing season and she needs to get these online pronto!

WEDNESDAY
AM
Woodville – good progress. About 1000 words.

LUNCH
I added hyperlinks to Claire’s eBook. She links to seed companies and her videos on Youtube, so there are loads of them! Far more than any novel. I also worked on tweaking the keywords and metadata for Back to Reality and that afternoon I got a telling off from Amazon for adding a subtitle that has text that isn’t on the cover art. We were threatened with having the book removed if we didn’t amend it. Grr.

PM
Script rewrites on the train home for the thing Jon and I are working on. Really good fun as these are light changes, as opposed to the first draft slog of the Woodville stuff. It’s tempting to stick with this tomorrow morning, but I must be disciplined!

Mr. D and I had planned to record the podcast tonight (we usually record on a Monday), but due to all sorts of extenuating circumstances (and Canadian weather!) we’ve have to postpone it. Will we get an episode out in time for next week…?

THURSDAY
AM
Woodville. Hitting my stride with this noise. Daily word count is improving.

LUNCH
I listen to the interview I recorded with next week’s guest, making notes in anticipation of recording the pre- and post interview stuff with Mr. D. Also make further tweaks to Back to Reality’s metadata. Claire and I also got our PLR statements. In the UK, every time a book is taken out of the library the author (and illustrator if applicable) gets 8 pence! My statement could pay for a takeaway pizza. Claire’s could pay for a nice weekend away!

FRIDAY

A day off from the day job at Orion. I spent the morning at home and Jon popped round to make the final changes to our pilot script before sending it off to our agent. We read it aloud, acting out the parts and pising ourselves laughing. Very good times.

In the afternoon, the Canadian weather eases and Mr. D’s power is back on, so we record Monday’s episode, plus the Deep Dive episode for Patreon listeners. Poor Dave our editor only has a few days to cobble our witterings together!

SATURDAY

Dave sends us the rough edit of the podcast and I listen back, making notes and suggestions for edits, as well as writing the description you read on the website/iTunes etc and the keywords we use for the blog.

No other writing done today (apart from the first rough draft of this blog!)

In the afternoon, I read an excerpt from a friend’s book and send him some notes.

SUNDAY

Today is our wedding anniversary, so me and the family went to see a movie and had a cheeky Nando’s for lunch, and now I’m writing this blog, but I’m already thinking about what I’ll be writing tomorrow…

 

Five tips for writing around a day job:

  1. Spot and schedule: Spot those spare moments in your week and schedule those as writing times. They don’t have to be long. We’ve had guests on the podcast who can work in fifteen minute bursts. Little and often works best. Set reminders in your calendar and stick to them. There’s a temptation to be flexible with these times as it’s not a “proper job”. I’m very protective of these slots and treat them with the same weight as meetings scheduled for my day job.
  2. Shut out distractions: You might be working on the train, or the office, or a busy home. There will always be noise and distractions and, if you’ve only got half an hour in which to write today, then those distraction will eat that up in no time. Find a quiet spot and shut the door. Make it clear to your colleagues and loved ones that you’re not to be disturbed. If you do work in an office, get away from your desk if possible. Otherwise, you’ll have colleagues interrupting you with work queries in your break. At work I’ve been known to stick a Post It note on my headphones with “Sorry, can’t talk: Writing” written on them… It works! Your colleagues might think you’re mental, but it works. I love a pair of comfy noise-cancelling headphones for my train journey, and I currently use an app called Scape which plays woodland noises etc, which I find really conducive to productivity (I still have music playlists, but are finding them a little too distracting at my age!).
  3. Finish mid-sentence: If you’ve only got a short time in which to write, there’s nothing more likely to eat into that time than you sitting there, staring into space, wondering what to write next. I try to finish any session mid-sentence, so when I return to writing I simply finish that sentence/thought/scene/paragraph and I’m already up and running.
  4. A.B.T: Always Be Thinking. You might not be able to write all the time, but you should engage your brain for some good, solid thinking as often as possible. Five minutes on your hands? Skip back to what you were last writing: what were the problems? How can they be solved? What happens next? And whatever you think of, for the love of criminy take notes! If you’re anything like me, you’ll have forgotten everything by the time you get back to writing.
  5. Write early, edit late: This is a personal one, and perhaps more to do with being middle-aged and sluggish, but I work on new stuff in the morning when I’m bright and breezy, and edit that same work in the evening when I’m lacking buzz and energy. I also have a method that I call Be Kind Rewind: whenever I get stuck, I’ll go back and edit/rewrite the previous 500 or so words. By the time I’m done working on them, I usually have enough momentum going that I crash through any block that I might’ve had when I started.

If you found those helpful, please share with your fellow writers. How do you work around the day job? Please leave your comments below…

A big, ballsy declaration (don’t be chicken)

Howdy, this month’s chicken centrefold is Giz. Say hello to Giz…

IMG_1678
Visitors are always welcome to the writing room…

We’ve learned quite a few things on the Bestseller Experiment podcast, but the one lesson that’s really chimed with me is the importance of a deadline. And not only a deadline, but a big, public bastard declaration of a deadline that you can’t go back on without making yourself look a complete pillock and suffering big heapings of public shame when you don’t meet it.

It focuses the mind of a writer, forces you to make difficult decisions, doesn’t give you much time for self-doubt, and increases productivity. Just have a look at Brandon Sanderson’s website: he has little progression bars for each of his projects right there on the homepage, and I’m sure this plays a big part in maintaining his incredibly prolific output. Deadlines can be terrifying, but after a year of writing for the podcast I can tell you they bloody work. I still haven’t decided when I’ll make my next stupid declaration. Maybe by the end of this newsletter…? Who knows?

During the meanwhilst, our novel has been through an edit, another rewrite, and is currently with our copy editor. She’s currently getting forensic on its ass, and we look forward to getting a document riddled with notes pointing out our poor grammar, punctuation and identifying massive plot holes.

It’s also with a couple of advance readers. Just a handful at first, then we’ll take on their feedback and widen it out to others. The truth is, we don’t have much time, so if they come back with ‘It stinks, rewrite the whole thing and set it in 12th century Mongolia,’ then we’re kind of screwed. Fortunately, so far we’ve had ‘This isn’t what I expected, but I’m really enjoying it,’ comments (it really is unlike anything I’ve written before).

We’ve also had our first meeting with our cover designer, which was incredibly exciting and promises to be the most enjoyable part of the experiment if for no other reason than it’s our chance to torture a fellow creative. There will be some kind of cover reveal in the next month or so. Follow us on the Twitters, Facebook and Instagram to be the first to know.

I’ve also gone back to look at a couple of projects that I put aside in order to concentrate on the Bestseller Experiment. The first is a middle-grade science fiction adventure novel. I finished the first draft of this almost exactly a year ago, and I’m happy to say that it stands up to scrutiny pretty well. I’m giving it a light polish before sending it to my agent. My hope is that this will get picked up by a children’s publisher and be the first in a bestselling series, leading to big budget movies, action figures and inordinately expensive Lego kits.

The other project… Well, maybe it’s time for a big, stupid, ballsy, public declaration of a deadline? This project started as a book in 2008, then became a TV pilot script, then went back to being a book again, then was reduced to a treatment for another version of a TV show. It was an idea in search of a format and was in danger of being completely abandoned, but whenever I went back to it I knew that it had such rich potential. Another big lesson learned from the Bestseller Experiment is that a good series can be hugely successful. And it occurred to me that this project didn’t need to be just one book and it didn’t need to be restricted by TV and film budgets. It could be a series set in a single precinct, much like Robert Rankin’s Brentford, or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld where anything could happen. A kind of Midsomer Murders with magic, with a roster of characters and situations that will allow me to write about pretty much any theme I want to. It’s current working title is The Woodville Project after the school where I grew up (my parents were the school caretakers and I had the run of the fields and adventure playground… it was bloody brilliant).

So, my big, stupid, ballsy, public declaration is that I will write and self-publish three Woodville novellas in 2018. The first one in, pfft, I dunno… shall we say April? Fine, that’s a deal. Here we go!

Shit, what have I done?
Till next time!

Mark

PS. Of course this could all be scuppered by a really good film or TV deal coming along. I reserve the right to sell-out to Hollywood.

PPS. What’s your declaration? I promise not to tell anyone, but I will hold you to it. Life is short, what are you waiting for…? Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day…

PPS. Subscriber to my newsletter get this news first, so why not sign-up now? It’s Mailchimp, so no selling to spammers.

 

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