By DeAnna Knippling
I happen to like setting unrealistic goals for myself at the New Year. I happen to like setting unrealistic goals for myself at any old time, actually, but if I do it now, I’ll have company. A big, happy group of us with shining faces, swearing that this time will be different than last time. Lose twenty pounds! Stop the incessant nose-picking! Learn Swahili for reals this time! Write!
Well, I’ve learned a thing or two about unrealistic writing goals, at least. What you’re shooting for is that heady rush that you get when you’re standing at the edge of some precipice without feeling like it’s so high that attempting anything funny would be self-destructive. Giddy, but not suicidal.
I’ve been finding myself giving the following advice to new writers: Write 1K a day.
In the tips below, you’ll see me trying to convince myself I can do it, too:
1) Pick a good goal. Something 100% in your control, like “write 1000 words a day.” Specify how much or how many and when it has to be done.
2) Pick something that’s too hard by about 50%. Too easy, and you’ll blow it off and try to catch up later. Too hard and you’ll get so far behind that you cry yourself to sleep and quit. Make yourself stretch in the way that’s the tightest for you. For me, it’s the every day, not the word count.
3) Tell someone who will hold you accountable. Who will mock you on at least a weekly basis if you don’t show results. Who will cheer you if you do. Check.
4) Make a plan for when you’ll do it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, blah blah blah, it will work itself out. No, it won’t. Make the plan. What time, where, using what resources? My recommendation: the earlier in the day the better, so if things go bad you have time to make it up. For me, it's after I drop off Ray in the morning, before doing freelance work.
5) Make a commitment to writing poorly. Can you plan to be inspired? No. So just plan to be uninspired. Done.
6) Set up a carrot. You could do something writing related, but there are only so many new pens you can give yourself. I’ve already got my first month’s carrot picked out. (I’m a sucker for t-shirts.)
7) Set up a stick. You miss your goals for the month? Ohhh, you gotta clean out the garage. In my case, I’m eyeballing a closet.
8) Tell your kids that your writing is homework, and that you’re not allowed to watch TV, go on the Internet, or read books until you’re done.
9) Lie to yourself. Tell yourself you have to accomplish five times what you really have to do.
10) Write down your goal versus what you have done on a piece of scratch paper and update it. A lot.
11) Write for pleasure, not accomplishment.
12) Write for someone else, just to see the look on their face when they read it.
13) Write a letter to yourself from the future you, at age 100, giving yourself permission to write.
14) When in doubt, write sensory details using all five senses, from the character’s POV.
15) If you’re stuck, take a break to do something you hate more than writing.
16) Turn off spell/grammar check. Seriously. You already have enough voices in your head judging you. When you’re done, spell check it and leave it alone.
17) Write to escape. How? Make settings you want to escape to, that would be perfect (except for something in the plot that puts the setting in danger, if you like). Make characters you’d want to stretch out in for a while.
18) Cut “was” and “has” constructions, adverbs, and similes from your sentences—you can use them, but if you don’t, you’ll probably write more direct, sensory details...which take more words and eat up word count.
19) Set a timer to remind you when to take an actual break instead of just staring at the computer in frustration.
Most of my problem is that I have trouble coming up with ideas as fast as I write. I’m great...right up to the point where the story’s done and I have to start on another one. So most of the rest of these are story-generating or story-challenging ideas.
20) Read writing advice books. Pick something—a writing exercise, an idea—and try to work it into the story you’re doing in order to study it.
21) Pick one thing to work on per story or session. Better cliffhangers. Hotter sex scenes.
22) Write down your dreams and ideas in the morning and see how many images you can work in.
23) Use random idea/character name generators.
24) Write the cheesiest story you can using the Lester Dent master plot formula, as adapted to your genre.
25) Write another story using the same method, for the genre you’re least interested in.
26) Copy something out of a bestseller. Not something copyrighted. But a plot idea, a POV type, a theme, a setting, more.
27) For story ideas, read weird stuff on a social media site like reddit or Twitter. In the immortal words of many a reporter, “You can’t make that @#$% up.”
28) Set out to overhear a stranger’s conversation at least once a week.
29) Carry around a notebook for ideas and overheard snippets.
30) Finally, just start with a character, setting, and problem, and go from there. What’s the worst that could happen?
And remember: the worst that could happen is that you get more writing done than you would without a yearly goal. You could get into a habit of writing every day. You could sell some writing. You could judge your mistakes a little less harshly. You could learn something new. But at the very least you could fail and end up ahead of where you were anyway.
Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself. She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.
For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog at www.deannaknippling.com or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit.