This past year, I spent a lot of time writing projects in order to get my name out in public. My novel suffered as a result. I’m changing that in 2020. My first priority is my novel. I want to have it finished to market by the end of the year. There are two contests I may enter, but other that, I won’t get sidetracked by competitions or anthologies this time. This novel and the following books in this series are my heart. It’s time it receives my full attention.
To complicate matters, since I will have short stories out come next year, I will need to have a professional online presence. This will start with social media with the goal of having my own website and blog in place by 2021. That means I must come up with content to fill all those outlets, which takes time, time away from my novel. It will require some planning to still work on my book. Marketing is important, but it means nothing if I don’t have anything to promote.
Figure out what your priorities are for the coming year. Should you write your heart or write for every little opportunity out there? How much time should you spend on promotion? Your year will run smoother if you plan now.
Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day. Debbie Macomber writes 5,000. Michael Crichton wrote 10,000. So what does this mean for you as you set your writing goals for next year? Keep in mind that these are bestselling authors who don’t have another job that takes up the majority of their day.
The trick is to set a goal that works for you. You want one that’s not so high you can never reach it. If you can write 2,000 words everyday and still hold down a separate eight-hour job plus meal and travel time, then good for you. Way to go! But if you’re like me, that goal is too high. I need to sleep.
I use time instead of word counts to calculate my daily writing. My goal this year was to write one hour five days a week. When I wrote my hour, I put a sticker, usually a smiling sun, on the wall calendar in my office. If I reached my goal for the week, I put another sticker with an inspiring message on Sunday. It’s encouraging to see all those happy stickers shining back at me.
In 2020, I’ve decided to change my goal since I have much I want to accomplish. I aim to write 10 hours a week. That’s a big challenge, but my novel is calling.
Remember, however you decide to keep track of your writing, your goal must be attainable. The key is to write something every day. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said, “Anything is better than stagnation.” His daily word count was 3,000.
THE UNEXPECTED IN THE EVERYDAY
Ever notice that ideas can come when doing the most mundane chores? Washing dishes, folding laundry, or general housework can spark the next story. I came up with some cool scenes when I cleaned out horse stalls. Doing these mindless activities helps free my mind so new ideas can float inside. That doesn’t mean I’m excited to do the next load of laundry, but you never know if an idea is hiding around the washing machine, waiting to burst forth.
LISTEN TO THE MUSIC
Ideas can form just by listening to music. Many classical pieces, especially symphonic poems, already tell a story. You can use elements from them. I have a plan for a future novel which is based on various parts of a symphonic poem: a hunt, a wedding, and a castle. Or you may imagine something totally different than what the composer had in mind.
This isn’t limited to instrumental pieces. Even song lyrics can spark an idea. So, go ahead. Listen to the music. See where it leads you.
LOOK TO THE PAST
I love history. I like learning about how people lived centuries ago. There are so many intriguing stories that have inspired my future novels. I got one for a trilogy based on a fear mentioned in a historical fiction. (Warning: don’t take a detail mentioned in a historical novel to be fact. Do your research. No book is 100% accurate. That’s why it’s called fiction.)
Even if you don’t write historical fiction, you can still get ideas from the past. Technology and cultures have changed, but people have not. They still have the same emotions and desires as today. See what you can find.
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW, SORT OF
I am currently working on a short story for an upcoming collection. The idea was born out of several life experiences. It contains an old western movie I love, my background in horse shows, and a heartbreaking decision I made. However, I’ve never participated in the events my characters go through in the story. It will take some research to make this tale come alive.
One of writing’s famous rules is “Write what you know.” When looking for ideas, use your own experience. What do you like to do? What scenarios can you brainstorm happening from your work, your hobbies, or your family? See what combinations you can put together.
But what if you want to write about Victorian England and all you know is life on a Texas ranch? Should you abandon the idea? No. It called research. You may need a little or a lot depending on the topic, but just because you aren’t familiar with it doesn’t mean you give up. If it’s something you’re passionate about, you can write it.
The rule should read: “Write what you know. Learn what you don’t.”
IDEA, WHERE ART THOU?
I love going to writing workshops, but I do not like it when the instructor asks the class to write something for five to ten minutes. I end up staring at the page, my mind blank. With time running out, I finally jot down something that vaguely deals with the assignment. Then I sit back and listen while another participant reads a perfect piece of prose. It drives me crazy. Why can’t I come up with great ideas that quickly? They usually occur hours later.
Over the years, I’ve learned this is just how I am wired. I have to think about a subject first before an idea arises in my mind. And then it slowly comes together. I wrote a short story earlier this year on a topic I never thought I could do. The idea came a few hours after I learned about it.
So, I’m not the fastest idea person in the world. I am getting better; this blog has helped. But knowing ideas will happen if I just give them a chance to grow in my mind is amazingly freeing. Remember, not everyone thinks the same. You just be you.
OUT ON THE MOORS
A good setting should set a mood. There’s a feel to it. Here’s an example from Michael Jecks’ medieval mystery novel, A Moorland Hanging:
Above them, huge gray clouds, their edges tinged with white, moved across the sky with alarming speed. The land, which had looked so calm and soft, green and purple under its velvet-like covering, now showed itself in a darker mood. The moors took on a more menacing aspect, the heather now a gloomy dark carpet, the tors great black monsters crouching ready to leap.
Even Baldwin gave a shudder at the sight. Though he instinctively rejected any suggestion that there could be ghouls or ghosts seeking out souls…it was easy to understand how such fears could arise. The huge open space of the moors with its almost complete lack of trees made a man realize how small he was when compared with the vastness of nature.
One of my favorite settings is from Winston Graham’s novel, Ross Poldark, which takes place in the Cornwall region of England. In it, the sea forms a beautiful backdrop to the action, and is as much of a character as the humans. It is always there, always moving. Here’s a sample:
It was a bright day with a cold wind off the land. The sea was flat and green with a heavy groundswell. The long, even ridge of a wave would move slowly in, and then as it met the stiff southeasterly breeze its long top would begin to ruffle like the short feathers of an eider duck, growing more and more ruffled until the whole long ridge toppled slowly over and the wintry sun made a dozen rainbows in the mist flying up from its breaking.
WATCH YOUR DISTANCE
I noticed when revising my novel that my characters spent a lot of travel time on horseback going back and forth between castles. To remedy this, I decided to combine the location of some scenes, which I believe will make the story stronger.
If your characters travel, keep in mind how long it will take them to go from Point A to Point B. This is especially important if they ride horses. A good average for a horse is about twenty miles a day at a walk. That is dependent on several factors: the weather, the size of the entourage, and the urgency of the trip. Going faster requires alternating between different gaits. On a crucial mission in 1336, King Edward III of England traveled 381 miles in seven days with a small retinue. That is 55 miles a day. Horses that compete in endurance racing today can cover 100 miles over tough terrain in fifteen hours.
No matter what mode of transportation you choose for your story, don’t overlook the time it takes your characters to reach their destination.