I’ve learned a few things about setting goals for writing over the last few years. One is that they need to be realistic. The other is that they need to be entirely within your control. The last few years I realize that I’ve set not only unrealistic goals for my writing, but also goals that require some kind of outside intervention to come to fruition. For instance, I had a goal last year of selling 4 stories to professional markets. Writing 4 stories is an achievable goal that is completely in my control. Selling them is another matter because it requires something outside my control: an editor willing to buy them.
Given these lessons, I have a few fairly simple goals for fiction-writing in 2011:
1. Write 500 words of new fiction every day.
Why 500 words? I learned during my experiences with NaNoWriMo that I have the ability to write a little over 2,000 words in 2 hours. But with two kids and a full-time job, it is getting more and more difficult to carve 2 hours out of every day for writing.
That said, I can write 500 words in roughly half an hour and half an hour isn’t a large chunk of time. Of course, if I slow down and try and be more deliberate, it might take a little longer to get out those 500 words, but not much. In other words, it is much easier for me to find 30 minutes in the day than it is an hour or two hours. It is also easier on my family. It think it is a good compromise. After all, 500 new words of fiction every day amounts to 183,000 words of new fiction in 20121 which is far more than I’ve ever done before. The trick is making it a habit, working it into my routine, and protecting that 30 minutes.
This is also an easily measurable goal. At any point in time, I can tell if I am meeting my goal or not.
2. Focus entirely on writing short fiction.
Part of my problem this year was that I struggled with whether or not I should try to write a novel. Several friends encouraged me in this regard. But when I really gave it some hard thought, I decided that I am a short fiction writer and have no desire to write novel-length fiction. I like reading novels, but I am passionate about short fiction. I’d rather be known as a good short fiction writer than a mediocre novelist. And yes, I know that you can’t make a living as a short fiction writer, but I don’t make my living from writing.
183,000 words amounts to a lot of short fiction. And short fiction at all lengths, flash pieces, short stories, novelettes, and novella. I’m most comfortable with short stories and novelettes, but maybe I’ll manage to write a novella or two during the year. I’m not worried. If I can write 500 words each day I want those words to go toward short fiction writing. Ultimately, I think the combination of these two goals would make me a better short fiction writer, but there is no objective way to measure this–at least nothing that is entirely within my control.
Given these two goals, I have some ideas of what I’d like to be able to accomplish in 2012, but again, they are things that I can’t completely control. I’ll list them here to give a flavor of what a spectacular year would be for me in 2012 with respect to fiction-writing, but again, these aren’t goals, more like day-dreams that could possibly result from hard work:
- Sell a story to each of the following places: Analog, Asimov’s Lightspeed, Daily SF. For Analog, it would be my second story sale. For each of the others, it would be my first. I’d like to be the kind of short fiction writer who can sell to a variety of markets. Indeed, that is how my sales so far have developed with stories in IGMS, Apex, Analog and 40K Books. I’d like to sell to a diverse marketplace, just I like reading stories in all of these markets. Asimov’s would be the pinnacle for me, if I could manage that, but the stories in that magazine are so strong that I just don’t know if I am good enough yet. Still, with 183,000 words of practice…
- Nab an honorable mention in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best for stories printed in 2012. That would be pretty cool. I’m not sure in my most megalomaniac state I could imagine him selecting one of my stories at this stage of my career, but an honorable mention would be nice.
- Wrack up a couple of good reviews for my short fiction. I’ve already had reviewers say nice things about my stories, but they were tempered. I’d love to be able to write a story that wowed a reviews.
- More than that, I’d love to be able to write a story that really wowed the audience, that created buzz and got talked about. Again, I’m not sure I’m there yet, but it’s something nice to dream about.
I’m keeping my fiction writing goals simple. Getting in 500 words each day and focusing entirely on short fiction is what I’m aiming for. If I can sit here a year from now and say that I was successful, I’ll be very happy–and proud–of the accomplishment.
- It’s a leap year so we get an extra day. ↩