In January 2022, I shared my yearly goals. I said I would write and edit:
Want to see how I did?
In this quick post, I’ll show you where I succeeded, failed, and—most importantly—what I learned about writing in 2022.
Over the last 12 months, I wrote or edited about 800,000 words. I’m still struggling to wrap my head around that number. For reference, that’s about the length of the bible.
How? Hours and hours (and hours) of writing. But it was less work than I thought it would be.
I started with a goal to write 2600 words, 5 days a week, plus about a thousand words on the weekend. Some weeks, it was easy. Others, I could barely scrape together a 1000 words. This daily rhythm of trying to write taught me more than anything else in this post. I learned what a productive hour really looks like, how to string those hours together, and how to build a lifestyle to support a writing life:
Despite the bad weeks—and the really bad weeks—I kept going. And when I started hitting my daily word goals, I pushed them a little higher. During NaNoWriMo, I got up to 4000 words a day, 5 days a week. More on that in a moment.
My goal was to write and finish 4.5 books. I only wrote 3.5 books: finished one half-finished novel, wrote two more, and published a non-fiction book for writers: Fantastic Characters and How to Write Them.
Two things I learned from hitting these goals:
Each week, I increased my word count goal by 50. So, from 2600 → 2650, and so on. If I failed too many days in a row, I did not increase my goal.
These small jumps (and healthy doses of forgiveness when I failed) helped me build a daily word count that might (eventually) lead to a full-time writing career. I’m not there yet. But in 2021, I was an erratic writer at best; Some weeks, I could pump out 5 or 6 chapters. Some weeks, I couldn’t even finish one.
This year, I started with a healthy baseline goal, and grew it at an incremental, realistic pace. Like the toad slowly boiling in a pot, I barely felt the extra 50 words each week. Only, instead of cooking myself, I just picked up a pretty good writing habit.
If you’re struggling with your writing goals, try this:
Don’t overdo it. Forgive yourself for the bad days (there will be many of them). If the words get stuck, if you’ve been missing out on sleep, or you’re too stressed, or whatever, take a break and be kind to yourself. Meet your needs first, and then get back to writing.
First, I failed to publish very much. I did publish two books this year, which is double what I did in 2021.
However, I’m still grappling with my perfectionism, I’m still learning how the indie market works, and I discovered how tough publishing really is. Realistically, there’s always more work involved than you think there is. Editing, working with editors, and marketing each book (before and after launch) ate up weeks of my time. I essentially lost all of May and September to polishing and marketing.
However, it feels like once you’ve gone through the process a handful of times, it gets immeasurably easier. You get to reuse and fine-tune your launch plans, and you start to find editors you really like working with. You start to understand the limits of what you have to do to be successful, and you learn where to spend effort, and where to let things go.
My second failure: in 2021 I talked about a prototype for gamifying my writing. Basically, I built a spreadsheet to count my words, added a few formulas to grow those goals depending on how well I did, and I baked in rewards for hitting goals and milestones. After a few months, I shut it down.
It was too cumbersome. Maybe someday I’ll return to this idea, but after a few weeks of using it, I realized most of the data was noise.
The good news? I discovered the most important metric for my writing: daily word count. The writing habit stuck, and now I keep a simplified spreadsheet to track my words and how long it took me to write them. Let’s call this one an experimental victory—if nothing else, the urge to gamify my process helped me understand what really matters when trying to make a writing habit stick.
Third, I realized I’m spending too much effort on individual blog posts, which makes it harder (and more painful) to sit and write to you.
So, it’s time to change. Not too much, but expect this blog to become less formal, more conversational. I want to share my thoughts on writing, the writing lifestyle, and helping authors (aspiring, traditional, and independent) more frequently.
Basically, I want to talk to you.
Which means, shorter posts with less pressure to create monumental guides. Is it a good strategy?
I’ll let you know how this year goes…
Some sources suggest a million books are published a year. Some suggest that number is far higher.
That’s at least 2700 new books, every day.
Soul crushing, isn’t it? How do you write something that stands out, something that matters, in this ocean of new literature?
Perhaps that’s a question for another blog post, but here’s my short lecture:
Forget the odds. Write something that matters to you. Then, write something that matters to one reader in a genre you love.
Then, keep doing it.
The ocean is vast, but it’s not infinite. And you’re more important than you think you are.
To become a professional author, you have to generate words, lots of them, over a long period of time. The only sustainable way to do this is to write a small amount of words on a consistent basis. I failed so many times in 2022. There were dark days, and then there were dark days. The only thing that ever made a difference was going to bed, waking up the next day, sitting down, and doing the work. You just have to do it.
In one of my favorite books for writers, Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.”
There are a thousand ways to make it harder for yourself. I’ve found only a handful of ways to make it easy.
I spent so much time in 2022 researching and building productivity systems, trying out different writing methods, procrastinating, psyching myself up and psyching myself out. In the end, here’s what made a difference:
1. When you write, you are only allowed to write or stare at the wall.
Remove everything that is not conducive to writing: close internet tabs, shut off second screens, put your phone in another room, etc. Even a .5 millisecond distraction can kill your concentration and cost you 1000 really good words. I am not exaggerating.
2. Set daily goals.
You don’t have to write every day, but you must aim for a specific target when you do write. You can write for X hours, or type Y words, whatever works for you. I use a hybrid goal: I have to write X words, and then I stop writing for the day. However, if I don’t meet that goal by 7pm, I stop writing regardless. It’s just not my day.
Building a writing career is not easy.
Some days, it’s easy to get started.
On others, it’s like using your bare hands to pull teeth from a particularly feral alligator. But once you start pulling—once you put the mountains and valleys in a world of your own making, and you breathe life into your own characters, and the story begins to unfold faster than you can write—writing is an act unlike any other.
Keep pulling. The rewards are in the work.
- P. S. Hoffman