Being a Better Writer: Quotas, Objectives, and Measuring Progress

Don’t forget, Unusual Events: A “Short” Story Collection is out now!

This post was originally written and posted January 12th, 2015, and has been touched up and reposted here for archival purposes.

Today’s topic is going to be a bit lighter than normal, but personally I still find it to be of large importance to anyone who’s determined to make more of their writing than just a hobby. If your goal is to be a hobbyist writer, then what I’m talking about today probably isn’t going to matter much to you. For most hobbyists, writing is supposed to be a hobby. Which means it’s going to—or at least should be—fun. And some of what I’m going to talk about today can take away from that fun. Thankfully though, if you’re a hobbyist, you don’t have to worry about it!

What I want to talk about today is quotas. And objectives. Or really, any metric by which you can measure your progress. Because if you’re a writer, then there’s one thing you have to remember: You have to be writing.

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The Year in Review – What’s My Progress So Far?

December once more. Dang. Time flies so fast these days. I still remember what I was doing this time a year ago. I was halfway through the first draft of Colony and averaging about 3500-4000 words a day. Now, I’ve reached that time of year on the calendar one year down the road, and it’s time for me to look back and ask myself: “What on Earth have I accomplished in the last 365 days?”

It’s a valid question to ask of myself as the new year approaches, because I firmly believe that nothing motivates like having firm, measurable goals. In fact, I can say that they’re one of the reasons I’ve gone from writing under a 1000 words per day to writing 4000 or 5000 with gleeful abandon. In fact, this year I shattered another goal, setting a new record for myself during the writing of Beyond the Borderlands.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Better to take things in stride. So, without further ado, here is the year in review.

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The Minimum Wage Goal

A lot of my life right now is goals. Most of the time that’s daily writing goals (4,000 words of fiction a day), but at the moment it’s book goals (get Unusual Events out of alpha by 1st week of August, get Colony to alpha 2 by Mid-August, get Being a Better Writer out by November), because if I kept to those aforementioned writing goals, I’d have a lot of trouble getting those book goals done.

But I’m looking to add a new goal lately. What I’m calling the “minimum wage” goal.

See, to live, I have certain financial obligations I have to meet. Rent every month. Health insurance. Utility bills. Phone bills. Internet bills. And food. Can’t forget food. While most other financial things in my life are optional, can be acquired at a library, or can be lived without, the utilities and bills always come. Plus having a roof over my head and food.

Now, the goal is to make enough money off of my writing that I can afford all of those things. Not the luxuries. The regular, monthly bills that come whether I like it or not. I can mitigate these a bit (for instance, most of my apartment is unlit or runs because electricity costs money, and those lights that we use the most are LED bulbs), but at the end of the day, there has to be an income to make up for my outcome.

So now I add a new goal. That goal is “minimum wage” (hence the name; so clever, huh?). Or, in other words, to make enough off of my writing that I’m earning roughly the equivalent of a minimum wage job each week.

It’s actually not that hard. Minimum wage isn’t much. If I sold 40 books in a week, I’d be making minimum wage. And that I could live off of. Easily.

Of course, right now I’m selling an average of about three books per week. That’s a large difference between where I am and where I could be.

Of course, that’s why I’m setting the goal. Performance measured leads to improved performance. I know where my sales are. I know where I want them to be. Now just getting there is the trick. I’ve got the product, I’ve got the quality, it’s the moving of the product I need to improve.

Of course, getting Unusual Events out is definitely going to help, I think. Alpha feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Unusual Events may be my strongest writing to date. But that release happens one way or another, and whether or not it releases, the minimum wage goal is now on my list of monthly progress charts.

The trick, I’m sure, will be in the figuring out of how to get that goal checked off.

But hey, it’s a start.