Zach and I have not published much fiction this year. I know it. He knows it. And so we don’t talk much about it.
We haven’t done anything wrong, haven’t had a major failure or setback. It’s simply the way things have turned out for us this year. We’ve been focused on many things, including author events and conferences. Behind the scenes, we’ve been writing nonfiction and building our podcasting platform.
I’ve finally accepted the fact that I’m a good teacher, and that it’s a responsibility I must honor for the rest of my life. I have Zach to thank for that. For too long, I tried to ignore the combination of my innate talent and decades of hard work as a professional educator. But that doesn’t make me feel any better when I realize we haven’t been publishing books.
The fact that we haven’t published much fiction this year really bothers me. I got into this profession because I love writing fiction—it’s my core competency.
So when we recently started planning our new flagship series, I was excited about the possibilities. We owe so much to Chris Fox, who articulated this approach at the Sell More Books Show Summit, explaining why a flagship series is important for writers of genre fiction and how to create one.
Zach and I sat at the table and took notes like everybody else.
After one false start and a long stretch of planning meetings and stalled outlines, we have finally embarked on the first-drafting of our flagship series, and I couldn’t be happier.
Earlier in my career, I thought it was important to write words every day, and I still think that is good advice for the majority of writers who are starting out on this journey. But over the last few years, the amount of fiction that I have first-drafted has been minimal. And I don’t like the way that makes me feel.
This week, after returning from several weeks of travel, I recommitted to the first-drafting process. I don’t set word-count goals for the day or for the week. Instead, I prefer to utilize the James Clear method of creating an Atomic Habit—building a system that I don’t have to think about. If I show up and honor that system every day, goals become irrelevant. “Butt in chair” equals words in the bank, and if I do that every day I am supposed to, the results will come without me having to worry about whether I wrote 500 words on a given day or if I’m a “failure” because I only hit 495.
I wrote more first-drafting words this week than I had in the previous six months combined. And a strange thing happened as I looked back on what I had accomplished this week. It didn’t feel that momentous. In fact, some of the self-imposed thresholds I thought existed disappeared. When I calculated how many words I had written on one day, it was three times more than the amount I thought I could possibly write in one day.
I didn’t know this until after the fact, which is why I believe setting a daily word-count goal might be counterproductive. If I don’t hit a daily word-count goal, I might be disappointed in myself, and that could spill over into the next day, creating a compound effect of disappointment, which could lessen my motivation.
Instead, I have given myself an unexpected gift. I’ve banked more words than I thought possible, and because I did that within the normal course of my routine, I understand that I don’t have to binge words. I don’t need to rent a hotel room for seven days to write, or I don’t need to have that special table at that special coffee shop to get the work done.
I can create the space for myself to get the words on the page. I can eliminate all distractions while working, and I can hold that time sacred. That’s it. It doesn’t matter whether you have 15 minutes a day or 15 hours a day dedicated to your writing, if you build the system, the words will come.
I might not be publishing a lot of fiction in the remainder of this year, but the engine is running again, and the words are flowing.
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