Goals That Work Case Study: How Many Novels per Year?

My first novel, Riftmaker, took over three years to complete, and that is only talking about the first draft. It was just a hobby for a long time, so I worked on it when I felt like it. Who knows when I would have typed “The End” on draft one if I hadn’t started talking to a publisher when I did. That organization fell apart before my book went to print with them. I did eventually have it published… by another micro-press that went belly up one month after it was published. On the surface, that’s a sad story, but honestly, I’m not too torn about it anymore because at least it pushed me to finish what I started.

My second novel, No Rest for the Wicked, started life as two novellas, but from conception of the first to final draft of a beta-read and copy-edited novel, it took just over a year. My two completed works happen to be almost exactly the same length, so in very rough terms, we could say I got over 3x better at finishing a novel since my first because it took 1/3 of the time. A 300% improvement rate feels pretty awesome, but it’s also good to keep in mind that I likely won’t see a jump like that again. To maintain the same rate, I’d have to complete 3 books in 2018 and 9 in 2019. It would be silly to set a long-term improvement goal like that because I would eventually hit a point where it would be physically impossible to maintain that rate. Or at least, I couldn’t maintain that rate and also the quality of work that will give me personal satisfaction.

So in 2019, I set myself the goal of completing the first draft of two full novels (90k words or greater). Based on my success rate of 2/2 novels so far (concrete), but also how much I have learned over the last year (abstract), this felt like a perfectly reasonable goal. It pushed me to do more within the unit of time than before, but in a way in which I can accomplish it and still be in line with my abstract motivations of producing a well-crafted piece of writing. I could see pushing myself to as many as 3-4 full-length novels per year in the future, but I don’t want to set myself up for failure by pushing myself too hard too soon.

What Happened?

Did I make my goal? Nope. SUPER nope. And here’s why.

By a strange twist of fate, both of my novels were published within six weeks of each other in the first quarter of 2019. This meant I had a ton of work to do on the blog tours for both books, ie writing dozens of blog posts and coordinating everything with the bloggers. So I definitely didn’t get around to fiction during that time.

Then, of course, came the aforementioned implosion of OWS. This affected Riftmaker as well as the short story anthology I was managing. When I decided to take it over and publish it myself (going wide this March!), I knew it would be tougher to hit my manuscript goal, but I plotted a course and I thought I could still pull it off, plus get some extra publishing credits to boot. I stepped up to try to sort through the mess left in the wake of the OWS debacle on behalf of the other authors, which was a huge drain on my time and mental energy.

Aaaaaaaand then the nail in the goal coffin — mandatory German class. As a “zuwanderer” (immigrant) in Germany, I have to complete 9 months of intensive coursework and pass an exam in order to stay in the country. Since the end of June, I’ve had to commit either 16 or 20 hours a week to class, plus homework. I come home every day and my brain is totally exhausted, which only left mornings for accomplishing my own goals. The second manuscript for the year slipped down the drain when I had my meeting with immigration and found out my fate.

As I said in my last post, goals are not set in stone. They are moving targets. So I didn’t waste any time kicking myself for being so far off at the beginning of the year.

My 2020 Novel Writing Goals

My German class is over in the middle of March, followed by a trip back to the US. I am currently editing the sequel to No Rest for the Wicked and I have freelance deadlines between now and April 1. Except for a short story anthology I want to submit to, I am not setting any new goals for producing fiction in Q1.

The Steampunk anthology project was a lot of work, but also very rewarding. I had an idea for another short story collection featuring fractured fairy tales and got the ball rolling in 2019. Even so, I remain optimistic that this time around, I am going to finish two manuscripts. I’ve got 9 months without class or editing jobs lined up (so far) and a more or less husband-free summer. I *should* be able to get back into a heavy writing groove again in time, especially because I have already started the pre-writing for both of the books I want to write.

Wish me luck!

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