Suspense, Setting Goals, and Agents

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* From Yer Uncle Harv — Suspense
* On Setting Goals and Being Prolific
* Of Interest
* The Numbers

Quotes of the Day

“No fathers or mothers think their own children ugly; and this self-deceit is even stronger with respect to the offspring of the mind.” Miguel de Cervantes

“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful.” Ray Bradbury

“The first step to being a writer is to hitch your unconscious mind to your writing arm.” Dorothea Brande

“[I]f you’re doing it for money or fame, don’t do it. … [I]f you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again, don’t do it. [I]f it’s hard work just thinking about doing it, don’t do it.” Charles Bukowski (see the first item in “Of Interest”)

“A literary agent is nothing but a cheap salesman (or woman); while a writer is a cheap salesman (or woman) who also has to actually write the books.” John Hodgman

From Yer Uncle Harv

To Insert Tension or Suspense —

To insert tension or suspense into a short story or scene or chapter or novel, generally use terse, shorter sentences, shorter paragraphs, and, if the POV character is alone, intense unspoken thought. If there’s another character present, you can replace some or all of the thought with hushed or whispered conversation.

On Setting Goals and Being Prolific

and thanks to George K for the email that served as the catalyst for this topic

Being prolific is a marathon, not a sprint. What matters is setting and maintaining a daily word-count goal and striving to reach it every day.

The beauty of a daily word-count goal is that it magically resets to zero every day.

If your word count happens to fall short one day or if life circumstances keep you from writing at all (the horror!), the goal resets to zero. And if you exceed your daily goal, bravo! But the next morning the goal still resets to zero.

But that reset is the best aspect of a daily word-count goal: Every day is a fresh start, literally the first day of the rest of your life.

As I told George K a couple of days ago, the secret to being prolific is not wearing yourself out, and it isn’t about “speed”. The secret is patience. It’s the result of spending more time in the chair, taking your time with the writing, and slowly building your word count per day.

Well, and continually setting new daily word count goals.

My own daily goal is 3000 words. Some days I fall short (but the goal resets to zero the next day). Other days I struggle a little, especially when I have to do a lot of spot research. For example, when my character is going to a new place I’ve never personally been or encountering a culture or physical location with which I’m not familiar.

But if I still physically and mentally feel like writing when I reach my goal, of course I keep writing.

Most days, other than vaguely keeping track of the number of words in a chapter in my reverse outline (I don’t like to go under 1000 or over 1500 words in a chapter), I have no idea how many words I’ve typed overall for the day.

I just enjoy experiencing the story as it unfolds around me and the characters. That’s the most important thing. If I didn’t enjoy finding out, and usually being surprised by, what happens next, I wouldn’t be a writer. I’d go fishing.

But you can see the results in Numbers below. That’s why I put them down there. Not to show off or even to report, but to motivate you by letting you see what is possible if you invest time in the chair.

In writing the current novel, I missed my daily goal on only three days. Although I missed it by a bunch on Day 4. (grin)

When I have met or exceeded my daily goal consistently for a couple of months, I’ll increase the goal by a half-hour (500-word) increments. Even now. Even after having written 75 novels (and very soon, maybe today, 76).

Longer-Term Goals

I don’t advise or recomend using weekly or monthly goals as your primary. They’re too easy to blow off and say “Well, I’ll do better next week (or month).”

That’s why I recommend daily goals. If you divide your weekly goal by 7 or your monthly goal by 30 (or 28, 29, or 31) you’ll have a daily goal. And those will drive you to the laptop, or legal pad if you write in longhand.

Another writer friend has set an annual goal of 1,000,000 words. That’s truly wonderful, but he needs to divide that by 12, then 52, then 365 days.

He’ll see that to reach his annual goal, he’ll need to write at least 83334 words per month or 19231 words per week or 2739 words per day. That’s only about 3 hours’ work per day. Up to maybe 5 or 6 including cycling to put the story or novel out clean the first time through.

So why not set a daily goal of 2380 (or 2500) words per day? There will be days when you can’t write. Stuff happens. There will be days when your numbers fall short and days when you exceed your goal.

Remember that AVERAGE is what matters.

If you set a goal of 2500 words per day and strive every day to reach it, your average will more than likely hover around that 2380-word magic number and you WILL write 1,000,000 words of fiction in a year. What a rush that will be, eh? (grin)

But you can only celebrate past events. So there’s never a better time to start than today, right now.

Well, as soon as you finish reading this post. (grin)

But if you want to leave right now and dive into a story, please do. Believe me, I will understand. In a moment, I’m going to save this and do just that. And even as much as I enjoy chatting with ya’ll, I can only barely wait.

Because I practice what I preach. And although what I write doesn’t matter in the slightest, THAT I write is all-important. Because writing is what I do. It’s even who I am.

  • Mechanics repair engines.
  • Lawyers practice the law.
  • Plumbers plumb, and carpenters build stuff.

And writers write.

My Personal Long-Term Goal

I personally want to get back to hitting over 100,000 words per month. I used to do so fairly routinely. An average of 3500 words per day will get me there. BUT… I’m not in a hurry.

As an example, as of yesterday, my average on the current novel was 3518 words per day. If I throw out the anomaly (I only wrote 923 words on one of those days) the average jumps to 3806 words per day.

About Numbers and Surprises

Like most humans, I enjoy happy little surprises. So I typically wait to add the numbers to my spreadsheet each morning just before I file the Journal.

The new numbers clicking up on the spreadsheet almost always come as a pleasant surprise.

Conversely, as I mentioned above, I don’t think about numbers as I’m writing. I’m immersed in the story, enjoying learnng What Happens Next. And really, I think that’s the whole secret to being prolific.

A Final Word on Tools of the Trade

Comfort is key. I have a good chair with a great lumbar support and 3-way adjustable armrests, and my keyboard is at the optimum height, so that helps.

More than once, I’ve been known to stand a desk or table on its side and take a saw to the legs to make the writing platform the optimum height. (But take into account the thickness of your laptop or keyboard.)

Or fit a screw into the bottom of the legs so I can adjust one that’s too short until it’s the right height. Or lay a piece of 1/4″, 1/2″ or 1″ wood under each leg. Or whatever else it takes. (grin)

I also have a wonderfully responsive keyboard that feels good under my fingers. The keys are close together and have almost no travel when I’m typing.

There is literally nowhere I’d rather be than in my chair at my little typing table at the keyboard of my 11.5″ HP X360 experiencing my characters’ stories. Nowhere.

I wish the same for you with your device.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

so you want to be a writer? THIS! READ THIS, then remember all the stuff I’ve been trying to teach you.

Nora Roberts Had 204 Books Stolen GREAT ADVICE.

Unpacking Suspense with Agent Zach Honey I do not endorse using agents, but maybe some valuable info for you here.

The brutal truth about earning out See PG’s always valuable take.

The Numbers

The Journal……………………………… 1460

Writing of Blackwell Ops 11: More Jeremy Stiles (novel)

Day 1…… 5214 words. To date…… 5214
Day 2…… 2657 words. To date…… 7871
Day 3…… 2481 words. To date…… 10352
Day 4…… 0923 words. To date…… 11275
Day 5…… 3424 words. To date…… 14699
Day 6…… 3649 words. To date…… 18348
Day 7…… 3334 words. To date…… 21682
Day 8…… 4633 words. To date…… 26315
Day 9…… 4761 words. To date…… 31076
Day 10…. 4109 words. To date…… 35185

Fiction for October…………………… 27314
Fiction for 2023………………………… 244856
Fiction since August 1………………… 130309
Nonfiction for October……………… 9610
Nonfiction for the year……………… 207950
Annual consumable words………… 452746

2023 Novels to Date……………………… 4
2023 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
2023 Short Stories to Date……………… 6
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………… 75
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)…………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)…… 234
Short story collections…………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark and adherence to Heinlein’s Rules. Unreasoning fear and the myths of writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.

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2 thoughts on “Suspense, Setting Goals, and Agents”

  1. I’ve got a tip to set my daily goals not in words but in time. Like, write a half an hour every day, or an hour, or two hours, so you get the idea. I use something in between. I write 40 minutes at once, and repeat until I reach my goal number.
    OK, it is a bit exaggeration I do it this way, because it is my new-old system. I didn’t do it for a while, but I used to do it. I noticed at about 40 mins my eyes are tired, I start to lose my focus, I need a break from my computer… That’s it. After a ten minutes break I can continue. Cycling, and writing again.
    I also try to set a new daily goal. I will have two kind of: one for the working days and one for the day-offs. As my challange number shows I start to lose momentum. (And you know what? I started to even lose engagement with my characters… After I realised this, I had to do some changes. I started to lose joy while writing…)
    I admire those who can write a million word per year. It is (right now) over the limit for me. But I don’t have to write a million word. I want to have fun with my writing, and if I have only a little time per day, that’s it.
    After all, to find 40 minutes blocks every day is also difficult. But I can do twice 20 minutes, or so.

    • All of that is great advice, Balázs. Regular breaks are essential. And Keep Coming Back is essential. But the biggest of all is to keep the writing fun.

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