Writing targets and burnout

How many words does a professional writer type in a day? What if they get burnout? How do I set a writing target? These are all going to be answered in this article.

Sometime a few years ago, I stopped being an unemployed person who also wrote a blog and I became a writer. It was a gradual process and it’s still not a bombproof career – it only works if I keep releasing books, writing blog posts, and sharing these on social media and in my author newsletter. I believe this is the case even for James Patterson although his income is obviously several orders of magnitude greater than mine.

That means I have a target for how many words I write every day.

It started when I was living in China and I was contracted to a publisher to get 1 book to them every 3 weeks. On top of that, I had my own projects I wanted to write and self-publish. A lot of the time these days, I don’t have enough words left over at the end of the day to write my blog which is a shame.

At the height of my productivity to date, I was writing at least 4000 words a day. In fact, four thousand was a bad day. On a good day, I could do 8k or more and I worked 12-16 hours a day, taking long breaks only to cook or shower. After about forty published books, I am working at a point where those words usually only need one or two rounds of edits to be publishable.

It all got a bit too big and unmanageable around late 2018, when I found out I was pregnant. The first trimester hit me especially hard. Due to pregnancy concerns, and the hormones making it impossible to think clearly, my productivity plummeted to about 2000 words. It felt like I was working through treacle. At the time, with my bipolar misdiagnosis (I don’t have bipolar, I have ADHD and PMDD), I thought my productivity was linked to mania/depression, although I now know that’s not the case.

After I had a baby, I thought things would get better, but then I was lost in a mist of severe post-natal depression that kept coming in waves, so every time I thought it had lifted, it came back again. At first I thought this was writer’s block, but I had no shortage of ideas, I just couldn’t execute them.

There were weeks at a time when I couldn’t write anything at all. Not a book, not an article, and I withdrew from social media completely. I became a recluse because I couldn’t handle the pressure from all the things I’d been so good at, which were now on fire.

I. Was. Burned. Out.

The trouble is, like depression, it’s hard to recognize true burnout until you’re so deep under the weight of failed commitments and broken promises that you’ve drowned and they’re fishing your blue corpse out of the river you used to float on top of.

I had to get rid of every pressure, every target, every expectation, that I or anyone else had of me. I had to stop doing and just be. Lockdown didn’t help. I took up running. That helped.

Like a snowdrop poking through the snow I finally started to emerge after about a year. The storm was over. I had survived even though there were many times when I thought I hadn’t.

For about six months now, I’ve been writing again. Some days, more words come out than others. There’s also the constant pressure of needing to drop everything whenever my baby needs something. And trying to hash out a fair arrangement between my husband and I, since we are both working from home.

I have realized that even 1000 words a day is enough to release a 30,000-word book a month (luckily the romance genre supports this length of book), and 1000 words is about an hour of effort (a little over an hour). So now, my target is 1000 words a day. This means at the bare minimum I am writing enough to pay the bills, and if I have time to write more, then great, it can be a more satisfying book.

Even releasing one book every two months will pay for the bare minimum, as we have no mortgage or other big loans (and we are ninjas with a food budget), but to save for bigger and better things, a book a month is optimal (Craig Martelle, founder of Twenty Books to 50k, suggests that rapid-release brings in more money for all the books in a series than releasing on a slower schedule).

I don’t have the luxury of writing that mystery that’s been on the backburner for about 9 months, yet, but if I keep plugging at 1000 words a day, I will get there. And one hour of work time a day is really not that much to ask of my family. In an ideal world, that would be one undisturbed hour in a room of perfect silence, but as anyone with kids knows, that’s not how life works as a mother.

Usually, that’s an hour while my little jellyfish watches car videos on Youtube. I make up for it by taking him outside for a walk and to splash in puddles before or after (or both. He loves splashing), and playing cars with him when it starts to go dark. I was worried about letting him watch TV when he was a lot younger, but now I realize that was unrealistic. As long as the shows are chosen with care, the television is a key weapon in the parenting arsenal. Like any weapon (such as an adjective, adverb or flashback scene) it must be used sparingly.

My point is, if you want writing to be a career, rather than a hobby, you have to set yourself an achievable, realistic goal and make yourself stick to it. Recognize your limits and go easy on yourself. Don’t do what I did and push yourself past the point of not being productive. “Pushing through” burnout is nonsense. It’s a lie spun by people who want you to fail, or who never experienced genuine burnout.

No one ever wrote a book by… not writing.

Goal setting advice for finding your word count and making it stick:

  1. How many other commitments do you have? How much free time do you have? Don’t overestimate all the time spent in between other things. If it’s dead time, such as sitting on public transport, you can use that to write. If it’s time spent driving or similar, don’t count it as free time.
  2. How many words can you realistically write in an average (not perfect) hour? 200? 500? 1500?
  3. Now do some math. Don’t fill every waking hour of free time with writing, unless your lifestyle supports this. Your laundry still needs folding (although I use speech-to-text when I’m doing tasks like this in a quiet house). A good rule is to start by setting yourself half an hour or an hour a day of absolute ringfenced time to write.
  4. You can’t control other people or their interruptions, problems etc. You can tell them that if it’s not bleeding or on fire, not to bother you, but they might still, especially if they crawl or toddle and don’t understand words yet. Embrace the distractions when they are unavoidable, be present with the people who need you, and come back to writing. As Barbie says, positive attitude changes everything. If you spend all your interruptions stressing, you will return to your desk stressed. If you spend your interruptions generously, with the intention of helping people, you will return to your desk feeling good.
  5. Have a dedicated work space. Actually use it. I have a terrible habit of working on the sofa. I am more productive at my desk. You are too. It’s basic psychology. You spent all your youth being conditioned to work at a desk by schools.
  6. Plan your work before you start writing. Know what you want to say. Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, this is going to help you stay focused during writing sessions. You don’t need to know every fine detail, but some vague info will mean you spend your writing time typing rather than thinking.
  7. Never edit until the book is finished. Don’t waste your writing time stumbling over what you want to say. Write cliches, misuse the subjunctive, use twelve adverbs to a sentence. You can unpick it all later.

You can do it! The main thing is to get writing and keep writing.

Wheels: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel, never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning reel.

Alan and Marilyn Bergman

This week’s challenge, then, is wheels. My baby adores wheels! He loves watching cars go past the house, or play with his toy fire engine, pushing it around the room. And his favourite song is The Wheels On The Bus. But wheels aren’t always literal, as this week’s quote shows. It’s from The Windmills of Your Mind, a song made famous by the (now-largely-forgotten) film The Thomas Crown Affair.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Flow: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! Anyone can join in, all you need is a WordPress blog and a picture you have taken with your camera!

This week’s challenge is flow. This is a super open-ended one, so it’s going to be hard to choose your picture!

Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.

Lao Tzu

Mine is from an artistic waterfall in the Dubai Mall near the Burj Khalifa. The Dubai Mall is possibly my favourite shopping centre in the whole world. I really adored visiting Dubai and look forward to going again in the future.

Alongside all the myriad literal interpretations of flow, you could go metaphysical and look at the flow of life’s rhythms, or perhaps examine the impact of too much or too little water flow, cash flow or electricity flow on a community. If you’re in Minnesota or Canada, a frozen waterfall might be the way to go! I look forward to seeing what you can come up with.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Steps: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Hello and welcome to weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos and share them once a week!

This week’s challenge is steps!

My steps are from the Garden of Dreams, Kathmandu, Nepal.

What photos can you come up with? Are your steps dance steps, following on from last week’s challenge? Do you have some literal steps to share, like I do? Or did you find a photo that represents the metaphorical steps in a journey of self-actualisation and personal growth? Maybe you have the steps in a recipe or beauty routine? A worn out shoe? I can’t wait to see all the inspiring images people will create!

The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Chinese proverb

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Gift: Come join the Thursday photo challenge!

Welcome to the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! You don’t have to be an expert artistic photographer (I’m not), just someone with a passion for pictures!

This week’s Thursday photo challenge theme is gift. Share a photo you have taken of a gift. It doesn’t have to be a present, it could be a gift like a talent, or a gift of kindness toward someone, or any other way you choose to interpret it! I love the things people come up with for photo challenges!

“The past is history. The future is a mystery. But today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

Oogway, Kung Fu Panda

My photo of a gift is from Seoul, South Korea, where we found vending machines selling bunches of mixed flowers and beautiful arrangements of roses and greenery for people who needed a gift for their loved ones on the way home from a long day at the office. I thought it was such a beautiful idea. A gift vending machine brings joy to people and reminds us to think of others amidst the daily hustle.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Resolution: Join The Thursday Weekly Photo Challenge!

This week’s challenge, then, is resolution. Take a photo or find one that represents a resolution you are making… or one you’re not making! What does this resolution mean to you? How will it change your life?

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

Chinese proverb

My resolution is to get out and run more. I started during lockdown and I want to take it forward into the coming year and keep trying to improve.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Vibrant: Come and join the Thursday photo challenge!

Welcome to the new weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s topic is… vibrant.

Life is a sea of vibrant colour. Jump in.

A.D. Posey

Vibrant colours are all around us, lifting our souls and energising our senses. Studies have even shown different colours behave differently at a molecular level (colour chemistry is a whole branch of the natural sciences).

So join us in celebrating the many brilliant and diverse colours in the world! You can show a photo with lots of colours, one particular colour, or an absence of colour. Whatever the word “vibrant” means to you!

I can’t wait to see what you share!

My photo is of some tins of sardines I found in a supermarket in China. I thought it fitted this challenge in a sort of pop art way.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then I will be back in the New Year to post the next challenge!

Come join the weekly Thursday photo challenge: Flavour

Welcome to the Thursday Photo Challenge! This is the most delicious time of year in many homes. Food underpins most celebrations around the world. Whenever people come together over a good meal, their spirits are lifted and hearts are replenished.

Usually, we travel somewhere for our December holiday. In 2017 we were in Thailand. 2018 was three weeks of morning sickness in Malaysia. Last year, we went over the Irish Sea to England. This year, we expected Greece, but instead, we are staying home in Belfast.

Instead of travelling, we will cook and share the flavours of places we loved.

This week’s challenge, then, is flavour. How do you photograph a flavour? I’m not sure I captured it amazingly but I know many food bloggers who are experts at it!

Here’s how to take part in the challenge:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Come join the weekly Thursday photo challenge: Structure

Welcome to the second ever weekly Thusday photo challenge! I’ve changed the day to Thursday so as not to clash with another challenge, so Thursdays are now our permanent home. This is a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! You take the photos, then share your posts here following the instructions below.

This week’s theme is structure.

Japanese architecture is traditionally based on wooden structures that need renovating on a regular basis.

Tadao Ando

Structures are everywhere. Buildings. The way plants grow. The markings on insects. Power structures. The structure of a daily routine… this week’s challenge is to take a photo that represents or depicts a structure.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution and check out your blog.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Come join the NEW Weekly Friday Photography Challenge: Beginnings

Announcing… the new weekly Friday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

So the Weekly Photography Challenge used to be an amazing way for photographers (amateur and professional alike) to take a prompt and turn it into a piece of artwork. You could search your files or go out and specifically take a photo for the weekly challenge.

“Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring.”

Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I was scared of participating at first, because I knew nothing about photography (I still don’t know as much as many people, but enough that I’ve sold pictures to national news outlets) but I enjoyed taking pictures and I knew what I liked seeing in a photo.

I was away in China, where I couldn’t update my blog as our internet in our apartment was too slow, when the final WPC came and went, and I only found out earlier this year that the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge has now passed.

Obviously it’s a big commitment, to put out a challenge for everyone every single week without fail and to go and look at everyone’s contributions, but I am going to take it on. I hope this new one will be one of many challenges to inspire people to share beautiful photos and to bring together the strong community we used to have a few years ago on WordPress.

Beginnings

From endings, there are always beginnings. Leaves fall to the ground at this time of year and in decaying, they become the nutritious soil that nourishes all plant life.

Late Autumn is a time for new beginnings, as the lifecycle of the earliest plants begins, months before we see anything happening above the ground.

This week’s challenge, then, is beginnings. Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Friday, I will post the next challenge!