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.

Amazon Prime Day, Rainbows + Bestseller Lists,

So the book I can’t tell you about on here has now made it (quite a long way) into the Amazon Top 100 Bestseller List for a third week!! SQUEE I WROTE A GODDAMN BESTSELLER, BITCHES!! (…and my in-laws and assorted relatives still think I’m an unemployed layabout loser working occasional days as a substitute teacher. And I can’t tell them otherwise. They probably wouldn’t believe me if I did. It’s like being a superhero only my secret power is NSFW).

Oh and in case you’re wondering, the money doesn’t get good until you hit the top 5, so no, I’m still poor. This person had a #1 bestseller and still didn’t make anything. And I’m sure some sanctimonious middle class person will try to say “but that’s not why you should write” because you *should* write to be poor (which is fine if you’ve never had to choose between eating or paying rent I suppose), to be unappreciated (which is fine if you believe you’re Van Gogh or something), to be ignored (see prev. re: Van Gogh), because that’s the stereotype we imagine for writers and what we tell ourselves to feel better about the fact that some people are spending 16 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week doing something they actually want to do (yes, I actually do, come hypomania or depression, I work very hard and some days I only write 50 words but it’s 50 more than I had the day before, other days what I write makes no sense, but that’s okay because it clears my brain out, it’s like scraping the gloop out of the sink so you can wash dishes in it, instead of letting that gloop touch your crockery). Like we imagine that all the pretty people are dumb and all ugly people have hidden depths, instead of seeing that some pretty people are clever and some ugly people are very shallow. I will never stop appreciating being able to write. So I will look forward to writing being my full time income one day but obviously, the money I’ll get in several months’ time (bookstores pay s-l-o-w-l-y) is a LOT better than nothing and while it isn’t going to pay all my bills that month, it at least goes a long way towards it and therefore validates my Goddamn life choices. And I didn’t even have to take my clothes off this time.* 😛

*I am neither confirming nor denying having done this in the past although I do feel it’s high time my cat** wrote a guest post because it would make interesting reading.

**I don’t have a cat. That’s sort of the point.

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And apparently every year Amazon has some special deals that are only available to Prime subscribers. This year, that’s happening on July 12th. From today up to July 12th, Amazon has loads of special pre-prime day deals to get you in the mood (or something).

My personal opinion? Signing up for a free 30 day trial of Amazon Prime, including free shipping and loads of TV shows, makes a lot of sense if you want to do some bargainous shopping. This is a very good month to try Amazon Prime for free, just remember (if you don’t intend to keep it) to cancel before the month is up, and sit back and reap the rewards.

I had Amazon Prime for about a year but I cancelled it in favor of Netflix because they didn’t have such a good range of TV shows. I think I’d consider it again now that the Clarkson Hammond and May show (formerly Top Gear) is on there. Also did you hear about the BBC’s so-called “Top Gear” that they’ve been trying to flog as a replacement to the (not-quite-original but definitely best) Clarkson version? Chris Evans, the show’s main host, and seasoned TV presenting veteran, has just quit. They’re flogging a dead horse, and I’ve been saying since Clarkson got sacked, that nobody in their right mind would sign up to take the place of Clarkson Hammond and May, the audience for that show is too pre-prejudiced against change. They’d have been better off doing a total re-format, since Clarkson invented most of the stuff they did on there anyway. Those of you who know me in person know how much I appreciate Jeremy Clarkson’s contributions to journalism (oh God, the way he can get you from the opening sentence, I wish I could do that), he literally invented new ways to write/talk about cars, and no-one can really replace that. But you can watch Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond messing around in cars IN OCTOBER on Amazon Prime with the 30 day trial in the UK; the BBC was really shitty about copyrights on all the stuff Clarkson came up with while he worked for them, so Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have renamed their new car show “Grand Tour.” I wish I was eligible for another free trial of Amazon Prime now 😦

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Also, this rainbow wig is legit gorgeous I wish I could afford it, its so beautiful, and I wanted to show you all, but WordPress doesn’t allow image links from Amazon. Last time I accidentally pasted the wrong link onto a WordPress post, WordPress actually shut this blog down within seconds, not giving me a chance to fix the problem, and I had to email them 5 or 6 times over 2 days to get them to understand that it was an honest mistake. I totally don’t get the weird and wonderful policies that various blogging sites have regarding their smallprint. I think now I have my own domain I’m allowed to do more advertising, but I look at some of the sites that have come up in reader over the past few months, wall-to-wall advertising, and I simply want to vomit in disgust. The whole marketing model is messed up if they make money from that shit. It’s like those trees falling in the woods and concussing bears who are trying to take a dump.