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.

How to make your first $100 from blogging: The 100×100 method

There are SO many people out there giving out advice about how to become a successful blogger and how to monetize your blog. They talk about authority sites and high-ticket products but they’re missing what it’s like for 95% of bloggers.

The hard truth is, most bloggers can’t get started with making money from blogging. So they lose motivation and give up. In some niches (I’m looking at you, beauty bloggers), it’s even harder because the path that people are trying to take isn’t the most profitable one, it’s a big shiny distraction that will fill your make-up drawer but not your wallet.

Here, I want to share my 100×100 method for making your first $100 from blogging. Don’t worry, I’m not trying to sell you anything.

What I did wasn’t remarkable or unusual. Anyone could do it. 18 months into blogging, I was regularly taking home about $400 per month. I didn’t have a huge email list (I still don’t have a mailing list for my blog because I’m managing 50,000 subscribers across 3 author mailing lists and need another one like I need a hole in the head).

I didn’t have a huge amount of views in the early days. My blog’s been running since December 2014 and along the way, I’ve learned a few things. I’d like to help you take some shortcuts to being a successful blogger and the hardest thing I found was making that first $100.

Once I’d broken that barrier, the views, money and everything else started rolling in.

And I’ve never written a sponsored post or accepted a free product from a company in exchange for a review, although I get about 20 requests a week (I usually say no because I don’t want the obligation of reviewing something I might not like although there are some things I’d say yes to that have never been offered, such as Latisse or an all-inclusive trip to Tibet).

I didn’t set out to make money from my blog.

This is important because I didn’t monetize until January 2016. There were 15 months at the beginning of blogging when I wasn’t monetized. I think this was good for me, overall, because it meant I focused on writing strong, well-researched articles and my success measure came from growing my daily views, not from how many affiliate links I’d dumped into any given article.

I actually started my blog two months after I had turned my Citroen Xsara Picasso into a campervan and taken my husband on a 16-day adventure from York to Rome for our honeymoon.

I just wanted somewhere permanent to put my travel pictures to share with my family, then I started YouTubing hair tutorials so I also wanted somewhere to write down how to do beauty-related things for people who didn’t watch videos. The twin focus of my blog – beauty and travel – made me think it was impossible to monetize, and all the advice said focus on one thing, but this just isn’t true. Focus on doing each topic WELL, don’t flit around doing half a job, would be better advice.

I think I got a lot of followers early on because I had Travel Tuesday and Beautiful Friday, and shared posts on both topics. Although it did take longer for Google to rank my site as a travel blog than as a beauty blog, it now ranks well for both.

The 100×100 method for monetizing your blog

Before you try to make any money with your site, ask yourself the 100×100 question: “Do I have a good blog with around 100 well-written posts on it and am I getting around 100 views a day?” If the answer is yes, you’re ready to take the next steps into monetizing your blog.

If not, I suggest you work on these first; let’s look at how.

Write good content for your blog

Content IS still King in 2020. What does that mean? Content is the most important thing in blogging. Your entire success or failure comes down to whether your posts are engaging for your readers, and whether your posts answer readers’ questions.

Your primary focus should be writing 100-ish posts of good content. At first, you will be shouting into a hole and wondering who will ever see these articles when you have no views. You might be wondering whether you should waste your best content on a blog which no one is reading.

I wondered these things too.

What I learned over my first and second year of blogging was those best articles with good content will soon rank in Google, and when they do, people will find them. One of my earliest posts is “Hair Bleaching 101”. It got a grand total of 15 views in the first six months after I published it.

Now, five years later, it has an average of 150 views per month. I have over five hundred posts on my site (I didn’t blog for all of 2018 and posted 6 times in 2019, or there’d be a lot more).

If each post on my site gets 150 views a month, that’s 75,000 views total in a month (rough average; that post isn’t even in my top 10 most popular, as you can see from the sidebar on the right hand side of the screen), so all those early posts are contributing to my overall success.

How to get more views for your blog

Once you have around 100 posts of good content, your viewing figures may take care of themselves if you’re a natural at SEO (getting your posts to show up on Google) but they may not. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and you need it on your site to make everything visible to Google.

SEO for bloggers in brief

In (very) brief, SEO for bloggers is all about ensuring your article titles match with what readers type into Google, your articles are the right length (over 1500 words for most articles, but change it up when you need to and don’t force yourself to ramble, Google hates that), and that your tags are all correct.

You also need internal links, so Google knows how important any given article is to your whole blog. And you need to post regularly. That doesn’t get said enough. If you don’t post at least once a week, every week, no exceptions, Google won’t rank you as high.

If you take time out of posting (I took about 18 months away from blogging) your SEO will suffer because Google penalizes “dead” sites in favour of “current” sites that are still being updated.

The best site about SEO is Neil Patel. That guy knows what he is talking about. If you want lots and lots of advice and info on SEO, go read his stuff.

Do bloggers need to be on social media?

If SEO is too technical for you, you should focus on building a platform of readers on social media who want to see your stuff. There are many ways to do this. You could start a Facebook Page for your blog and invite your friends to like it (scary but necessary for a Facebook strategy, as strangers will be reluctant to hit “like” on a page which has zero likes).

If you don’t do Facebook, you could start a Twitter or Instagram. Twitter is better if you like writing short sentences with a link, Instagram is better if you like sharing really good photos but don’t want to link to specific articles (e.g. for cosplayers or food bloggers).

Most of us will do a bit of SEO and a bit of social media. You can’t do everything, so don’t try, you will just waste a lot of time chasing your tail. Pick one social media site and get good at it before moving onto others. Make friends in your niche e.g. other travel bloggers. Find Facebook groups for bloggers in your niche.

Some people will say you don’t need to do any of this, just be your authentic self and the readers will find you and adore you. People say this to authors, too (I’m a double USA Today bestselling romance author so I hear this garbage a LOT).

They’re lying and trying to stoke your ego into believing them so you won’t work hard on the mechanics behind blogging, won’t succeed, and won’t compete with their site. Believe me, they did all this stuff to monetize their site, too. Or they’re not making money off their site and they don’t know why. In which case, share this post with them. 😉

If you haven’t got any of the stuff you’ve read so far in this post completely nailed, bookmark this (click the star in the right hand corner of the screen in Chrome and you can save this post for later)! Go take action, and come back to the rest of this post weeks or months from now, when your blog is ready for you to move forward. I’ll still be here.

I have 100 GOOD posts and 100 views per day. How do I make money?

Perfect! You’re ready to move forward.

The best way to make your first money with a blog is by joining Amazon Associates. This is a program Amazon runs, which means they give you special links which you can use on your blog, and you make a small amount of money whenever readers click on the links, if they buy something on Amazon within 24 hours of clicking on your link. It works best in review articles, in my experience, but you can also get them into “how-to” articles if there’s an appropriate spot.

The golden rules for ethically putting affiliate links in your blog:

  1. State somewhere on the page that you use affiliate links. My blog has been set to say it on every post and page on my site, at the bottom, to be sure I never forget to state it, and it’s also stated in other places, too, although I try not to interrupt the flow of any given post.
  2. Don’t shoehorn a link in or mislead readers into clicking e.g. by disguising the link. Reader trust is all you have as a blogger so don’t abuse it.
  3. Only link to things that are actually worth linking to. Don’t sell crap. Steve Jobs said that, and it’s something you should live by with affiliate marketing.
  4. Don’t put affiliate links into negative reviews. You don’t want people to buy products you hated, do you? That would be pretty scammy. Instead, link a negative review of one product to a positive review of a related product, or write a comparison between something you did/didn’t like and link to the good products only.
  5. Don’t just rehash the Amazon reviews for a product on your blog. Google will actually penalize you for this because they don’t like duplicate content. Amazon can also penalize you for this as the copyright for reviews belongs to the people who wrote the reviews.

The amount of money you will make from doing this depends on how much traffic your site has and how much your readers are looking to buy a product when they read your post. If they’re not in a buying mindset, you won’t get a sale. That’s why your honest reviews and especially comparisons of different products are the best places to put links.

That’s all you need to do to make your first $100 from blogging! But it’s not very scaleable to higher figures. Several six-figure blogging sites have said your income with this will peak around $4000 per month and it can fluctuate very heavily from one month to the next as it’s really dependent on luck, so you could go from $100 one month to $60 the next month then $300 the month after.

If $4000 a month is the amount of money that will transform your life, then fantastic. But if you want to take things further, then at that point, you need to move into different affiliate programs with high-ticket products like cars, private jets, or online courses.

I’m not doing any of those very well, yet, but when I do, I’ll write about it, so you can climb the success ladder with me.

I use three affiliate programs but realistically, Amazon is the only one making me money because I haven’t figured out how to write high-ranking articles that find buyers for the other two yet. And earlier this year, I designed an online course that didn’t sell a single copy, so I need to go back to the drawing board with all of that and work out how to take my blog to the next level.

If this article was helpful for you, feel free to link to it on your blog, or share it on social media using the sharing buttons below. And if you have any questions, ask them in the comments! I usually close comments on posts after 28 days but I’m going to keep them open on this one.