From July 2013 through 2016, my primary writing goals were as follows:
- Maintain my blog by writing a new post every week.
- Write some fiction on the side.
Pretty generic: I know.
For those who followed griffinpauljackson.com over that stretch, you know most months I failed at the first goal. Though I was sure to post every month, I often posted only once or twice per month, rather than the four or five times I intended.
For the second goal, I half succeeded. I wrote plenty of fiction in those two-and-a-half years. The problem is: none of it ever saw the light of day.
I don’t publish my fiction on my blog. I didn’t submit a single short story or chapter to a lit mag. And I didn’t (and don’t) believe any of my book projects were worthy of seeking out an agent, submitting to a publisher, or e-publishing through Amazon. (That will come!)
By some measures, those years amounted to a giant writing failure.
But that’s not the way I see it.
Because I also laid the groundwork for what came later.
In those years, I established a mildly successful blog (steadily increasing uniques, total visitors, and page reads each year) with a good base of followers. I also wrote for other blogs and occasionally organizations and news outlets. Even though I didn’t publish any of my fiction, I wrote and learned a ton about how to do it. I also wrote a nonfiction book that also hasn’t seen daylight, but will, hopefully, form a regular series on the blog.
During this period, I wrote about 1,000,000 words. I honed my craft without really meaning to.
Sure, I wish I’d been more dedicated to my initial goals, vague as they were, but for not having much of a plan, I feel like I really made progress.
All of that writing, much of it spontaneous and aimless, brought me into 2017 with increased drive (if not increased confidence). I knew I could write and I knew I loved to write, but I still didn’t know if I could write anything people wanted to read.
Revising the Plan and Cashing In
For 2017, answering that question—could I write something people valued?—was my goal. And, for better or worse, I measured it in reads and shares—and in dollars.
My writing goal in 2017 was to write for money.
In January, I attempted writing a pair of books to be e-published while maintaining (and hopefully growing) my blog. That strategy, in hindsight, was too much too fast. It was like revving from a calm 45 mph to over a hundred in literally a day. Did I think January 1 would make my years-long writing regimen change with the tick of the clock?
I wrote fast and free for a few weeks. And then I crashed.
By February, my writing productivity dipped substantially and I found myself caught up in the rigors of daily life. The time I could dedicate to writing halved and then halved again. Part of it was decreasing motivation (and some discouragement that what I was writing wasn’t any good), but the larger reason was the busyness of life.
Isn’t it strange how that busyness always seems to come as a surprise?
I think I have so much time—and when I look at my calendar, it really looks like I do—but the ins and outs of life have a way of taking far more time than we first imagined.
Fortunately, when I paused on my longer book project, I decided to replace it with another of my writing loves: journalism.
I started small, pitching a few stories and columns here and there. One caught an editor’s eye. She gave me a shot and liked it. That initial win led to another story. And another. And another.
Writing for media outlets became my primary writing mode in 2017. I loved it—and it fulfilled my goal to turn my words into dollars.
Last year, I pulled in real money from my writing. It’s not going to pay all of my Chicago bills, but it’s way above zero and I earned it doing something I love.
And the income wasn’t even the best part. Through the pitching and writing process, I found regular writing gigs with some well-respected media standbys—the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today, among others. I am confident that if this year I chose to make journalism my primary writing program, I could double or triple what I made last year.
Maybe that will happen, but it’s not my main goal.
Back to Where I Started—But More Prepared
My main writing goals for 2018 are to get back to what I really love about writing—the things I aspired to initially. My goals this year are pretty much the same as they were five years ago, but this time, I have a few things I didn’t have then: greater wisdom, a better strategy (which is to say: a strategy that actually exists in my mind and on paper), and thousands of hours more in practice.
Goal Number One: Maintain My Blog to the Tune of at Least Two Posts Per Week
Here’s how I’m going to achieve this goal.
- Scheduling: I’m setting aside specific days and hours every week to write.
- Accountability: I’m going to keep track of my writing productivity by posting it on my blog. And I’m trying out to a tag-team writing project with a friend.
- Revising: I’ll go to some of my old unpublished work, update it, clean it up, and publish it. Don’t worry: I won’t recycle old posts. But I have hundreds of thousands of words of content that I discarded or pressed pause on. Much of it isn’t worth seeing, but with a little TLC, some of it is worth the read!
Goal Number Two: E-Publish a Book
Here’s how I’m going to achieve this goal.
- Research: One of the things I’ve learned in the last year about e-publishing is this: to publish a book, whether online or through traditional publishers, writing is only 25 percent of the work. Another 25 percent is rewriting. And 50 percent of the work in publishing is being able to get your words in front of eyeballs. That means marketing, platform-building, planning, and all those other gross words. I’ve read several books and talked to a few successful authors about publishing, but I know I have a lot more to learn. So, I’m committing the time and energy—and dollar bills—to doing the research that will lift my writing from the eyes of a few friends to the eyes of the reader masses!
- Scheduling: Like I said above, I’m committing specific days and hours each week to write what I love.
- Investing: I’m far more likely to achieve a goal when I’ve invested financially in it. I read more of the books and watch more of the movies I pay for than those I get for free. With that philosophy, I’m fronting some cash to the cause of e-publishing. Some will go to a cover, some to edits, and some to software and marketing. But with money down, I’ve got more skin in the game than just my word.
I’m also planning to keep up with some of the writing gigs I stepped into last year. That translates to a regular beat and a menu of stories that I wouldn’t otherwise write (or see published). It’s a fun way to multiply bylines and build a platform, not to mention do cool research and talk with fascinating people. But the point is, as great as it is, journalism isn’t my prime directive this year.
The prime writing goals are writing blogs and stories.
I’d love for you to come with me. Hold me accountable. Engage with the words. Ask questions. Write your own words, too!
And, as always, thanks for reading.