Setting Goals for a Writing Career

writing career goalsLast week I was at a Halloween party where a tarot card reader was telling fortunes. I love fortune tellers. I love to geek out over their predictions and try to suss out how much is coming from some cosmic source and how much they’re just reading me. So of course I was the first one to sit down.

She told me to shuffle the cards while thinking of my question and the one that came to mind was: how do I build my writing career? Well, she wasn’t the greatest card reader. She asked me to tell her my question, so I did, and the rest kind of felt like a therapy session. But there was one thing she said that stuck with me. She told me that if I didn’t know what my goals were, I would never reach them.

Um, duh. This is not rocket science. This is not even fortune telling. This is just plain common sense. But I had to admit, I don’t have any goals in place right now.

The thing is, I’m usually ALL ABOUT planning. I mean, if you follow along at all you’ve seen my bullet journal posts. You know I’m a total nerd for making plans and executing. But here’s what I realized: for the longest time my goal was simply to finish my novel and get it out into the world.

Well, it’s not out in the world yet, but it has been bought by a real honest to goodness publisher and has a publishing date set for March of 2020. Done and done. And while I wait for things to progress on that front, I’ve been working on another story. I just finished a draft of that one last week. It’s a mess, but its a story. So I’ve just been writing and writing without any real sense of what my goal is.

The Money

I know I want to make a living with my writing. Good news for me is that I don’t have to make six figures to make this happen. My husband makes a good living, so I really only need to bring in half of our household expenses. That’s a goal.

But there are just so many unknowns when it comes to writing and income. A person could write a dozen books in obscurity and then have a breakout hit that makes bank. They might get a book optioned by Hollywood and make some money that way. They might hit it out of the park on their first go, getting a six-figure advance on their debut, and then not be able to sell their next book because they didn’t sell out their advance.

There are just so many unknowns around the money side of a writing career that it’s hard to hitch my goals (and my eventual joy or depression) on whether I hit some arbitrary financial goal. It’s not about the money. (That said, if you’re curious, this website does an interesting breakdown of what some writers are making.)

So I’m inclined to set other goals, centered around inputs I can control, and hope the money comes sooner rather than later.

Books Per Year

When I first met with my agent he asked if I thought I could put out a book every year. I’ll admit I flinched. He adjusted: how about a book every two years? Well, this idea is actually really appealing to me. At that rate, the odds of making money go up. Not only is a writer more likely to get to that one book that is a big hit, but with each book you gather a few more readers who like your books and might be inclined to buy them when they hit the shelves. They might go back and buy your previous books.

Some writers write four books a year to reap the benefits of accumulated work, but there’s just no way I can do that. Maybe if I had started writing before I was a mom, before I started spending five hours a day driving these little people to various practices and appointments, not to mention a husband that I actually like spending time with. Oh, and my two blogs. There’s no way.

But a book every two years? That I feel like I could plan for.

Three-Month Chunks

I started thinking about how, as I pushed to wrap up the draft of my second story, I was writing about 2,000 words a day without sacrificing too much in terms of life balance. At that rate I could put out a rough (and I do mean rough) draft in three months.

But then, I’m supposed to get notes from my editor on my first novel this week. Contractually I have four months to make the edits, but I’m hoping I can do them in three.

Then, I will switch to outlining novel 3. Yep, I already have ideas in the works, I just need some focused time to get it all worked out. I have never made outlining my main writing activity. I didn’t outline novel 1 at all (which I’m pretty sure is why it took my nine years to write it). Novel 2 I outlined while working on novel 1 and that baby was SO much easier to write. Turns out I’m a planner (big surprise, right?)

Anyway, I’ll spend three months outlining novel 3, then jump back to do another draft on novel 2, then work on a first draft of novel 3. I sketched it out on some graph paper. Here’s what it looks like:

writing career goals

The question is whether I can actually keep up this schedule. Because if I could, I would be sending a manuscript to my agent in January of 2020 AND January of 2021. I haven’t accounted for time editing in response to my agent’s feedback. Because I don’t know how long it will take to get feedback. There are frankly just too many unknowns. But if I could…

Writer Goals

All of this is to say that it’s hard to know how to set goals as a writer. There are so many external variables, so many things we can’t control.

How do you set goals? Do you go with dollar amounts? Do you maybe go for awards or accolades of that sort? Number of copies sold? I’m so new at this, would love to hear your thoughts.

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Awesome Cover Ideas From My Family

In honor of Halloween, I thought I’d keep things light today and share some of the awesome cover ideas my family came up with over dinner last week:

You can see in the top ones some of the elements of my story (including ostriches and a woman with a cowboy hat), but I think my favorites are the ones along the bottom. My seven-year-old boy gave me cover ideas along with his thoughts on how to improve the story: it really SHOULD have more underwater drones and ninja stars.

Even though I probably won’t forward these to my publisher, I was totally feeling the love. To see this book slowly taking shape is such a great adventure.

Now go do some trick-or-treating. I’ll catch you next week.

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Four NaNoWriMo Scrivener Tips

As I’m sure you know, NaNoWriMo starts next week. I’ve been seeing a lot of Twitter traffic about people getting ready, so even though I’m not participating this year, I thought I’d share four NaNoWriMo Scrivener tips that have been super helpful to me in the past when trying to write 50,000 words in a month. Because this challenge is not for lightweights, and anything that makes it a little easier is worth knowing.

Here they are:

1. Make Notes

When you’re writing for NaNoWriMo, you don’t have time to stop and research, so just make notes to remind yourself to come back.

To do that, quick and easy, first make sure your Notes window is open in your Inspector window (that’s the window that opens to the right of your manuscript). Do that by clicking here:

Then highlight a section of your text. Then click on the little note icon just below the chapter name in the Inspector window.

You can also go to the menu at the top and click Insert -> Comment. Or use Shift Command Star as a shortcut. However you do it, you’ll get a little window there where you can type up your note and it will wait there with your text so you can keep working and come back to it later.

2. Split Screen

If you’ve been using Scrivener for any length of time, you probably know this one, but just in case (and because it’s super handy), here’s how you split your screen so you can view things side by side.

Click the same button again to un-split the screen.

Quick tip: you can change whether the screen splits vertically (like I did here) or horizontally by go to View -> Editor Layout.

3. Mimimize Distractions

If your eye is easily drawn to things that are open on your desktop (hello, Facebook), try clicking this button right here.

You can adjust the display at the bottom of the screen. When you’re ready to minimize it again, just hit ESC on your keyboard.

And now, dear writers, I’ve saved the best for last…

4. Project Targets

This is one of my favorite features of Scrivener. Because for all the best laid plans, life gets in the way. Or maybe you already know you can’t write every day and are trying to figure out your game plan. By using the Project Targets function you can set Scrivener to tell you how many words you have to write every day, and automatically recalculates if you miss a day.

Step 1: Go to Project -> Show Project Targets

Your’ll get a window that looks like this:

Under the top bar you’ll see the number of words you have written so far. In this example it says 20,878 of (and then a blank) words. Click on that blank space, and when you get a cursor, enter your goal of 50,000.

Step 2: Click Options to get this window:

Step 3: Set your due date at November 30th. Then, click the days you plan to write. In this example, I’m planning to write six days a week.

When you click OK, you’ll get the first popup screen again and it will show, under the lower bar (your Session Target) it will show you how many words you need to write that day to stay on target.

Play around with it a little. I’m telling you, this is SUPER handy when you’re just working for a word count with a specific deadline.

Good luck to you all! May the words flow like water in a stream.

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Nineteen Nerd Words for Dictionary Day

Okay, so technically Dictionary Day was yesterday, but I’m celebrating all the same.
Here are nineteen nerd words for all my word nerds out there.

Nerd Words

Deipnosophist ~ an adept conversationalist at the dinner table. As in: He brought Rachel, the deipnosophist, in the hopes that she would distract his mother.

Nerd Words

Struthious ~ Of or relating to ostriches. As in: I’m writing about struthious birds in the Mojave.

Nerd Words

Celerity – swiftness of movement. As in: It moved with the distinct celerity of its kind.

Nerd Words

Grawlix ~ A string of typographical symbols used to represent an obscenity. As in: She told him to go #@$%*! himself.

Nerd Words

Callipygian ~ having well-shaped buttocks. The beach-bound collection of young, bronze, and callipygian individuals was enough to make one feel lightheaded.

Nerd Words

Insensate ~ lacking physical sensation. As in: A few moments barefoot left the cuffs of her pajamas stiff and her diminutive toes insensate.

Nerd Words

Truculent ~ eager or quick to argue or fight. As in: The truculent little beast would hide in the strangest of places, just waiting to attack.

Nerd Words

Lutaceous ~ pertaining to or made of mud. As in: The only color in the lutaceous landscape lay in puddles of water that reflected the brilliant blue sky above.

Nerd Words

Gnathic ~ having to do with the jaws. As in: Everything we know about that particular branch of the genus “homo” was deduced from a single gnathic fossil.

Nerd Words

Quomodocunquize ~ To make money in any way possible. As in: His baby needed food, so he set out to quomodocunquize.

Nerd Words

Atavistic ~ relating to or characterized by reversion to something ancient or ancestral. As in: They backed away from the atavistic scene, hoping they might remain unseen.

Basorexia ~ an overwhelming urge to kiss. As in: For months they lived in a constant state of basorexia.

Heterochiral ~ reversed (as a mirror image), but otherwise identical. As in: Her heterochiral self always inspired thoughts of parallel realities.

Amphoric ~ characteristic of a sound made by blowing across the mouth of a bottle. As in: She helped him up, taking note of his amphoric breathing.

Rime ~ frost formed on cold objects. As in: The rime on the window pane obscured the source of the rosy light.

Pareidolia ~ the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist. As in: Her shock stemmed from the most human of experiences, a common case of pareidolia.

Misogamy ~ the hatred of marriage. As in: The open bar helped to quell his misogamy.

Lambent ~ running or moving lightly over a surface. As in: Lambent flames were all that remained of the night’s inferno.

Pooter ~ A suction bottle for collecting insects and other small invertebrates. As in: I caught a wicked-cool beetle in my pooter.

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Nine Years Blogging

Photo by from Pexels

This week marks my blog’s ninth birthday!

Happy birthday little blog.

What a year it’s been. I finished my manuscript (after nine long years of work) in December of last year. I found myself a super awesome agent in January. In June he called to tell me that he sold the book. In July I got to attend the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, still high on the news that my book would be published. And with any luck, I’ll be wrapping up a second draft of my second book by the end of this month. Whew.

It seems like a good time to thank you all for being with me on this journey. I have really come to love blogging, and have made some friends I hold in high regard despite the fact that I’ve never actually met them IRL. You know who you are. Because you rock.

What’s Next?

There are a few things on the horizon.

For starters, the book. My publisher wants it to be a spring book, and they already had their 2019 books lined up, so it won’t be coming out until spring of 2020, which feels like a LONG way off, but it will come. And I will be sure to tell you all about this crazy world of publishing as things progress.

Second, I’m going to be revamping the blog. The new design won’t go live until I have a book cover design (and I really don’t know when that will be), but it’s in the works. Stay tuned.

Third, if you’ve been reading along for a while, you know I’ve been blogging less than I used to. A couple years ago I was posting three times a week, but I cut way back because I needed to focus on finishing my novel. Well, now that the writing is on track, we’re gunna party like it’s 2016. Starting in 2019, I will, once again, be posting three times a week: Mondays I’ll share some fun California trivia I’ve picked up while researching stories, Wednesdays will be my usual thoughts on writing, and Fridays will be…

All Scrivener, all the time. I was looking at my analytics recently and I noticed that my scrivener posts get FAR more traffic than anything else I blog about. Just for fun, I made a list of Scrivener tips I could blog about and it’s 60 items long! So starting in 2019, I’ll be posting one Scrivener tip a week. Make sure you sign up for my newsletter so you don’t miss any of them! (And if you’re not a Scrivener user yet, click here and you can get 10% off if you use my name – just enter APRILDAVILA as your discount code when you check out).

Thank you!

I can’t say enough how grateful I am for the readers who visit my blog, those who leave comments, and those who hang out with me on Twitter. It’s been a pretty amazing journey so far… and I’m already thinking about some sort of epic giveaway I could do next year to celebrate year 10. ARC giveaway, maybe? IndieBound gift certificate? An all expenses paid trip to New York? Not unless my money tree starts flowering – I’m beginning to think that old gypsy lady lied.

If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

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The Lesson of the Super Suit Scene

I’ve been thinking a lot about this scene from the movie The Incredibles (the first one). In case you haven’t seen it, it comes near the end of the movie, when the big bad is attacking the city. It’s the Super Suit Scene.

I Am The Greatest Good…

The movie cuts away from our main characters (Mr. Incredible and his family) and jumps to Frozone, the sidekick. As you can see, in the clip, it would have been really easy to simply show the man getting ready for a night with his wife, when – bam – a robot comes stomping down the street. Done. Six seconds. And scene.

But no. The scene goes on for another forty seconds in what is arguably one of the best moments of the movie. In that forty seconds, without EVER seeing the wife that he’s arguing with, we get to know this character and what his life is like:

He lives in stylish condo.
He is a dude who cares about his appearance.
He is married to a woman who keeps his shit together for him.
They have the kind of relationship where they can just yell at each other from the other room (also – she is probably in the kitchen cooking, which is why she doesn’t come to argue in person – which leads one to believe that he’s not much for helping out in the kitchen).
They host dinner parties, but have busy lives that make it the kind of thing you have to plan far in advance.
He is prioritizing being a super hero.
She knows his priorities and isn’t happy about it.
They have had this argument before.

It’s an awesome scene, because all of those things we learn about him are things we can relate to. Who hasn’t had an argument with their spouse from the other room? Who hasn’t had priorities that our spouse didn’t understand? Who hasn’t found themselves rushing around to find their shoes/keys/super suit?

And they could have totally just cut it after those first six seconds. Those were enough to explain his presence in the next scene, but instead they ran with it, and it’s one of the best scenes in the movie.

Giving Our Sidekicks The Time

It has me thinking about my own minor characters. What scenes have I cut after the first six seconds (so to speak)? Would those scenes be better if I let them run a little? What could I learn about the character if I did? Would those things make them more relatable? Would it serve the story as a whole?

I don’t know that I will ever write anything as brilliant as the Super Suit scene, but it’s good to have goals.

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Tracking Writing Goals in Your Bullet Journal

Writing Goals Bullet JournalA while back I blogged about using my Bullet Journal (what the kids are calling BuJos) to get my writing life organized. Well I’m about ten months in, and I love it more and more. And then, a few weeks ago, I discovered another way it can help me with my writing: color coding my progress.

A Little Backstory

I got WAY off course with my writing at the end of the summer. The kids were off school, none of our usual routines were in place, and even so I was maintaining pretty well until I got an ovarian cyst that completely knocked me for a loop. Who knew that shit could hurt so much? I guess lots of women, actually, but I certainly didn’t. Anyway, I was on a bunch of pain meds and not writing AT ALL.

And just like exercise, writing is really hard to get back into if you stop for any significant period of time. Even once I was feeling better, and the kids were back in school, I was having a lot of trouble getting back on track with my draft.

Where I Want To Be

My current writing goal is to have a completed draft of 120,000 words by the end of October. I had about 84,000 words. Writing six days a week, I figured out I’d have to write about 1,100 words a day to hit my goal. That’s a lot for me, but with some focus I can do it. (BTW, if you’re using Scrivener, it will calculate that for you.)

Now, I’m going to geek out for a sec, but I’m hoping that it might help other, like-minded nerds, if they’re stuck with their writing.

The project has six chapters, so I’m roughly shooting for 20,000 words a chapter. I went through and calculated how many words I needed to write for each chapter:

Chapter 1: I have 17,000 words, so I need another 3,000
Chapter 2: need another 6,000 words
Chapter 3: need another 10,000 words
Chapter 4: need another 2,000 words
Chapter 5: need another 10,000 words
Chapter 6: need another 16,000 words

Then, I divided the words needed by 1,100 to find out how many writing days I will be spending on each chapter:

Chapter 1: about 3 days
Chapter 2: about 5.5 days
Chapter 3: about 9 days
Chapter 4: about 2 days
Chapter 5: about 9 days
Chapter 6: about 14 days (ug – the hardest chapter – I’m so dreading these 14 days)

Bringing It Back To The BuJo

Every day, when I’m done with my writing, I color in a square for every 100 words I wrote. You can see at the top of this post what September looks like so far. I give myself Sundays off (or use them to catch up). You can see some days I was totally rocking it, writing as much as 2,000 words, and then there was that one day I only got 400 words on the page.

I find it a really motivating tool. Looking ahead at October, I blocked out the work I need to do to hit my goal. Here’s what October looks like:
Writing Goals Bullet Journal

One day wrapping up chapter 3, two days on chapter 4, a week and a half on chapter 5 and the rest of the month on the dreaded chapter 6.

And okay, yes, when I started with the BuJo I said I would “never” be the kind of person to “carry around a case of different colored markers with which to decorate a glorified day planner,” but I find it really motivating to color in a square for each hundred words I write. It’s SO satisfying. And I don’t know why, but I love looking at it and seeing all those colorful squares. It’s a really quick snapshot of work actually getting done.

What’s more, I know if I’m suffering on a section, it won’t last forever. When I was hating chapter two, I just looked at my calendar and knew I only had to spend another three days on it and then I would have my word count and I would move on.

And if that wasn’t enough reason to love the BuJo, having this little map also helps alleviate any fears that I’m spending too much time in one chapter. I’m writing to 20,000 words on each chapter and then moving on. I will certainly come back. The chapters won’t be 20,000 words when I’m done with the final draft, but it’s a good starting point, and it prevents me from writing a 40,000-word chapter 1, and avoiding chapter 6 all together because I’ve run out of time (which I would totally do to myself because I don’t want to write chapter 6).

Do you have any tricks you use to keep yourself motivated and or organized? Do you maybe have a digital version of this that you find useful? Please share. We’re all learning here.

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Four Easy Ways to Make Scrivener Instantly Awesome

Scrivener 3.0Last week I had lunch with a writer friend who recently took the leap and downloaded the Scrivener app. I was so excited for her, because, well, I’m such a Scrivener nerd. I pulled my laptop out right there in the restaurant and showed her a few of my favorite little tricks, just enough to get her started without being overwhelming. And it seemed to me that others out there might be interested. So here we go:

Four Easy Ways to Make Scrivener Instantly Awesome

1. My number one favorite way in which Scrivener helps me with my writing is with the daily word count. Especially if you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo this year, you have to check this out. It allows you to enter your writing days (for example: I write Monday through Saturday and take Sunday off), and then calculates how many words a day you have to write to hit your goal. If you miss a day it recalculates automatically. It’s AWESOME for keeping on track with writing goals.

2. Second is Scrivener Snapshots. This has changed the way I organize versions of my story in ways I didn’t even appreciated when I started. Used to be, every time I changed something significant in my story, I would save a new version and my files were cluttered with drafts and I could never find anything. Scrivener Snapshots made all that a thing of the past.

3. Similar to how I used to save drafts, I used to have files stuffed full of research, both on my computer and in my web browser, and I could never find anything. In Scrivener, you can drag and drop whole websites into your research files and never have to go looking for shit ever again. You can even access them when you’re offline. Awesome.

4. Then, once you have all that research, you can open it easily without losing your place in your writing by using Quick Reference Windows. Sometimes I’ll use this function to open an image so I can look at it as I’m describing it. Sometimes I use it to reference historical facts, or orient myself geographically in a city. You can also use it to open another chapter and view it beside the one you’re working on. So handy.

Using those four basic tools makes Scrivener instantly awesome, but there’s much more, when you’re ready…

For Instance

You could just type “Scrivener” in to the search bar here on my website (top right there) and see everything I’ve ever written on the topic, but here are a few of my favorite, slightly more advanced, tricks and tips:

Color coding your files/chapters
Using the Corkboard View
Word frequency function (great for highlighting those pesky adverbs)
The handy name generator
Track your work history
Get nerdy with meta-data

And the coolest thing about Scrivener is that I keep discovering ways in which it makes my life easier (well, my writing life at least). To keep learning with me, consider signing up for my newsletter (to get these posts in your inbox every Friday), or follow me on Twitter (where I share links to all kinds of good Scrivener info).

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Google Maps Street View: An Awesome Writing Tool

Google Street View Writing Tool
Before I jump into this week’s post, I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who gave an opinion on last week’s post. Your feedback is so helpful. It’s looking like the orange background is going to win it, but I’ll let you know when I make my final decision. Okay… onward!

Today I want to share a brilliant new writing tool I discovered while working on my novel: Google Maps Street View. It’s so obvious I’m kind of embarrassed that it took me so long to take advantage of it.

Using Google Maps to “See” a Place

Around page 98, my main character drives through a small town outside of Barstow. In editing, I realized that I didn’t really illustrate the scene very well. I couldn’t, because I had never been there, and therefore had no concrete details to share about it. Then it occurred to me – I don’t have to go there.

I pulled up the town on Google Maps, chose a corner that made sense for my scene to take place on and dragged the little yellow man into place to get the street view. So awesome. It was all tall signs and squat buildings in dusty shades. I “rolled” down the street a bit to see how the road slowly transitioned from sun-bleached town to lonely desert. There were two traffic signals.

A Word of Caution

Researching a place this way, I couldn’t smell the air, or notice how the people interact. I couldn’t feel the heat of the day on my face. I couldn’t hear the whistle of a train in the distance. There’s a lot you can’t get from “walking” down a street virtually, but if you’re just looking for a detail or two to set a scene, it’s amazing.

That said, I would never have used this trick for getting to know the main setting of my story. If I had tried to portray an ostrich farm without actually going to one, the story would have surly rung hollow. Because it’s those precise details (the heat, the train whistle) that make a reader feel like their with their narrator in the world of the story.

Also, I think it’s one of the biggest perks of being a writer that you can go anywhere and investigate anything in the name of research. Show me a writer who hasn’t worried about the FBI scanning their browser history and I’ll show you someone who writers boring stories.

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Author Photo Decision Time

Author PhotoIt seems to me that one of the reasons authors do what they do is that they get to hide behind their stories. Unlike musicians or actors, we get to put our art out into the world without being the face of that art, which suits me just fine. I have never been comfortable in front of a camera. I just feel like photos never, ever, capture what I feel like, and so they are inherently wrong. No matter how good the photo, it’s a flat, still image. Blah. Not my thing.

That said, my publisher (I love saying that: my publisher) has asked me to provide an author photo. Given my anxiety around photos, I decided not to fuck around and hired a professional. Los Angeles is, as you can imagine, crawling with photographers offering headshots, but after much research I decided to go with Rob Greer. He was great. If you’re in the area and looking for a professional photographer, definitely check him out.

After my hour-long session, Greer sent me a zip file with 111 photos of my face. *sarcastic yeah!*

Talk about overwhelming. I started by scrolling through them all. Then I created a file called Contenders and moved about half of the photos there. Then I did a more critical pass, moving about half of the contenders to a Round 2 file. Then I called in the fam for some additional input and got it narrowed down to a file of Finalists, of which there are five images. I would love your input.

I’m calling them 1) Purple Landscape 2) Purple Portrait 3) White 4) Orange and 5) Black. Though I love the color, it also has to look good in black and white, so I’m giving those side by side. I’m also including a little social media square version, because that’s how most people will see it.

It’s worth noting that they could be cropped (like I might crop my arms out of the purple portrait one, or I might shift the orange one so that I’m not right in the middle), but I can’t zoom out (as much as I like the white one, it doesn’t give me much to work with in a horizontal space and the square sm icon looks a little close up for my taste).

Please cast your votes below in the comments. If you have the time, I’d love to know the reasons behind your choice.

Author Photo

Author Photo

Author Photo

Author Photo

Author Photo

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