Dear Ninja Writer,
Sometimes I feel like I should have “if you want to be a published author, you have to finish” tattooed on my forehead. That’s kind of long though, and it might look weird on dust jacket pictures–so I’ll just have to settle for saying it over and over again.
If you want to be a published author, Ninja Writer, you MUST finish your first draft. There is no way around it.
I want to share with you my favorite accountability tool for getting that done. It’s something so simple, you learned to respond to it in kindergarten.
Give yourself a gold star every day.
Victoria Schwab is a YA author who has a deliciously simple strategy for keeping herself motivated to write, and keeping track of her daily word count goals. It’s so easy and so effective. I wish I’d thought of it years ago.
All you need is a calendar and a pack of small stickers. I like the nostalgia of stars, but use whatever works for you. I think Victoria uses owls in her video, which I’ll link to below.
Seriously, all you do is write your goal on the calendar. I do it every morning, because I know myself well enough to know that trying to plan ahead in this case will lead to me stalling out if for some reason I can’t do something next Tuesday that I was sure today I could.
When you complete your daily goal you give yourself a sticker.
Victoria made a video about it, because it worked so well that people started asking her about it.
Trust me. Watching that calendar fill up with shiny stars is addictive. You won’t want a gap just because you didn’t feel like working that day. The stickers will be a nice visual reminder to plan your writing time into your week. It’ll give you an incentive to prioritize those hours.
Victoria uses a sticker for every 1000 words and looks to me like she has one or two stickers for just about every day. We’re not writing that fast. Remember, A Novel Idea is the slow road to a finished novel that doesn’t suck. I simplify it even further and just give myself a star for completing whatever the writing task I set for myself that day is. One day, one goal, one sticker. If you wanted to, you could use a sticker for ever 1000 words–that would work if you’re only writing a couple of times a week. Or every 250 words (that’s one double spaced page) or every 500 words.
I personally like the momentum of doing at least something on my book every day when I’m writing one. I’m going to lay down the law right now, though, and say you’re not allowed to feel bad if you’ve decided that you’re only doing to designate two or three nights a week for working on your book. Your goal might be doing a little research, or watching a TV show from your inspiration list (Click here if you’d like that exercise. It’s a good one.)
I want you to promise me that you aren’t going to let missing a sticker derail you. Not completing your goal is a learning experience. It means that you need to work on your time management. Just write tomorrow’s goal in the morning and work for that star. Writers have a tendency to be right-brainers–and I can tell you from deep personal experience that right- brainers have a habit of letting guilt completely derail us.
Not. This. Time.
Say that out loud, Ninja Writer. And mean it. We are all going to finish the first drafts of our Works in Progress. And we’re going to have fun and build community and kick some ass while we’re at it.
So, get yourself a calendar and some gold stars. Today if possible. By far my favorite tool for this kind of accountability is my FRED (that’s a Folder for Reaching the End of my Draft.) It’s just a simple printable calendar and writing log, stapled into a manila folder. Over the course of the month, I use my folder for notes, lists, brain dumping, mind mapping–whatever I need it for. Artistic, super effective, and FUN. You can download your own FRED here. Or use your planner. Or a wall calendar. Whatever will motivate you.
(Note that I didn’t get a star on March 11. I had a weird day and I just didn’t do what I’d planned to do. But I didn’t let it stop me from moving forward.)
Okay, Ninja Writer. Go forth and write good stories.