I’m a moderately successful attorney. I’m in my mid-40s. I just started a new job with the potential to put me on a path toward a very different legal career. Why on earth would I try to launch a separate career as a writer?
To answer that question, I need to take you back to 2008. Remember when the financial world collapsed? Now, go back to 2005. Remember Hurricane Katrina? Now go farther back to 1999-2000. Remember the Dot-Com Bubble bursting? Go farther back. Remember the economic slump of the late 1980s, after the Reagan years of spending? Still farther back…. Gas lines and economic recession of the Carter years?
Simply put, there are no guarantees. Changes in the economy, weather, politics, and many other factors, can all result in personal financial turmoil. When you work for one employer, you’re beholden to that master and the paycheck they provide. That’s an “all your eggs in one basket” approach to life. Lose that job, and it sends your family into a financial tailspin.
When you get investment advice, the strongest suggestion you’ll ever get is to diversify your portfolio. Taking the same approach to your income is equally advisable. Many people call it a “side hustle.” Some people make things and sell them part-time out of their homes to make extra money. Some people invest in post-tax day trading to increase their disposable cash. Some sell services that are in demand in the community. Others, like my friend Kelly Case I discuss below, sell financial services (or other products) in the evenings and weekends.
Writing is no different. It’s just a way to create a product for sale in the marketplace to earn extra income. Ten years ago, it wasn’t feasible to try and earn a living from writing, unless you were one of the lucky few to get a traditional publishing contract. But the Kindle and other e-readers, and their companion marketplaces, have revolutionized the writing and publishing market, enabling anyone – yes, ANYONE – to write and publish a book for sale.
My goal is to work hard and create a separate and independent source of income that can be a supplement in good times and a safety net in bad times. If something happens to take away my job, I want to have another stream of income to keep the lights on while I regroup.
Financial flexibility (and hopefully, one day, independence) is my motivation. On top of that, I like writing. So, it’s something I believe I could be relatively successful at, while enjoying the work.
Now, let’s talk about goals…
Back years ago, I learned a valuable lesson from a very dear friend of mine named Kelly Case. Kelly works with Primerica, a financial services company, and Kelly has built a long-lasting and successful business. And he’s still building. Back in 1995, Kelly taught me something that came from one of the many great leaders in that company. I’m going to break it down here in some detail, so if you aren’t interested in those details, skip down a few paragraphs and pick this discussion back up when I apply the lesson to my writing project.
Want to know the secret to success in virtually everything? It’s simple. It’s a mathematical expression that accurately describes whether you win or lose in almost everything you ever try to do. Ready? Here it is…
_________ = Results
Now, I know what you’re thinking… “That’s simple.” Right?
Wrong. You see, each word is a variable. And each one is complex and worthy of discussion.
Effort. Effort is not just how much or how hard you work. You have to consider the QUALITY of the work. Let’s look at writing. I could rattle off a bunch of nonsense at breakneck speeds to produce a veritable iceberg of words for publication. But if I didn’t think carefully and put forth effort, those words wouldn’t earn any money. To be successful at writing, the work has to be very high quality. Writers have to learn their craft. They have to study. They have to be ruthless editors of their own work. They have to innovate. And, yes, they have to write lots of words. Writing is not an easy task. It seems simple enough – think about something and then type it. But anyone who’s ever tried to write fiction can tell you that the “simple” notion vanishes into thin air when you sit down and actually start putting your ideas into text.
Time. Time matters. It’s the one thing in your life you simply cannot squander without consequences. We are all given a finite amount of the stuff, and we are allowed to use or waste it in whatever way we wish. Once it’s spent, you can’t get a refund. And you can’t buy more. You get what you get – no more. So, in the context of working toward a goal, time becomes critical. The more time you take, the more you dilute the work you’re doing. The shorter the project, the more concentrated and potent the work becomes (assuming the amount of work stays constant). Time can be your enemy or your friend. Which will you let it be?
Results. This is the outcome of your efforts over time. It’s Truth. It’s unflinching. It’s brutally honest. It’s an indictment on you if you slacked off. It’s a trophy if you put in the work and kept your deadline. It’s a completely transparent and unequivocal proof of the quality and productivity of your efforts. You can’t hide from it. You can’t varnish or white-wash it. Whatever it is, we cannot run from it. But those results also can’t be taken as an isolated figure. If that “results” element shows that you made ten widgets, so what? Is that good or bad? How long did it take? How many widgets could you have made if you worked harder? Or smarter? What are widgets worth? The “results” are just a measurement. That outcome must be compared with something to be meaningful. To gauge the level of success from your “results”, you must first define what it means to be successful. That sets the tone. Success doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end of your efforts. A success could mean that you accomplished a PART of a larger goal. But for any of the “results” to mean something to us, we have to set a benchmark for success.
Now, let’s put them together. We know what “success” means. So, we use that to define the desired “result” to be accomplished from our efforts. That’s the easy part. Next, we have to look at the Effort and Time variables to decide what we have to do to achieve the Result, and how long it will (or could) take to get there.
Let’s use my first writing project as an example. I have a three-book story arc to write. I’ve outlined the big, high-level arc that covers the three books. I also have a companion novella to write to go along with that series for marketing purposes. In all, I estimate 210,000 words (60k each for the three novels and 30k for the novella). To get to that number, I have to break it down to words-per-day. I type relatively quickly, and it’s not uncommon for me to get 4,000-6,000 words in a day. That means that at the end of 30 days, I’d have roughly 150,000 words. Another ten to twelve days, and I’d reach the 210,000 total words mark. But I’d need to write more than that, because the editing process will cut way down on those words. So, at 5,000 words per day, I’d probably need six weeks or two months to get enough total words down to have enough raw text (let’s say 250,000 words) to edit down to 210,000 words for publication.
So, that’s the formula…
5,000 words per day
____________________ = 210,000 publishable words, or completion of 3-book series (with novella)
Now, I’m not happy with that. I don’t like the idea of taking two full months to finish a project that I think should take me a little less time. So, I have to find a way to reduce the time. So, keeping the results (goal) constant, I have to increase the words-per-day to reduce the total days necessary to finish the task. For me, I have an option. It’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Using voice dictation software, I can increase my daily output substantially. On average days with Dragon, I can produce 8,000 words. If I use that figure and keep myself disciplined to work every day at that volume of production, the total time falls to 31.25 days. That’s where I want it.
So, using the goal (results), and incorporating my capabilities and opportunities for improvement, I’ve created an acceptable path to achieve the desired outcome. I can spend 31 days writing consistently to produce 250,000 words, from which I will craft a three-book story arc and a companion novella. And if I miss a day (or three), it’ll mean it takes me 33 or 35 days, or 40, or whatever. But the goal – the guideline – to achieve the success I want (the results) is based on the efforts (8,000 words per day) over an acceptable time period (31 days).
Now, let’s say I get crazy. Let’s say that I have a bug up my butt and I have a few days where I hit 12,000 words in a day. Well, that’s what we call “collapsing timeframes.” When you bow up and put forth tremendous effort, you can greatly decrease the time necessary to accomplish the goal. Let’s say I get off to a fast start and hit 12,000 words every day for the first week. That’s 84,000 words in the same time I would normally have created 56,000. Then, if I drop back to the original intended pace of 8,000 words per day, it’ll only take me 21 more days to hit 250,000 words. That schedule cuts off 3 days from my original schedule. And three days ain’t peanuts. You see, after I finish the writing, I have to spend several days editing that work. Then, I have to spend inordinate amounts of time formatting those words into the book templates. I have to create covers for those books. I have to do the legwork to find the right marketing strategy (keywords, advertising, product description copy, etc.) for those books. Three days can go a long way to helping to get those books to market quickly. Three days are huge.
So, that’s the general idea. I want an independent source of income and support for my family. And I want to leverage my knowledge I’ve gained in the last four years as quickly as possible. So, I want to spend 30 days writing the first series, after which I’ll spend several more days editing and preparing the books for publication. From there, I’ll turn to Series 2, which will take a little longer (the sci-fi books are bigger and more complicated to write). But I hope to have both fiction series (including their companion novellas/short stories) completely written, edited, prepared, and published for sale, in 90 days from the date I start writing.
That’s not just ambitious, it’s ludicrous. It’s a herculean task. But if you don’t set a big goal, you’ll wind up with mediocrity. The final count might be 100 days or even 120. But if I start with 90 in my head, and I work hard to reach that goal, a 120-day schedule would not meet my original goal, but it would still be a huge success in the larger sense (completion of major steps forward in launching the writing career). The true “success” I’m willing to accept is that all of this happens in less than six months, after which I’d work on marketing and non-fiction. But I want to push myself to collapse the timeframes. I want to set a 90-day goal.
Cross your fingers… But don’t hold your breath!