Goaltending: The Path to A Happy Writer Life

If you want to get the most out of your writing life you need to know where you’re going and how to get there. Otherwise you will continue wandering in ceaseless circles, frustrated with your lack of progress. Choose a destination, follow right the path, and you will eventually arrive.

Stick to the Path.

Photo Courtesy of Brenna Richardson © 2013


Numero Uno: Choose Your Quest

When will you see your writing as successful? This question is intentionally phrased. No one defines success but you. No matter how many books you sell or awards you win, someone will always be standing on the sideline saying you don’t deserve it. Also, failing to choose a goal means that you could spend years treading water, half-heartedly writing and apathetically promoting material you don’t believe in.

First,  figure out where you want to go.


#1. You just want to put a few words out there and you don’t care how many people read them.  In this case, self publishing or print on demand may be the way to go. Create a book for the fun of it.

#2. You want to be respected by the literary community. Here you will want to spend a good deal of time and effort on your craft. Submit to prestigious awards. Conform to the literary styles currently in vogue or challenge them.

#3. You want to build a platform or an audience. In most cases this occurs in genre-specific fields or in nonfiction. You will need to learn your niche inside and out. Write to the specific audience interested in that topic.

#4. You want to earn a modest living. Difficult, but not impossible. The quickest and easiest way to make money are through short-term projects like magazine articles or professional blogging. Landing/publishing the occasional big project like a book deal or a screenplay helps as well.

#5. You want to advocate change. The book itself is not as important as the movement it begins. Your goal is to get the word out so that people can fix some problems.

#6. Other / Combination of the above.

The choice is yours. Come up with a goal that is specific and attainable.

Numero Dos: Map Your Literary Career

Now that you have a destination, it’s time to figure out the best path to take you there. What steps do you need to take on a yearly, monthly, and weekly basis to achieve your goal?

Generally speaking, quantitative goals like “I want to write 20 books in my lifetime,” are easier to define and subdivide than qualitative goals like “I want to win a Nobel prize for literature,” but both can be reverse engineered.    ­



If your goals involve genre writing, series writing, or building a backlist for income purposes, you will want divide your work down to a manageable daily word count. The math is simple and straightforward.

To complete an 80,000 word detective novel in one year you need to write 6666 words per month (scary no?) = roughly 1538 words per week = 219 words per day. Pretty manageable. But this only brings you to the end of the first draft. You’ll also need to factor in rewrites/editing.

A minimum of a thousand words per day is a common writer standard. It’s a nice round number, and it gives you some wiggle room with the edits. For quantitative goals it’s best to plug away as fast and as much as possible. Write the best that you are capable of at warp speed. Dial in your daily count to the pace you are comfortable running consistently for a long period of time.



For qualitative goals, you will want to consider following in the steps of people who have succeeded in the past. Look at how people have built great platforms, started movements, or won awards. Emulate their success, and tweak their strategies as befits your situation.

Unlike quantitative goals, qualitative ones depend on how your work is received by other people. Hone your craft. Sharpen your message. Whet the blade of your words to pierce the heart of your reader.

It is more difficult to track the progress of qualitative work. The only real way to tell if you are connecting is by the response that your work receives. Do people weep/laugh/ or burn with rage when they finish your manuscript? Are they throwing money at you to solve the world’s problems? Are you being asked to speak at conferences? Being bestowed with honorary doctorates? No?

Keep kneading your craft, your writing muscles aren’t strong enough yet.


The Synthesis

There is of course, no reason you can’t employ a combination of fast and quality writing. As long as you have a defined, measurable goal, a trusty map to follow, and the ability to learn from your failures, your quest will be successful.

So, what are your goals? Let me know in the comments. Also, if you liked this post, go ahead and sign up for fresh updates from this site. Just click the +FOLLOW box on the bottom right of your screen. Thanks!


Joshua Rigsby is a writer, tea-drinker, and planet 9 enthusiast based in Southern California.

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