Why I’ve Set a Two Million Word Goal For 2019

We hear all the time about SMART goals. That is, goals which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Pretty much everyone has heard of this concept, by now. But there’s a flaw, a crack, a major problem with the premise.

When we look at what we think is reasonable and achievable, we tend to measure this by our past efforts. Now, for some people, those past efforts might indeed represent working to their full potential. But for most of us, our past efforts are more related to our ability at that time, rather than our potential.

My best year ever was 2018, with about 600,000 new words. It’s a solid number, and it’s been steadily going up every year for almost a decade now.

The SMART thing to do would be to set a goal a little higher than that, maybe 750k or 800k. This is a reasonable extension from the slow upward progress I’ve made to date.

But that would be a goal focused on achieving what my current abilities can do.

Instead, I am looking ahead into 2019 with a focus on my potential. What is the upper limit of what I can possibly achieve? How far could I go if I stepped it up and pushed hard?

If I’ve achieved some moderate level of success with a basic level of effort, where could I go if I put the pedal to the metal? What if I put out massive action rather than basic action?

I sat down to do the math.

I write about 2500 solid, reliably good first draft words per hour. By this, I mean I can take that draft, ship it to my editor, go over the edits, and then press publish.

I’m an outlier in this area. I’m fast, and my drafts are excellent. This is sort of my “writing superpower”, my personal strength.

Some folks are super-excellent at spreadsheet analysis of their ads. I can sort of do that, but it’s not where I excel (pun intended!). Other writers have their own strong points. Mine is word throughput.

This is the strength I’ve elected to capitalize upon this year — in a massive way.

I write full time, so I generally have five days a week to get writing done. Assuming I take a couple of weeks off, I still have 50 weeks x 5 days a week = 250 days of writing in a calendar year.

Since I can write 2500 words an hour reliably, what’s my theoretical maximum? Well, I suppose in theory it could be 2500 x 8 hours a day x 250 days a year, but I don’t know that I can write eight solid hours five days a week with no breaks! I set up a schedule that was a little more friendly.

Each working day, I’ll be aiming to accomplish six one-hour writing sessions. These will be split up by half hour breaks, with the middle two (session #3 and session #4 split by an hour meal break.

That’s a theoretical rough 15,000 words per work day, or 75,000 words per week, or 3,750,000 words per year.

There you go: roughly my theoretical maximum given my present writing speed. I boggled a little at that number.

Then I throttled it back some. I will almost certainly run into stumbling blocks along the way, things which derail my writing for a bit or slow me down. I’ve got a number of conferences and conventions to attend this year as well, and those always slow down my word count. Also, I came to around to this line of thinking in late January and I’m only implementing it in February, so I’ve lost an entire month were I only wrote 60,000 words, instead of 300,000 or so! 

Two million sounded like a nice, round number. It was a little over three times my previous best year. It feels like enough of a stretch that I’ll have to push hard all year to reach it. I’ll have to utilize my strengths and overcome my weaknesses, putting out consistent massive effort.

Everyone remembers the old story about Icarus, right? It’s told as a parable even today.

Icarus’s father Daedalus built them wings to escape from imprisonment. Before taking off, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too high. But Icarus ignored the warning, the sun melted the wax holding the feathers to his wings. He crashed into the ocean and died.

The story is used as a warning not to try to take on too much. Don’t rise above your station. Don’t try to shine too bright. But there’s another part to the Icarus story everyone forgets.

Daedalus also warned his son not to fly too low, or the ocean waves would strike him and take him down into the sea.

The original myth wasn’t a warning not to fly too high, as it is often taken today. It was a warning to find a middle path you could sustain.

Another famous fable comes to mind: the tortoise and the hare. The lazy hare rests too many times during the race, and the slow tortoise wins through using a slow, plodding pace.

We’re told that the moral of the story is “slow and steady wins the race”.

Of course, it’s a story based on a false premise.

We don’t have to choose between plodding at a slow pace or running fast but inconsistently.

What about running fast, consistently? Had the hare taken a pace that was perhaps a fraction of his maximum possible speed, and then maintained it for the duration of the race, he would have won easily.

The moral is actually something like “consistency is key”, or “don’t be lazy”. The tortoise beat the lazy hare because the tortoise was putting out maximum effort, and the hare was not.

This year will be an interesting experiment into this paradigm. What can I achieve, applying maximum sustainable effort? Where is that level, for me? Time will tell. But regardless how it ends, this race will be incredibly fun to run!

I just have to remember to apply tortoise work ethics to hare speed!

Kevin McLaughlin