Posted On September 19, 2014 by Print This Post

From Hero to Zero With Your Wordcount by Kelly Maher

We all want to be more productive and the industry today demands it from every angle. Kelly Maher joins us and shares her method. Welcome Kelly!

A couple of years ago, I could barely get one short story written in a year’s time. I had all of the excuses in the world and, man, theyimage-2 were good ones. What I came to realize was that while the desire to write was there, the deeper will was not. Ultimately, I was not in the right headspace to write more than I was. I was focused on building my primary career as a librarian, and it was sucking up all of my mental energy. When you have two careers, you need to realize that this will happen. What doesn’t help is berating yourself for not giving more time and energy to your second career if you honestly can’t.

Almost three years ago, I changed jobs and locations and found myself in a situation where my librarian career stabilized. I was finally able to devote myself once more to writing. However, there were still three things that needed to happen.


Whereas before, I had the desire, but was missing the will, I needed cultivate that dedication to my craft and my business once again. I spent a year going to WRW meetings, talking online with other authors, listening to writing-related podcasts, and taking advantage of workshops whenever I could afford them. I also started clearing the creative decks. I had a finished novel that I had sitting in a drawer because I knew something was wrong with it, but I couldn’t figure out what. I also had no idea what else to write. I dedicated time to rewriting that novel. When I finished, I could still tell there was something wrong with it, but by engaging in that process, I had opened my mind once more to the possibility of other stories.

For the longest time, I considered myself a slow writer. Having friends who are capable of producing 300,000 or more words worth of material in a year intimidated me. However, those same friends were also extremely generous in their support and encouragement of me exploring the possibility of my capabilities. They were also fabulous reality checks in reminding me that I don’t have to do everything at once and that I do have another full-time career. Determining my expectations of myself was the next step.


In March 2013, I began to formulate a career plan. I was ambitious and set a 30-year goal for myself. I also set 20, 15, 10, 5, 3 and 1 year goals. By working back, I was able to break down the steps I need to accomplish in order to make probable my 30-year goal into manageable chunks. Since my primary goal is to make money from my writing, I knew I needed to be a lot more productive than having as my only finished work in a year a short story. While it did meet my goal in keeping my name out there with a release of some sort every year, it was not making me money. And as I write this, I realize I did accomplish my writing career goal while my library career was in flux: keep my name out there. (Moral of the story: reward yourself with recognition of some kind when you meet your goals. Also, remember what your goals are.)

I set my first year goal as writing 100,000 words. That was it. If I were to go back, I would probably add in “with at least one item being a finished first draft.” I set this goal in April 2013. However, I knew I would not be able to start working on my goal until June as I was booked with conferences through the end of May. I promised myself that I would begin writing on the train home from Book Expo on June 1st. I had a new novel set to go, and a time frame in which I wanted to finish the first draft. I’d made the commitment to myself, and my career. When I climbed on the train, all I wanted to do was sleep because I was exhausted. Instead, I pulled out my iPad and keyboard and began typing away.


A little over a month after I began working on that novel, I realized I was beginning to burn out. I had set as my production goal 1000 words a day/7 days a week. I wrote when I got home from work. There were quite a few days where I decided that I was not going to write and I’d make it up on the other days. Well, soon, those missed days go from being a snowball to an avalanche that you can’t get ahead of. I purposefully gave myself a thinking break around the 4th of July. I had recently listened to a podcast where Ann Aguirred talked about taking weekends off because she needed the recharge. Ann is one of those high production friends who I mentioned earlier. If Ann could take weekends off, why couldn’t I? I did the math of how much I needed to write each day in order to meet my original deadline, factoring weekends off. It was around 1600 words per day. More than what I was doing now…but if I had weekends off? I decided to try and bump it up to 2000 words/day to make the weekly total an even 10,000 as well as possibly beating my deadline.

During this thinking weekend, I also decided to try and write before work. I had been considering why I missed so many days in the first place and I deduced that it was because I was tired when I came home from work. I only wanted to read or watch TV. My creative juices were not at their highest in the evening. Now, I’m a night owl. The idea of waking up in time to write before work was not the most appealing. However, I figured I could test it out for a week.

When I first began this process, I decided to use Google Docs so I could write at any time using any device. I was determined to become a flexible writer. Another trick I used when I wrote at home was to set a timer for fifteen minutes and write as much as I could. I got to the point where I could average 500 words in one fifteen-minute session. When I began writing in the mornings, I figured if I could maintain that average, and give myself five-minute breaks between each session, I should be able to get 2000 words in an hour and fifteen minutes. I did it. Apparently, I write very quickly when I’m still three-quarters asleep. I’ve never expected myself to write perfectly for the first draft, so the vomiting out of words came naturally to me. It turns out that while I may be a night owl, I am a morning writer.


I realize I’m running over on length, so I’ll leave you with this: by changing my mindset, setting concrete goals for my career and steps I can take to achieve those goals, and discovering what my production process is allowed me to go from writing only one short story a year to writing 270,000 words worth of first draft material in a year. I did edit some of that work, and I’m working on fully determining my editing process now. I will find the balance of how much edited material I can write while working a full-time job. I hope this gives you some ideas on how to take your career to the next level!


Is there something here you can use? How do you change your mindset?

Victoria Bale joins us on Monday!



image-3Kelly Maher writes sexy tales and her most recent release is a “Notes on a Scandal” in “The Sexy Librarian’s Big Book of Erotica” anthology. She lives in Washington, DC, and is working on editing a mystery novel she wrote. Kelly can be found on Twitter {@kmmaher}, on Facebook {}, and at her website {}.

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10 Responses to “From Hero to Zero With Your Wordcount by Kelly Maher”

  1. Oh, did I need this post! Thank you, Kelly. At my full-time job, we’re down exactly half of our writing staff (I’m a marketing writer/editor), which means we’re absolutely overwhelmed with work. I’ve been coming home every evening and just staring at my laptop screen after dinner–and beating myself up because I only write two or three sentences a night. But this makes me look at things a little differently, and a little more hopefully. As my manager (who’s as bogged down as we are) says, “This too shall pass.” And when it does, I’ll be productive again, just as I was this summer. When things get crazy, something’s gotta give, and unfortunately for my writer self, for the next few weeks the job that helps pay our bills and put food on the table has to come first. This too shall pass. Thanks again, Kelly!

    Posted by Linda F | September 19, 2014, 7:55 am
    • You’re so very welcome, Linda!! When the day job/career starts going off the rails–even if it’s only going to be for a short amount of time, it can be hard to pull yourself out of that spiral. Something you may want to consider doing is writing on the weekends for a little bit if you can if the day job situation continues on. You may find that writing fiction on an “off” day helps as a stress reliever! Good luck!

      Posted by Kelly Maher | September 19, 2014, 6:46 pm
  2. I had the privilege of meeting and learning from Roger Zalazny a few months before his death. He shared his daily quota with us.

    Two sentences, twice a day.

    Posted by Linda George | September 19, 2014, 8:53 am
  3. Kelly – This hit very close to home. I started seriously writing fiction in 2007 and I completed a 60K first draft in just over two months. For five years, I wrote about 150K per year, completing the first drafts (and sometimes second and third drafts) of a number of stories. None of them ready for publication, but I figured that with a lot of work and a lot of persistence, I’d get there eventually. Then two things happened that changed my path: 1) we decided to completely renovate our house so we could sell it and move to Chicago and 2) once in Chicago, I took a new “job” – taking care of my infant granddaughter. I made a conscious decision to set aside my writing and devote my time and energy to the baby. Now she’s a toddler – getting more independent every day – and I’m getting the urge to write again. I feel like a slacker at times, but I devoted nearly every waking hour to writing for many years, and I have no regrets about changing track for awhile. I’ve been trying to figure out a schedule to gradually start writing again, and your post has given me some good ideas. Thank you!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 19, 2014, 10:08 pm
    • Becke, those are definitely some huge life changes! The concept of Ann’s that really hit home for me was the idea of “training up”. She talked about it on Twitter with me (in my other ego) and other writers and elsewhere, and ended up writing a post about it that I frequently referenced: I would also suggest setting yourself a timer for however long you have some uninterrupted stretches of time during the day (and it may only be 5 minutes with a toddler running around!), and figure out what your average writing speed is so you can use that to better plan your goals, if you center them around production time.

      Posted by Kelly Maher | September 20, 2014, 10:28 am
  4. Evening Kelly!

    Excellent post! I’m planning on getting back to writing when nano starts. The pressure of getting the words in and finishing (mostly) the story is going to help me start and hopefully keep with my goal.

    It’s time to get things started again!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 19, 2014, 11:36 pm
  5. Thanks for your strategies, Kelly. I can identify with so much of what you said. The primary thing that’s gotten my word count up in recent months was getting laid off. Not a path I’d wish on others, but at least I’ve been productive in my fiction writing while looking for a day job. Once I’m back to work, I’ll have to give some of your ideas a try.

    Posted by Monica Epstein | September 21, 2014, 10:21 am

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