I find that setting goals for myself is hard, and sticking to them even harder. My tendency then, is to keep my goals modest. Thus, with my writing my goal isn't to write the Great American Novel, or to even write a decent short story and submit it for publication.
My goal is to write five hundred words.
More decades ago than I'm comfortable with, I had the chance to meet one of my childhood heroes, writer Frank Herbert, and spend a half-hour with his undivided attention. The occasion was a book-signing at a small, local, independent bookstore. Remember those? Stores where you could buy books. Stores that weren't owned by a huge chain. This little shop was nestled in the heart of downtown Bremerton. Its name was Anchor Books. It's long gone now, of course, but it was a frequent haunt for me when I was in high school.
Frank Herbert lived in Port Townsend, WA, just a stone's throw away from my hometown, and amazingly accessible.
Yes, I'd read Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune, but I'd also read the tales of Jorj X. Mckie, Saboteur Extraordinary, and stories such as "The Eyes of Heisenberg." So, it was with great excitement that I learned that Frank was going to be signing his new book, a collaboration with poet Bill Ransom, entitled "The Jesus Incident" at Anchor Books right in downtown Bremerton.
But when I arrived at the bookstore on the day of the signing, there was no line. There were no crowds. My mother and I, the store owner, Frank and Bill were the only ones there.
And so I got to spend a half-hour in the company of a great writer of fiction.
We talked of many things, and I for my part, mostly listened. One piece of writing advice Frank gave me has always stayed with me.
"Write a page a day," he said, "At the end of a year, you'll have a novel."
A page of typewritten text works out to be just around 250 words, more or less. It's a very modest goal indeed, just one page, and I've always thought I could do it one better.
Years passed. I finished high-school, rushed through two years of college, entered the workforce sooner than I should have, and some five years after Frank had died of cancer, found myself working at the local newspaper, not in any writerly position, but in post-press, putting inserts into the newspaper, loading trucks, and distributing driver dispatch notes.
But I knew that if I but asked, I could freelance, and so I approached the outdoors editor, Seabury Blair Jr. and asked if I could write a few outdoor articles for him.
The upper limit for a freelance article was 500 words.
Five hundred words, which I could reliably dash out in a day, because by that time I'd been practicing for years. Seabury was delighted by my writing and handed me a high compliment.
"You're fun to edit," he said.