Cortes, Burning Ships, Excuses, Writing goals

In Roger Van Oech’s book A Whack on the side of the Head, a book on how to be creative that is still going strong since it was published in 1983, he writes something I did not know about the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes that is, shall we say disarming.

When Cortes landed his ships at Veracruz he burned all his ships. He did this to eliminate one option, leaving his men with only two. You either fight, he told them, or you die. Going home was no longer an option.

Van Oech writes “Sometimes it takes more creativity to get rid of the excuses we put in the way than it does to come up with the idea in the first place.”

I must admit I am guilty of using excuses to get in the way of writing and my excuses are very creative, along the lines of the kid who told his teacher, “The dog ate my homework.”

Cortes took away an excuse about whether to fight or not. His men really had no choice. I suppose I could burn my house down and write at the library with my laptop, but that option would not solve the problem as I would still find more excuses, then have to burn down the library.

The thing of it is, we procrastinators, we excuse makers, know we are avoiding what we should be doing. We are not fooling ourselves.

Van Oech asks the question of what three factors will make it difficult for you to reach your objective? How can you get rid of excuses?

Getting rid of excuses requires self discipline. Take Map Quest or any other app that gives your destination with directions. You follow them-and if they are correct, not always the case-you arrive at your destination. In the process of reaching your destination you took each turn along the path.

Perhaps each writer, or anyone with a goal, should create a type of map with a starting point, an end destination, then fill in the steps to take in order to reach the goal. And if, like the occasional misinformation on the directional map, you run into a burning ship, you adjust and continue your journey; you either fight the fight or your goals die.


Yearly Writing Goal 1,200,000 words!! Who can do this?

There is no way I could write 1,200,000 words a year, but according to Wikipedia, the author of the best selling Perry Mason mystery novels, Erle Stanley Gardner, 1889-1970, in his early days writing for pulp magazines had a goal of just that, 1,200,000 words a year.


Lets do some math. Feel free to double check as math is not my strong suit. Let us start with 360 writing days, taking off for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day, and two flex days. Dividing words by days I get 3,333 words per day. Assuming a 10-hour day that is 333 words per hour. I wonder if he kept a running total at his desk. Did he fall behind and do an extra few hours each day to catch up. There is no way he could do that today with Social Media and the Internet to distract him. Oh what a cut cat video!

Okay I can see 333 words an hour, but doing so ten hours a day, 360 days a year is obsessive compulsive; in other words, just plain nuts.

On the other hand, when Gardner started writing pulp fiction stories he would get three cents a word. If he wrote 1,200,000 words that comes out $36,000 a year which in those days was big money.

Now keep in mind Gardner wrote 82 Perry Mason novels as well as a series about a private detective agency Cool and Lam, another series about District Attorney Doug Selby, and used pseudonyms like AA Fair, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J Kenny, and  Charles M Green. He also wrote at least 205 short stories mostly for pulp fiction magazines, and in his spare time wrote non-fiction travel books.

According to Goodreads Gardner has 344 books listed. Were they counting reissues? I did not count them, and have no plans to do so as that would take up time needed to meet my writing goals; just short of 1,000,000 words. That’s for the next 10 years, fifteen if I take off holidays, Mondays and cat videos. If he did indeed write 344 books as well as short stories then perhaps he did reach his stated goal of 1,200,000.

I had hoped that reading about Gardner’s words goal I would get inspired to write more, to get me a kick in the pants. But the more I think of those ten hour days, I am already tired. I need a nap.

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