Project Sunrise: Ten Years to Full-time Writing

Sunrise over a lake

Today is the first day of my creative new year. It is also the first official day of an effort that I have calling “Project Sunrise” for short. Project Sunrise is a plan to transition to a full-time writer ten years from now when I retire. It involves three key elements:

  1. Improving my writing. Seriously improving my writing.
  2. Improving my overall health and well-being. Because I want to be in good shape when I retire.
  3. Improving my overall effectiveness and how I manage my time. So that I can make good use of what I have left.

I can see a lot of hands up so let me take some questions.

What do you mean by “improve my writing”?

I hinted at this in an earlier post, but I do have a specific plan in mind. I’ve always wanted to write, and I’ve had small successes writing short fiction and nonfiction. That said, I am most proud of the writing I do here on the blog than any other writing I have done. When I retire from my day job, I’ll be 59 years old. That is still relatively young. I’d like to try my hand as a full time writer, and what better way to begin than with the writing I enjoy most: the writing I do here.

Writing well takes practice. It took me fourteen years of practice before I made my first sale. I’ve been writing on this blog for 16 years already, and while that seems like a lot of practice, I’d like to take it to the next level. I’d like to see if I can not only get this blog back to where it was in its heyday, but surpass it. There was a time when I was commissioned for other writing gigs because of the work I did on this blog. I want to see if I can get there again, and where it will lead.

Initially, my plan was to try to write 10 novels in ten years because I admire novelists. But the more I considered it, the more I realized that the writing I most enjoy doing is shorter form, be it articles for magazines, short stories, and especially what I write here. Writing 10 novels might be enough practice to allow me to write full time. But I just don’t enjoy it the way I do shorter writing. And I think I’m better in shorter doses anyway. So rather than attempt 10 novels in ten years, I decided to focus on different aspects of my craft, and building on them year after year so when retirement comes, I have the chance of writing full time, and have built up the experience, credits, and stamina to do so.

This first year, which begins today, July 1, is focused on my writing here on the blog. Subsequent years will continue to build on what I’ve done here, but also look toward branching out. My long-term plan is to use the blog as my personal university for improving the writing I most enjoy so that more and more readers enjoy it as well.

One of the key elements to this is finding ways to measure my improvement. This goes beyond standard metrics. The number of views isn’t worth much because it doesn’t tell you if people actually read it. I want to learn from each post I write, figure out what worked, what didn’t and why so that I can improve next time around. The nice thing about writing here is that each post is opportunity to learn and improve. What matters most (after my own enjoyment, of course), is what my readers think, and I’m counting on you to provide honest feedback. This is part of the reason why I re-opened the comments on all 6,700+ posts here on the blog. Over this first year, I’m hoping to develop a set of metrics that I find useful in measuring quality and improvement, and of course, I’ll pass long what I find to you.

At the end of ten years I should have a lot more focused experience. Who knows, maybe this blog will have more visibility than it does today? And I am hopeful that it will lead to opportunities that will allow me to work as a full-time writer once I retire from my day job. That is the sunrise that I look forward to. Worst case is that when I begin my full-time job as a writer, I’ll have is ten years of experience working consciously to improve my craft.

What do you mean by “improve my overall health and well-being?”

In order to have the stamina to spend a decade writing while working a full time job and raising kids, I need to be in better shape than I am today. I need more exercise. I need to eat better. I need to find ways of clearing my mind so that I sleep better and respond better to challenges that come up. I see this as a practice as well, just like writing, a slow and stead one that will improve my overall health and well-being hand in hand with my writing over the next ten years. The result, I hope, is a more healthy decade, but also, I look to coming at full-time writing health and in good shape.

Why the name “Project Sunrise”?

When I was fleshing out this idea, I kept referring it to my “ten novels in ten years” project. That was too long-winded, and it became moot when I reconsidered and refocused my goals. So I made a list of possibilities, something short and simple that I could refer to and know what it meant. I came up with Project Sunrise, because a sunrise is a new beginning. Each creative year is a new beginning. And at the end of these next ten years, there is a new beginning for me as well, retiring from my day job to become a full time writer.

What do you mean by a “creative new year”?

One problem I have found with beginning new habits is that the traditional new year is a terrible time for me to start them. It is cold and dark in December and January and that does something to both my motivation and mood. It’s much easier for me to begin something new when the sun rises early, and sets late, when the temperature is warm, when I don’t have to deal with the activities that come with kids in school. This is true for writing as well as habits. It seemed to me, therefore, that to being my creative year on July 1 meant I was beginning when the air is warm and the nights are long, and getting up early to exercise doesn’t mean freezing in darkness.

Of course, darkness and cold will come, but by then I hope that my new habits, health and writing, will be well-established and it won’t matter.

Do you really think you’ll make it as a full time writer? What happens if you don’t?

When I started out writing, I was pretty haphazard about things and didn’t look closely at how I worked or ways I could improve. I just moved on to the next thing. It was probably part of the reason it took so long to start selling stories. Now, I have the confidence of knowing that I can write well enough to sell what I write a short length. Approaching this with a focus on practice, craft, and continuous improvement is the best shot that I have.

And if I don’t make it? Well, I can still write. There’s this blog. It’s been around for 16 years so far, and I don’t see why it would have to go anywhere. Besides, I’ll be retired. There won’t be pressure to find a means of employment. Still, my attitude going in is that I will make it. I may not be a bestselling writer, but I think I’ve a better than even shot of being able to write full time if I really try. I can visualize it, the way I did when I was young and imagined I would sell a story to Analog or get my private pilot’s license. It was never a question of if, but when.

Of course, along the way I’ll provide progress reports and lessons-learned. Part of this involves really looking at the work I do and how I do it and see how I can make incremental improvements over time.

Okay, I don’t see any more hands at this point, but if you still have questions about this, come find me. I’ll be waiting in the comments below.

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4 comments

  1. Just wanted to say that it sounds like a great project, and I will be following along. I always enjoyed the Going Paperless posts, and have been enjoying the daily blog posts this year. Long may it continue!

  2. Hi Jamie, I am inspired by your motivation and consistency. What I appreciated the most is to have access to you thinking aloud, especially when you plan on ambitious and exciting projects as this one. You are on my reading list, I won’t promise anything but so far I’ve been reading you for weeks if not months so: so far so good.

    Thinking aloud:
    1) I love free-flowing writing and I don’t care about being a perfectionist but you have misspellings here and there (as I always have), they don’t bother me, they might bother some of your readers.
    2) I am curious about your +6’000 blog posts but from where shall I start? “From the beginning”, you might say, you know it doesn’t work. And I also know the work needed to give a structure to such a big amount of text. What about curating collections and threads? It might be a writing prompt where (as you do in the Zettelkasten method) you give structure and connection di sparse pieces.

    Thank you for working in public. You’ll never know the ripples you’ll make in others.

    1. massimo, thanks for the feedback. One thing I am trying to do as I refocus on the blog here is not only improve the writing I do, but also the quality of the finished piece. as I said in my post on my morning routine, I write in the mornings. I also have an evening routine and I set aside a period of time to review and edit the posts I wrote in the morning. This is new and I’m still figuring out how to make it work, but I hope it means fewer typos and misspellings along the way.

      Your suggestion to create curated collections of posts really hit the mark, and I’ve added that to my list of activities for the blog. I may not get to it immediately, but it is definitely something I plan to do. Thanks for this great suggestion. Of course, I’ll write a post about it once I have something that readers can use.

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