Reaching Your Writing Goals

Writing Goals- posted by Henry on December 15, 2008.

red dot goals

Sit down today and write a 300-page novel. Go ahead. Send it to me when you're done and I'll tell you what I think.

If you did it, I think it's amazing.

But you didn't do it and you're laughing at me right now. No one can write that fast. It's impossible. You'd have to type at 80 words per minute for 12 solid hours without taking a break to sip your coffee or reflect on what you've done.

Even if you have that kind of energy, you won't have time to develop characters, plot, or any of the other elements that make fiction successful.

Ok, so slow it down. Write a 300-page novel in a week. No? Writing goals need to be realistic.

How 'bout a month?

A month is more like it. It's still a tall order but hundreds of people do it every year. Every November actually, for National Novel Writing Month.

If you don't know about it, you should. It's more commonly referred to as NaNoWrMo. Every November 1- 30, thousands of people across the world log on and write. The goal is 50,000 words in a month.

It's difficult and most people who register don't finish. In most cases, those who do finish have a poor quality first draft but they get a lot more out of it than that. They've learned what it takes to become a novelist.

Those who finish the NaNoWrMo challenge start work on their novel before November 1. They plan, plot, develop characters, and set daily writing goals through most of October so when November 1 rolls around, they can jump in with a head start.

I've never participated in NaNoWrMo but I admire those who do and finish. It's a good way to kick start your writing life.

There are a couple things that you can take away from the experience that will be valuable to you for your entire writing life.

The first is planning. Most people who start a novel don't have a plan. That's why most people who start a novel don't finish. It's impossible to plan every aspect of your book, but having a solid idea of your major plot points will set you ahead of most of the wannabe novelists out there.

Even, more important that planning is goal setting.

Set Achievable Goals

It's too intimidating to think of a project as a whole. It's far more productive to think of it as several small parts. Most fiction writers force themselves to write a certain amount of amount a day. Usually 1000- 2000 words.

Stephen King said that he writes about 2000 words a day.

That's fine and if you can stick with it, you'll do great.

But it's not for everyone. Especially not me. When force myself to make a word count, I force myself to write crap.

I think, "Oh man, 1000 words to go. This is gonna take all day."

I still advocate daily goals but I've found that it helps a whole lot more if those writing goals are stretches of time, not words.

Here's why.

I'm not a full time fiction writer. I love fiction. I love the creative process and the intuitive leaps that it requires. But I dont write only fiction. I also write blogs, articles, and newsletters.

On any given day, I have three or four writing projects that require my attention. My novel is only one of them.

If I set a writing goal in terms of words, I force myself work 'til I get there no matter how long it takes. If it takes 3 hours, then I write for three hours. But I still have more work to do. And that 3-hour time block has made me tired, frustrated, grumpy, and sick of looking at my computer screen.

I've achieved my daily goal but ruined my day.

I can't work like that- and I've tried. So instead of word counts, I use a timer. I write my novel for an hour every day.

It helps to break down that hour into two phases. During the first 15 minutes I rewrite and tighten up what I wrote the day before. The next 45 minutes I write new material. It's a balancing act and you'll have to find what works best for you.

An hour a day doesn't sound like much of a goal? Fine, don't limit yourself to an hour. If you can handle it write for 2 hours. If 2 hours turns out to be too long, scale back to an hour and a half. The important thing is finding how long you can focus only on the task in front of you.

Even when I'm in full fiction mode, I only write for an hour at a time. I'll just do it more than once a day. It's too easy to get distracted with all the different demands and curiosities competing for our attention.

But anyone can handle an hour of streamlined attention. Most of us waste that much time in front of the TV everyday.

During that hour-

Do not open an Internet Browser.
Do not pick up the phone.
Do not get up to get more coffee.
Do not open another word document.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Time Focused Writing Goals

These writing goals don't work for everyone. For example, this would be a disaster for a NaNoWrMo writer. You don't know how much you're going to get done everyday.

If you're trying to finish your novel in a set time period, then you probably want to set a different kind of goal. Over the course of 30 days, a rate of 2,000 words a day would get you exactly to 60,000, the average novel length.

My goal isn't to finish a novel in a month. It's not even to finish a novel in 6 months. My goal is to write the best novel I can. By writing for an hour every day without a word count, I actually free myself to think about what I’m writing. It takes the pressure off.

Now I know there are people out there that disagree. They'll tell me that if I don't have a date in mind to have the book finished, I could keep working forever and end up with 240,000-word monstrosity that no one will want to read. Besides, Publishers set deadlines and writers have to meet them if they want to keep publishing.

All I can say to them is "Na Uhh!" I get more words down when I’m working towards a goal, not a time.


Ok, follow me here. I write for a certain amount of time toward a final goal not a certain goal toward a final time.This can only work if you have a goal in mind. Which is why it's so important to plot your novel and keep that plot up-to-date. The fact that you are writing everyday is more important that how much writing you do everyday.

Even writers who focus on word counts have to reach a certain goal by the end of their novel.

When I focus on writing for a set amount of time, I usually get about 1000 words down. If I get less, it's no big deal. If I get more, I have a sneaky little smile for the rest of the day. It's a win-win.

Why It Takes So Long For Every to Set Writing Goals

It took me forever to figure this whole writing business out. I knew what I was supposed to be doing according to my professors, other writers, friends, bloggers, and intelligent, successful people everywhere, but I didn't do it.

When I started writing I didn't set goals, I didn't plot stories, and I didn't have plans.

I thought I knew better. It wasn't a conscious blowing off of these people. I just didn't really understand the reasoning behind their lessons because I hadn't failed yet.

Failing is a necessary part of success.

People will tell you over and over what works and what doesn't but until you intimately understand why the failures fail, you'll have trouble consistently succeeding.

One of my favorite bloggers wrote about a similar topic. Check out Steve Pavlina's post on Calibration.

If you can start utilizing this method of setting your writing goals now, you'll be a few steps ahead of 99% of other writers. If you ignore it now, you're going to suffer the learning curve.

Hopefully, when you come full cycle and start looking for where you went wrong, you'll land back here and straighten yourself out.

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