Setting Writing Goals Part I
One of the challenges a writer faces is the simple matter of getting at it. You intend to write. You want to write. You set out to write. You don’t write.
Perhaps your thoughts are disorganized. For a helpful blog on software to assist you in organizing your writing, check out my blog about yWriter and Scrivener. You can also check out Five Great Tools to Help Your Writing.
You may, however, already have all the software you need. You may have set up a writing nook or space for yourself. You may have your mug waiting for that perfect cup of coffee or tea or hot chocolate. But how do you actually get at the writing? Somewhere deep down inside you have this feeling that if you don’t start writing, you won’t end up writing anything. I know, that thought surprises you. It seems hard to believe, but it’s true. 🙂 I believe (and I think many writers would agree), that there is a direct connection between the amount of words you write and the amount of words actually written. Somehow, these two things are connected. If you don’t write, you will have nothing written.
Part of the solution to the struggle of getting at your writing is to set goals (and of course actually move on them).
So, what about your writing goals. As we dive into goal setting, a lot of what I will talk about will revolve around word count (number of words you write). The reason for this is because one of the big challenges in writing is simply getting your words down on paper.
You can’t edit what’s not written. You certainly can’t publish what’s not written. Once it’s written, you can start to edit your work and then move toward publishing. Setting word count goals when you write (e.g. “I will write x number of words a day”) is very helpful to start you on this process.
When it comes to setting goals, I would suggest your goals should meet five criteria. Your goals for your writing need to be achievable, clear, definite, considerate and satisfying.
1. Achievable/Realistic Goals
The first thing is you need to set goals which are realistic. If you set unrealistic goals, do not be surprised if you do not achieve them. Make sense? Are you hoping to write a 300,000 word epic bestseller, start to finish in three weeks? You are setting yourself up to fail.
Often people set unrealistic goals and I think this is one of the early “killers” of reaching your goals. Let’s say you set your goal of writing ten thousand words a day. That’s a lot, but it is doable. You have to be able to type at a decent speed. You have to have your ideas and thoughts worked out well ahead of time. You can’t have any writer’s block at all. You can’t have any distractions or surprises (you have to plan to have a surprise free day). You can’t go back for editing. You also have to be a full-time writer or on eternal holidays. Really, if you can manage to maintain your speed and the flow of your writing, it’s doable. Perhaps. For today, anyway. I’m doubtful most of us could do that two days in a row. To do that continually… that would be unrealistic. If you set that as a goal, you are likely setting an unachievable goal for yourself.
Set your goals for something you can achieve. Setting unachievable goals will leave you disappointed and you likely won’t continue past day two or three.
Try this… Goal: 1500 words per day, every day of the week except for Thursday (too many meetings) and Sundays (my relax, no pressure day). On Saturday, I will set aside the morning and write 3500 words.
It is easy to say you are going to write, but what are you going to write? Have you nailed down your topic? Are you writing fiction or nonfiction? Are you writing a blog or poetry? Are you writing a children’s book or a YA novel or Sci-Fi or a comic book?
Get a clear idea in your head of what it is you’re after with your writing. Nail this down before you start.
Imagine sitting down with a pen and piece of paper or with your laptop in front of you. Imagine you’ve just decided you’re going to write whatever comes to mind. Now stop for a moment and think about some of your daydreams and idle thoughts over the last number of months. Have any of them been coherent enough to put on paper? Even if they have, were they solid enough to produce a worthwhile book?
If so, you’re nothing like me. I have to focus if I expect my thoughts to be anything other than a jumble. If I just write whatever comes to mind, what will come out will not be fit for the sane mind to read.
Try this… I’m writing a novel. Or I’m starting a blog. Or I’ve decided to write a coffee table book about different styles of socks worn by different cultures around the world (that’s a freebee… feel free to take that idea and run with it. If you make millions, send me a card. That’s all I ask.) Pick your clear direction!
Once you clearly know what you want to write you need to nail down your exact goals. If you’re writing fiction, are you writing a novel or a book of short stories–and what exactly is the topic? If you’re writing nonfiction, what exactly will it be about?
If you know you want to write a novel, you can nail down definite goals. If you’re writing a kid’s novel (maybe ages 8-10), aim to lay down a goal of thirty thousand words. If it’s for tweens or early teens, aim for fifty to sixty thousand. If you’re writing the next young adult dystopian angst ridden book with an angry protagonist who will not listen to anyone, but is determined to do it all alone and ends up causing a lot of pain in everyone’s life including her own, then aim for about eighty to a hundred thousand words, most of which will be your protagonist trying to figure out if she is romantically interested in the sensitive weak type or the strong and burly type. (NOTE: those numbers for the length of novels are a little higher than some people recommend for those age groups… I just think people deserve more.)
These types of things give you something definite to work with. You are starting to get your goals down on paper and you have something achievable to aim for. When you have definite goals, you also will know if and when you have reached your goal. When you have reached around thirty thousand words for your novel aimed at nine year olds… you should either be wrapping up the story or you should be starting a sequel (some might suggest at thirty thousand you should be finishing up your third book… again, I just think if it’s a well written book, kids will keep reading!).
The number of words is certainly not the only factor, but it gives you some boundaries to aim for. You should also set definite goals in terms of the storyline or if you’re writing nonfiction, goals in terms of what you want your reader to know at the end of the book.
You need to know where you’re going if you’re going to go there. Set a definite destination in mind and head in that direction.
Try this… I’m writing a novel aimed at aging computer science geeks who find that they are no longer “cutting edge” in their field, but still feel they have something to offer. As a result, they start an organization designed for total world domination to be achieved before they retire. Again… feel free to take that one and run with it. That’s a winner for sure. Since it’s aimed at an older audience, you can push a hundred thousand words if you need to. You’ll need a lot of technical knowledge. Get it down on paper and then prepare yourself for the literally dozens of people around the world who will buy your book (all of which will be committed to correcting the technical inadequacies in your writing).
Wow! That’s a lot to take in so far! So far we’ve explored how goals need to be achievable, clear and definite.
Check out Part II of this blog where we explore two other qualities for successful goal setting in writing (considerate and satisfying goals) as well as walk through what this looks like in short term and long term goal setting.
Comment below with your thoughts on how you set and achieve your writing goals!