Setting goals

WritingOne of the things I do to keep writing, is set goals for my weekly writing and log how far I get. Setting goals for yourself is a good way to keep focused. You should be careful what you want to achieve, though, and not set your sights too high, otherwise it might backfire.

The power of goals

If you look at a plot of the finish times for a marathon, you would expect to see a gradual line, with everybody coming in at regular intervals. However, in reality there are a lot of spikes. People running a marathon come together in clumps, and push themselves to stay below nice round times. No matter how tired they are, they’re able to push a little further. This is the same when writing. Having other writers around you, and a goal to work toward, helps keep you going.

Writing groups

One way to push yourself to write, is to find a group of fellow writers, and get together regularly. If you agree to review a chapter a week, you’re suddenly peer pressured to write a chapter a week. Yes, peer pressure doesn’t have to be all bad. The added bonus is that you get your work critiqued each week as well.

Of course, finding a writing group that fits you can be difficult. Luckily, there’s the internet to help you find other writers. If you can’t find any people, there are alternatives.

Setting targets

Another tactic is to set yourself writing goals: X words a day, or Y words a week. One famous example is NaNoWriMo, which pushes you to write 50,000 words in a month (which is 1,666 words a day). That’s an entire novel.

I have a different schedule, because I don’t want to write one unedited novel in one month, but a complete novel in a couple of months. And I want to write nearly every day to keep myself writing. So, I set myself the goal of writing 400 words per day.

Unachievable goals

If you set yourself unrealistic goals, you might as well not set them. Worse, you might get demoralised. I have friends who’ve tried NaNoWriMo, but got so far behind after only a week, that they decided to quit and throw out their story. That’s a shame, because they did have a story to tell, and they were making progress. Just not enough to reach their stated goals.

So, 400 words a day doesn’t sound like a lot. Maintaining that pace every day, though… I have another job, have to maintain a website, and there are always chores around the house. If I don’t get around to writing some days, I try to correct it the next day. Then it’s suddenly 800 words in one day. If there’s a week that I only have time on Sunday, I’m suddenly at 2,800 words in one day. On a good day, this is all easy, but for me, these deadlines are for the days I don’t really get around to writing. Then 400 words is a lot.

If I start missing the daily targets, I might fall far behind my schedule. And if I write more, which I usually do, I might be tempted to do nothing for a while. So, I reset the targets at the end of each week. Each week I want to do at least 2800. No matter if I do less the previous week, or more, I reset my writing goals.

Excel is your friend

I use Scrivener for writing and that helps me set session targets. However, I want such complicated things, that I decided to measure my progress in a spreadsheet instead. Here’s a screenshot:

Progress

I made it somewhat fancy (writer’s block), and it automatically colours my weekly result red or green, but something simpler works just as well. Point is, I keep score.

Conclusion

You have to decide for yourself if goals work for you. It can make you write more, but also less. If you do start setting personal writing goals and deadlines, be careful not to set the bar too high. Finally, make sure to think of a schedule that fits you. If you can only write on Sundays, make a weekly schedule, if you can write a week per month, create a monthly schedule.

A last piece of advice: have fun and write!

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands