Setting goals ain’t easy, regardless what they are. It’s tough figuring out when your goal is too simple or too hard to attain. What do you do? What do you track and how to keep producing material?
The Scenario –
You love to read. But sometimes you read a story that’s just…lacking. There’s not enough character interaction. Or the main character did something completely out of character at some point. Or the villain was patently silly with his slicked back hair and twirling mustache.
Deep down inside, you know you can write as good or even better than that. You got good grades in school, you know the difference between a preposition and an adjective. Writing’s just about stringing words together to create a picture.
So you start a story, nothing fancy. Maybe you take that book you just read and decide to write it as it was meant to be. You take that television show episode that ended with such apathy and rewrite it to what you think should have happened.
Two pages in, you set it aside. You’re tired. You’ll work on it tomorrow.
And there it sits.
For days, weeks, months. Maybe you have one of these stories in a moldy notebook on your shelves already.
Sometimes you pull it out and fondly reread (or cringe because the prose sucks mightily!) You vow to start work on it immediately. Except that you have that thing today.
Okay, maybe tomorrow.
Now What? –
You need to set goals. Not just any goals, either. You have to set a goal you can live with and then force yourself to stick to the schedule.
The goal setting thing is dead simple, really, so long as you begin with a moderate target that doesn’t cause you to wail and gnash your teeth, dooming yourself to be forever a failure at such an easy task.
(Not that writing is easy — it’s flippin’ work! Wish somebody would have told me that before I started… Wait. I think they did.)
In the beginning, my writing was sporadic. Unless I really got fired up about something, it wasn’t consistently scheduled. The only reason I completed anything up to finding Forward Motion was pressure — I purposely posted unfinished manuscripts online, knowing the emails of people demanding the next installment would force me onward.
(It worked, too! You might give it a shot, but your mileage may vary.)
The Big Three
Goals can be set in a number of ways. There are word counts (which I think is what the majority of writers follow,) or scene and chapter counts.
1. Time Limit
My first attempt at a goal was to sit down for an hour every day. There I sat, staring at the blank screen, wishing I was doing something else. Words weren’t coming, my housecleaning to-do list loomed, and I still had to get ready for work.
What’s that noise? Do I smell lunch? I really should toss out the left overs from last week. Is that the toilet running? I should talk to the apartment manager to get that fixed. Oh, yeah, remember to wash that shirt I really like before the weekend.
And so it goes.
This method didn’t work out all that well for me.
2. Scene Count
Next up was scene count. I had to get at least halfway through a scene before I could get up from the desk.
This wasn’t too bad a goal, but it didn’t amount to an increase in productivity. Some of my scenes are five hundred words or less. That means, what? Two fifty?
What about scenes that are two thousand plus words? Half the time I didn’t even know if I was at the middle point of a scene! Where does it end?
The toilet desparately needs cleaning!
3. Word Count
Finally I gave word count a go.
Considering my first two failures, I gingerly approached this one. What if it took me three hours to write two hundred words? I’d already spent hours in front of the screen with nothing to show for it! Who has that kind of time every day? So I set myself a 250 word count limit.
Hey! It worked! In fact, that’s only about a single page of double-spaced manuscript…I’m not ready to quit writing yet!
Let’s go up to 500 words…
Dude! Fantastic! I’m actually getting this blasted story out of my head and into the computer! Yay me!
Unfortunately, after the first blush of success my production lagged. If I sat down to write, I’d nearly always get my word count. In fact, I raised it to a thousand words a day and made my goal more often than not!
It was the “sitting down” part I had difficulty with.
This is where the Forward Motion writing community really helped.
They have an annual and monthly wordcount goal board. You set your goals and report out on them for all the other burgeoning and professional writers to see.
It’s the reporting that became vital in my case. I could set all the goals I wanted, but if I had no one to share them with, who was going to kick my behind for falling short?
Just like posting unfinished manuscripts, I had exterior peer pressure to keep up the work — people who knew exactly what I was going through and have any number of resources and viewpoints to help me when I need it.
I wrote three books in one year because of this support group.
Fast Forward to Now
I have to admit, I haven’t kept up on writing even though I have a manuscript sitting on my computer right now. It’s the same ol’, same ol’…
I also haven’t posted out my wordcount for a couple of years. (Yikes!) There’s a definite correlation here. My lack of reporting makes me invisible and even a stubborn, willful person like me needs the extra boot in the butt to keep writing.
Here’s my goal — write a thousand words a day, with a monthly goal equivalent to the number of days in the month. This month, I need to make 31,000 words.
I have the freedom to not write when my day job schedule gets screwed up, my arthritis gives me fits and I don’t have enough energy to get through the day. Most writing days, I make at least 1,500 words which counts to the end of month total.
And I’ll become more active at Forward Motion, too. Start posting my monthly wordcounts like I used to do.
What about you writers out there?
You won’t make your goal every day. Don’t let it get you down; keep plugging away.
Join Forward Motion and check out some of their monthly contests and activities. Head into their chat room where people hang out at all hours for ‘word wars’ and brainstorming.
Or find an alternative avenue of support that will keep you doing what needs to be done. And remember:
Come on in! The water’s fine!
Comment below and join the discussion! What sort of goals have you set for yourself? How did you set them? Do you have any other tools or suggestions to add for others to benefit from? Do tell!