A practical way to set writing goals
Let’s pretend it’s January 1, 2020 and I have a brilliant idea for a new novel. It’s so brilliant I can’t wait to start writing. I know where I will submit––an imprint at St. Martin’s that wants 85,000-word submissions.
My first goal of the year is “Write first draft of new novel by…”
Good question. How long will it take?
I grab my calculator and divide 85,000 by 250, the average number of words on a typewritten page. That comes out to 340 pages.
My best daily output, the number I can reliably count on hitting is five pages. I divide 340 by five, which means 68 days to write the first draft.
If I start writing today, I’ll finish March 8, but I’ll give myself until April 1. Those extra days are what I call Life Days. They’ll come in handy, as you will see shortly.
Goal #1 is now “Write first draft of new novel by April 1.”
You may be thinking, “Five pages isn’t much, only 1,250 words a day.” Multiplied by five days, 1,250 is 6,250 words or 25 pages. If I write on weekends, which I usually do, 1,250 is 8,750 words or 35 pages.
“Yeah, okay,” you’re muttering, “but five pages still isn’t much.” Note the adverb reliably. I construct my plan to write a novel based on the number of pages I know I can consistently produce. The idea is to set myself up for success, not failure.
I didn’t pull five pages out of my hat. I came up with it by recording my daily output when my life was stupidly busy, while our two sons were in elementary school. If you don’t keep a writing log you should. It’s invaluable for figuring out things like how many pages you can write in a day. My goal is to complete the first draft in three months. Twenty-five pages a week (1,250 words per day) is a comfortable, no-stress pace for me.
To write smarter, better goals you need to pay attention to your rhythm and stamina as a writer, and the constraints your life places on your writing.
Let’s say you have four hours a day to write. The time of day doesn’t matter. What matters is keeping the commitment. This trains your Muse (aka muscle memory) to show up when you need her, not when she feels like it. Select a start time, an end time and do your best to put in your hours every day. In your writing journal, note how many words or pages you were able to write.
Yes, there will be days when you’ll be lucky to get in an hour or you won’t be able to write at all. That’s a Life Day, a day when your life jumps out of the corner and yells “Gotcha!” Don’t let it frustrate you. Record the day in your journal and start fresh tomorrow.
It helps to look ahead and plan for holidays, birthdays, school functions, appointments, big events. Cross those days off your calendar as likely “no writing” days and save yourself the frustration.
It’s now April 1, and I’ve just typed the last sentence of the first draft. Ta da! But if I haven’t, if I’m still four chapters from the end, I don’t declare myself worthless, the worst writer ever, and throw myself off a bridge. I knuckle down and stick to my plan until I finish.
Which I do on May 1. An extra month isn’t the end of the world, and here’s the important thing: I accomplished my first goal of 2020! Yippee!
My Goal #2 is: “Complete second draft by July 15.”
That’s another three months, plus 10 days to let the manuscript rest and give me time to detach emotionally from the story before I begin revising and polishing. It also allows for Life Days.
When I finish the second draft, I will have nailed two of my goals! That deserves a smiley face. 🙂
This method works for articles, short stories, everything you write. Yes, it’s called a writing schedule and yes, you need one. Otherwise you’re rolling around like a lost ball in high weeds. There’s enough uncertainty and chaos in life and in writing. They’re both time vampires that suck your energy and your time. Don’t invite them in. Think of your writing schedule as garlic to keep uncertainty and chaos at bay.
Planning my time away from the computer gives me more writing time. I do most of my writing between breakfast and lunch, then I tackle my daily To Do list. I try to schedule errands and appointments for only one or two afternoons a week. Phone calls and bills take just a couple of hours, which means that on most days I can be back at the PC by two o’clock. I can write another one or two thousand words or edit my morning pages.
Here’s what my “pretend” 2020 goals look like so far:
Yearly: Finish new novel and send to St. Martins
Monthly: Write 100 pages
Weekly: Write 25 pages
Daily: Write 1,250 words
That’s how you write a novel or anything else: one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page, one scene, one chapter at a time, until you reach the end.
You can use an 8 x 10 planner as your writing journal; plenty of room to tally your daily pages and make notes. Most planners have weekly sections, some even daily. I like that size because it’s easy to keep track of. Or you can use a spiral notebook, print off blank calendars for the month, week, day and tuck them into the notebook. You may not need a calendar, but I feel lost without one. Keeping a writing log isn’t busy work. It’s more garlic to stave off chaos and uncertainty.
Now you have your arrow and your plan. Next time we’ll talk about your bow. Can you guess what it is?
Lynne Smith, aka Lynn Michaels, is the author of two novellas and sixteen novels, three of which were nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA award, the Oscar of romance writing. She won two awards from Romantic Times Magazine, for best romantic suspense and best contemporary romance. Her only complaint about writing is that it really cuts into her reading time. She lives in Missouri with her husband, two sons, three grandsons, and one granddaughter, born on Lynne’s birthday. Lynne is also an IFW instructor. She teaches “Breaking into Print” and “Shape, Write and Sell Your Novel.”