Setting Goals and Expectations

For once I’ll have a fairly short article. Which isn’t totally because I forgot to write something again and am desperate to give the appearance of semi-consistent updates.


Something I’ve seen a lot in the writing chatrooms I’ve been in, on twitter, and in conversations with others is the topic of writing goals and expectations. Chiefly regarding word counts per day, week, month, whatever.

As one might expect, opinions are wildly divided. There’s one camp that espouses wisdom from Stephen King and seeks to maintain a thousand-words-a-day while another is adamant about “writing whatever you feel like.”

Is any one better than the other? I believe so. Most people are goal oriented. It makes sense since, in having a clear, definable objective, we can better achieve an end result. Imagine if a business never set their objective(s), budgeted, planned, and defined pathways to meeting the objective. They’d probably fail pretty quick or never get off the ground. Writing is much the same.

As writers, we must set goals. More accurately, we must set realistic, achievable goals. If you’re a parent of a young child and working a full-time job, trying to set a thousand words a day is probably not going to be realistic. Same goes if you’re a full-time college student in a program known for being strenuous. So, when you first set your goals, aim for the realistic. Don’t aim so low you scoff at the goal or you exceed it daily, but somewhere in the middle. Say, 500 words a day.

If you can hit it every day—great! That’s the point of the goal, a metric you can meet. If you exceed it, even better. If, or when, you start to regularly exceed it, maybe it’s time to raise the bar. If you set yourself 500 words a day for a month, or 15,000 for the month and at the end of it you’re managed 20,000 or 25,000 words, nudge up that daily goal to, say, 750 words a day. And so on.

With daily goals as well, it can be useful to think of them as overall monthly goals in case you miss a day or two. Not only will goals give you a metric you can meet, an objective to achieve (and thus something to feel satisfied about) it helps you build the habit of writing.

For me, as an example, after publishing Vagabonds I fell into a habit of not writing. Now this was largely owing to the fact I started school, but still, I should’ve set a nice, small goal. 250 words a day, say. If I’d done that, my current WIP would actually be nearly finished as a first draft! Think about that. Just a measly 250 words a day, if I’d done it and stuck to it, would’ve yielded about half a novel’s worth of progress. Instead I have zilch. Welp. Now, I’m setting myself that nice 500 number as a goal since, while I’m not quite finished with school, I’m getting close to it. It feels good to achieve a goal, to look at my little spreadsheet and go “Wow, I actually got some decent writing done this month.”

On the flip side, don’t be hard on yourself if you fail to meet a goal. Don’t beat yourself up, call yourself lazy, or worse. Simply acknowledge that maybe you set the goal too high. You expected to be able to accomplish X, but could only do Y instead. However! Don’t make excuses, either. This may sound cruel, but unless the circumstances are extreme, don’t use inconveniences in life to shirk your goals. I can’t help you define this, it’s something you’ll have to set for yourself. Approach goals responsibly. If you fail, remind yourself it’s okay to fall, pick yourself back up, and try again. Maybe nudge your goal down a little.

But, above all else, hold yourself accountable. Fair, but accountable.

And, something else to consider: Is outlining, coming up with world building, character info, writing count? I’m going to say: Kind of. I would value one word written in an outline, in the notes readers will never see as 1/5 of a word that will likely find its way into the published manuscript. What’s the reasoning and logic behind my choice?

“Seems decent.”

So you can adopt my method or scoff, it doesn’t matter what. Just make sure you have something. Goals and expectations. Get writing every day, don’t make excuses, and be kind to yourself.

Writing is hard work. You don’t need to be hard on yourself, too. And when you start nailing those goals, managing them appropriately, you may just find a wellspring of motivation you didn’t know existed.

A writer before and after setting attainable goals.

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