Setting Goals and Making Them
Welcome guest Blogger Deborah Cooke (who also writes as Claire Delacroix). Claire/Deb is a member of the awesome RWAOL Romancing the Words Team. Check our Prizes page for a look at the great prize package donated by the team. Donate in support of the Romancing the Words team here.
One of the tricks every writer has to master is the ability not only to predict when a work will be completed but to be right about that date. That means setting goals and meeting them.
1/ Set Reasonable Goals
Reasonable goals are derived from your observation of your own work habits. Of course, your habits will be less well established when you start out – you might not be sure how quickly you really do write. And they may change over time – you might begin to write faster or slower, depending on your experience and the kind of work you’re writing at that particular point. But you will have a vague idea of how much you get done in an average week – start with that as an objective.
Another facet of setting reasonable goals is acknowledging that you have a life outside of writing. If you know that someone close to you will be having surgery and that you’ll be helping out, if you know that you have a big presentation to do at work in a certain week, if you know that your kids will be starting school and that first week is always chaotic, then factor those variables into your goals. Aim lower for the week in question. Admit that you’ll have other obligations.
Over the long term, you can refine your ideas of how much you can write in a certain period of time. You might be able to find ways to share the load of your other obligations, as well.
2/ Give Yourself a Chance
Writing for a living requires making writing a habit. If you write only when inspiration strikes with such intensity that you can’t not write, then you might not write very much. Those days will be wildly productive, but you might only have one or two of them a year. Their timing isn’t predictable either, which doesn’t help with setting your goals. I think that we respond really well to routines, and establishing a routine for writing will encourage your productivity.
My muse and I have a date every weekday morning at 8:30 – sometimes we meet on the weekend, too. She has my undivided attention until noon every day, and we usually still hang out together in the afternoon. Even when I don’t generate word count, I think about the book I’m writing – I do research, make lists, ask my muse questions. Writing is a habit. It’s my job and I do it almost every day. Having a regular routine encourages the book to get steadily longer at a more or less predictable pace.
It also keeps the story at the forefront of my thoughts. Focus is a big part of knowing what comes next.
3/ Manage Your Distractions
We all have distractions that pull us out of the world of our books. You can probably make a list of the top five distractions in your life. Look at that list and try to think of a way to manage those distractions. Maybe you don’t answer the phone when you’re working. Many authors have the “if there’s no blood, it’s not an emergency” rule for their kids, as only emergencies justify interrupting the house writer at work. My big distraction is publicity and promotional work. For some reason, I find thinking about it and doing it to be diametrically opposed to thinking about my book. So I set times to work on it – I won’t think about promotion until the late afternoon or the evening, and I actually do a lot of it on the weekend. That keeps it out of my writing time and out of my thoughts.
Think about your distractions and find some ways to manage them. Protect your writing time.
4/ Be Kind to Yourself
As with all things, not every day is a good writing day. We all have days when not one word makes it to the page – or the screen. There are people who advise writing anyway, that you should write through your block even if you write garbage and edit it later. I don’t do that. I find it depressing to throw out work, so continuing to write on those days is doubly bad for me. In addition to the awareness that I’m writing something that isn’t right, I know I’ll have to sit down and delete it later. Ugh. So, I don’t work through those periods when I don’t know what comes next. I make my lists, I knit (because my muse likes to play while I’m knitting) and I think about the book. I still remain in my office for the entire duration of our daily date, but I don’t force out words that I hate.
My muse likes that strategy. She always rewards me with a nice juicy plot twist and a pile of word count, usually within 48 hours. Maybe we’re just used to each other by now!
5/ Keep Going
The corollary to the cutting yourself some slack on slow days is that you keep going on good days. When the words are flowing, let them flow – don’t get to your daily goal and stop. Having the words drip out of the ends of your fingertips is a magical thing – you can’t count on that happening again the next day. Just go with it.
It’s not easy to write a book, and it’s even less easy to write a book knowing roughly how much you’ll add to it every day and when it will be done. Yet that’s what working writers do all the time. Don’t be hard on yourself if the habit of writing doesn’t come instinctively – it’s a skill we all have to learn and one that we have to refine over the years. Keep your date with your muse, and don’t give up. Persistence is the biggest key to success.
Good luck with making your goals for this month, both for word count and for fundraising. Write on!
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