When I was studying education – way back when – there was a lot of research supporting how setting reasonable goals and tracking progress toward those goals significantly increases one’s chance of success. Now, this led to a lot of ridiculous requirements in the classroom, but since we as writer’s march to our own drums, or find a writing tribe to march with, “setting goals” can take many different forms, and those goals are literally limitless.
If you’re just starting out (with writing or goal-setting), or want to experiment with something new, here are a few suggestions to help you set and attain your goals.
Start with the big picture.
You’re a writer. Your goal is to write *something* whether it is a short story, novel, or epic series. Whether you’re planning or pantsing, you have a vague idea of what form your end result will take.
Now, if you’re new to writing, or writing with serious intent (as Orwell puts it) you may not be aware that the length of a work is tracked by word count, since page numbers vary based on font, page size, line spacing, margins, etc. It is also useful to know the general length of each genre. Keep in mind, these are not set in stone, and should not be considered goals for a first draft. A good place to aim for if writing the first draft of a novel is 50,000 words. If you reach the end of your narrative and fall short, THAT’S OK. Say it with me: That is OK.
Break it up.
Something something building Rome, something something eating elephants…
Now that you have your BIG GOAL, break it up into manageable pieces to complete daily. It may take a while to figure out what a manageable piece looks like, as everyone’s pace is different. For some, a manageable piece is a scene, for some it’s an hour, for some it’s 500 words. Unless you have a prearranged competition, don’t feel pressured to achieve someone else’s goal.
You could even set your daily goal that day. *GASP* However, I recommend having a vague goal in mind beforehand, so you’ll have a rough timeline for finishing the project. Remember: You can always reset your goals and your plan for achieving them. Don’t view that as a step back; View it as a constructive part of the process.
Track your progress.
Have a system in place for tracking your daily and cumulative progress, as well as how much work you have left. One reason I love NaNoWriMo is their tracking system (shown right). WriteAllYear.com has a similar pre-formatted spreadsheet you can download for free.
You may announce and reflect on your daily progress via social media. This is useful if you need a little boost, as others will cheer you on. If you already have a platform, it shares your progress with your readers.
I have one friend who creates spreadsheets documenting words per chapter per day, and – to add a super-dose of professionalism – keeps a timesheet (which would be useful for placing a definite monetary value on your work). He showed me his graphs and progress via this Twitter thread (scroll up).
If you handwrite your materials, I recommend tracking hours and pages. You may also calculate roughly how many words per page you write (for my handwriting, it’s a little over 200 words per page/400 front and back). Once you know roughly how many pages you can write in an hour, use that to set future goals.
If you outline like I do, track your progress by crossing out points on your outline!
Set a timeline.
Once you have a good idea of what your pace looks like, create a timeline for your project. For example, if you set aside two hours every weekday, write 1200 words per two hours, it should take you roughly 41 weekdays to achieve a 50,000 word count goal.
Put aside time for unexpected incidents, burn-out, writer’s block, or errant plot bunnies. It is always a good idea to schedule in wiggle room (“Under promise and over deliver,” as my former manager says). Therefore, a good timeline for a first draft for this example would be three months.
(Which, of course, makes me wonder what else I’m doing with my life!)
A note on lofty dreams:
Make these goals too!
If your dream is to be a New York Times Bestseller, find out what you have to do to qualify for that. Beyond the basic qualifications (which is based on volume of sales out of overall percentages, so there’s no easy way to calculate this), research which books have been on the list and what they all have in common (I don’t mean plot or genre, but story elements). There are several books and articles on this very topic: identifying the characteristics that bestsellers have in common.
If your dream is for your novel to be made into a movie (which I know absolutely nothing at all about, I swear!), go for it! Write the novel with a more visual style, adapt it into a screenplay, rub elbows with creators you love and admire to pick up tips and make connections, and research screenwriting competitions.
Note: I’m using the word “research” quite a bit. That’s very important.
I want to hear about everyone’s current goals and their plans for success. How are you tracking your progress? Where are you on your current project?
I especially want to hear those lofty dreams! Despite what I said earlier, mine is to see my works made into faithful on-screen adaptations. I’m about half-way through adapting COLOSSUS into a screenplay, and I know a guy who knows a guy, who is asking for it, so we’ll see how that pans out.
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Want more Avery Rhodes? Check out becomingcolossus.wordpress.com/