It’s the end of February. The chill of winter is (hopefully) finally starting to wane as the rebirth of spring teases on the horizon. Those resolutions you made back in January might have fallen to the wayside, as many often do. So this month, we wanted to focus on crafting goals around writing, instead of resolutions that carry the expectation of failure. How do we create goals, what do we use to help hold us accountable? And most importantly, what do we do when we fall short of achieving them?
As far as creating writing goals go, I totally advocate doing something every day related to your WiP – be it brainstorming, plotting, organising, creating character dossiers or mind-maps, free-writing, actual writing, rewriting or editing. It helps so much to immerse yourself – even just for 10 minutes a day – in your story. So my primary goal is simple: spend time with your WiP every day. The longer you stay away from it, the more distance you put between you and your work. You don’t want to become strangers with your WiP, do you?
As for keeping track of my writing progress, to be honest, I don’t use any fancy apps or software to stay on the course. What I do is just make sure I write at least an hour every day. I’ve had to tweak that number since college, when I had a lot more free time to write, especially during the holidays.
Having a writing group definitely helps in holding you accountable for your progress and your work. You won’t dare to half-ass things when you know you have people to answer to and expectations to live up to!
That doesn’t mean you stress yourself out wondering if your beta readers or critique partners will love your work. It just means showing up for work and putting in your best effort so that you have something worthy of their time and attention. Find yourself a group of ceaselessly supportive and kind beta readers (who read widely in your genre) and firm, objective critique partners who aren’t afraid to be forthcoming with their feedback, and you’ll find yourself growing so much as a writer, in terms of output and standards!
What do I do when I fall off the wagon? First and foremost, I tell myself I have tomorrow to make up for today. And the day after. And the day after. My point is, one bad writing day doesn’t make or break your entire progress. As long as you’re headed slowly but surely in the direction you want to go, you’re doing okay. As Nicole said, we writers need to be kind to ourselves. Self-flagellation and guilt don’t make a conducive environment for creativity and ideas to grow. Don’t waste time beating yourself up.
Then get to work.
I have different approaches depending on what stage of plotting/writing/editing I’m at. I like to plot and scheme and day dream so all my ideas can marinate for a while before I start writing (this can take months or *ahem* years…). I wrote my first novel in a complete haze of pantsing (that’s a word now) since I was writing it at the same time as my dissertation, and I needed something unstructured and totally creative to balance out my brain. But now I’ve realized that I work better with a bit more structure, so I’ve plotted out my next novels with big picture outlines. Once I have those major plot points mapped out, I allow myself some wandering between them, and I’m able to write pretty freely to get where I want to go. Once I get that first draft done, I revise, and revise, and revise some more until it’s in a presentable shape, and I send it to my amazing CPs and beta readers. Then it’s back to the revising races once I get their feedback. Rinse and repeat.
I did a massive edit on my novel HONORS in January, and editing is a different beast than drafting. I incorporated big picture characterization and plot changes that had ripple effects throughout the whole manuscript. I also tried to remove filter words and polish the dialogue so it’s not as awkward. With all of these things in mind, it was slow going, but I finished (and kept my promise!), and man did it feel good. Now I’ve finally returned to the first draft of a novel I’ve been stewing over for a few years. I’m working from an outline, and I’m using WriteTrack to track my progress. Thanks to Nicole for the recommendation! (PS – I’m mamcrosbie on there if anyone wants to be accountability buddies!) So far I’ve had a few amazing days, and then some days where life got in the way and I couldn’t get the words in. But as long as I try to write as much as I can, whenever I can, I’ll get this first draft done one way or another.
I’ll never forget that triumphant freeze-frame high-five feeling I had when I finished the first draft of my very first novel, so that feeling always motivates me to finish. There are also a few quotations that always provide me with a swift kick in the bum when needed, especially when the internet gremlins try to steal my concentration away:
“A year from now you’ll wish you had started today.”
“If you give enough damns about what you’re doing, the infinity scroll of the internet really has no power over you.” – Maggie Stiefvater
I used to be part of that group that made resolutions and never kept them; who made goals yet could never follow through. Since, I’ve become someone who chases after my goals without abandon, no matter how many times I mess up and fall short. To do this, I made a couple changes.
First, I started publicly tracking my goals each Sunday on my personal blog, Thoughts Stained With Ink. It held me accountable, even if not a lot of people read those posts. I wrote my year-long goal and weekly goals with every post, so I could remember what I was working towards, but also keeping up maintainable goals. That way, I didn’t feel as overwhelmed. With breaking my goal up into smaller chunks and continually feeling productive (and not as shitty when I didn’t meet it one week) and tracking it every week so I could actually see progress, I trained myself to create a routine and proved that I could achieve my goals, if I put the work in.
I think an important reminder with setting goals–but especially writing goals–is flexibility and self-care. There was a wonderful thread on Twitter the other day from BookEnds Literary Agent Naomi Davis about creating not only writing goals, but gentle writing goals. You must remember to take care of yourself, mentally and physically, before you can achieve your goals. With writing in particular, it’s an ever-changing process. Perhaps your resolution was to write a new book, but you’re really making progress on editing an old one. Or you wanted to write 1,000 words this week, yet life’s gotten in the way and you only wrote 200. Instead of beating yourself up for not meeting your goal, modify it to fit your reality and learn when’s the time to challenge it and when it’s time to relax it; e.g., knowing the difference between needing to take care of yourself by only writing 200 words a week and forcing yourself to write 500 words a week during the time you used to scroll through social media.
I think those are some key traits in goal setting: creating a system that works for you, finding balance, staying flexible and staying kind to yourself. If you do all of those things, there won’t ever be a moment when you fail a goal or don’t complete a resolution. Instead, you’ll continually be working towards it, no matter what roadblocks you hit, hiccups you experience or how often you need to evolve your goal until eventually, one day, you reach it, you’re ridiculously proud of yourself and you get ice cream to celebrate.
You create another one.
What did you think of our tips and tricks? How to do create/track your writing goals? Share your goals and your progress down in the comments below!