Setting and Maintaining Your Writing Goals – And Battling the “Mid-Year Crisis”
Chapters Completed: 16
Chapters In Progress: 6
Chapters Not Started: 12
“Chronicling The Craft” is an article series where I share my experience with writing my current work-in-progress (WIP), which is a fantasy novel. Every 5,000 words, I let readers know what I’ve accomplished since the previous article and share advice, discoveries, techniques, etc. Besides the word count in each article title, a “chapter ticker” at the top also tracks my progress as I use the skip-around / “writercopter” method to write the novel. Today’s installment celebrates the book reaching 65,000 words in length.
This summer’s been a season of adjustment. I took some time away from writing in June when my last surviving grandparent passed away; and like with most losses, the sadness lingered for a while. I’ve also changed my “writing location” for the days when I need to run my air conditioning. The through-the-wall AC unit and my writing desk are in the same room, and the chill and the noise from the clunker distracts me too much when I try to write. So, I’ve relocated to the “comfy” chair in my bedroom, where it’s quieter and the AC air gradually filters in throughout the day. (I live in a garden-style condo.) The plush chair cushions have also made the past few writing sessions luxuriously comfortable – I hate getting up when each session’s over!
Anyways, here’s what I’ve been up to since last month’s Chronicle:
- Chapter 9 is done! All I had needed to do to finish it was write the closing scene. That scene exists now, and it marks the first time that my protagonist Eva has spoken to a certain character since a fight she had provoked with him. Let’s just say I had to force her to squirm emotionally under her cool exterior. *evil laugh*
- I have a number of other chapters started because of the “skip-around” method I’ve been using for this WIP. (NOTE: I have an outline for the novel, so I already have a good idea of most of the plot points as well as the eventual outcome.) My original goal has been to finish those in-progress chapters… but recently I’ve been inspired to flesh out some of Eva’s anger and fury. So, the past few writing sessions have concentrated on Chapter 28 – and that’s finished now, too. Yay!
- Still working on my backstory and character development “appendices” as time allows, too.
The past couple Chronicles have covered character development techniques and essential elements in novel-writing. Today I’d like to share an equally important topic that’s been on my mind recently: setting and maintaining your writing goals. Many writers find it useful to set a deadline for finishing their book or a desired word count to reach each session / day / week. Having such goals can motivate you to stay on track with your story. On the flipside, they can terrify you to the point of procrastination, writer’s block, or sheer panic that paralyzes you from writing a single word because you’re so afraid you won’t meet your goals.
No writer is immune from this seesawing. That’s why I’d like to share what I’m calling a “mid-year crisis.” Here’s what happened a couple weeks ago:
I had decided in January that I wanted to finish the first draft of my WIP by the end of 2014. At that time, I had written about 35,000 words, and I was shooting for 100K. It seemed doable: 65,000+ words in 12 months. And so I plowed forth. I didn’t set a specific word-count goal for each session only because I was concerned I’d stall under the additional pressure. Instead, I preferred to simply immerse myself in each session and see what would happen.
Around July 1st, I looked back at what I’d accomplished so far this year, then turned my attention to the end goal. You can read the full posting on Facebook, but for convenience’s sake I’ll quote the most relevant parts below:
Wow. It’s hard to believe that 2014 is half over. I guess it’s time to take stock with overall progress on the WIP since January. At the beginning of the year, I had just clipped 35,000 words. Today, I’m somewhere over 62,000 – meaning I’ve almost doubled my word count in 6 months. Not bad!
My goal is to finish the first draft before the end of 2014. I don’t exactly have a target word count, but it looks like I’m on pace to hit between 110K to 115K. Which means… in order to meet my year-end goal, I need to crank out 50,000 words in the next 6 months?? o_0
If there had been a mirror in front of me so I could catch my reaction, this is what I would have seen (minus the humor).
I’ve thought more about my writing goals since that day. While the shock from the “mid-year crisis” has worn off, I’ve found myself at a weird balancing point: I’ve accepted the fact that I may not reach my goal of finishing the first draft this year. Would it be awesome if I managed to reach it? Of course! I don’t know yet what I’d have to sacrifice, though. Like many writers who’ve yet to be published, I have a full-time job, a condo to take care of, and other offline activities to ensure I don’t get out of shape or become a social recluse (both of which could happen very easily if I allowed them to). As a result, my writing time is restricted to weekends and days off – and I must accept that.
What matters more, however, is that when I sit down to work on the story, I make progress. It may not be quick, but progress is always progress. It can’t be diminished or ignored no matter how small those steps may be. Right now, with the lifestyle I have, this is the best I can do – and that’s OK. It reminds me of Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare.” I feel like I’m a tortoise, with the motto “Slow and steady wins the race.” As long as I work consistently on the WIP, I’ll finish it. If it’s after December 31, 2014, I’m fine with that. But it will feel pretty damn good when that day comes.
One thing I know for sure now: The WIP wouldn’t be nearly as far long as it is now if I hadn’t set rules for myself. And if you’re a writer who’s trying to manage or optimize your creative time, maybe these tips will work for you as well:
- Carve out the time you need. Look at your schedule before the week starts, and make a list of the non-writing appointments and commitments you absolutely must keep. Then, determine when you have open blocks of time. Target those blocks for writing either mentally or by marking it directly in your calendar. If you have a family or live with a significant other or roommate, talk to them about your needs. See what agreements or compromises can be reached so they can give you time and space for your novel.
- Have your writing tools available and rituals performed in advance. Want a snack or a cup of tea handy while you write? Need candles or “focus objects” to create the desired ambiance? How about a dictionary, thesaurus, or writing resource books? Take care of those items before you sit down so you won’t have to stop in the middle of your session to get them.
- Avoid online distractions. Fight the temptation to hop onto the Internet and social media while you write. I know it’s hard not to; I struggle with it every time! But when you log onto Facebook or Twitter or start Googling random facts, you get sucked in – and before you know it, you’ve spent 30 or 45 minutes “away” from your story. To prevent this from happening, close out of all Internet windows before starting your session. Try using a print thesaurus or dictionary (unless you trust yourself enough to not wander when you use the online versions), and jot down anything story-related that you need to research for later. Robert Morris’ recent article at LiveWriteThrive also suggests some great writing tools that can help keep you focused on writing.
- Don’t answer your phone. If you have a cell phone or smartphone, change the noise volume to “silent.” Unless it’s an emergency, the calls and text messages can wait. That’s what the phone’s mailboxes are for, right? 😉
- Focus, focus, focus! Be fully present with your novel when you work on it. With each scene, ask yourself, “What do I need the reader to know? What’s happening to the protagonist? What sensory details will help bring it to life?” If you’re one of those writers who has multiple projects going on at once, push those other projects out of your mind. Only one priority calls your name right now. Like those voicemails and text messages, the other projects will still be there later.
- Last but not least, don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t meet your goals. It’s human nature to criticize ourselves when we don’t meet our own expectations. But, how do you feel when you scold yourself for coming short of the day’s target word count or not meeting a deadline you set? Like rubbish, I’ll bet – and that only worsens the disappointment. Please don’t do this to yourself. Instead, turn the negative into a positive. Take a mental step back from your frustration and tell yourself, “I might not have reached my goal, but I’m still moving forward. I still made progress, and that’s what counts.” You’ll feel better about yourself and ignite a new spark of motivation for your next writing session.
In a way, stories are like people. They need love and nurturing, both of which require time. Whether your lifestyle allows ample amounts of it or limited blocks here and there, make the most of what you have to let your WIP grow. At the same time, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Give yourself the gifts of time management, organization, and sharp focus without belittling yourself when things don’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped. It’s a hard habit to break, but once you do you’ll feel a huge weight lift from your shoulders – and you may find yourself even more inspired to continue writing according to your schedule.
Have you set deadlines or personal goals for your writing projects? How did you fare with those goals in the past? Do you have your own time management tips based on your own experiences with writing novels? Feel free to share by commenting on this post below.
Next Chronicle: When I hit 70,000 words
Until Then: Come back Saturday for an announcement on the Music Monday Review series. I’m also working on a special interview with friend and fellow writer Sara Litchfield to celebrate the upcoming release of her debut novel, The Night Butterflies!