by Christine Hennebury
Writing goals can be useful ways of challenging ourselves and getting our work done. However, words do not write themselves, you need a system.
I used to think that just setting the goal was enough, that I would be magically pulled toward it. If I decided that I was going to write 15,000 words in a month, I didn’t do any of the other work involved, I really just hoped for the best.
It didn’t work, of course.
I had to learn to develop a good system for myself. First, I had to break my big goal into manageable bits – a daily/weekly amount. Then, I had to actually schedule specific times to do the work. Finally, I had to plan exactly what I was going to write at those times. (Note: That’s what *I* had to do, your plan might be different.)
It is easy to say ‘I’m going to write X number of words this month’ but saying it is not the same as doing it.
You need a solid plan to get your pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Otherwise, you will not reach your goals and you are likely to get discouraged.
Think About Systems, Not Just Goals
The key to reaching your goals is a solid, repeatable system. A system could be something like: ‘I am going to sit for 20 minutes each Friday and come up with ideas. Then, every day after breakfast, I will write for 10 minutes.’ That system will get you far closer to your goals than than just saying… ‘I’m going to write 5000 words this week.’ A system includes a plan for action, not just a hope for a result.
Develop YOUR Writing System
The emphasis in that heading is on the word ‘your’. You need a system that works for you, not for anyone else. Be honest with yourself about how much time you have. Keep your goals aligned with how much time you have. (If you only have 15 minutes a week, that’s fine. Just don’t put pressure on yourself to produce a novel in six months or anything!)
So, ask yourself: What’s a workable amount of time that you have regularly? Do you have 10 minutes a day? Do you have 60 minutes a week? What time of the day or the week does that 10 minutes or 60 minutes occur? Schedule your writing time in your calendar.
Check Your Numbers
Once you establish how much time you have, you want to see how much you can accomplish in that time. Set your timer for your planned amount of time and write. Note how many words you were able to write.
Then, take that word total, multiple it by your planned writing session and use that number as goal guideline.
In my experience, I have had more success with writing for set amounts of time than set amounts of words but you do what works best for you.
Adjust As Needed
Perhaps you wrote 250 words in your 10 minute timer test but what about when you find a topic that’s a bit trickier? Or when you aren’t sure what to write?
That first test was to set a baseline, not to create a final standard. It gave you somewhere to start but you might need to adjust your goals as time goes on. Word goals need to be flexible because your writing speed will change depending on a lot of factors.
I used to find it very difficult to adjust goals once they had been set. I was very hard on myself about ‘failing’ to do something. Luckily, at some point, I read someone’s suggestion to add the phrase ‘Or something better’ to every goal statement. Something about that phrasing made me remember that my goals are supposed to serve me, not the other way around. Now, I am quite flexible with my end point and you can be, too.
After all, you can decide what better means for you. Perhaps, today, it means more words. Later it might mean measuring time spent on specific topics. Sometimes ‘better’ might not involve writing at all. Your ‘something better’ might research time or time spent with friends. Don’t be hard on yourself while you figure it out.
Check In With Yourself
After you have had some practice with your system, have a good look at it. Ask yourself questions like – Is this system meeting my needs? What has my experience so far told me about my writing habits? Do I need to tweak or adjust anything? Where do my difficulties arise? What other kind of supports do I need?
I have found, through experimentation, that if I don’t schedule my writing time, I will be struggling late at night to write. I can write late at that time of day but my focus isn’t good and I have trouble staying on topic. It takes me a lot longer to finish my work when I write late at night.
I have also found that I need to build in twice as much editing time as writing time. I am good with blasting out a first draft but the rethinking of the work takes a lot of time for me.
As you go along, you will figure out your own quirks and be able to adjust your system accordingly.
Keep That System Working for YOU
You don’t have to stick to a system just because you developed it. That system is supposed to serve you, not the other way around. Its whole purpose is to get you where you want to go.
If your system is not serving you, change it until it does.
Your goals work the same way. You don’t have to stick with a goal because it seemed like a good idea when you started. You can always adjust it until you end up with that ‘something better.’
Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her at christinehennebury.com or visit her on Facebook .