I’ve written a lot of things. I’ve also failed to write so many more. In the process, the most important thing I’ve learned is to have a plan for whatever I’m working on. That means setting goals.
That might sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s what works for me. It won’t work for everyone, but I’m hoping there are at least a couple pieces and parts in here that you can adopt for your own process!
Choose reasonable goals
Nothing will set you up for failure like trying to do too much. Failure to hit a goal is never any fun and can easily discourage us from trying again. Success, on the other hand, is inspiring and motivating and gives you a reason to brag to all your friends. Aim for that.
Of course, this means having some idea of what you’re capable of. For experienced writers, that can be easy. My current goals for this year are to finish two novel projects and write at least four short stories. I have accomplished such things before, and I know I can do it again. Think about where you’re at and where you’d like to be. For instance, if you’re a short story writer who’d like to become a novelist, maybe set a goal of writing a novella first, or of writing several interconnected short stories that can help you practice building a longer narrative arc.
But if you’re a new or inexperienced writer, there is no shame in starting small. One blog entry a month? 100 words a week for ten weeks? If it gets your pen moving, builds your confidence, and helps you create good habits, it’s worthwhile.
Track your progress
I have a spreadsheet I use to log the number of words I’ve added to each of my major projects every week. It’s ugly and boring, but I can use it to tell you that I added almost 2000 words to the next Black Yonnix novel, and that I added a big ol’ goose egg to the next Deviant Magic book. Tracking my progress in this way means I know exactly what I’ve written and when, which is super important for my next point.
Review and reflect
There is no point in setting a goal if you’re not going to learn from your success or failure in achieving it. Evaluating what contributed positively and negatively to your efforts is the only way to make good decisions about how to move forward with your next batch of goals. Perhaps most importantly, it can help you identify the various things that impact your work so you can find ways to avoid the circumstances that slowed you down and embrace the methods that pushed your writing forward.
This period of reflection is important not just at the end of a project, but at regular intervals during the project. That word count chart I referred to makes it very easy to identify stretches of time where I was more or less productive, which enables me to think constructively about why. I know that a good chunk of my recent progress on Black Yonnix happened while scribbling in my notebook in my favorite local brewery, which tells me I should do more of that (while still being a responsible adult, of course). Similarly, that 0 for the next Deviant Magic is a prompt to think about what inhibited my progress.
Don’t get down on yourself
We all fail to meet a goal on occasion. That’s just life, and it’s not worth beating yourself up over. By setting a clear goal, tracking your progress, and then evaluating the result, you can set yourself up to set more achievable goals in the future. Frankly, when you fail to meet a writing goal, it was probably just too big for you in the first place (barring unforeseen life circumstances that interrupt, of course).
You might think I’d be pretty embarrassed about admitting I added literally zero words to one of my core projects last week. I’m not. You know why that number didn’t go up? Because I deleted a large chunk that wasn’t working and replaced it with something better that somehow magically matched the exact number of words I’d cut. That’s not a reason to feel like a failure. It’s far too funny, for one thing, and for another it just means I did something productive after all.
So get to it!
In the end, this little self help post is all about helping you find the things that work best for you and your writing. That doesn’t happen, of course, unless you write.
Got any strategies of your own for reaching your writing goals?
We’d love to hear them! Comment below or join us on our QOTW post!
Want to be ready to read Scott’s books when he finishes them? Start here:
Scott Colby is a writer and editor specializing in speculative fiction. He is the author of the Deviant Magic contemporary fantasy series and serves as writer/editor/manager for the World of Pileaus. As an editor at Outland Entertainment, Scott organized the Pileaus: Symphony No. 1 Anthology and has proofread several other novel projects, including Static Over Space: Gravity and Lies and Dragon’s Heir: The Efilu Legacy.