How to Build a Realistic Daily Writing Goal

Let’s talk about making daily writing goals. I think that everyone tries to make daily writing goals of some sort, but it’s not often that I find somebody who actually keeps them. Starting a new habit is extremely difficult, and keeping that habit is even harder. So today I want to talk about making a realistic daily writing goal that you are able to keep.

First let me explain that most writing goals start off either way too optimistic, or way too pessimistic. Everyone wants to write every day, and that’s fine, but when you start off trying to write too much or too little, it’s a bad deal all around. Let me give you a few examples.

Optimistic Goals

Optimistic writing goals largely come about because you look at full-time authors who put out several books a year, and think to yourself, oh, I should be doing that too. If this author can write three books a year, I can as well! But that’s not entirely true.

Let me remind you that comparing yourself to any full-time author is not a good measuring stick for your success, because they likely have their own marketing crew, editorial staff, and publishing team. All they have to do is write the book and approve the edits, and they are published. Indie Authors have to do all these things themselves, and work a full 40 hours a week on top of that, which means you’ll be lucky to roll out a book a year.

And thinking you won’t write during the week, you’ll just cram all your words in on the weekend won’t happen either. I mean, you’ll have two days to get your writing done, in addition to errands, housework, time with the family, and time for yourself.

When you make optimistic writing goals, what really happens is you will only ever reach them rarely, and this will leave you feeling crappy about it most of the time.

Pessimistic Goals

Once you’ve gotten it out of your head that you aren’t a famous author writing loads of books a year, you start to make pessimistic writing goals. You say to yourself, well, that didn’t work. What’s the absolute least I can allow myself to do every day? These goals really low-ball your writing efforts. While you can make them fairly easily, what kind of words are you putting down on a page when you’re only writing, say one page or 100 words per day?

At that stage, the writing really isn’t a challenge. You can make these goals so easily that it makes you complacent in your work. You might feel like you’re doing great because of your low goals, especially after failing so abysmally with the optimistic ones, but you’re really hurting yourself in the end, because you could be doing a lot more.

Realistic Goals

Realistic writing goals come about when you get really serious about your writing. They take into account all the things going into your life, as well as your capabilities as a writer, and bring them all together into one nice little package. A realistic goal is both attainable and sustainable. Let me show you what you need to consider in order to build one of your own.

So Let’s Talk About Goal Setting

The first thing you’ll want to do is figure out what your measuring stick is going to be. By that I mean what determines whether you had a successful day or not? There are three main types of goals.

Minutes per Day. In this type of goal, you say, I want to write for (x amount of) minutes per day. If you can honestly sit yourself down and say you gave your project your full effort for that time, you’ve done it! Mark a star in your calendar. This type of goal setting is particularly useful for the research and planning phase of a novel, when you aren’t necessarily writing your own words down on a page.

Words per Day. In this type of goal, you say, I want to write (x amount of) words per day. If you write that many new words, you’ve made it to the goal. This type of goal setting is especially useful when you are in the midst of writing your piece. It helps you concentrate on writing it a small chunk at a time.

Pages per Day. In this type of goal, you say, I’m going to write (x amount of) pages per day. This is helpful if you are in the editing stages, to get you through your manuscript without giving up.

Keep in mind that I have also seen successful authors use pages per day in the writing phase, or use words per day during the entire project. The main thing is to think of what makes the most sense to you, and use that to measure yourself by. And just a friendly reminder that you’re measuring up to yourself. You cannot compare your first draft to a published author’s final draft.

 

Now, once you have it in mind how you are going to measure your progress, you need to chart it all out. You can’t begin to know how to do this until you know how you operate. I use a word count goal, and my chart looks something like this:

Sunday – Day off from work – 500 Words

Monday – Deposit day – 150 Words

Tuesday – Work day – 300 Words

Wednesday – Work day – 300 Words

Thursday – Deposit day – 150 Words

Friday – Half day at work – 500 Words

Saturday – Day off from work – 500 Words

Notice anything? My word counts vary based on how my typical workweek goes. Here’s how I came up with those numbers.

You have to figure out how many words/pages/minutes you can write in a typical day. For me, I use my lunch hour at work to write, so it was about figuring out how many words I could write in an hour. If I scarf down lunch and am super motivated, I can write about 500 words in an hour. But looking at this seriously, I am not usually motivated, being at work, and asking me to write that much at work is kind of stressful. So 300 words is about all I can typically manage on a lunch break. On days that I have to make a deposit for my job, my brains are typically fried by the end after all that math, so writing even 150 words those days are sometimes a total chore. Yet on the weekend, I fully expect myself to write at least 500 words a day.

The idea here can be expanded as well. Don’t simply think about how many words/pages you can get through in an hour. Think about how many hours you actually have that you can devote towards writing per week. For me, writing before or after work just isn’t an option. Life is too busy to expect me to come home and do that. But on the weekend, I get in a cool 500 words, and often much more than that. This is difficult to do, because it means you have to be totally, completely honest about when you have the time and energy to write, and when you don’t.

I encourage you to 1. find out when you like to write the best by tracking your week and typical writing times and 2. try to find any extra pockets of writing time that you can, especially if they happen during your peak writing time. Really examine yourself and your schedule. Getting up an hour earlier for you morning people or staying up an hour later for you night writers could be the key. If that isn’t feasible, see if  there’s a way to rearrange your day so that there is less to do during your peak writing time, for instance, doing half a sink of dishes every morning instead of doing them at night if you find that you like to write at night. Or packing lunches and setting up the coffee maker the night before instead of doing it in the morning for you morning people. Get your other chores out of the way as much as possible during your peak, so you have more time to write.

When you do the math you’ll see that writing a 50,000 or 100,000 word novel isn’t very difficult to do. If all you write is 500 words per day, in 14 weeks, or a little over 3 months’ time, you’ll make 50,000 words. If it needs to be longer, you can achieve 100,000 words in six or seven months’ time. And if you get in extra words over the weekend like I do, you’ll finish even faster.

Add in a Zero Day
One last thing to consider, and that is to add in zero days. By that I mean, schedule in days where you aren’t required to write any words at all. Think about it seriously. You aren’t going to write any words at all if you’re expected to be cooking Thanksgiving Dinner that day for the whole family. Have a night out with friends planned? Nope, no words on that day either. Maybe a movie is coming out that you’ve been dying to see, or maybe a friend is having a housewarming party. The point is, I schedule all holidays as off, knowing myself well enough to know I won’t write on those days. You need to know yourself well enough too, and give yourself a few days off every month in order to just do what you want to do.

It’s easy to see that with just a small commitment to yourself and your craft, you can use this to write several first drafts per year, edit many pages very quickly, do a lot of research, and just generally get things done. Assess yourself and your skill. Figure out how you want to measure your progress, and find out how much time you can really devote to your writing every day. Track your peak writing time, find extra pockets of time within your busy schedule, even if you have to rearrange. Add in zero days whenever you will need them. With this, you’ll carve out a writing schedule for yourself that works, and that you can stick to.

What methods do you use to track your writing progress and set attainable goals? Let me know in the comments!

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