I get a lot of questions about how to manage writing time. That question has an involved answer, but I think it starts with learning to set manageable writing goals.
When I first started writing, I was a serious binge writer. I would write 150 pages in ten days and then nothing for months at a time. My writing was unreliable and I didn’t like it. So in an effort to be more consistent, I started to create daily, weekly, and monthly writing goals.
Here are some things I did (and some things I’ve learned to do) to create manageable writing goals that help me make it to “The End”.
1) Prioritize consistency and progress
This should really be your overarching goal. When I first started goal setting, I set my goals too high and found them hard to meet. I was focused on how quickly I could finish my book instead of how much I could reasonably get done.
With that in mind, I would recommend putting your focus on building a habit and moving your project forward and nothing more. If you keep moving forward, you will finish your project! This will also help turn writing into a lifestyle.
I will also say that it’s better to write a little bit on a regular basis than a lot every so often. What a “regular basis” means is entirely up to you, but I would recommend at least one day a week if you’re just starting out. Once that becomes a habit, you can add another day per week as you see fit.
2) Break your goals into manageable steps
If you focus on your Big Writing Goal, the project might feel overwhelming. So, start with your big goal, and then break it down into as many steps as possible. Let’s say you decide you want to write a book in a year. Then start to break that goal down. What do you need to have accomplished by the end of each month to help you reach that goal? What about by the end of each week? And the end of each day?
Once you have your goal broken down, your day-to-day focus should be on meeting your daily goal only. Trust that if you do this, you will eventually reach your Big Writing Goal.
Side note: This doesn’t mean you have to plan your entire year in one shot. I tend to know what I want to accomplish by the end of the year, and at the end of each month, but I take my weeks one month at a time and my days one week at a time. If that makes sense.
3) Be realistic with your time
It’s easy to get ambitious and set some high goals right out of the gate–at least, it was for me. Challenging yourself is fantastic, but if you don’t have the time set aside to meet these goals, you’re setting yourself up for a struggle from the start. Before you put any expectations on yourself, take a minute to look at the time you currently have available and/or how you can rearrange your schedule to gain some writing time.
If you can only get 15 minutes on your lunch break that fine! You can make that work! But if you decide you want to write 1,000 words a day and you only have those 15 minutes to do it, there’s a good chance you’re going to find yourself frustrated really quickly. Be realistic with yourself about the time you’re planning to put into writing and try to set goals that can fit within that time frame.
4) Start small
It’s okay to start with really small goals. This is key if setting and meeting goals is either new to you or has been a problem in the past. Maybe 100-500 words a day? Or 1-5 pages a day? Or, if you’re brainstorming, plan one chapter a day–whatever small manageable goal feels right to you.
Setting goals this small may almost seem pointless but I promise it’s not! It helps you build a habit. If you meet your goal on days 1, 2, and 3, you’re more likely to use that momentum to show up for day 4, right? It puts you in a position to succeed. It puts you just a little bit closer to a finished project. That’s something to celebrate. And once you get into the habit of writing on a regular basis, you may find that you get faster, and can add to your goals. Or you might find your success has you motivated to carve out more writing time.
Basically, you can always find ways to increase your goals later if you want to, but first, it’s important to know what it feels like to meet your goals on a regular basis. That’s how books/stories/movies/plays get written.
5) Adapt if you keep falling short or ending up with extra time
Don’t be afraid to change your goals if they aren’t working for you! I think some writers get discouraged when they don’t meet the goals they set for themselves and give up. But they shouldn’t! And you shouldn’t either! If you find that you are continually failing to meet your goals, change your goals! Make them a little (or a lot) smaller. Once you know what’s “too much,” you’ll have a better idea of what might be just right for you.
On the other hand, you may have undershot your goals if you find yourself with extra time on your hands. I think it’s okay if finish early from time to time–everyone deserves to clock out early on occasion–but if you find yourself with roughly the same amount of time leftover on a fairly regular basis, you may want to think about upping your goal.
Every writer is different, so don’t set your goals based on a friend’s progress or success. Base them on your own.
6) Try adding stretch goals
If you’re like me and you consistently find yourself overestimating your goals, you might want to come up with two sets of goals for each day/week/month. First, a set of easily attainable goals–goals that you should have no trouble accomplishing. Then add some stretch goals. These are goals that would make you really happy if you met them, but you know it’s okay if you don’t. Then you can use any stretch goals you don’t meet as a starting point for your next day/week/month.
Personally, I find this approach to be the best of both worlds. It keeps me on track and realistic, while still challenging me to get done as much as possible.
7) Cut yourself a break if things don’t go as planned
Maybe a chapter needed more attention than you thought, or maybe your kid was sick one day and stayed home from school. Sometimes life, or writing itself, interferes with our goals. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, set new goals for tomorrow and keep moving forward until you reach THE END. After all, that’s the whole reason we set these goals in the first place.
I hope this helps you set killer writing goals!
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Now it’s your turn: Do you set writing goals? How do you manage them? If you don’t set goals, are your thinking of starting? Let me know in the comments! You can also let me know what you’d like to see covered more in the future.