A four-minute read.
Picking a New Year’s resolution is rarely difficult for writers. Who doesn’t want to get more writing done this year? But keeping it is another thing altogether, and the trick is setting your goal in a way that helps you get it done.
I’m uniquely qualified to offer advice on this subject – after years of failed writing resolutions, in 2018 I managed to define my goals in an achievable format, and it worked! I decided that I would write a modest 2,000 words a week on average, and I did. This included a 97,898-word Star Wars fanfiction, a 7,452-word short story for the charity anthology I participate in every year (Clichés for a Cause), a 37,981-word Young Adult novella, and 29,016 words of its sequel. Altogether that equals an average of 3,314 words per week, and that doesn’t even include all the blogs I wrote!
Here’s the system I use that allows me to turn out that kind of word count reliably:
If your goal is a certain number of books:
First off, you’ll need to translate that into a number of words. Do some research on the genre you’re writing in, and see what the typical word count range is. If you tend to be concise, pick something towards the bottom of that range. If you’re verbose like me, give yourself some breathing room, maybe even go beyond the upper limit, but not by more than 20%.
Next, you need to decide when you want to finish the first draft of the book. Don’t pick December 31, 2021 unless you plan to make the next year’s goal rewriting and revising the same book. You also want to give yourself some wiggle room in case life throws you a big curveball. Take a look at your plans for the year – when are you going to have the most time to write? A good plan is to set your goal just after that time period, so you’ll feel the most pressure to work on it then.
Now, you have your word count goal and a deadline, and you can move on to…
Making your word count acheivable
If your goal is to write two 75,000 word novels by November, it can be tempting to take that 150,000 words and split it up into a daily goal of 500 words. Daily goals are popular, and breaking it down into such small, manageable chunks can make it seem more achievable.
In fact, the opposite is true.
Why? Because sitting down to write 500 words every day is not an effective or productive way to write. 500 words is barely getting started. For me personally, that’s about half an hour of work. And while half an hour a day is a great goal for exercising, reading, or any other such personal improvement endeavor, most people need more time to get into the flow of writing.
I talk about this a bit in my blog on how to survive NaNoWriMo, and the same advice holds true for longer-term, lower-stress goals. Daily does not help. Weekly is the key. A weekly goal allows flexibility, and unless your schedule is exactly the same every day, you need that flexibility. Maybe you work later some days, or you have kids with activities – or you do, you lucky son-of-a-gun – or you have a mental illness or physical disability that means some days, it just isn’t going to happen (and you really can’t schedule that).
So, let’s take that same goal and rework it: instead of 500 words daily, it’s 3,500 words weekly. Sounds a lot more intimidating, but it’s not. That’s two days writing 1,000 words, and a third at 1,500. An hour to an hour and a half, for me. Still totally doable. To be safe, you can add a smidge more wiggle room, and make it 4,000 words a week. Just an extra half an hour somewhere. Then you’ll be sure to finish in plenty of time.
How to keep on keeping on
A big part of my success in 2018 was based on three major factors:
- I said 2,000 words a week on average.
- I worked ahead.
- Because I didn’t focus on a total word count, if I had an off week, I didn’t feel like I was falling behind.
#1 and #2 tie into each other. I never stopped when I reached 2,000 unless it was absolutely pulling teeth to keep going. I’d finish whatever chapter I was on (and I tend to make my chapters at least 2,000 words, which helps). If I was feeling inspired, I would just keep going until I ran out of steam (or needed to go to bed). The following week, I pretended this hadn’t happened, and I still needed to get my 2,000 words in. This allowed me breathing room for life events. I had surgery in June, and I wrote almost nothing in December because I was exhausted after NaNoWriMo and had lots of holiday planning to do. I also had weeks here and there where I just wasn’t feeling it all week. It’s okay. It happens.
But I think #3 was the big ticket to my success. One of the reasons I strongly dislike NaNoWriMo is because when I get behind on my word count, I feel terribly discouraged and that makes me want to write less. I pulled through that November, and using the method I’d been using all year helped me stay motivated. Every week is a new week. It doesn’t matter what you did last week, or if you fell off the wagon for a whole month (which I did in June). Any given Monday you can pick right back up and get back to work.
I should also mention that writing fanfiction in particular helped keep me motivated. It might seem self-indulgent, but I get a lot more instantaneous feedback on it than I do with original fiction, and my fans’ comments and kudos kept me going. I promised to post a new chapter every Saturday morning, and that made me responsible to someone other than myself. But I never write just one thing at a time, so while the fanfiction kept me going, I was also working away at my original stories. It also establishes an audience that I can sell my original fiction to, which is kind of a big deal.
If fanfiction isn’t your thing, you might want to find a writer’s group to exchange your work with others, or even just report your word count. Having an external system can be a huge boost. Sometimes accountability to others can give you that necessary motivation.
So as you look ahead to next year, remember: take it one week at a time, and before you know it, your book will be done!
Originally published on Anewpress.com, January 8, 2019