That got me to thinking how I might do things differently this year.Every year I also keep a chart to check my daily word count. I started that because I liked looking back at how much I was accomplishing during NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month). I liked watching the word count go up every day so I started doing it on my own outside the month. I’d just write down my daily count and then my monthly count and then add it all up at the end of the year to see who well I’d done. It also helped me see which months were better than others, and if there were times I was more prolific. As a result of keeping those daily records I found I was writing more every week, and subsequently I was also writing more every month.
But I needed daily tools too, to keep me going. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with for meeting my goals that might also help you meet daily writing goals.
1. Start with a realistic daily goal. I was very envious of a woman who said she had to write 1500 words a day, and then I heard someone else say she wrote a thousand words a day. Both sounded good but what I found was that I struggled to meet that 1500 word goal so as a result I would give up. Writing a thousand words is more realistic for me. But then I heard best selling mystery author John Sandford say he aims at 750 words. That is the length of a normal newspaper piece, and as a former newspaper reporter he had to do that every day, so he knew he could do it.
I decided to try a smaller number too. The point was to write every single day so I lowered my daily goal to 500. I’ve discovered that goal is very possible for me. Knowing I don’t need to fight to get to that thousand words has freed me up and I know I can do at least 500. The result, of course, is that I now normally hit that thousand, but knowing I get to count the day as productive by hitting 500 has made a big difference.
Start with 300 if that helps. Or 200. Try writing just a page a day. The idea is to get something on the written page.
2. Keep a record. As I’ve mentioned that daily record shows me problem times, but it also showed me the days of the week when I could really take off and write. I also noticed that when I got on a roll for several days, I might write more than my normal goal. It showed me days of the week when I was more prolific so that I could concentrate on getting my word count up then. And it showed me those down stretches when I was letting other things get in the way. That made me work on other ideas for picking up the word count.
3. Try writing sprints. This is a wonderful tip I got from Candace Havens, a prolific romance writer. At a conference I heard her say she would keep an egg timer on her desk and when she was looking to get her writing jump started, she would set a timer for five or ten minutes and then sit and write until it went off. Sometimes she might set it for 20. As a result she would not only get some writing done, but it would get her going on those days she just didn’t feel like working.
4. Write dialogue. If I’m faced with a scene I don’t want to write I sometimes write it from two characters talking things out. I don’t put in anything but their conversation. Letting the characters speak not only helps me get a better understanding of them, but it seems to free up my mind to just get the words out. Let them describe the events to each other. Let them react to what happened. If you don’t like the conversation you can always change it.
5. Write a scene you want to write. This is a great way to get started when you don’t feel like writing. Yes, it means writing out of order and some people find it hard to do, but think of it this way – now you have a scene done and you can build toward it. If you are one of those people who likes to outline, then consider it part of your outline. Best selling author Suzanne Brockman says her outlines are often so involved she can sometimes just write in the dialogue or expand on it and the story is done.
The big key to keeping up your word count and reaching those daily writing goals is to come to the keyboard every day ready to write. As Nora Roberts says about how she continues to complete book after book: “It’s your job. Would you call in sick for no reason? Would you ignore it for days on end? It’s your job. You do it.”
John Sandford says the same thing. When I got a chance to talk with him in November, I asked about the advantages of being a journalist and how it helped in his fiction writing. What he told me made perfect sense. “When I got to work every day, I knew I was going to have to write a story. I couldn’t just say I didn’t want to or didn’t feel like writing today. I had to write a story or I wouldn’t get paid.” I knew what he meant. With 30 years spent in TV newsrooms, I showed up every day ready to write. There was no way around it and no room for excuses.
And that is the bottom line in setting your goals. Like Nora Roberts said, writing fiction is a job. If you’re doing it for fun, then those goals don’t matter. But if you want it to pay, then you have to put in the time like John Sandford said. My overall goal for this year is to set realistic goals and then look at how to make them work.