The Two Best Goals for Writers

As my wife and I are wrapping up our time in Spain, we went to our final Fulbright meeting. In a lot of the good-byes, a lot of people congratulated me on how far I am in my novel because of my time this year (by the time you are reading this, I expect to be finished). In these conversations, the common complaint came up: “I wish I had time to write.”

This year, I’ve had to really evaluate goal setting, self-motivation, and my own grit. A lot of the things I’ve learned this year were really just expansions of what I already knew. As a teacher in the US, I did not have a lot of free time on my hands. There were always lessons to be planned, work to be graded, emails to catch up on, meetings to go to– you get the idea. (All of that, by the way, is usually outside of the regularly scheduled school day.) 

I wanted time to write. But, time to write is an ambitious goal for a writer. 

Here are two specific kinds of goals to set for a writer:

1. Count

Chances are, if you’re complaining about not having time as a writer, you’re actually complaining about not getting things done. It’s not the time management, you just don’t know when you’ve hit a goal. If you’re like most beginning writers, you sit down and say “I’m going to write a novel/play/screenplay/etc.” When you stand up, hours later, you feel terrible. You’re defeated. You didn’t get nearly as much done as you’d hoped. 

A counting goal gives you a sense of accomplishment when you reach it. Counting goals are goals where you are counting a specific part of your writing. For prose, I recommend counting your words. Others might count their pages– or even the characters they type (like the French). 

Setting a reasonable goal for yourself might take some time, but will help you feel accomplished when you stand up from the desk or table. You might set it too high and not be able to accomplish the goal, or you might set it so low that you still don’t feel like you’ve done anything. 

Solid place to start? 500 words. It might take me 20 minutes, it might take me two hours, but I know I can reach 500 words in a sitting. It’s halfway to 1,000, too. (More on that later.)

2. Time

But what if you’re saying, “But, I really don’t have the time.” 

Well, your mileage may vary, but from my experience everyone has a little bit of time. For NaNoWriMo, I carved out 20 minutes a day. As a teacher. I was exhausted, but I sat down and–no matter how many words I did or didn’t get on the page, I forced myself to sit in front of my iPad and type. Even if it was bad, I knew that if I got words down, I could fix those words later. 

Usually, in the time of not-November, I carved out my Saturday afternoons. I left my house for a coffee shop by noon and I didn’t leave until it was time for dinner. (Which, as a teacher, was about six.) 

I recommend one of these two goals when it comes down to creating a time for you to write: a small, incremental daily time, or a long, weekly time. I really recommend the daily time because it gives your brain an idea of momentum. It wakes up and knows “I’ve got to write today.” 

Oh, so: 

Bonus tip: set the time for the same time every day. Just like your body gets used to eating and sleeping at certain hours, it will get used to creating.

As a teacher, I had very little actual time, so I had small time goals I could meet. Now, living as a house-spouse in a country I cannot work in, I focus on completing 1,000-2,000 words a day in 500 word increments. (Not counting any of my non-novel writing.) 

Bonus Tip #2: Don’t post goals on social media until you’ve met them! Chances are, you’ll get a ton of likes and then you’ll have enough good feelings about even setting the goal, that you never set out to complete it. I post my met goals for my novel every 10,000 words. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something and the praise I get makes me want to keep going. This is something I had already been doing, but heard on Art of Manliness and has really been helpful to my own motivation. 

A quick apology: two blog posts ago I posted about music you should be using to write to and didn’t include the link to my list: Writing for Beginners. I’ve put it here and fixed that problem on the original post. Sorry for the inconvience and I hope you use the mix I made the next time you sit down to write. 

Thank you for reading! What are your writing goals? What are you working toward out there? Let me know in the comments below. My next two posts will be specifically about the time to write: “Creating Your Writer’s Space Anywhere” and “Mini-Events You Can Throw Yourself as a Writer.” If you enjoyed this post, support me on Patreon! Every dollar helps. 


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