Yeah, we all know how this writing thing is supposed to work. We’re supposed to write a little bit every day. We’re supposed to set goals and work diligently to meet them. We’re supposed to stay on track and discipline ourselves to see our baby through to the end. And we’re supposed to manage our time so that we can do all of this and still get a good deal of reading in. Oh, and our day jobs and families.
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that writing isn’t a job. It’s as much work as any fully paid employment, and yet for the majority of us at this stage in our career it’s volunteer work. Extremely fulfilling, personality-defining volunteer work, mind you, but volunteer work all the same. For now. We each have it in us to make this a real job, if we’re willing to put the work into it. But no one said it was going to be easy.
So lately I’ve been working with distinct goals in mind. The goal I have set for myself is 2000 words a day. Here’s the catch. I have a limit of 2000 words a day. Because the way I used to write I would pour out as much as I possibly could, sometimes topping 7000 words a day, and I would burn out hard and abandon stories at the 100 page mark. This isn’t the best way to write quality, completed work, let me tell you! I would constantly get frustrated whenever I burst the story bubble and lost interest. So limiting myself to a certain amount of words and forcing myself to write notes or read after that has changed my work patterns and my consistency.
I asked my friends on Twitter last week what their word count goals were. The answers came back anywhere from 1000 words to 3500 words to a certain amount of hours per day. I find it really encouraging that people set goals for themselves. It seems like a habit of effective writers, published writers. You’ve got to get out there and write if you’re gonna nab that brass ring, so set those goals and stick to them.
…Okay, so I had a super busy weekend and yesterday I ended up buying a car and the whole process left me feeling so exhausted that I didn’t make my word count goal for two days in a row. Those are my excuses and I’m sticking to them. What does this mean? GUILT! Oh the guilt! I was barely on Twitter either. More guilt! Oh the horror!
I think that setting goals, which I’m learning is essential, brings with it a heap of guilt. Goals are expectations we set for ourselves and when we don’t meet those expectations, however good the reason, it affects us. Guilt is the encouraging little part of us that knows we can do better and is disappointed that we didn’t. I see a little guilt as a good thing. It keeps us honest. It prompts us to push onward and make up for lost time or lost words after a little slip. Because life happens. We can’t escape that.
But what about those darling frozen babies of mine? What about the stories that never made it? This is where I get into Writers Remorse. Those poor, sad stories didn’t deserve to die! I have one, for example, that I wrote all the way through to within a chapter or two of the end … and then stopped. I keep telling myself that I’ll go back and finish it and then edit it someday … and I swear I will … but in the meantime it flounders in a file on my flash drive.
This is Writers Remorse. It goes deeper than just guilt over not making a daily goal. It’s the sadness that comes from something I know is worthy but that I haven’t given the attention it deserves. Writers Remorse is a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned. There’s a sense of hopelessness about it. A sense of “I’ll get around to it someday” which we all know is tantamount to a lie. Those poor, poor stories! They deserve better.
It seems to me that the key to being successful as a writer is learning how to manage goals and guilt and avoiding Writers Remorse. And I think a lot of that has to do with learning how to treat this thing that you love as more than just a hobby. There may not be a boss or a professor standing over our shoulder waiting for us to hand in the assignment on time, but it’s essential to act like there is. With half of the novels that I’ve finished I had beta readers waiting to read each chapter as it was finished. I had third person accountability. But as my writing style and habits have changed I don’t feel like I can work that way anymore. I’ve had to adapt my goals to be more than just a simple self-starter. But it’s working for me. I will finish the novel I’m working on right now by the end of the month and then I’ll get to work revising the second book in my Noble Hearts trilogy. It’s all about the goals, my friends.
So what are your goals? Do you have daily word count goals? Do you go beyond that to create long-term goals? I’d love to hear how everyone else is doing it.