Goals, Guilt, and Writer’s Remorse

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.

Yeah.

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.

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11 thoughts on “Goals, Guilt, and Writer’s Remorse

  1. I’ve set a minimum of 1000 words per day, though I’ll try to increase it to 2000 soon.
    On my good days, I can get as much as 5k words per day … but these good days have been rare lately.
    I try setting long-term goals, but it’s hard to know what could happen in a month or six. My life has been kinda of unstable atm.
    For Writers Remorse, I have one really good story I wrote until it was 120k words, then, close to the day, I couldn’t take it anymore. Like you, I keep saying I’ll go back to it. And I hope I’ll … but I’ll probably want to re-write the whole thing since my writing improved a lot since then. I also have a full MS that I want to re-write. I love the story, but the writing wasn’t that good (it was one of the firsts I wrote).
    And, right now, I’m contemplating giving up on the MS I’m writing … with promises that I’ll get to it later and fix the plot and such … another Writer Remorse on the way!

    • Oooo…. It’s so nerve-wracking to give up something you’ve put so much work into! Like I said, I SWEAR that I’ll get back to the things I drop someday, but my best friend Kristine just shakes her head at me and tells me she knows me better than that when I bring it up. It’s all about the third-party accountability. 😉

  2. My goals seem pale in comparison to what you wrote. I can usually only manage about 500-700 words a day when it comes to my novel. When it comes to my short stories, less than that. I focus so much on my blog posts, that I tend to neglect my WIP and they just get tossed to side.

    I have recently been trying to make it a habit of getting up earlier so that I can write after I have slept on my WIP’s. I usually find this to really help and get encouraged to keep writing.

    This is a wonderful post. I look forward to following your blog, and on Twitter. 🙂

    • Thanks Ashley!

      I’m a morning person so I find that I write more effectively in the morning too. Plus it helps to have a day job with an intermittent workload where I set my own schedule for the day. And I don’t know how I’m able to get so much written in one sitting. All I know is that once I get in the zone it’s really hard to get out! Just ask my friends who try to talk to me when I’m writing. =P

  3. I haven’t set up a word count goal, but I like the idea! I’m in revising mode right now for my first novel. The excitement of finishing was enough to get me through round one of revisions pretty quickly. But now in round two I’m dragging a bit. After reading this, I’m thinking having a word or page count goal for revisions would help me a lot. I’ll have to try it and let you know! 🙂

  4. I find it incredibly impressive that you can write 2000 words a day. 7000 a day is mind boggling. On a good day, I can make 1000 to 1500 a day. I’m a very slow, methodical writer.

    I also have some stories that didn’t deserve to die their untimely deaths. I also have some who did 😉 I hope to resurrect the good ones some day.

    • Well, the only way I’m able to write 2000 words per day is by totally letting go of the perceived quality of what I’m writing and getting it out there. And because I have a day job that allows me those chunks of time to sneak out a page or two (ssh! don’t tell my boss … until I’m famous =P)

      Those 7000 per day days were a couple of years ago when I completed my first novel. I had just broken up with a guy and was miserable and had no social life and … HEY! This would make a great blog post! … As I was saying, I had no life and would get home from work and write from about 7pm until 10pm, and on the weekends I would write for 5-8 hours. No life = 250,000 word manuscript that read more like a mini-series than a novel. That book is down to 120,000 at the moment (*cough* and about to be indie published at the end of September-ish *cough*).

      Definitely resurrect the good stories someday! I don’t think they deserve to die … although they may need major surgery to be presentable. 😉

  5. My goal is to find time to write… and then make myself stop. Like you, I can blast out 7,000 words in a day, and I don’t want to stop. So I try to get all other critical tasks out of the way before I begin to write, and that’s hard to do.

    I’ve written four 100K novels this year, and the fifth one wants out desperately. But I have to find time for my “real” job, as well as for editing and prepping the others for publication.

    If only I could give up timewasters like sleep… 🙂

    • *LOL* Sleep is my second favorite activity besides writing, so I could never give that up! =D But yeah, finding time to get the stories out in the midst of a full-time life is a hard thing to do. I have at least half a dozen novels that I dearly want to write and three that need revisions, so the day job is totally cramping my style.

      And congrats on getting 4 done so far this year!

  6. Merry I do so enjoy your posts. I do have word count goals and once I reach them I also resume living my life. In my humble opinion, where I think writers can struggle is that we see how many word counts others are doing and somehow think we are not doing enough. The way I see this is, if I only wrote 50 words today…then it was 50 more than I had yesterday. What works for me is setting a daily goal…and then a short term goal;)

    • Thanks Christy! That’s a really good point too about comparing yourselves to others. For more than just word count goals too. Plus my goals tend to change. Since I’m revising right now instead of writing I have more of a “word fix” goal, which sometimes makes me feel like I’m not doing as much as when I’m writing a first draft. But it’s still work! =P

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