Setting Attainable Goals in Writing
I once read that Stephen King writes a minimum of a thousand words a day. That, in and of itself, doesn’t seem like an unattainable goal. If you think of it, I’ll likely be in that ballpark by the end of this blog entry. It’ll likely take me about half an hour to write that. Ultimately, it’ll be just over a full page of single-spaced text. No biggie, right? Well, maybe and maybe not.
A lot of that will depend on how fast you type. After seventeen books, I type fairly quickly. But if you’re like I was when I first started out, a thousand words can take a long time. There’s a huge difference between typing twenty words per minute and typing ninety. Also, you have to take into account if the writing is really flowing and how many times you have to stop and think. Fixing errors takes time, as well.
What does this all add up to, you might ask? It adds up to a thousand words being entirely too much, if you aren’t the fastest typist and have to think about each sentence before you write it. I’ve been fortunate that my brain processes two to three sentences ahead of what I’m actually writing. It’s been a blessing and a curse. Mainly when I try to go to sleep, getting my brain to shut up is the problem. I’m still plotting stories when I’m lying in bed. It can be nerve-racking.
You can set attainable goals for yourself but you have to know your own limits. What might be a difficult goal for some could be easily attainable for others. You want to set a goal that is challenging to reach without being impossible. That can take a bit of juggling. First off, only you know how fast you can type. That varies with each of us. Also, you know how often you get distracted and/or have to stop and think. Therefore, I can’t set an arbitrary number for you and it be a realistic goal. We are all individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses. Knowing your strengths is easy. The weaknesses takes a bit of honest introspection. You’ll have to do that by truly examining your own style and abilities. Don’t worry, it’s not that difficult. It’s just that no one can do it better than you can.
Setting an attainable writing goal is equal parts introspection and guess work. Take a look at your abilities in typing, focus and thought process. Once you have a reasonable idea, set a low goal. Say, 500 words. That’s it. Hell, for that matter, make it 250 words, if 500 seems unreasonable. Now, take a note of the word-count on your manuscript if you are already on a project. If not, you start at zero in a new one. If you’re writing in word, it should automatically track your word-count. Now, just set a timer and write until you hit that goal or run out of allotted time to write. If you run out of time and still have words to go to reach the goal, adjust the goal downwards and try again the next session. If you hit it easily, then adjust it upwards for the next session and record your details. It won’t take long before you find exactly how many words you can do in an allotted amount of time.
If you only have an hour every night to write, then you know how many words you need to have done in that hour. If you have all night, then adjust it for the time you have. Only you know how much time you have to write each day. Adjust your goal to fit your typing speed and the time you have to write. Soon, you’ll find that reaching that goal gets easier and easier. When that happens consistently, adjust the goal upwards and repeat.
The more you practice, the faster you will get at typing. Writing and typing are both skills. Yes, there is a certain amount of natural talent that plays a factor, but never discount the fact that skills can be improved with practices and time. You will be surprised how much it will change over time.
To that end, I would recommend you start a file on your desktop or in your writing folder. Name it something easy like “Writing Goal Sheet” and keep track of the date and your current goal. You can add to it weekly or daily. Keep updating it after each writing session with your progress. Then, go back and look at it and compare your progress over the course of a month or a year. You don’t have to go from typing/writing 250 words at a session to over a thousand to have improvement. Don’t try to measure yourself by using someone else’s progress as a track. It’s not a fair comparison. We’re all different and learn/grow at our own rates. You measure your success gauged against yourself, not against anyone else. Their journey is different than yours. The only fair way to chart your improvement is by trying to be better than you were yesterday. Anything else is just setting yourself up to feel bad about yourself.
It’s not fair to judge the ability of a fish in climbing a tree when compared to a chimpanzee. It’s not a fair comparison. The same goes the other way, you can’t judge the chimpanzee on its ability to swim by comparing it to the fish. They’re not the same. Both have their own individual strengths and weaknesses. We’re all unique and deserve to be proud of our strengths as individuals, not because of our differences with each other. I’ll never win a footrace with Usain Bolt, but I’ll put my recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce up against his any day of the week. We’re all different and you can’t judge yourself based on others. Set your goals and progress expectations based on you and you alone.
Writing is a journey. It’s different for each of us, but we all take that journey together. Remember when it comes to writing, rough drafts don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be written. You can fix the errors in the edits. That’s what they’re for. Write at your pace and on your terms. We’ll be ready to take the journey with you, when you’re ready to share it.
Enjoy the journey.
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