Setting Writing Targets

By Ali Hale

When you’re working on a big, long-term writing goal – perhaps becoming a published novelist, or making a living from your writing – it’s easy to get discouraged or distracted along the way. Sometimes the gulf between where you are with your writing and where you want to be can seem like an impassable chasm.

This is where it helps to set smaller, specific writing targets: ones that you know you can meet, and which will take you step-by-step towards your eventual goals.

1. Work out your priority for the year

In 2007, I was focusing on short stories: my target was to write at least two every month and submit them to competitions or publications. I ended the year with over twenty five finished short stories.

It’s usually not a good idea to split your focus between several projects. If you write around a job or family life, pick your one priority for the year: whether it’s finally getting around to writing that novel you’ve been planning, building up a collection of poetry, posting regularly on your blog, or polishing up your business writing skills.

2. Set realistic targets for yourself

In my case, I could manage two complete short stories per month whilst working full time – it was a bit of a stretch some months, but achievable. If I’d tried to write a short story every week, I’d have given up before January was over.

Try not to give yourself a target that relies on outside forces: aiming to have something published every month is laudable, but it’s influenced as much by the whims of editors as by your own writing abilities.

Some good targets could be:

  • Writing 500 words of your novel every day.
  • Writing a poem every Saturday.
  • Posting a new entry on your blog three times a week.
  • Reading two chapters of a book on writing every week, and trying out some exercises.

3. Keep track of how you’re doing

When you have daily or weekly targets, keeping a visual record of progress can be very motivating! How about putting a tick or gold star on the calendar for every day that you meet your goal, or keeping a wall chart of word-count progress by your desk?

If you prefer a more high-tech approach, Joe’s Goals is an easy way to keep track of how you’re getting on. You might also find scheduling writing sessions in task management software such as Remember the Milk helps – sometimes, our brains work well with a deadline.

4. Assess whether meeting your targets is getting you closer to your goals

It’s great to be ticking off those four completed poems every month, or those three blog posts each week – but after a few months, take a good look at whether meeting your targets is actually taking you closer to your goals.

If you’re trying to win writing competitions, are you getting short-listed yet? If you want more readers for your blog, have visitor numbers risen? If your aim is to improve your writing skills, are readers commenting more favourably on your work?

Sometimes, you might need to revise your targets in order to make faster progress towards your goals: your target of four poems each month might be too ambitious if you’re rushing them and producing sub-standard work, and you might reach your goal of a competition win sooner if you instead just wrote one great poem each month.

Do you have big, long-term goals or dreams for your writing? What smaller targets are you setting yourself on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to help you reach these?

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14 Responses to “Setting Writing Targets”

  • jennifer

    At the beginning of this year (or rather, on December 31 of last year) I made my goal for this year to finally write a novel. Well, after months and months of putting it off and putting it off…I finally did it!!

    I completed my novel on September 13!! I’m sooo excited and happy to have finally set a writing goal and attained it (of course, I didn’t do it alone, I had a writing coach who kept my on track and gave me pep talks when I needed them).

    Now I’m so revitalized in my writing it’s great. I can’t stop thinking about it and wanting to get my hands on the manuscript again so I can edit it (I am putting it away for about 6 weeks, which is what Stephen King says in the “minimum” amount of time to walk away from something after it’s written).

    And although you mention that it’s not a good idea to split your time between projects, I have to say that I disagree. I understand where you’re coming from, but I’ve found in my experience, that working on two to three projects at one time helps me out more than it hurts me because I am able to get ideas for one project by working on the other. I’m also able to take a break when I’m stuck with one project and work on another to keep me motivated.

    So anyhow, I just wanted to share this with everyone. Great post, I’m going to reset my goals for the remainder of the year since there’s still 3 months to go!

  • Ali

    Jennifer, how fantastic — well done you! 🙂 Finishing a novel is an amazing feeling. And yes, give it at least six weeks. Another tip I’d add is get a copy printed on LuLu — much easier to work from than a load of manuscript pages, and it’s pretty cool having your name on a real book.

    Congrats again on completing the novel!

    Also, with multiple projects, I think it can be useful to switch between different things — I was primarily thinking about people who struggle to find time for their writing. It looks like you’ve done fine on making it a priority.

  • Chris

    Good post. I like the fact that you look at writing as a whole, mentioning blog posts.

  • ash

    this is good advice and thinking. mmm…

    i decided i wanted to accomplish two writing projects this year and the first is almost done (as of this weekend).

    the first was a fiction piece – a rather “long short story” (if you will) one and i figured it would take about 2 mo. but quickly w/ needing time (since i work a full time gig), feedback and revisions it has taken about 5…it will be polished and ready for all sorts of submission this weekend! yeah for me.

    finally i will begin the second when i finish the first and this time it will be a memoir of sorts…true story- i’d like to give myself 4-6 mo. writing.

    i always try to keep smaller goals of things like blogs/poetry and so forth. reasonable?

  • L

    Thanks Ali, I’ve been visiting DailyWritingTips.com for a few months now and find the advice given here invaluable. I check everyday (although sometimes there isn’t a daily post, but I won’t hold that against you all) and actually find myself looking forward to it – no longer is improving my writing skills a chore.

  • MidnightMarauder

    Hmmmmmmmm lets see here……….I mae it a point to:-
    1) Write at least one page in my journal everyday. I’ve started the drafts of my new novella I’ve planned and will be moving on to in-detail character bios, then the actual chapters! I got banned from my journal 2 days ago because I was spending too much time on it, so I took to writing in school. And I think I’ve burst a blood vessel in my right arm, because it feels unusually heavy and hurts when I move it (ow!)
    2) Publish a blog post every Monday.
    3) Make a parody/funny poem each week. Especially on Tuesdays and Fridays (when we have Physics and Chemistry! XD)
    4) Does email writing count? If so, then I check my emails everyday! *angel*
    5) I read online and offline.

    Friendly tip:- Read and write in the bathroom. You can really concentrate! And I can assure you – Your writing will NOT stink! Hahaha XD

    ^_^TheMidnightMarauder^_^

  • Willis

    This is something I have been planning to do for a while now. Perhaps I should make a target to make a plan for writing targets? Heh heh!

    But seriously, these are really good points. It put into words things I have been thinking of and meaning to do for a while now. I am rather excited about getting back on track with my writing.

    Thanks!

  • Ali

    L – glad you’re enjoying the blog 🙂

    MidnightMarauder – Do you write funny poems ABOUT physics and chemistry? 😉 I remember drafting bits of fiction in physics lessons…

    Hope your arm feels better soon — it’s a pretty essential bit of kit for a writer!

  • MidnightMarauder

    Awww thank you Ali!!! Haha actually, I write fantasy. Right now I’m working on a novella which is currently untitled 🙁 but I’m just writing down the drafts for each chapter. I’ll start writing the actual thing in November, for the NaNoWriMo contest! I can’t wait! (Oh, and I actually found out that my arm was hurting because I’d been playing too much Volleybal! XD) But yeah after the whole contest thing I’m gonna see if I can publish it as an e-book! And I have an aunt who works in Amazon, so I’m just hoping for the best! (Oh, and the price will probably be around 2.50 pounds!)

    ^_^TheMidnightMarauder^_^

  • Marukay

    My personal writing skill is to update my online-story three times a week. Due to several circumstances I am not able to write the same amount of words each day, so I just try to write as much for my side as possible. If I don’t need to write an update, I write or translate some of my stories. (My website is completely double-language, German and English, as is the online-story)

  • Anna Cott

    At the moment I have no specific writing goal in mind. I started working on a novel a few months ago and wrote the first seven or so chapters. Unfortunately I got to the end of Chapter 7 and could write no more!

    Every writer’s nightmare!

    I am working on a number of pieces at the moment and have to agree with Jennifer regarding the switching from piece to piece. I have found that my stories are a bit like children; they grow up at once, all around you, at different rates and in different ways, but they end up fully developed adults.

    Well done Jennifer on your completed novel!

    I think it takes a lot of courage to write. I will get there one day 🙂

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