I’ve talked about how to set manageable writing goals before, but I never really got into why setting reasonable writing goals is so important.
Setting reasonable writing goals has been really helpful for balancing my writing life. When I aim too high and don’t meet my goals, I have a harder time functioning outside of my writing. I feel like my work day isn’t finished until my goals are met and it’s harder to focus on other things when I feel like I should still be working. Being fully present is just as important to writing as actually writing. It’s what gives us the experiences and emotions that we write about.
Another problem with setting unreasonable goals is how easy it is to fall behind. Once you do, you’re often in a constant state of catch-up, which most likely only makes you fall farther behind. From there, it can go one of two ways. You either get discouraged and quit, or you get hyper-focused on your goals and other areas of your life suffer as a result. Neither option is ideal for a happy writing life.
Here are some things I (try to) do to set reasonable writing goals:
This is something new for me. Basically, I’m making a conscious effort to do less work daily in the hopes that I’m sharper and more productive when I am working. This will ideally make me more productive in the long run. Minimalist blogger Courtney Carver explains in this post. This also builds in plenty of time for things not to go as planned, so it’s easier to stay on track. So far I’ve found that this has made me more productive with the time I have and that the quality of my writing has been better than it was when I was scrambling to do as much as possible.
I plan my day the night before
This gives me a realistic sense of my time and a better handle on what I can accomplish within that time. I schedule everything, from waking up, to getting coffee, doing yoga, writing, appointments, work, travel time, and even watching TV. If I have all of my time accounted for, I can’t afford to procrastinate, which keeps me productive throughout the day.
It’s also nice to see where my time is going and to see if I can sneak more writing time in if I need it. For example, if I end up on an unavoidable phone call during my writing time, I know I have the window of TV time later in the night to get more work in. It’s also helped me see how much of time was going to non-essential or repetitive tasks so I can alter my schedule accordingly. Thanks to this, I started baching a handful of daily tasks, which has helped me find more time to write.
I’ve mentioned these before. The idea is every day you set a ‘light’ goal that you can guarantee you’ll have time to accomplish, and then a stretch goal that you really want to accomplish, but it’s okay if you don’t. This (ideally) gives you something realistic to work towards while still working to be as productive as possible. This also keeps you from wasting writing time if it turns out you’re super locked in and end up with some extra time on your hands. It’s a good solution if you’re like me and find yourself getting over ambitious with your goals. This way you can be realistic without selling yourself short.
If I get behind, I don’t try to catch up all at once
Instead, I make a plan to chip away over an extended period of time. So, if I miss a day of writing, instead of doubling up I’ll add a few hundred words to my daily goals for the next week or so. If I don’t have time to add to my daily goal, I add another day to my overall schedule. I’d rather be a day late and have something I enjoyed creating than push myself to the point that writing becomes a source of stress. I’ve found this is something my writing benefits from. If you’re on a tight deadline, this may not be an option. Still, do what you can to distribute your catch up work as evenly as possible.
I imagine when you set your writing goals, you probably did your best to distribute those goals pretty evenly. So why does it make sense to double up just so you can catch up? Sure, it may take longer for you to feel like you’re caught up, but you will catch up. However, if you put too much pressure on yourself to catch up at once, it’s likely that you’ll get overwhelmed or discouraged (or both). This may make you start to feel like writing isn’t worth all this. Writing is always worth it, but pressuring yourself to write, isn’t. Do what you can to avoid putting yourself in that kind of situation.
Setting reasonable writing goals is admittedly a weakness for me. I like to be productive and I always think I can do more than I realistically have time for. Plus, goals keep me motivated. Whether it’s fixing a scene or hitting a word count, meeting a goal gives me a feeling of accomplishment, even if I don’t like what I wrote that day.
But I also know I’m a better writer when I’m a balanced writer so I try to check myself whenever I start to get too caught up in my output and my goal of finishing my project. These tips have been a huge help in maintaining (or rediscovering) that balance.
I hope this helps you set reasonable writing goals!
Now it’s your turn: How do you set reasonable writing goals? Have you found yourself struggling to meet your goals? If you have, how do you manage it? If you haven’t, what tips can you share? Tell me about it in the comments!
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