Setting Writing Goals to Finish Your Book

For over thirty years now, I’ve been setting writing goals.

As a youngster, they were often unrealistic, of course.  “I’m going to write forty pages per day for two weeks, and I’ll have a novel done!”

Well, I’ve written up to 70 pages in a day, and they were even publishable, but that was at the end of a novel where I was feeling inspired.  Generally speaking, the faster I write, the worse I write, and as I often tell my wife, “I don’t get paid for writing quickly, I get paid for writing well.”

I’ve been on enough writing retreats now, where I’ve had long blocks of time dedicated only to writing, so that I know that getting twenty good pages in a day is about the right pace for me.  You might be a little faster, or a little slower.

But here is my point: you need to set goals that are realistic for you under the circumstances that you find yourself in.  If writing a page a day is all that you can manage with a busy schedule, it will still get a novel draft done in a year.  Setting goals that are difficult or impossible to reach will just stress you out, making it more difficult to write, and they’ll take a toll on the finished product.

Writing fifty pages of unusable prose in a day is no better than writing nothing at all.

So I often find that I do well if I set “quality” goals.  In other words, I say, “I’m going to write a scene tomorrow, and I’m going to focus on making it beautiful, with perfect pacing, a powerful climax, a beautiful metaphor, depth and duality, lyrical language, and so on.”  I might even set a goal of beating a scene by one of my favorite writers by saying, “I’d like to write a voice as strong as Orson Scott Card did in the opening to his ALVIN MAKER series,” or “Perhaps it’s time to see if I can write a prologue as gripping as Robert Jordan’s in the WHEEL OF TIME.”

Maybe the scene will be two pages, or perhaps twelve, but that one scene is the focus of  the day’s work—that and nothing else.  You see, when you’re trying to write a large number of pages, you’re trying to focus on several scenes at once—and that doesn’t work.

When I set quality goals, I tend to write both quality and quantity.  That’s because when I’m finished with my scene, I often find that I’m feeling inspired—and I immediately tackle the next one, and so on!

But for me it all begins with allowing myself to focus on that first scene.


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