Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
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Holly Lisle's Vision

Setting Reasonable Writing Goals
(Or don't do what I do, do what I say...)

By Lazette Gifford

2002, Lazette Gifford

It's the start of the year, a time when many of us set our writing goals and expectations for the coming twelve months.  This is one of my favorite times of the year, in fact.  I can look over what I've done the year before and see if there's a chance of upping my expectations. 

However, I've done this for many years, and I know the pitfalls of setting those expectations too high.  Much better, in fact, to set them a little too low and do better than expected, than to set them too high and face the feeling of failure. 

The goals I set are good for me.  Once again, I've set my word count at 1000 words a day minimum, averaged at the end of each month, and 500 words minimum not matter what. This is the same base of words I've used for several years now.  Some months I sail through them without a problem, but there are sometimes months when I'm writing a lot of words in the last few days to meet that goal.  I maintain an Excel spreadsheet to keep track, and I'm very strict about keeping it up to date so I know just where I stand.

Some people count in pages rather than words.  This is especially nice if you handwrite your first drafts.  However, if you're serious about writing, you're going to have to get that material over into computer text at some point, and that's going to take extra time to copy words already written. 

I spend a lot of time writing, and I turn out a great deal of material, but many people just don't have the amount of time to devote to this that I do.  My goals will not work for others.  So how do you set up reasonable goals? There are several factors to take into account.

1. How serious are you?

There's nothing wrong if the art of writing is not the most important thing in your life.  However, if you have other interests, temper the word/page count that you choose.  Look carefully at everything you want to do, and consider how much time all those other things are going to take.

2. Will you write every day?

Not everyone can, or wants, to write every single day.  If that's the case for you, set a weekly total to reach, rather than a daily one.  Goals are made to keep you looking toward a specific objective, and it doesn't really matter how you get there.

3.  What other commitments do you have?

Family, friends, work -- how much will you give to them?  How much are you willing, and able, to take away from them to give to writing?  My husband occasionally goes to the movies with friends, but I'd rather be home writing.  I don't watch much TV, and I only occasionally leave the house for more than a couple hours at a time.  If I have free time, it is almost always devoted to writing.

However, I have many writing friends who love to sew or do other crafts. If you have outside interests, set aside time specifically for them.  It's far too easy, once a story gets moving, to forget everything else until later, and that can often cause problems all their own, including guilt where family is concerned.  Guilt can have a bad effect on your ability to reach your goals.  So look at this part before you start, and make certain you've set aside time for everything.

 4.  Are the people you live with supportive?

This is one facet of a writer's life that many people overlook.  Are the people you spend the most time with supportive of your writing?  If not, cut your goal back accordingly.  If they are just uninterested, they may be mildly annoyed now and then when you lock yourself in with the computer on a day when they have other plans.  If they think that you're wasting your time and theirs, they can be outright disruptive of time you spend writing.  If that's the case, you need to set very careful goals in order not to become discouraged by their attitude.  It might help to find a different place to spend an hour or two a week, just to write.  Even a couple hours of writing at the library is better than none at all.

5.  How much worldbuilding and outlining do you do? 

The more time you spend in preparation for the manuscript, the fewer actually written words you're going to get, at least for some part of the year.  If you find that you are doing more in worldbuilding than in manuscript writing -- stop and get on with the story itself.  Quite often, devoting yourself to worldbuilding and outlining is just a way to avoid writing.  Some people have a dread of taking the story out of their mind and putting it down on paper, for fear that they won't get it right.

The truth is you will never get it quite right.  We can't recreate our imagination on paper, but we can still write the best story possible with the limited tools that written language provides us.  Get on and tell the story.  You can always rewrite and add more if you find that you have overlooked something in your notes.

6. Besides word/page count, what other goals?

My secondary goal is to put two manuscripts a month out into the mail.  This isn't as difficult as it sounds once you've been writing for a few years.  I do not recommend it for people early in their writing careers before you have enough material put aside for rewrites.  I happen to have a large backlog of writing that I ignored for many years, and that gives me fresh material to rewrite and send out.

7. And what about those rewrites?  

How are you going to fit them into your goals?  People often don't consider rewrites when they make their goals, but they are an essential part of every writer's life.  Turning out a lot of material will do you no good at all if you don't make time to rework and prepare it for submission.

One way to do this is to count x number of words or pages in a rewrite as equal to a certain number of new words.  For instance, you might say that for every 1000 words you rewrite, 50 of them will be considered new.  Or perhaps that every 5 pages will equal 1000 words.  Another way is to figure out how long it takes you to write 1000 words, and consider the same amount of time in editing to be 1000 words.  That method is more subjective, though, since you are likely to be faster at one job or the other.

I set up edits as an entirely separate goal -- but I have more time than most writers.  Experiment with this one, especially the first year.

8. Reading  

Reading is an essential part of being a writer.  Reading fiction to understand the genres you write in and reading books on writing to understand the technical side of writing are both important goals. Writing isn't always just putting words down on a screen or piece of paper.  Improvement comes from better understanding the work we do, and quite often that means looking outside our own writing.  Don't overlook this part in setting goals.

9.  And what about goals for the rest of your life? 

Are you going to set up any other goals for your life?  If you say you are going to exercise for an hour every day, where does this time come from?  Your family time?  Your writing time?  Try to balance your real life with your writing.  You'll be happier for it. Writers do not live in a vacuum, even those who live alone.

10.  Having fun... 

This isn't necessarily a goal to set, but it is something to keep in mind when you think about setting any writing-related goals.  If you don't have fun, then what's the use at all?