To make progress in their work, writers must have a plan to move their writing towards completion
When I write, I always have a goal. Without an objective to strive for, I wouldn’t write too much, if at all. I’m sure I’d spend more time thinking about writing than actually writing. The biggest byproduct would be guilt. I’d also wallow in procrastination. I’d become that person who talks about writing but never actually writes.
To avoid these very real threats, I use goals to propel my writing forward. Here are six that I use, not all at once, but as appropriate to the situation.
Schedule: My most common writing process is to set a schedule and stick to it. This involves writing every day for at least one hour (but it’s usually more). The first thing each morning, before I do anything else, I sit down and I type. On the weekends, it’s blogging, and weekdays, it’s a personal project, usually a book. (I fit freelance work in later in the day. See “deadline” and “paycheck.”)
Word Count: When I’m working on a book, especially one with a deadline—be it self-imposed or set by others, I set a word count goal for the day. As a recovering overachiever, I’m not happy unless I surpass my daily word count goal. As a side benefit, this allows me to complete the project ahead of schedule, or it provides a cushion on those occasional rough days when the words refuse to cooperate.
Targets: Other times my goal is not time or words, but outcomes. I will write one scene and take a break. I will complete two sections and give myself a small reward. Or I will finish the next chapter and stop for the day. Regardless of how fast or slow the words flow from my fingertips, I persist until I reach my target for the day.
Milestones: Another technique involves establishing major goals or milestones. A common milestone is to finish my first draft of a book by a certain date. Or to complete my final edits by a set time so I can send off my writing. After each milestone, I take time to celebrate (but not too much time).
Deadlines: Due dates are a powerful motivator for me. Professional writers treat deadlines as inviolable. I strive to do the same. Often I set my own, and other times they are set for me. Only once (that I recall) have I missed a deadline of others in thirty-five years of writing.
Paycheck: Most of my writing does not result in immediate payment, but when I write for clients pay for my words waits for me at the finish line. This is a powerful motivator. Yes, I do track how much I make each week. It keeps me focused.
I use one or two of these goals for everything I write. Without them, I fear I would never finish a thing.
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Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.