If your writing class has finished and you’re wondering whether you’ll be able to stick to your goals without the structure of weekly assignments, here are some tips for staying on track.
Setting Achievable Writing Goals
How do we define what is achievable? How many words or pages are an appropriate goal? The answer depends primarily on your schedule, and what you are willing to push yourself to do. When I first began writing full-time, twenty years ago, I was newly-married and living with my husband in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I couldn’t get a work visa (we were there for his job) and I only knew two or three of the other wives so my day was my own. I set myself a goal of 5,000 words a day. 5,000 words! That seems an enormous amount to me today but, back then, I had no kids, no pets, no other family around and a minimal social life, so why not? And, of course, there were no cell phones, no internet – no electronic interruptions apart from the phone on the wall (which never rang)! No cable TV either; even the few TV stations broadcast in Malay. I don’t remember if I wrote precisely that word-count every day, but I did finish my first novel (which went in a drawer and was later joined by others).
The point is, what constitutes an achievable goal is greatly affected by how full your life is. On top of that, if – or when – your day or week suddenly becomes unexpectedly congested, you’ll have to adapt your goals accordingly.
Assignment: Think about the next week and the coming months. What is on your schedule? Have you booked a holiday? Decide if you will write during your time away, and how many words you want to produce each day and each week until Labor Day. (Note: Richard Marek, editor, writer and ex-publisher of Dutton, says a page a day is a reasonable goal.)
Staying on Track – Practical Tips
1. Staying connected to the work isn’t always easy. When I’m writing, I keep my laptop in the kitchen where I can’t miss it. I keep it plugged in and open to the file I’m writing.
2. Where do you go to write? Where can you be sure to concentrate? I grab my (fully-charged) laptop, get in the car and drive to a nearby park, thinking about my story on the way. When I get there, I leave my phone on. (I know people who turn theirs off, but I deleted my email from mine so it’s less distracting). If I stay in the house, I can’t concentrate for any length of time. The ever-inviting internet is there, humming and pinging and chirping for my attention. My email in-box (which I’m trying to check less frequently since I realized the emails I receive are actually all about other people’s agendas) is impossible to ignore. Barnes and Noble, the library or the local coffee shop are all good choices, provided you’re not likely to bump into people you know.
3. Create fake deadlines. When you haven’t got a deadline for a class or a publication, it can be very effective to create your own. Get some friends together – even one friend will work – and commit to swapping work on a particular day and time each week.
4. Buddy writing. This is my favorite way to get back on track. If I’ve lost the thread of my story and feel like I’m starting from scratch, I make an appointment to meet a friend for a writing date at a local library with comfy chairs. We spend ten minutes catching up, and then we sit side by side, in silence, and write on our laptops. It works!
Assignment: If this resonates with you, try this: write a sentence underneath your goals that goes something like this…’I do not waste energy berating myself for missed goals. There’s no need and it doesn’t support my writing goals. What’s in the past is behind me, it’s over. What matters is what I do today, and today I will write x words.’
Re-Discovering Excitement for Your Project
One of the biggest and most overlooked obstacles for writers is lack of feedback. No matter how talented the writer, sometimes we look at our work and think it’s ordinary and boring. This is because of the old cliche about familiarity breeding contempt. Our characters and stories are so familiar to us, they can easily seem ordinary and boring. We are so used to them, they DO seem ordinary. We are so used to what’s happening in the story, we’ve read it or thought about it so many times, that it IS boring – to us. But not to someone else who’s reading it for the first time. So here’s the answer: send a portion to a friend and ask for feedback. (Please choose a friend who knows how to tell you what’s working as well as what’s not working, otherwise you won’t re-discover excitement and it could put you off for good.)
Assignment: write the names of 3 to 5 people who are supportive of your work and available to you for feedback. Post these names underneath your goals also, so that it’s simple for you to reach out and get what you need to help you along the way to completion of your project.