Being a writer and staying motivated AND being driven enough to stay focused is hard.
Last year I crashed and burned. I let too many other things get in the way and reached a point where I started making them my excuses to not write.
This year I vowed would be different–vowed I would be different.
So far, I’m pulling that off, and I’m going to quickly run through my methods so that anyone else who’s struggling with hitting self-made goals can give it a go and see how they get on.
1. Decide what you want to achieve
The trick with this is to not overstretch and create impossible goals. Some folk can knock out ten novels a year. Some folk can barely manage one. Over the past few years, I’ve been in the latter category. See? I know my abilities, so those were what I needed to plan around. However, I also sat and thought: but if I stay on track instead of procrastinating and making up excuses, maybe I COULD knock out more than one novel in a year. So …
2. Decide when you want to achieve it by
I agreed on what I wanted to achieve first, and then I got out my calendar and decided by what date I wanted to achieve it. Simple as that. I literally decided: I want Cornered finished by some time in the summer.
3. Recognise how much time you have
My first step to doing this was agreeing with myself how much time I would potentially have free to work on this particular goal. I not only had editing work that I do on the side, but I knew I needed one day a week dedicated to menial stuff like housework, and I like to take weekends for my family because they need me, too.
So, with everything taken into consideration, I decided I would be able to write four days in each week. This goal was a comfortable one for me, as it didn’t fill me with pressure, it felt doable, and it gave me three days I hadn’t committed to that I could use to catch up, should I ever fall behind–a safety net, if you will.
4. Know your creative limits
I once read a blog post by Victoria Schwab, advising writers not to beat themselves up if they didn’t hit the 30k a day word counts that some authors out there seem able to regularly hit. She said something along the lines of: I believe everyone has their creative limit, and once they hit that for the day, they need to step away and remember to live.
When I read the post, I knew exactly what she meant. Because I kept hitting my creative limit. And I kept beating myself up over it because I couldn’t go any further any faster, and it was all contributing to helping me feel like a loser with a capital L. I’ve not beat myself up nearly as much since she helped me to stop and think about it.
My creative limit? It’s regularly only around 750 words, bu occasionally, it’s anything from 1-3k words. So, if I wanted to push myself at least a little, I needed to find a balance somewhere between these amounts, but one that wouldn’t make me feel pressured, as pressure is a massive creative buzz kill for me.
5. Make a plan
Okay, once you’ve figured out all of the above, you’re good to start planning. And here’s how I did it:
a) I marked the end date for my project: that date up there I wanted it achieved by
b) I decided which days of each week I wanted to allocate as my four working days, and then I counted how many of those there were between the date I intended to start on the project and the date I had marked for its completion
c) I then estimated what my project’s completed word count would be (90k for Cornered) and divided that number by the number of days I calculated in step b above.
Doing this created my word count goals. Mine were/are as follows
Daily word count goal*: 850 words
Weekly word count goal: 3400 words
*this is 4 days a week on my allocated days only
6. Create a visual timetable to help you stay on track
I use two different methods to help me stay on track.
a) I marked up my Works calendar with my word count goals on a daily basis. Each insert for Cornered showed me exactly where my MS needed to be, word count wise, by the end of every writing day I’d agreed on with myself. I’ve created a screenshot of my Works calendar below, and you can see all the Cornered entries, and all the numbers beside each entry. Those are my targets. They’re marked in colour to begin, to identify them as my writing goal, and I only un-mark them back to green once the target is met. Right click on image and ‘open image in new tab’ to view it larger.
p.s. I do exactly the same method for hitting my editing job goals, too.
b) I have a physical calendar and some coloured pens, and I note my achieved word count on there whenever I do some writing, as well as mark certain targets. See below:
I have four different targets I mark off.
500 words: this is in case I don’t make my projected target, as marking this off as an achievement makes me feel like less of a loser and keeps me motivated
850 words: my planned word count goal
1000+ words: for when I succeed in going above and beyond
3400 words: my weekly word count goal.
7. Now do it all over again for your next goal
I did. That second novel I wanted to complete this year? I have the last 60% needed to finish it mapped out from August onward. If I stay on track for that one, too, I’ll have a second complete novel by December’s end.
Doing this and marking these off helps me to feel good about myself and my achievements, and has been a huge help in keeping me motivated to stay on track. I’m no longer stressing about the amount I write, no longer wishing I could write more and feeling despondent because I just can’t. Instead I’m focusing only on what I am accomplishing, and, trust me, it makes all the difference in the world.
Not only that, but hitting these goals will allow me to have a 90k word novel written by end of July. Not bad considering Unnatural took me 18 months to write, eh? It’s only March, but I’ve already written 3 times as much this year as I did in the whole of 2014.
Give it try, see if it works for you, too. And don’t forget to come let me know how you get on.