Writing talk: daily goals

The phone rings. The writer, typing so fast her hands are a blur, ignores it until it stops. When it starts ringing again she snatches it impatiently. "What?"

She listens, murmuring assent. Then she says impatiently, "I told you I'd have it in by midnight tonight! How do you expect me to meet my deadline if you keep bothering me?"

She hangs up the phone, tosses it on her desk, and gets back to work, murmuring something about publishers and deadlines under her breath.

How many times have we seen scenes like that in movies or TV shows? The popular conception of a writer is of someone who is incapable of getting anything done on time without a publisher, an agent, and perhaps a sarcastic friend keeping her on track all the time.

And for some well-known, traditionally published writers this may be a true image. But every traditionally published writer started out as someone who was unpublished and unknown, and for indie writers there are never any deadlines that aren't self-imposed.

Whether you dream of getting a literary agent and a Big 5 publishing deal, or whether you are a self-published author, you will learn right away that the only way to complete a project is to make yourself do it. Though this would seem obvious, it's funny how many would-be or novice writers forget that the book they're dreaming of, plotting out, discussing on Twitter and pinning their hopes and dreams on will never exist if they don't manage to get around to writing it.

I have come to believe that the most effective way of completing a manuscript is to give yourself daily goals, especially daily word count goals. I find National Novel Writing Month and their two Camp Nano events to be the most efficient way of doing this, which is why I am presently able to write three full manuscripts ranging from 75,000 to just under 100,000 words each on an annual basis. That may sound like a lot, but I have met writers who are capable of producing that many words every month.

If the NaNoWriMo methods, or the months of April, July, and November, don't work for you, there are plenty of word count trackers available to help you record each day's efforts. The type of writing you are doing (fiction vs. nonfiction, prose vs. poetry, etc.) will determine what a realistic daily goal may be; in addition, some people find they can only write on weekends, while others can write during the week but not on weekends, and so on. It's important to set a daily goal that takes those things into consideration.

A daily goal is more than just a measure of how many words you produce. In a real sense it's a way of making a commitment to a writing project that goes beyond merely dreaming of writing a book. A dream, after all, is a pleasant escape, something we think we would like to do someday. But a goal is different, and a goal we can accomplish is often broken down into smaller steps. The person who dreams of vacationing in Europe won't get there by reading travel blogs and sighing over brochures; at some point, he will need to get a passport, figure out ticket prices, and save up the vacation time.

So if your desire to write a novel is more than a dream, you should seriously consider a self-imposed deadline and a daily word count goal. It might seem like an intimidating thing at first, but when you are holding your completed novel in your hands it will all seem worthwhile.

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