Have you set your writing goals for 2019 yet? Maybe a year-long goal, a monthly goal, or even daily goals to keep you on track this year and not let it slip away like last year. If you haven’t set some goals in stone its not too late to do so. A schedule will keep you in line and accountable for what you need to do to accomplish your writing expectations. While most of us can’t stand the thought of a rigid schedule, as with most things in life, nothing worth doing right is ever easy. Now, get out your pen and paper and start block building your time so you can be set up with ample time write that next great American novel that has been itching to come out of you. Remember, time set aside to do what you love is time well spent and nothing is more enjoyable than time well spent doing what you love. So, the following articles give some tips on how to manage your time and set up a working schedule for writing and creating. And of course, as always, here’s a video on writing schedules and how to create one that works for you😉
What do my writing goals for 2019 look like?
… and wildly ambitious.
When I outlined my goals, my wife said: “Are you sure? That seems like too much.”
Any other year, she would have been right. But not this year… because I’ve got a plan.
I’ve been working on it for a long time now, and this year I’ve borrowed ideas from the world’s most productive (and successful) authors. This is the closest I’ve ever come to a “bullet-proof” writing plan—it’s both realistic and ambitious.
Read this and you’ll want to make your own writing goals bigger, and more wild.
And when your friends ask, “Are you sure you can do all that?” you’ll be able to say, “Just watch me.”
Here’s what it looks like:
What Writing Goals Should You Make?
The most basic question we need to ask ourselves: “What do I want to accomplish as a writer this year?”
You are not allowed to be vague. You are not allowed to focus on things outside of your control. This is about what you can do in 2019.
As I see it, there are three main areas every writer should make goals for:
The objective is to be specific and granular. “Write a book” is far too large to measure by day.
I usually measure myself on one of these three:
What books should you choose? Start by understanding your intention.
For example, my driving motivation is to get published as a Science Fiction author.
Therefore, I need to focus on three different kinds of books:
Of course, I will try to read books that I love. But reading with intent will help me generate fresh ideas that will nudge me closer to publication.
Do you want to be a successful author? Unless you are ridiculously lucky, you’ll have to do more than just read and write.
Set a goal to become desirable, beyond your words:
The idea is to grow as an author outside of text alone. It’s much harder to improve when you live in a vacuum.
For example: Last year, my goal was to find five beta readers for a short story.
It was surprisingly easy… and I can’t tell you how helpful they were. Not only do they help you fix massive problems with your stories, they make you want to work harder.
Daily vs. Weekly Writing Goals?
Daily goals are useful… until you fail one.
And then your momentum breaks. You’re dead in the water, with no will to write.
A single “off” day makes me feel like a failure the rest of the year, and I couldn’t stand that feeling. It was overwhelming, stressful, and it hurt my motivation to write.
Instead, I now aim for weekly goals:
With weekly goals, I have room to breathe. This lets me have bad days, without crushing my drive. When I’m just not feeling it, I get to rest.
Bonus: this routine yields me the occasional great day because I tend to build up an overload of creative energy on the days I don’t write.
What Do the Best Writing Goals have in Common?
“I want to write more” is a useless goal. Even “I want to write a book this year,” is too fuzzy to be a strong writing goal.
It’s not specific enough. The best goals, writing or otherwise, are specific, measurable, and keep you coming back at regular intervals.
You need something that will keep you accountable… because you will have “off” days…
Off days do not make you a bad writer. Sometimes, you need a break. Unrealistic writing goals are destructive. You might be able to accomplish them once or twice…
… but you will wear yourself out. Your writing quality, and your quality of life, will suffer greatly.
That’s why I am very good friends with my Benchmarks.
Why You MUST Set Writing Benchmarks
Today, I can crack out 2000 words in a day, but two years ago, I could barely manage 500 without losing my mind.
To improve, I had to:
Peter Drucker, an old business consultant once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
Is that true? Don’t know, but measuring definitely makes improvement easier.
For example, when I started tracking my writing time, I started to realize that while I love writing at night—it’s hard for me to stick to it. Some nights I feel like a a virtuoso…
… but more than half of the time, I would write a few sentences and … get distracted.
I moved my creative time to first thing in the morning, and now—after a cup of coffee—I can pretty easily enter “writing nirvana,” that place where words seem to just flow out of you.
Who knows? Maybe it’s just the coffee. Either way, it works, and I doubt I would have figured it out if I hadn’t started tracking.
How to Accomplish 100% of Your Goals (without Dying)
We’re writers. We are smart people. And we know how to eat an elephant (…one bite at a time).
… but, if you’re anything like me, you also have mammoth-sized dreams. So you want to push yourself.
How do you get what you want, without working yourself to death?
Schedule. It may be the least sexy word in the English dictionary… but it works. Even the world’s most renowned writers agree: Schedules are key to serious writerdom.
How to Create a Challenging (but Healthy) Writing Schedule
It’s a relatively simple process, but it’s also pretty eye-opening. I’ll show you my schedule in a moment.
First, here’s the three steps I used to build my own schedule:
I’m not saying you MUST write in the mornings, (but most professional writers do). I’m saying you should plan your entire day around a single focal point.
For me, that’s writing.
I know I have to go to work. I have to eat and sleep. But I’m most focused on getting my writing hours in. So I plan everyday in advance, and make sure my writing is always the first chunk that gets scheduled.
Everything else falls into place after writing.
Do this a couple times (or for a few weeks), and you’ll have a strong idea of what you can reasonably accomplish.
Here’s what my writing schedule looks like:
The Hidden Power of Schedules
Motivation and discipline are vital. How do great writers create brilliant work? All you see is the final product—not the sweat, the dedication, the routine that unfurls the pages, day after day.
Schedules tie you down to your goals. You never need to ask, “What am I supposed to be doing right now?” Because you already know.
This is not my advice. This is the advice I’ve stolen from hundreds of famous authors, great writers, and truly productive individuals.
Last year, I scheduled most of my writing time, and I wrote 450,000 words. That’s almost five times more than what I accomplished in 2017.
One final warning!
Do not let your pride get in the way. A healthy writing goal that allows you to grow steadily over the long-term is infinitely more useful than a too-ambitious one that will crush your soul.
Do not be afraid to change your goals at any point in the year. Usually, it will only take you a couple days or weeks to realize, “Okay, this is too much.”
Calibrating yours goals is smart, not shameful.
Conclusion | What are your 2019 writing goals?
Here are my goals:
Will I accomplish all this?
No idea. In fact, there’s a high chance I’ll fail… but that’s the whole idea.
Make a reasonable writing goal, then inflate it until you think you can achieve it, but you’re not 100% certain.
Succeed? You win.
Fail? You’ll have a great benchmark for next year.
Either way, you’re bound to get some great writing done this 2019.
The truth is chilling: Only a small percentage of those who graduate from MFA writing programs actually keep writing. Many give up their creative pursuits immediately after getting their diploma. Others write for a few years, but are so bruised by repeated rejection that they abandon the dream. If these are the people who devoted tens of thousands of dollars, along with a half-dozen years of school, to writing—what sort of odds does that give the rest of the writing community?
Writing regularly is hard; the blank page is intimidating. How can we keep ourselves writing each day? How can we make sure that the time we’ve set aside to write remains sacred? Here are a few strategies I’ve developed over the years.
Make Your Writing Time Legitimate
Writing becomes a vital nutrient in our social ecosystems. Your work matters, so stop treating it as “fake.”
It’s easy to say that your writing is the optional part of your life. It must be kicked to the curb when “real” tasks, like cleaning the kitchen or finishing your TPS reports, come up.
The problem is that tasks tend to expand to fill the time available for them. The “real” work is the work that gets done. The gym gets cut out and we get fat. Writing gets cut out and we come to realize that we haven’t written a single sentence in a creative piece for weeks, months, or even years.
Your writing counts. It’s an important part of who you are. Beyond that, it’s an important part of human culture. Writing becomes a vital nutrient in our social ecosystems. Your work matters, so stop treating it as “fake.” Schedule it in the same way you schedule appointments and work tasks.
Invest in Your Writing Ritual
In my article on how you can fall in love with writing again, I discuss the importance of ritualizing your writing. My own ritual is to make myself a cup of tea, load up an instrumental soundtrack, then pull up my current project. By that point, my brain has comfortably tuned itself in for the writing it anticipates.
What I encourage is developing your own rituals that involve things that you already enjoy. From there, a simple investment in your rituals can have a profound impact. It doesn’t matter that no one actually needs 16 different flavors of tea (my current total): Buying new flavors is how I get myself excited about the ritual surrounding my writing. Likewise, I regularly invest in instrumental soundtracks (most recently work by Lindsey Stirling) because it makes me excited to get going.
Unplug Your Distractions
I discuss this topic extensively in my article on how disconnecting can help us become more productive writers. I’ve been using Cold Turkey, and honestly, I’ve been stunned by how much more productive I am. Since I can block off the sites I know will wind up distracting me, I can keep my research resources but seal off my productivity leaks.
But it’s not just about the internet. Turn off your cell phone. Close your door. If you’re working in a home office and have kids or a spouse to distract you, talk to them about how important it is that you devote time to writing—and put up a sign that lets your family know it’s your writing hour.
Start a War
Peer pressure is a way to adopt the role of writer in social settings that reaffirm this portion of your identity.
Each year in November, participants in NaNoWriMo try to draft a full novel in one month. To get themselves to continue working, they use peer pressure. The fact that you have a profile that displays your current word count on the NaNo site is only one factor. Many NaNo writers get together for “write-ins,” while others take advantage of virtual space by scheduling a time to participate in live chat sessions.
The most effective tool in those chat sessions is “word wars.” These wars start at regular intervals and have participants writing as much as they can during a specified duration. It becomes a collective, competitive free-write.
You can see similar sorts of peer pressure with workshopping groups. Simply knowing that you’re going to be sharing your work, and that there’s a group of people who will be disappointed if you fall short, makes it easier to dive into the craft.
By getting connected with a community of writers that you report to regularly, who have an expectation that you will produce, and who you can “compete” with, you’re far more likely to do the actual work. This sort of peer pressure is a way to adopt the role of writer in social settings that reaffirm this portion of your identity.
Create a Writing Space
I have an ergonomic keyboard, a chair with extra lumbar support, audiophilic speakers, a clean desk, and organized drawers. My walls have humorous posters about commonly misspelled words, how to use semicolons, and when to use i.e. or e.g. in a sentence. I do this because I want to make myself comfortable, but also because I want to remind myself that writing is what this space is for.
Everyone works well in a different environment. Whatever it is that keeps you going, and however much you have available to invest, the important thing here is spending time and effort to improve your writing space—and ensuring that it really is “writing space” for you. By investing in the elements of your space that help you write more comfortably, you’re making your writing feel more valuable by taking advantage of justification bias: “If I invested in it, it must be valuable!”
“Where there’s a will…”
If you want to be a writer, the sole requirement is that you write.
There are people who will tell you that all you need to be a writer is the will to write. There are those who say that real writers could write anywhere, at any time, just because it’s so much a part of who they are. Charles Bukowski is famed for claiming that a real writer doesn’t need anything at all. He tells writers, “if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again, don’t do it.” Says that, “unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or suicide or murder, don’t do it.”
Charles Bukowski published his first novel when he was nearly fifty. He spent far more years not writing than actually doing the work. He was a desperate alcoholic. And this is the guy we think has it figured out when it comes to staying productive as a writer? Bukowski is an impressive craftsman, but the absolutist notion that writing is all about “drive” leads to the sort of self-sabotage we witness in Bukowski’s multi-decade “breaks” from his craft.
If you want to be a writer, the sole requirement is that you write. And if you want to write, you have to create an environment and set of habits that make writing feel like the natural thing to do—not requiring a deluge of willpower and drive. Anything that requires that sort of psychic exertion can’t be done every day, and real writing isn’t the sort that happens in tidal-wave crashes a few times a year. Real writing is found in the day-in, day-out practice of a craft we can come to love in the same way we love a home, a spouse, or even our own familiar bones.
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