Given that it’s the start of NaNoWriMo, and also that I recently imposed a daily word count goal on myself, I figured now is a good time to start talking about what it feels like to write with a goal in mind:
(PS: Julie (Juliesh), Susan (stowersd), Sammy (SamanthaNicole), and I (savannahjfoley) are all doing NaNoWriMo this year. Friend us if you like!)
Back in the beginning of October, my agent approved my outline for Antebellum and I got to work revising. I decided to set a goal for myself as to when I would complete the rewrite: I wanted to be done by December so I could have the whole month to edit and get feedback, then I would send to my agent in January.
Step 1: Establish a Goal
As a way to help me acheive this goal, I decided to chart my progress with a daily word count goal. I calculated the number of words I would have to write a day in order to redo 30 chapters in two months… 1,125, or approximately 3 chapters per week.
Step 2: Motivation
I put notes by my desk.
I put a custom background on my phone. And laptop.
I told my writer friends and announced it on Facebook.
I woke up every morning and repeated to myself, “I am SO excited to write today!”
I tried to do everything possible to keep myself amped up and committed. But being excited is only half the battle. No, not even half. Probably 25%.
Step 3: Tracking.
I love charts, and I love excel. Plus, I knew I needed someplace to keep my daily word counts, and track how much I had left to go. So I made a really awesome chart in Excel to help me:
The chart made me feel better. I love looking at it
Step 4: Writing.
This is the most important (and hardest) part to writing with a daily goal. Having fancy motivational pictures, fancy charts, and fancy ways of complaining and/or psyching yourself up on Twitter and FB is all good and well, but it means nothing if you don’t actually do any writing.
For the first week, I did great. I was even over my goal! The second week I did good, but not quite so well… in fact, I was short by about a hundred words.
The third week I did terrible. I wrote a really crappy chapter and it stole my mojo and enthusiasm to keep going. Writing each sentence was torture. I took frequent food breaks, internet breaks, bathroom breaks, anything to avoid this big, stinking mess of a manuscript.
But having a daily word count goal isn’t about writing perfect chapters in a day. It’s about getting the words down no matter what, even if they suck. Because that’s what editing is for. It’s more important to get the framework to the house up than it is to do all the trim wall by wall and room by room. Put a roof on that house before you install the carpet, for goodness sakes!
Step 5: Maintaining.
Adhering to the goal every day without fail is really difficult, because life gets in the way. Birthday dinners, celebrations, holidays, excessive homework, Cleaning Day, getting a migraine, catching up on your favorite tv show… all of these things provide temptations or legitimate excuses to wander away from your writing. I’m not saying your novel has to come before your mother’s birthday dinner. But it’s going to provide a definite distraction.
I have given up fun things in order to make goal. My boyfriend wanted to go out to eat, and while I love eating at restaurants, I told him we’ll just put a pizza in the oven so I can keep writing. My sister wanted me to go out shopping with her (omg I love trinket shopping). But I told her I needed to stay in and finish my chapter.
I’m not perfect. Things went wrong, and unexpected issues came up. I got a dog, for example. This past weekend, I promised I would devote all weekend to catching up to my goal (I’m way, way behind), but I forgot my boyfriend was intalling linoleum in my laundry room, and of course I got recruited into assisting/running errands.
If you plan a daily goal, expect for things to go wrong. Don’t think, ‘I can goof off on my lunch break because I can write tonight’, because you don’t know WHAT is going to happen tonight!
Step 6. The Culture of Dedication.
I have known writers in the past who adhere to a daily word count goal. I really admire them for it. Now that I’m on a daily word count goal myself, I like to see them Twitter and blog about it. Misery loves company, after all. But I also think that a daily word count goal isn’t for everyone, and here’s why:
In my opinion, you should use a word count goal if you have a defineable deadline, like you want to finish your novel in 60 days, or you’re on deadline for an agent or editor, or you’re participating in NaNoWriMo.
I feel that using a word count goal when you don’t have a project to work on sets you up for disappointment and failure… if you feel that you have to write 500 words a day you’ll eventually end up writing nonsense and garbage just to say you wrote that day. Not only is it not fun to write 500 words of nonsense, it’s disheartening. You could be using that time to think and sketch out your next novel instead of grasping for more sentences when you’re not ready.
I also believe that you should set a word count goal for the right reason, and again, it goes back to the definable deadline. Writing with a word count goal is rough. One of the more solid reasons why I’m able to do it is that I know my characters and plot so well. At this point I’m not writing solely for pleasure, for learning purposes, or in order to find my plot. I’m writing because I have a deadline.
I’ve known writers who feel they have to write a certain number of words per day in order to be a ‘real writer’, or to have a chance at getting published, but militant strictness is NOT a requirement to being a good writer. However, it may be a useful tool for making a deadline, but don’t be discouraged if you’re not ready for a daily goal yet. You’ll get there. And it’s a whole lot less glamorous than you think
Do you write with a daily word count goal in mind? And are you participating in NaNoWriMo?
Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.