Writing a book can be a daunting project. Whether it's a 50,000 word self-help book or a 200,000 word space opera, you won't be able to write it in a day. From start to finish, writing a book takes prolonged and sustained dedication. And without setting goals, you're liable to drag your feet or get distracted with other things (ahem, social media, I’m looking at you).
If you struggle with setting and keeping your goals, you're definitely not alone. Goal setting is the bane of many writers' existence. But fear not, because I've come bearing tips to keep you on track.
- Determining Your Writing Goals
- Avoiding Burnout by Setting Realistic Goals
- Creating Accountability
- Finding Your “Why”
- Daily Writing Goals
- Large, Project-Based Goals
Table of contents
- 1. Determining Your Writing Goals
- 2. Avoid Burnout — Set Realistic Writing Goals
- 3. Create Accountability
- 4. Finding Your “Why”
- 5. Daily Writing Goals
- 6. Large, Project-Based Goals
- 7. Using Atticus for Goal Tracking
1. Determining Your Writing Goals
If you are (or are aspiring to be) a professional writer, you'll have to wear a lot of hats over the course of your career. From writing to marketing to managing your finances, there's no shortage of factors to consider. But since this is an article about writing goals, we'll stick to that.
Even under the heading of “writing goals,” there are several things to consider. Obviously, your big goal is going to be something like “finish writing the book.”
In order for this big goal to be of any use, you'll want to do two things: get specific and break it down.
Finishing the book is an essential goal, but without specifics, it won't be of any use. So it's imperative to figure out when you want to be finished with the book. In this instance, “finished” should mean completely written, edited, proofed, and ready for public consumption.
But if you've never written a book before, you probably don't have any idea how long it will take you. This is to be expected. You may need to revise your long-term goals as you go along. To give you an idea of how long it takes to write a book, here's one possible breakdown.
- Outlining and Character Description – 2 to 3 weeks.
- Writing the Rough Draft – Approximately 6 months for a 75,000-word book.
- Revisions – 1 to 2 months.
- Editing, Proofing, Cover Design – 2 months.
Keep in mind that every writer is different. How much time you have to write, how fast you write, how much of the story you have in your head, and how much experience you have are all factors that could affect your writing time.
The important thing in this step is to set a long-term goal to finish your book in XX months. Then you can break down this larger goal into smaller chunks.
Break it Down
Once you have a big goal set, you can reverse engineer it to determine how much you'll need to write on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis.
You obviously won't know how many words your book will be until you're finished with it, but you can take a guess. Look up common word counts for books in your genre and write a number down that makes sense to you.
For example, if you set the goal of finishing your rough draft in six months, and you think it will be around 90,000 words, you'll need to write 15,000 words per month. This breaks down to 3,750 words per week, which again breaks down to just 536 words per day if you write seven days a week.
Once you have the draft down, it will be easier to tell how much time revisions will take in terms of pages per day. How long editing takes will depend on the editor you use (and you should definitely use a professional editor).
Once you have these details worked out, put them somewhere you can see them. Mark your calendar.
2. Avoid Burnout — Set Realistic Writing Goals
Take a hard look at your schedule and your writing abilities and set an attainable goal. If you don't think you'll be able to write every day, take that into account. Many writers need a day or two off from writing per week to replenish their creative juices.
Depending on how busy you are and how much you're willing to sacrifice to write your book, the example above of 90,000 words in six months may not be realistic for you. Conversely, if you're a faster writer, this goal may be too easy.
Overly ambitious goals can sap your motivation and cause burnout. And if there's one thing that can kill a book in its tracks, it's a lack of motivation.
3. Create Accountability
Effective writing goals are all about staying accountable. There's not an author out there that hasn't experienced a lull in the writing process or felt like they just couldn't get their word count in, for whatever reason. This is normal.
But even if you don't believe in writer's block or you're confident in your writing action plan, it's important to create accountability. There are a few ways to do this.
Chances are you know another writer with similar personal goals. Whether you see this person on a regular basis or they live on the other side of the globe doesn't matter. You can still team up, share your long- and short-term writing goals with each other, and agree to keep one another accountable.
Sometimes the encouragement of a fellow author is not enough to keep your writing habit going. If you find that this is the case for you, try a monetary incentive. There are two main ways to do this:
- Make a “bet” with your accountability partner. Agree to pay them X amount of dollars if you don't meet your writing goal for the week or month.
- Pick an organization that stands for something you vehemently disagree with and vow to donate X amount of dollars to it if you don't meet your goals. You'll need to involve someone else in this — even going so far as to give them the money to hold in advance — because it's easy to just not pay up, especially if you feel strongly about the organization.
Join a Workshop
You can also join an online writer's workshop. There are plenty of these to choose from, or you can even start your own. Having a group of fellow authors you talk to regularly can help keep you on track and writing daily.
4. Finding Your “Why”
Finding your “why” is all about keeping motivated. Whether you want to write a book to prove to yourself that you can, you want to quit your day job and create full time, or you're after accolades and awards and movie deals, your “why” is important.
Regularly reminding yourself of why you're writing your book is a big part of returning to the keyboard every day for months at a time. So identify your writing dreams and keep them in mind to stay motivated.
5. Daily Writing Goals
We discussed daily writing goals a bit above, but they're important enough to warrant their own section. Without a daily goal to solidify your writing practice, it will be hard to create a solid foundation for your writing career.
Writing five to seven days per week is what you should shoot for, as this will turn writing into a habit, make you a stronger writer, and allow you to write faster (eventually). Even if you're only sitting down to write 300 words per daily writing session, it's better than trying to cram all that writing into two or three days a week.
How Do You Set a Daily Writing Goal?
Setting a daily writing goal can take some experimentation. Start small with a goal of 200 to 500 words per day. Smart writing goals stretch your abilities just a little, so increase the word count once you find your current goal a bit too easy.
How Do You Stick to a Daily Writing Goal?
Record your progress and reward yourself to stick to a writing goal. Marking off the calendar when you meet a day's word count goal is a subtle but powerful way to keep you on track. And rewarding yourself with a treat of some kind when you hit monthly or weekly goals can keep you motivated.
Gamification for Daily Goals
The writing life can be a bit dull and lonely on occasion. But gamification of your writing project can be a great way to keep you motivated and on track. It can also help you overcome procrastination, which is a common affliction affecting writers everywhere.
By turning your writing into a game, you make it more engaging, interesting, and fun. And if you're having trouble getting or staying on track and meeting your smaller goals, this could be the ticket. Here are just a few fun gamification tools you can use:
- Write or Die – Choose from three modes: Consequence, reward, or stimulus. Each mode has different ways to keep you writing. Try them all out to see which one works best for you.
- Habitica – This tool turns writing into a role-playing game. You defeat dragons and unlock new levels as you meet your goals. If you fall behind, your health suffers.
- Written? Kitten – Love pictures of cuddly little kittens? This tool rewards you with adorable felines when you hit a certain word count. Adjust the word count from 100 up to 500 or 1000 words per kitten!
6. Large, Project-Based Goals
At the beginning of this article, we discussed breaking your large “finish the book” goal into smaller pieces. But finishing one book isn't the ultimate goal for many writers. If you want to quit your day job, one book just isn't going to cut it. That's why it's good to have an overarching achievable goal, such as “write a five-book series.”
You may have other writing goals as well, such as “get a short story published” or “start a freelance writing business.” Whatever they are, write your goals down and come up with a plan to accomplish them.
Give Goal Setting Adequate Time
It's good to have big goals, but you need a plan to achieve them. Take the time to break down these big goals into smaller goals you can focus on without becoming overwhelmed. Smaller goals are measurable, and a measurable goal is key to keeping motivated and marking your progress.
If you think your long-term goal will take five years, break it down into a series of short-term goals. What do you need to have done in three years to meet that five-year goal? How about two years? Six months?
This takes some time, care, and research, but setting big goals and breaking them down into a plan makes accomplishing them much more likely.
7. Using Atticus for Goal Tracking
All of the tips I've given so far require some extensive tracking to do. If you're a wiz with spreadsheets, you can maybe do it there. But it can be difficult and not worth all the effort it would take to import your word counts every. Single. Day.
Furthermore, a goal tracking software isn't always what authors want, and can be just as clumsy to use. Plus who wants yet another software for authors.
But thankfully, there is a writing tool that comes with all those writing goals built in so you don't need any additional software. That tool is Atticus.
Atticus is primarily a word processor and formatting tool, but it's built with writing habits in mind. To unlock these tools, go to the upper right corner and click on the button that says “More Tools”.
Next, you can input the book goal, aka the overall word count goal for your book, the due date you need it by, and the number of days you expect to write each week. For your writing habit goal, you can input how many words you want to write per day, and which days you intend to write.
Once that's all done, the program will do the tracking for you. As you write in Atticus, those numbers will adjust accordingly so you know exactly how far you are away from your book and daily writing goals. It's super simple!
If you want to know more about Atticus, check out this full overview article. Its a tool that will save you tons of time and money when writing and formatting your book. And it's over $100 cheaper than the leading alternative.
Measurable goals are essential for building the life you want. Long- and short-term goals are equally important for any writing career. And while setting goals is easier than sticking to them, you have plenty of options to keep you meeting your writing goals. Set up a system of accountability, mark your progress, and turn writing into a game. These factors can keep you motivated.
The good news is a daily writing goal, when met consistently, becomes a habit. It gets easier to sit down and write. You increase your word count. You get better and faster. You release more books. You grow your audience. You become a full-time author!
So set goals and stick to them. Each goal is a step toward the mountaintop where you can bask in the glory of accomplishment. From there, you can enjoy the view while you work on your next book! 😉