How I Stay on Track With Big Writing Goals
Making a new year’s resolution for a big writing goal? Maybe you want to write a novel, or finally finish that draft of the screenplay you’ve been “working on” since summer. Here are the 7 ways I stay on track with big writing goals.
1. Don’t Break the Chain
So, when Jerry Seinfeld was getting started in comedy, he used this ritual called don’t break the chain, where every day he worked on writing jokes, he scrawled an X on his calendar.
The X’s from each day would add up to form a chain on the calendar. For him, the pressure of the chain of X’s became so great that on those days when he really didn’t want to write, the thought of breaking the chain was the one thing that got his butt in the chair…or wherever he wrote.
I used this when I was trying to get back into writing after a REALLY long break. One of those where you beat yourself up all the time about how you must not be “a real writer” because you aren’t writing.
PLEASE don’t buy into that crap. It’s not true. You don’t need to write every day to be a writer, although it helps you get the work done.
Every day I would write, I made a simple tick mark. At so many tick marks, I would reward myself with a small treat, like getting an ice cream from my favorite local shop.
Simple, nonthreatening, and worked for me.
2. Set a Timer
When I was trying not to break the chain, I had a rule with myself where I had to sit and write for twenty minutes.
Ten minutes felt too short — it would be way too easy to stare at the blank page and engage in negative self-talk before even getting a paragraph out. So twenty minutes was my minimum.
As long as I did my daily twenty, I was good. Off the hook. If I was in the flow and wanted to do more, that was fine too.
3. Take the Smallest Possible Step
Does twenty minutes sound way too intimidating? Find the smallest possible increment of writing you could do. Once sentence. One minute. Then make that your daily goal.
As long as you write for a minute a day, or a sentence a day, you’re golden. If you want to write more, do so.
You might be saying that sounds ridiculous. Or how will I ever get anything done one sentence every day?
To that, I ask you how much work you’re doing now on your big writing project. If it’s less than a sentence a day — say if you’re the kind of person who dives into it for a couple of hours, but only once a month or even less than that, like “when you feel inspired” — then you will feel the impact of thinking about your work on a daily basis and showing up for it, whether or not you feel like it.
When you’re accountable to that smallest step, raise it. Make that one minute five minutes. Turn the sentence into a paragraph.
4. Go With Your Energetic Flow
We all have times of the day when we’re not only more productive, but productive in different ways. I’m super not a morning person, but there are tasks I can do — and do well — in the morning.
Being creative is not one of them.
I get less writing done — and the quality is off as well — when I try to do it first thing. Give me an hour or so to have coffee, get my brain online, and be all there and I can pivot to creative work.
My peak creative time is mid afternoon—good thing I’m self employed and can write when it’s most beneficial for me to do so.
If you’re not sure when your brain is most creative, keep a map. For 2-3 days, write down what you’re doing all day and your energy level for it.
Say, you’re answering emails from 9-10 and you feel like a 3 about it, but when you check in with emails right after lunch, it’s more like a 7 and you can power through all the unsubscribes and email newsletters. You’ve just learned that after lunch is your golden hour for answering emails. So to the extent possible, you answer emails after lunch.
5. Write to a Daily Word Count
The strategies above will help you break down internal and external resistance to writing regularly. Once you’ve been able to write routinely, up your game with a daily word count and a calendaring approach. With NaNoWriMo, you need to write 50,000 words in 30 days — that’s 1,666 words a day.
Let’s say you want to write a 70,000-word novel. Do you want to do it in three months? Four? If so, that’s 777 words a day or 583 words a day. Totally doable, once you’re writing regularly.
Once you’ve got a timeline, create mini goals that you can celebrate — say, every 10,000 words or even every chapter. Then treat yourself when you reach the mini goal.
If you need some suggestions of ways to treat yourself:
Go to the movies, your favorite restaurant, your favorite fitness class
Splurge on your favorite foodie treat - fancy coffee, ice cream, wine
Buy a book
Take the afternoon off and read (one of my favorites and it’s free)
Visit a museum - or anywhere that is inspiring to you!
Celebrating my wins is something I’m working on - so I’d love it if you drop me a line and share your favorite ways to celebrate your accomplishments!
6. Plan and Adapt for Interruptions
Life has a way of interrupting big writing goals. Maybe you get a nasty cold, or a last-minute work project comes up, or you have to play caretaker to someone in your family. Or maybe you were overly ambitious and thought you could write those 777 words every day, but you need a day to recharge and refill your creative tank.
These things happen. When they do, it’s on you to adapt your goals and plan for your success.
Don’t use the unexpected as an excuse to fall off track with your writing goals. To say oh well, you guess it won’t be the year you finish the screenplay. Take some quiet time to think over what’s worked so far, own what doesn’t work, revise your goals, and adjust your schedule.
And don’t feel guilty about it!
7. Find a Community
You don’t need to go it alone. A community can provide support and accountability while you work toward your big goal.
So whether you join a local writer’s group, connect with other writing tribes on social media, or sign up for a writing conference where you’ll network with other writers, search for support from those who get what you’re working toward and will cheer you on.