If there’s one lesson in writing that I had to learn the hard way, it’s this one. When looking for ways to motivate oneself to complete a writing project, it’s common to set goals or deadlines. Daily word count goals, for example, can be a healthy way to establish a writing routine and a reasonable deadline to finish your novel by a certain date can help you stay on track. The tricky part comes when your deadlines are not reasonable, your goals too lofty, or when you simply fall behind and suddenly your target seems out of reach.
An important thing to remember when setting goals or deadlines is that life happens. It’s a good idea to leave yourself some wiggle room in your deadlines for when life events get in the way, or for those days you just don’t feel like living up to expectations. You’re going to stumble occasionally, and you’ll be better off planning to accommodate when it happens.
The problem with goals and deadlines comes when you adhere to them too strictly, or when you are disappointed with yourself for not meeting them. Using them as a means to lift yourself up, to feel challenged and motivated and to count the milestones you pass is great and will have a positive effect, but the opposite can just as easily be true if you feel stressed, ashamed, or guilty for not meeting the goals you set yourself.
Back when I was working on my trilogy, Crimson Winter, I had written the first book in three months by having a goal of writing 5 pages a day, 5 days a week, totalling 100 pages a month. This continued into book two, which I wrote in a little over four months as it was a longer book. Between book two and three, I went through a rough time in my life and book three took me somewhere between six months and a year. It was by far the longest and most complex of the three, but I was determined to keep myself to my writing goals, which proved to be a detriment. The pace I had set for book one and two was quite grueling, but since I had successfully completed the first two books so easily, I found myself questioning why I couldn’t do it with the third and feeling inadequate for not living up to my own expectations. As a result, I was very hard on myself, which only made me feel worse, which in turn made writing even more difficult. It was a negative feedback loop.
It took a moment of realization at 3 in the morning when I was trying to write on a midnight shift at the crummy part-time job I had taken to pay the bills for me to come to the conclusion that I had become my own worst enemy. By setting lofty unreachable goals and on top of that punishing myself for not living up to those goals, I was being unreasonably harsh on myself. From that moment on, I started giving myself permission to fail. I gave myself some leeway, some ‘get out of jail free cards’ for those times when I just didn’t feel like writing and I tried to remember that I liked writing, that it is a passion first and foremost, and not just a job. And I’ve had a much healthier relationship with myself and my writing ever since.
Thanks for reading. And speaking of reasonable goals, the #85K Challenge starts in just 10 days. The challenge is to write 85,000 words in three months, which works out just under 1000 words a day. Last year, Murandy and I finished the challenge with two weeks to spare, but this year, we’re going to be taking it slower as Murandy is a new mom (see, life happens.) We started the book we’re working on last month, and have been writing approximately 4000 words once a week and we’re going to continue that pace into the challenge to see how far that gets us. We’ll keep you posted on our progress, but if you’re interested in joining the challenge you can find all the information you need here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/85K.90days/