Staying Motivated: Setting realistic targets

I am now into the second month of my “full-time” writing experiment and I thought I would share some of my tips and experiences on trying to stay motivated.

I am the worst kind of writer: emotional and prone to procrastination, meaning there are times when I feel like writing and when I don’t (the latter scenario being the most common). I would happily sit around daydreaming and developing stories all day, but getting them down on paper is hard for me. But if you hope to write for a living you can’t operate like that. So for me the first and biggest challenge was setting a schedule/ routine and realistic targets. And learning to stick to them. My goal was to still keep writing enjoyable and not make it seem too much like work.

I try to write in the mornings and get it out of the way; if that makes writing sound like a chore, well, sometimes it can be. I’m also freshest in the morning as sometimes sleeping on an idea can reawaken my interest or send me in a new direction. It’s important to also set realistic targets based on your life and situation. I’m still dealing with a lingering (but much improved) repetitive stress injury so I have to be careful on how hard I push myself. I also know that I have a short attention span and get bored very quickly. Targets will be different for everyone and you may need to experiment a little to find one you can live with. I recommend setting targets you know you can meet or exceed, and then you won’t get discouraged. But if you set your targets too high and repeatedly fail to meet them, all you will do is destroy whatever motivation you may have.

I don’t believe in setting pages as targets. Pages don’t mean much in the electronic publishing world, and also when you’re typing, page count doesn’t seem to increase very fast; it’s easy to get discouraged when you spent all day typing and only ended up with 3 pages. So I prefer to measure by word count. This is much more reaffirming because you can see your count increase rapidly. I established a target of 1000 words per day and so far I have stayed on track. This may seem low to some, but it’s something that works for me. Some days those 1000 words can take me 1 hour and other times it can take me all day to fill that quota. If I’m on a roll I can keep going and bank some words, but my minimum is 1000 words. If I finish early in the day, I use the extra time to do research or the many errands I need to run. If you need more flexibility you can also set targets by week or month, but I need the structure, so daily works best for me. It also helps to establish a routine. At the end of each day I record my word count in my calendar to keep track.

My target is also reasonable enough that if I miss a day, it is not too difficult to catch up. When I lost power at Christmas I was glad of this because it didn’t take me too long to get caught up on all the days I missed. Most of all, 1000 words per day is achievable even on those days I don’t feel like writing. If I’m feeling particularly uninspired, I still force myself to sit down and write…anything—sometimes I will just go back and flesh out scenes or add random details—and before I know it, I’ve met my quota. If my daily quota was higher, I doubt I would be so diligent. This gets me in the habit of writing every day.

I will never be one of those authors who churn out a title every other month—I accept that. Maybe over time I will get faster, but right now I have found the formula that works for me. For the publishers I’m considering, 60,000+ words is considered novel length and I feel that mine will be somewhere around the 70K mark when it’s all done. I figure 3 months to write and edit a novel is a significant accomplishment for a first-timer. I’ve already passed the dreaded hump and now I’m headed toward the finish line. 🙂

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