One of the first questions I ask new writers is, “Why?”. Why are you writing a book? When we get the itch to pursue this path, we rarely sit back and ask what we want to get out of the experience of writing a novel. Often, we don’t bother with the why until we get stuck. This is why it is important to set goals for your writing early in the process.
Setting Goals for Your Writing
High level goals keep us pushing through when we get discouraged. Writing is a solitary act and can feel isolating. Unlike a job where you have deadlines and clear guidance on how to complete a project, writing is done solely on your own without any hard rules except for the ones you adapt for yourself.
I encourage writers of all caliber to establish goals in their writing. If nothing else, being held accountable to yourself based on actionable and measurable goals makes you more likely to achieve them.
The Big Picture
Ask yourself what you ultimately wish to accomplish by starting this journey. I started writing because my dad wrote and published a novel. He’s also the reason I joined the army at 19, but much like writing, once I started, my reasons shifted.
Maybe you want an avenue to work through life trauma. Maybe you’ve had a book idea for so long, the only logical thing to do is finally get it down on paper (or a screen). Maybe you want to earn money by writing, a living even. Or you want to write a book so you can win a Hugo Award.
Whatever the reason, big or small, make your reason for writing something you remember when you get discouraged. Blocks happen to all of us, and imposter syndrome runs unchecked among authors. Having a solid foundation of goals will help you stay focus when the going gets tough.
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Some people can write a full length novel in two weeks’ time. Others take two decades to finally publish the story on their heart. Your writing journey is unique and does not have to follow a prescribed timeline. However, time-bound goals are far more likely to be achieved.
When we establish how long we wish to work on something, we can backwards plan the achievement into smaller more manageable tasks. Maybe for you, being published within one year is your heart’s desire. However you choose to pace your writing, set a date where everything having to do with your novel is complete.
How Often Will You Write?
In my previous post, I suggested writing every day. Almost every professional writer will tell you this is all it takes to be a professional writer. Also consider the life you have, your job, the kids, your spouse, the dogs or cats. Somedays might not be practical to write because we cannot live forever in our imaginary worlds of stories (a stupid rule I did not make up). Even the prolific Nora Roberts has dinners with her grown children regularly.
Know what days of the week are better for writing. If you already know you cannot practically write every day, schedule time when you know you can, and keep your appointment! Just like going to the gym, consider finding a friend who can help hold you accountable to your writing time. Personal trainers are along your fitness journey with you. In the same way, finding writing peers or hiring a book coach can help you keep your writing time sacred and make you more likely to reach your goal of writing a whole book.
Whether you treat writing like a 9 to 5 job, work daily around your children’s sleep schedule, or plan to cram as much as you can into the weekends until its done, as long as you are consistently setting time aside to dedicate to your goal of writing a book, you are succeeding.
When Do You Want to Finish Your First Draft?
The question is where your left brain and right brain need to come together and have a serious talk. Sure, you have such a solid idea for a story that the words practically fly out of your fingers to the keyboard and onto the page. Great. But what if they don’t?
I know, we can “What if?” all day, but trust me on this one. Having a plan is far better than not when the muse decides to take an extended smoke break. Even if your muse is a nonsmoker, I promise they will at some point take a walk through nature without so much as a text to let you know when they will return.
You will hit a lull in writing. Deadlines provide healthy stress that cause our problem solving skills to get involved. We don’t want to let our future publisher down! When I coach writers 1 on 1, we usually give six months to writing the first draft of a novel from start to finish. This allows plenty of time for people with active lives to continue living without becoming a hermit hunched over their laptop. Be generous, but set a date.
How Many Words Should Your Book Be?
This is fun to play around with, but depending on your publishing goals, you should have a general target word count for your story. Here are a couple of scenarios to determine word count:
- You Don’t Care. If you simply wish to get the story out of your body without an idea of how to present it to the world, then write your story until it is done and that is it. There are no word requirements for getting an idea onto the page.
- Eff Around and Find Out. Kind of like the above scenario, you write until the story is out of your body, then you determine what avenue to take for publishing based on the word count you ended up with. I will go into these options later.
- Self-Publishing. When your goal is to publish your work yourself to get the highest amount of royalties, then word count, again, does not matter. If you are looking to publish in print, a minimum goal of 25,000 words will give you a decently sized physical book. For ebooks, they can be of any length.
- Traditional Publishing. Traditional publishing means you sign your book with a third party to manage the editing, formatting, and release of the book. Publishers have some hard and fast rules pertaining to the required length of a story and how each can come to be published. For example, it is not common for a professional publisher to take on a novella (a story between 20,000 and 50,000 words) due to the costs associated with printing and the low yield for royalties. Here are Writer’s Digest’s guidelines for FICTION word count (you can read the full article HERE).
- Flash Fiction: This is a short story anywhere from 6 to 1,000 words
- Short Story: About 1,500 to 20,000 words
- Novellas: 20,000 to 50,000 words
- Novels: 55,000-300,000 words
- NOTE: There are exceptions, but a typical first time author should plan to write a solid 80,000 words, depending on genre, to be considered for traditional publishing. Not too much more or less.
Weekly Word Count Goal
Now we are actually assigning hard number goals to your timeframes. My math/ statistical brain LOVES numbers. My competitive brain loves seeing results. If you do not share my affinity of numbers, in the very least, you can set measurable goals to raise your likelihood of success.
We’ve already decided how long your story will be and the amount of time you wish to take writing your first draft. Now divide your word count by the number of weeks you want to finish and BAM! You have your total weekly word count goal. Seems far more manageable now, right?
Daily Word Count Goal
Simply divide your weekly word count goal by the number of days a week you decided to write and you have a daily word count goal.
My personal habits include writing five days a week with a goal of about 1,000 words per day. If I am very focused, this task takes me about an hour, or two twenty-minute writing sprints. A writing sprint is an exercise where you set a timer and write continuously without distraction (a perfect world, right?).
I also have a reward system for writing 2,000 words in a day. I know if I can write 2k in a day 25 times, I have nearly a completed novel. Can you tell I love math? When I get a 2k day, I treat myself to something small like self-care or sleeping in a little. You can do something similar with rewards you enjoy to shake up your writing habits and keep you motivated through the process.
Other Notes Concerning Productivity.
This is YOUR book and YOUR journey. My advice and guides do not fit every writer’s creative process and at the end of the day, it’s up to you to figure out what keeps you motivated and consistent. I know you are capable of writing your story. Whether you use “Talk to Text” or you write it in pencil on a napkin, the process is irrelevant to the end goal.
If You Don’t Succeed.
Start again. Miss your self-established deadline? Set a new one. You can always pick things back up, start all over, and even start something completely different. And when you do finish, you’ll have yet another story to tell of how you did it.
Other “How to Write a Book” Posts
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