Sunday, April 18, 2010

Setting Goals for your Writing

Greetings, Esteemed Reader!

I hope your reading and writing are going well. Mine have fallen behind just a little. My day job (oh to one day be the sort of writer who doesn’t need a day job!) is in personal finance and so each year tax season keeps me hopping. But tax season aside, I live a pretty busy life all year long as I’m sure you do as well, Esteemed Reader. I haven’t got any kids yet, but I have got a wife and a cat, both of whom demand my attention. I have friends and family and various social obligations and I have to watch Lost as they’re finally going to tell us what the deal is with that island this season.

That’s why for the hundredth billionth time I have to focus on setting goals for my writing. My first and most constant goal is to write for two hours a day, period. I get up three and a half hours before my day job to get it in first thing so that no matter what else I have to do that day, my most important obligation has been fulfilled. Something may come up later that impacts my internet writing time, my reading time, or my Xbox time, but my writing time is sacred and must be kept or I will be mad at myself all day and everything else in my life won’t be done half as well.

The problem with a goal of time expenditure is that it guarantees focus, but not results. I can and have stared at my computer screen for two hours and typed a sentence, or worse, changed a couple of existing sentences. Other days I have filled a pad with story notes, but written not one word of prose. In a recent post I compared writing to donut making, but unlike donut making, writing requires a certain amount of wool gathering time. The pump of imagination must often be primed with daydreams and there is no set method for proceeding on every story.

Even so, it is important that my writing result in something tangible. I can’t sell my notepad of ideas or my revised outlines nor can I imagine anyone wanting to read them. The book is the thing. Everything else I do is just activities necessary to create the book. Aside from my days of staring off, which are mostly infrequent, I aim for an average of five pages a day when I ‘m writing for adults and three pages a day when writing middle grade. But sometimes even this lofty goal is not enough to get me where I need to be.

When I was a wee boy of potty training age, my parents put a Cookie Monster doll on the mantle above the fireplace where I could see it at all times, but I couldn’t reach it. I was promised the Cookie Monster would be mine once I was able to do my business exclusively in the toilet. Well, I’m here to tell you that I mastered using the potty with a quickness and Cookie Monster was mine. I am now planning to employ the same method for The And Then Story.

I spent better than a year planning The And Then Story while I finished The Big Book (an unpublishable 800 page epic literary horror novel for adults). I’ve been writing The And Then Story since February and I’m nearly finished. I charged through the first act, I suffered through most of the second act, and now I’m 60 to 75 pages from the nirvana of a finished rough draft. I revise as I go, so my rewrites should be straight-forward and brief. All I have left is the tail end of the second act, followed by the third act climax (which I’ve been planning from the start, so it should go quickly).

By my math, at 3 pages a day, I need twenty five days to finish. Let us say that I add to that five days for staring off, sentence revising, and sleeping in past my writing time. I know that in an ideal world with an ideal me, none of these bad things would ever come to pass. But it is important to be realistic in our goal planning, Esteemed Reader, and to factor in our shortcomings rather than denying their existence. Therefore, I can expect to announce the completion of my rough draft on May 18th.

Something else important happens on May 18th: the release of an incredibly violent video game that I’m sure is offensive to all of humanity. The game is Red Dead Redemption, which is a Grand Theft Auto set in the old west made by the makers of Grand Theft Auto. It would be wrong for children to play this game, but I am an adult and the heart wants what it wants. I am looking forward to this unwholesome game more than almost any other media release this year.

Unfortunately, the slave driver in my mind who gets me up each morning at 4:00 has caught wind of my desire for this game and doesn’t like the idea of me wasting hours in front of the television when there’s a novel to finish one bit. Therefore, Red Dead Redemption is to be my Cookie Monster. I give you my word, Esteemed Reader, I will shoot not one video game cowboy until the first draft of The And Then Story is complete. If I stick to my goal, I will be celebrating the completion of my middle grade novel in the least possible middle grade fashion. If not, I’ll be in the office working to finish and weeping for the deplorably degenerate joys of violence against pixels I might otherwise have known.

What goal setting strategies do you employ, Esteemed Reader? Got any tips to help me hone my ninja skills?


  1. You remind me of my brother, with his wanton desire for violent video games! :) It would be a carrot for him as well.

    Keep plugging away, and you will get there. It's tough but BIC (Butt In Chair) is the discipline you need to get there. If you already have that, you're already half way down the path.

  2. Hey Ninja,

    Years ago I realized that the only way I'd get the writing done is if I made writing part of my eight-hour day. So I began working six hours a day instead of eight, devoting the balance to getting words on the page. It worked!


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