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On writing goals

Begin at the Beginning
I haz them. Not that I always remember this, or remember to organize myself in such a way as to make progress on them. That is, however, something I can fix, and will, in fact, fix after I complete my upcoming move early in 2014. I have given myself a bit of a pass until then, because the downsizing, planning, and execution of the move are too stressful to heap massive writing goals on top of.

Ironically, just after giving myself a pass to drift along and not write at all, if necessary, I found lots of ideas clamoring for attention and have written two solid picture book drafts and started a new collection of poems. But they are not goals, they are just there, so it's all good.

Over at Facebook, my friend Melodye posed the following question, in response to which I promised her a blog post:

I'm wondering if you'd be willing to tell me a little bit about your own time management systems. To wit: How do you structure your writing goals, and what tools/tips/tricks do you use to keep yourself on track?

When I am actually working on a project, I set a variety of goals. Of course, what sort of goals depends on the project, but the variety includes things like a hazy deadline for the final draft (whether it's new work or revisions), which is usually several months to a year or more away, plus goals for intermediate things. Maybe it's a complete first draft by X date, or perhaps it's a chapter a month. And then there are daily goals, which I make reasonable and achievable. I know myself too well to think I can kick out 1,000 words a day every day, so I set my goal at something smaller, when writing prose. Say, 500. It doesn't mean I have to stop when I reach the goal, and there are days when I can exceed that 1,000, but I don't expect that on a daily basis. It doesn't fit me and my process.

When working on poems, and they are either time or poem-count goals. One complete draft of a poem. Two hours of writing time. I've done it both ways, and both ways work. Sometimes one makes more sense than another. The important thing is to find something that suits and stick with it.

Of course, the writing is sometimes interspersed with research, which requires its own pace. The goal with research is to do enough to feel I thoroughly understand whatever the topic, situation, or issue might be, but to remain aware of when enough is enough, and any more is just time-wasting. Sometimes five minutes is enough, sometimes five days, sometimes even longer.

The thing that makes it all manageable is to set daily goals that result in forward progress in some area of the work, even if it's just a small step. It helps maintain momentum, and keeps me invigorated and looking forward to continuing the work. It's a good thing, too, to remember that backtracking is sometimes forward progress (when seen through a long enough lens), for those days when the realization hits that a wrong turn has been made and needs to be untaken. As Neil Gaiman wrote in The Sandman, Vol. 10, "Only the phoenix rises and does not descend. And everything changes. And nothing is truly lost." Not even that effort in going the wrong way and doubling back.

One thing I have not yet done, but which I am considering, is the sticker method that several authors have mentioned over on Twitter. You use a monthly calendar, set your daily goal (say, 500 words, though I think most of them go for 1,000), and for every 500 words you write on one day, you put a sticker on your calendar. If you write 1,500 words, you get three stickers for the day. If you write 1,499, you only get two. It seems manageable and goal-oriented, and if sticking with it, it results in tangible rewards on a daily basis. (Shiny stickers!) As with any system, it only works if you want it to and strive for it. And if it is too demoralizing not to get stickers on any given day, then I'd say ditch it, because life is too short to find new ways to beat yourself up and/or make yourself feel bad!


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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
jessica_shea
Dec. 28th, 2013 03:34 am (UTC)
I use the sticker method! I've never tried it when I'm *starting* a project because I go slooow at the beginning, but I've found it very helpful at the end. I only get stickers for 1000 words. I think my natural groove tends to be 1200-1300 words per day, but after 700-800 I often hit resistance and am tempted to go do something else. The sticker reward helps keep me in it.
kellyrfineman
Dec. 30th, 2013 06:08 pm (UTC)
Glad to hear that method works for you. I haven't tried it yet, as you already know.

Can I just say again how impressed I was by your wonderful blog post about adjusting expectations? {{hugs}}
jeannineatkins
Dec. 28th, 2013 05:42 pm (UTC)
This is great, and so nice you developed Ideas from Melodye's facebook question. This is one of the things I miss from the old LJ -- what someone wrote in their blog might spark a longer response on mine. But I am glad shorter notes on fb can sometimes do that!
kellyrfineman
Dec. 30th, 2013 06:09 pm (UTC)
I really have to do more of that. I, too, enjoy engaging in dialogue, as you know!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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