The truth about setting realistic writing goals

Jan 17, 2023

I’m one of those writers who has to continually psych myself out to get work done.

It’s not that I don’t love writing—like, the actual act of writing. I do. I’ve always loved it. When I’m not doing it I have withdrawal. Hence the whole pursuing the writing career thing.

But when I feel like the stakes are higher, it’s harder to get the work done. Even when I love what I’m writing.

I’m still not sure about the psychology behind this affliction. Believe me, I’ve wasted many an hour trying to figure it out (hours I probably should have been writing). It could be fear of finishing a project and people hating it. Or fear of finishing a book and never selling it, or never getting another contract. Or, or, or. So many possibilities and in the end it doesn’t really matter, does it? I’ve just gotta get the damn work done.

I’ve tried many habits over the years—a daily word count, bullying myself into writing during every spare moment I have, waking up super early to get writing time in, reporting on my progress to other writers. I’ve bought multiple planners and used mind maps. I’ve tried to assign myself specific scenes to write in a day.

The daily word count actually works best for me—until I either get super stuck in the mucky middle, or until I bypass my word count one day and do double the words, then beat myself up every other day for not doing MORE than my word count. Or until I get busy that day and I have no clue what I’m actually writing about next…you get the idea. Same with assigning myself specific scenes per day. The accountability works until someone gets busy and it fades away.

It can feel like a great big vortex of frustration, right?

I don’t know about you, but usually when I’ve tried one of these things (or all of them at once) and still find myself coming up short, I’m really hard on myself. Which is a huge problem for me in general, but I think it’s true for a lot of creatives. We feel pressure—mostly from ourselves, dare I say—to be producing more, creating more, DOING more.

But when is enough simply enough? When do you say, hey, Liz, good job today? Let’s go eat ice cream and watch some trash TV?

Here’s what’s been working for me, in three easy steps:

  1. Realizing that “productivity” is not the goal. Productivity, I’ve found, is an elusive concept. For one person, it could mean writing three books a year. For another, it could mean one blog post per week. Producing an excellent piece of writing (book, blog, whatever) IS the goal. Trust that the projects you’re meant to work on, you’ll work on.
  2. Setting aside specific hours for writing. Whether your time is 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., 10-10:30 p.m., or anything in between, that’s your time. If you complete it, YOU’VE COMPLETED YOUR GOAL. There’s none of the, “Well, I could’ve done more” BS allowed.
  3. Being kind to myself. I’ve started congratulating myself for showing up for my time block. You can treat yourself to a snack afterwards, or a show, or whatever floats your boat. (Heck, we can even get crazy and go all out to celebrate ourselves!) It works way better than the flogging.

Use these practical steps to setting reasonable, daily writing goals that work FOR YOU. I’m pretty sure you’ll feel a lot happier, a lot more productive, and a lot better about yourself and your work.

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