If You Fail Your Writing Goal



by Ryan Lanz


So, you failed your writing goal. What now? With less than two days to go in Nanowrimo, I thought this would be an appropriate subject to go over. Did you fall short?

“Building a creative dream life is not just about achieving, succeeding, or ‘meeting goals.’ It’s also about floundering, stumbling, tripping, and failing.” -Sark

If you’ve been a writer for any extended period of time, most likely, you’ve set a writing goal for yourself. More often than not, it was gauged by word count. A word count goal is like a writer’s friendemy; it’s the best method I can think of, but it still isn’t a perfect tool.

“If you have a goal, write it down. If you do not write it down, you do not have a goal–you have a wish.” -Steve Maraboli

I’ve been poking around the Nanowrimo hashtag on Twitter and read pages of people saying they won. 50,000 words in one month with days to spare. No problem. Meanwhile, you sit in front of your computer, bleary-eyed, staring at a blinking cursor, mocking you. You would check your word counter, but you know it hasn’t reached 20,000 yet. You check it anyway. Then you wonder how to contact those elves who come in the night to complete writers’ manuscripts.

I have mixed feelings about Nanowrimo. I’ve never participated in it. Honestly, even if I was a complete and total full-time writer with nothing else to do, I’m still not sure that I would officially participate in it. It wouldn’t be a spectacular month for me, it would just be another month of writing. I might reach the mark or come close to it, but it would simply be the splash effect of my normal work ethic and not because I participated in an event.

“Goals are dreams with a deadline.” -Napoleon Hill

Whatever motivates us to write is a good thing. In my opinion, there are two different reasons for why you would want a general word count goal and why you would want a Nanowrimo word count goal. Do they sound the same to you? Let’s dive in.


1. The reason for a daily/weekly/monthly word count goal:
To keep a writer on track, productive, and moving forward. Sometimes, we writers get a little distracted, and having an ongoing goal helps to stabilize us. In a world of fantasy and ideas, it is a concrete gauge.

“If you have a dream, keep it. But write it down and take appropriate actions to see it manifest.” -T.F. Hodge


2. The reason for participating in Nanowrimo
This is merely my opinion, but the goal of participating in Nanowrimo is not to write a book. It’s not even to produce something that is publishable, necessarily (although it’s a lovely side-product if it happens). The whole point of participating in Nanowrimo is for an amateur writer to experience a taste of life as a full-time author, both in productivity and lifestyle. Based on interviews I’ve made with full-time authors, when you are one, you write for a lot of the day almost every day. Your main focus and drive, professionally speaking–and perhaps otherwise–is to place your butt in the chair and write.

“You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” -Rabindranath Tagore

I’m not saying that every professional author writes 50,000 words every month, but it mimics and symbolizes what you would do if you were a full-time writer. If you were serious about completing the Nanowrimo goal, you couldn’t wait to get home to write. While driving home, plot lines danced in your head. Many decisions that you had made were influenced by your need and desire to write. That’s what life as a full-time author is like.

It’s like pretending for one month that you don’t put food on the table unless you write.

 “Aim higher in case you fall short.” -Suzanne Collins

So, that’s why, in my opinion, if you missed your Nanowrimo goal, it’s perfectly fine. The question (for me, at least) isn’t whether you completed the 50,000 words, it’s whether you learned a taste of what it would be like to be a full-time author. If you accomplished that, I think you’re still a winner.

Now, if you only completed 1,000 words in the whole month, that really doesn’t count as a win either way. Let’s not go overboard with my consolation. 🙂

“In the long run, men only hit what they aim at.” -Henry David Thoreau

It all comes down to the writer’s goals. Is your goal to get a certain amount of words done, or to immerse yourself in an author’s life? We’ve already talked about how to do the latter, so let’s talk about some different aspects of an ongoing word count goal.


A daily versus weekly word count goal
I generally use a daily word count goal, but I could easily see how a week’s is superior. A weekly word count goal does offer more flexibility for when life happens or when you have a bad writing day. As a writer, there will be some days that you write at 25% capacity and some days when you write at 200%. This is normal and will likely always happen. The aim is to still average out what you need to get to your end goal.


It’s okay if you don’t break your daily word count record three days in a row
As mentioned, the word count output will vary. The important part is that you are in the chair and writing. If you surpass your daily record by 15% one day, you may feel intimidated trying to repeat that the next day. While I’ve never experienced it, some writers have performance anxiety of that nature. Try not to push yourself for the mere sake of bragging rights.


You might try a self-reward system to help you complete your word goal. For example, if you hit your daily word count, reward yourself with watching your favorite TV show before bed. I’ve had success with this by allowing myself to be done a little early as long as I reach my word count goal. That cured my recent issue with sitting in front of a computer for hours without being terribly productive, just because I felt I had to. In the end, the productivity matters more than the time output.


Don’t beat yourself up
Life happens. Beating yourself up over it won’t get you anywhere, and it likely will set you back. I try to write when I don’t feel like it, so that it compensates for when I can’t.

 “My goal is to write every day. I say it is my ideal. I am careful not to pass judgment or create anxiety if I do not do it. No one lives up to his ideal.” -Natalie Goldberg


Create goals that are achievable
I’m the worst at creating too-high goals for my daily or weekly word count. The challenge with this is that when you often don’t hit it, it depresses you and creates an avalanche of reduced productivity. Where to set the goal is tricky. If you set it too low, then it takes far longer to finish the darn thing. I find it best to set a minimum goal, one that I feel I can hit without issue, and if I feel up for writing more, I do so.

When I have a system like that, I often find myself continuing past the minimum word count goal, and then I feel like a hero that day. When you are continuously “winning,” going beyond becomes addicting.

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” -Henry David Thoreau



55 thoughts on “If You Fail Your Writing Goal

  1. Goals, Yuk! I had years of that kind of artificial measurement. The creative process is more creative than a process. Process comes in AFTER the creating is done. Editing, changing, improving require much more orderly behavior. Query and selling the work also takes ass in the seat discipline to be successful economically, barring incredible luck intervening. But goals, yeah they’re nice but don’t get all tied up in knots about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. First of all, I am not in the position to say anything about writing because I don’t have a reputation to back me up so, whatever it is that I’m going to say here is merely a humble opinion from my personal point of view.

    I don’t like the idea of forced writing and word counts or deadline, not because I cannot meet them because I can, I am a prolific blogger and often post 3 articles a day and not just senseless reports on something but stories with substance even if I say so myself. No, I dislike anything scheduled because I find that it takes away the natural flow of creativity. It’s like scheduling an intercourse (pardon) let’s say 3 times a week M-W-F, where is the spontaneity in that?
    I think that in order to be creative one has to be inspired. But if you already set schedule beforehand and know that at midday precisely at 12:00 o’clock you have to eat your lunch and have to be finish 15 minutes later and not a minute longer, it takes away the enjoyment of consuming your food. In fact, people have to eat when they are hungry and not when they think they have to eat because someone a long time ago decided that society have to follow some protocol regarding the time of eating.

    Writing for me is like that. One has to write when one has ideas one cannot wait to put on paper. I know professional writers have deadlines but I view it as a different thing. The gist of the story is there already, the seed, the idea, the whole concept is already formed. All they have to do is put them into words that are cohesive to make a readable/sal(e)able story. It doesn’t matter how many words they write in a day or they do it three days before the deadline as long as they have a complete book in the end. Because anybody who writes knows that when someone is inspired one can tap away on keybords day and night. And the same someone can confirm also that if one is not inspired, you can tie that person around a monitor for days and nothing will come out.

    I better stop here I think.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My problem with this comment is that all of your metaphors seem like things I’d be okay with. Eating lunch at twelve, with fifteen minutes to eat? See: The average school day. Maybe they give you thirty minutes or an hour, but come on, no one wants to spend that entire break eating. I’m a fast eater anyway, so it doesn’t bother me at all. I have to set goals and plan things out and create at least loose schedules or else I get paralyzed and spend the entire day playing Aviator and goofing around on the Internet. Most of the time, the schedule ends up being more like a guideline, and I don’t sweat it if I end up ahead or behind. Most of the time, when I set a word count goal, I’m okay with falling 200 words ahead or behind. Story outlines end up being like maps for road trips: Here’s where we started, here’s where we want to go, and these are the cool landmarks we want to stop at along the way. Sometimes I end up stopping at a little metaphorical roadside diner and hearing about something cool from the locals and taking a thirty minute detour that helps me discover a shortcut. I think the reason why schedules and plans either REALLY WORK or DON’T WORK AT ALL for most people is that the schedule is considered law, whereas for me it’s more like a suggestion.

      TL;DR: We’re totally different people with different outlooks on life and that’s okay! It’s great, even. I’m a plotter/scheduler/list maker and you’re a pantser/spontaneous/whatever and as long as things get done it doesn’t matter. I’m bad at following my schedules, but it makes me feel better to make them.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I only recently hear about NaNoWriMo from bloggers here. I’m not at all interested. To me the goal shouldn’t be how much you can write or how quickly you can write it. The goal should be to write well, or at least as well as you can.
    Nice Sark quote. I’m doing a lot of “floundering, stumbling, tripping, and failing.” and I will probably be doing so for quite a while. I’m working on learning to enjoy the journey and not focus so much on the destination.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. As you possibly already know, I did NaNo this year. I had a lot of reasons for wanting to do it. The first was that my idea was supposed to be last year’s NaNo novel, but life got in the way. So I’d had the idea stewing for a year. I decided to shelve my first novel in mid-September, which gave me a month and a half to more thoroughly plan my book for NaNo. Because I have a full time job, a baby, and a side job freelance editing (I edited one MG novel and 75 pages of a literary novel in November), my personal goal wasn’t 50,000 words, it was 40,000.

    When I reached 25k on November 13th, a lot of people cheering me on encouraged me to go for the full 50k, since I was already ahead of schedule. It turns out, though, that I made the right goal for me. Just like I expected, I hit writer’s block at 30k. And just like I expected, the last two weeks would be much busier than the first two, and I was out of plot points, so I wrote significantly less per day. Since hitting 40k on Tuesday, I’ve barely written 1,500 words. Mostly because I’m in a place where I need to stop, re-read, and figure out where I’m going next.

    You’re right that part of my motivation was to see if I could follow a “real author” schedule, but my motivation went deeper. I wanted to get the perpetual editor out of my brain and give her no room to think so I could put words onto a page. I wanted to trust myself and the story direction. (I read a bunch of craft books leading up to the writing, so the basic structure was in my head, but I sort of pantsed the direction from there.)

    You’re also probably right that a bunch of people just put words on the page and falsely inflate their word count. For me, my false inflation comes from counting scenes that I wrote twice to see whether I preferred third or first person, a few notes that I left myself in the middle of scenes (like at the end of a writing session, I counted the words in “Write the scene between the officers next” as part of my word count). My 40k is probably closer to 35k. But the story is there, and I don’t regret my participation at all.

    If you ever find yourself ready to start a new draft in November, I recommend giving it a try. I made a few new friends, wrote 13,000 more words in one month than I’ve ever done, and let my story take me in interesting directions.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sharing that. I’m not against Nanowrimo by absolutely any means, I just prefer a different route. Yours is completely valid and you achieved more than you would’ve without it. Nice job.

      I’m just trying to offer people another take on it.


      1. There isn’t anything wrong with having your own process. Nanowrimo is a good concept and if it helps people express themselves it is great. I also agree with Mike Fuller, the creative process should be flexible. It should react to the level of inspiration and represent work you as a writer feel proud of producing. Writing 50,000 words of gibberish that you don’t even want to read yourself is a little pointless.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. And T.W., I completely agree with you. Writing 50,000 words of gibberish you don’t want to read is definitely pointless, and there are aspects of NaNo I’m not a huge fan of (especially its lofty fundraising goal for a “non-profit”). Rather than help me express myself, NaNoWriMo kept me accountable for words I would have written anyway, and I ended up making a few writing sprint friends in the process, which is always a good thing. 🙂

        And as far as being proud of my work goes, I am at least as proud of this first draft as I have been of any before this one. 🙂 That’s a huge part of doing NaNo in a productive way, I think: making sure you write something you’ll be happy to revise later.


  5. One of the delights in writing my beginner’s blog instead of doing NaNoWriMo has been coming across your writing. Insights, yes, and cheery companionship along the way. My New Try Month was worth it for that alone – and of course for the fun of sometimes surprising myself.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I NaNo’d this year officially for the first time. I was amazed at what I learned from the experience.
    Lesson number one, was how grateful I am to have my ‘regular’ writing gigs…I have deadlines, I can cheat and write ahead of my deadlines or, I can choose to slide in at the last minute. The thing about my deadlines is that they’re known, anticipated, and are assigned as pre-selected topics for me.
    Another obvious but often overlooked moment of NaNo discovery for me was how much I enjoyed ‘taking time off’ to write on my blog. It’s goofy fun, and I get a lot of feedback in exchange for my efforts.
    And the biggy…this writing with the goal of producing a longer piece is fun! I did, in fact, ‘win’ NaNo. Probably because I am a competitive freak. The 50K goal and end result for me was a good start on a rough draft. The pages are pelted with misspellings, grammatical rat’s nests and writerly criminal acts–I pretty much don’t care. I blurted a story and will spend months sifting through it and closing up the gaping wounds. I’m pretty pumped! Since I’ve made it this far, I refuse to squander the effort. The editorial chopping block and rewriting are something that sounds like a good time to me 🙂
    “Well begun is half done” …Mary Poppins?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Perfectly said. This is the one we need as a writer who wanted to participate NaNoWriMo. I know I still have a lot of work to do with my writing skill. Not just that I don’t write creatively but I have a problem in consistency. Writing daily.

    I do have a goal but I think I need to change my goal after I read your post.

    It helped me to itemize every thing.

    Till setting goal is important before doing anything.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fair enough. For me, personally, NaNoWriMo was about getting a full story – from start to finish – onto the page, while avoiding the Tolkien tendency of editing so much you either never get to the end, or get there only once. My story is definitely not in a publishable state right now, but that is my personal goal.

    I do know people who took part just to say they were able to do it, and that’s cool, but I kind of needed to prove to myself that I could do it so I could take it to the next level. Allowing myself to not get bogged down in all the perfectionist details freed me to just follow where the story took me. And now I know I can do it, NaNo was just the little push I needed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with Erin, though I know it’s a matter of opinion and personality. NaNoWriMo works if you’re looking to write a completed first draft, so you can have something to edit later. Certainly in my case, there’s no way I’d be able to produce any kind of quality in one month, but that’s how I write anyway – I create something bad first and edit it to make it (hopefully) better. But some people like to write things well the first time around (most people, I think ) so I guess NaNoWriMo doesn’t really work for them. I suppose it just depends on what kind of person and what kind of writer you are.

      Then again, NaNoWriMo always falls during my exam period, so I’ve never completed it myself and can’t really talk. But I can see the point of it and do think it works well in some cases.

      I enjoyed your post all the same, though!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. When I’m seriously going over a book on my mind I like to write one chapter in 2 days or a day. Mostly because I delete a lot of stuff. Lol. I agree, I don’t think having a goal of a certain amount of words will necessarily make the story better or you a better writer. Besides stuff happens in life that prevents you from writing. I have started a new short story and I’ve written like 1 chapter, am I worried? No I will finish it by the end of December. .. I have a staycation coming up and looking forward to it!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I`m definitely one of those people whose never been happy with the rough draft thing, so probably not the best idea for me to enter something like this. But then, as much as I love writing, I`m not really sure I see myself as a novelist, though it is still up in the air for now. I enjoyed the article though, and my hat is off to all those who succeeded at this quest, or whatever you wish to call it, and for those of you who didn`t, but at least had the courage to try, better luck next time.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Chiming in on the “for” side of the NaNo idea. Ryan has had a chance to trouble shoot the first part of one of my (finished) manuscripts – which if you are at a point you want an editor, please talk to him! – and he pointed out one of my biggest issues. Namely a rather prominent redundancy button that I like to hit… a lot. I intended NaNo to help complete the second manuscript, but the story took that option out of my hands before November started. So, I pushed on into the third one.

    Knowing that I had issues, I thought the intensified setting of NaNo would help shatter the button, and while that helped, I ran into a completely different problem. One that I am not sure would have shown up without the NaNo experience – push a story for words, and it will happily deliver… fluff. I have a solid concept, but once I get through telling this piece of the story, most of that fluff will have to be destroyed. I am very glad that I elected to try this, because the environment and challenge (not to mention personal competitive drive) helped show a boundary that will need closer examination. I would recommend NaNo to other up-and-coming writers with thoughts of publishing. If for nothing else, when you push yourself to new heights, you learn so much about yourself in the process. (I knew that I could hit the NaNo word count easily enough – right now, I’m hitting the targets for each installment about every 2 months, and NaNo is about half of that, so the time/count “requirement” was easy. The constant “got to move faster” push was the challenge for me.)

    Now that I’m out of the NaNo mindset, though, I AM running into the really boggy points – probably because the early parts of this installment are so laggy/boggy in and of themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing, K. I promise I didn’t mean to give a “con” to Nanowrimo. I mainly wanted to offer a different motivation for it, while at the same time mentioning that it wasn’t for me, personally.

      Good to hear from you. I’m glad the month was a productive one!


      1. You didn’t, actually. I just looked like people were weighing in on both sides, so thought I’d toss in my penny’s worth.

        So far so good for productivity. Stalling a little on the revisions – might be going too far the other way on them, so am waiting until I hear back on a snippet from someone who’s seen the original before going on. And, the new stuff is having to gel a little more for plausibility – which always is interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No one is a NaNo hater. Maybe, they are systematically against it personally, but you always do your level best to be fair and look at both sides of any argument you offer.

        Maybe, they think you are against it because you play your own devil’s advocate so well?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Quite welcome. If they don’t think you are being fair, then they have’t bothered to look at your UtM series. If you weren’t fair, then the good things you do there wouldn’t be worth the photons to light up the screen.

        And, fair isn’t something to show up in just one place. It has to be from somewhere – usually the way you approach life. So, gently pat those haters on the shoulder, and smile. (And, remember them, so they can wind up as a red shirt somewhere down the line, right?)

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That’s where it originated from. Now, it’s kind of used by everyone. ::Grins:: It’s typically a character who’s brought into the story so they can be killed off. Sometimes for the protagonist’s benefit, sometimes to create tension.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Great insight. I pushed myself early in my writing career to maintain a very high daily word count until I realized that, well, life happens. Now I have a pretty lax word count target, but find that sitting down to fulfill that leads me to shatter it each day. Days I can’t because of obligations or time away from a word processor I don’t beat myself up over it, since it was such a small target to begin with. I’ve probably tripled how much I write just by looking at small chunks instead of “Oh no I have X amount of words today…”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for the last three years. Years One and Two I won. Year Three (this year) I went into it knowing I didn’t have 50k words to write, as my goal was to finish last year’s NaNoWriMo novel or write 20k words towards that goal. With today’s writing still ahead of me, I will meet my goal, as I can finish the ending of the book today. And it’ll come out just short of 20k words.

    My first years of doing NaNo was also the first time I had really written continuously for an extended period. And I found it (and I do not use this word lightly) magical. Becoming completely immersed in my world and its characters was amazing. So, I agree that it does give one a taste of what being a professional writer is like.

    Come December 1, the first draft of my second novel gets a winter hibernation. In the New Year, editing, revision, and writing parts that I’ve discovered are missing begins.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Magical…

      In the beginning of my blogging escapades (that’s about 4 months ago) I told few people that one of my goals is to be able to do NaNo by the end of next year that’s why I joined challenges to hone my writing skills, but at the back of my mind I still have some doubts if it’s the right thing for me for the reasons I already mentioned in my comment above. Now that you say the magic word, I begun to contemplate that option again.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I kept seeing the word Nanowrimo, and didn’t know what it meant, but people seem to be very excited about it. When I finally found out what it meant, I considered it. I love writing, and can write for hours upon hours, but my main problem is staying focused on subject. One day I would like to try Nanowrimo, but right now I think your idea will help me a lot more. I need to set my own goals at an achievable level, and give that a try. At the moment I have a subject in mind. I would like to try your idea with that. Thank you so much for sharing your energy. 💚🌟

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you for this informative and thought provoking article on setting goals. As a neophyte blogger and sporadic(over the course of my life) writer, I think that it’s important to think ahead about how to settle into a writing pattern that works for me personally. I never set myself a word count, and hadn’t thought about setting a writing goal in that way. Again, thanks for giving me something new to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thanks for this post, as a novice NaNo was a new concept for me, I partially participated knowing I would not finish my book while teaching full time, but I enjoyed the month of focused blog posts NaNo put out there and I learned a lot from them, your post helped to put it all in perspective

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thank you for sharing this. I didn’t participate this year either, but I did start writing my novel on November 7th. As of yesterday I’m at 77.5k words and 6 chapters remain before completion. It is hard work and took even more preparation to be ready to write so quickly.

    Nanowrimo had always been to get average people to finally get black on white and write a novel, because most people have an idea they never get around to writing. It’s good for beginners, but it wasn’t something I’d planned to do. I’m fighting my own battles with myself, I didn’t want to compare myself with droves of other people trying to meet the same goals.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’ve had mixed feeling about Nanowrimo too, but I still participate. This year was my third year and I ended at 40k. This is the best I’ve ever done. But I didn’t write a full novel through. I pick and chose scenes which is how I have gotten more than half of my book written. I cannot do Nanowrimo working straight though a novel. What I think is really create about this is that there is a writing community. It opens up doors to people you wouldn’t have met otherwise and if you are able to join a writing community in your town through Nanowrimo, even better. I did that for two years and met some great people.

    But it isn’t all about the word count and sometimes you come out with work you may end up hating. And the people who have days to spare by writing 50k almost worry me! I wonder what else is going on in other’s lives. But maybe I just over schedule myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I definitely think that you posed some really good points.

    I always found Nanowrimo daunting because I know I don’t have the time that I would like to just write for that whole month, but I join anyway just to see how far I can go. I never make it, but I think it helps remind me that I have this other me that wants to write and write all the time.


  20. I understand your points and you have some good points. But I think people do this for various reasons. I didn’t have a good work ethic with my writing. It was a long stream of unfinished goals. And at my age and what I want to accomplish it was very frustrating. Maybe some of us need a gimmick, at least to start with. For me it was a kick in the pants and it helped guide me. Now I think that I love it and I won’t stop writing. That is the plan.


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