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
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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
Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.