Failed to Reach Your Writing Targets? Me Too…

by Ali on September 3, 2013

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(Image from Flickr by Rennett Stowe)

For the last six weeks, I’ve had a straightforward weekly writing target to meet: 3,000 words on my novel.

And for two of those six weeks, I failed.

Of course, there have been plenty of times in the past when I’ve skipped a week (or several weeks) of novel-writing. But this was different: I’d committed to joining in the Summer Challenge that I’ve been running for Writers’ Huddle, and I was really disappointed that I didn’t make my target.

Now, perhaps you’re someone who always sets good goals and meets them. If so, I’m a little in awe of you (and a little bit envious). You don’t need to bother reading the rest of this post.

If you’re more like me, though – your writing life just doesn’t always pan out how you wanted, despite your best intentions – then read on.

First, Celebrate What You DID Achieve

I was upset not to meet my target, particularly because I felt accountable to my lovely Writers’ Huddle members.

It’s easy to feel disappointed, upset, even angry with yourself, if you don’t meet a writing target – and that can lead to giving up altogether. (If you’ve ever been on a diet, you’ll know how easily a couple of small slip ups can turn into “I might as well write the whole week off and start again on Monday.”)

So after dwelling on feeling angry and disappointed for longer than I should have, I made myself look on the bright side. After all:

  • Even on those two bad weeks, I wrote something. I managed around 2,000 words across the two weeks – and without the challenge and that weekly target, I’d almost certainly have written nothing.
  • I pushed myself to write in challenging locations (including the dining room table in the farmhouse we were staying in with my husband’s extended family, and the back of my father-in-law’s car on the way to a wedding).

Even if I hadn’t written a single word during those two weeks, at least I’d be in a better position in the future to plan my writing.

Once you’ve found a more positive angle to things, it’s time to take a look at what went wrong – and how you can do things differently next time.

As I see it, there are four key reasons why you might miss your target, despite starting out with great intentions.

#1: Your Goal Was Unrealistic

In my earlier writing days, I often set myself unrealistic goals – and I never met them. Usually, I’d then end up writing nothing at all for months on end.

Let’s say you had a goal of writing 3,000 words every weekend for a month. It might sound challenging rather than unrealistic – but if you’ve got other weekend commitments (like family, friends, chores, volunteering…) then it might be really tough to find the time and energy to sit down and write.

Next time…

Give yourself an easy target that you’re confident of achieving. Perhaps that means writing on just one weekend of the month (and ignoring the housework, telling your friends you can’t hang out, and asking your partner to take the kids off for the whole of Saturday afternoon). You can always set yourself a bigger target next month.

 

#2: You Didn’t Plan Enough

Maybe you did have enough time to reach your goal, but you didn’t plan things very well. Let’s say you want to write 40,000 words on your novel during the next 12 months. It’s going to be very easy to put that off day by day – you’re busy, you’re tired, the 500 words you can manage will only be a drop in the bucket.

And all too soon, you’ll be in month 10 of 12, with no writing done – and it’ll be easiest just to give up. With the benefit of hindsight, you’ll realise you did have the time, but you didn’t plan out how you were going to use it.

Next time…

Break big goals down into smaller ones, and schedule your writing time. 40,000 words a year is 1,000 per week with 12 weeks off. If you can find just two days of the week when you can consistently write 500 words, you’ll reach your target easily.

 

#3: You Procrastinated

Writing takes a lot of energy, and lends itself very well to displacement activities – it’s so easy to check your emails or update Facebook or even do a bit of extra research when you really should be writing. (Don’t feel bad about this. Plenty of writers, even bestselling authors, procrastinate.)

If you sit down to write for an hour or two, and find that the time is suddenly gone with very little to show for it, then take a good hard look at your working practices. If you start off by making a coffee, tidying your desk, sharpening your pencils, flicking through your library of useful how-to books on writing … you’re probably procrastinating.

Next time…

Turn off your internet connection. Set a timer for 30 minutes, and write until it goes off. If you’re tempted to stop and check emails / make a coffee / tidy your desk, tell yourself, “I’m writing right now. I can do that soon.”

 

#4: Something Unexpected Happened

Maybe you planned your writing sessions, scheduling them carefully into a busy week. You were looking forward to them … and then something unexpected came up. Perhaps a friend needed help moving house, or you ended up visiting a relative at short notice. Maybe you had to work overtime.

Although some people will tell you to be ruthless – protect your writing time at all costs – that simply isn’t always realistic. Sometimes, other things do need to come first. But that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to life always getting in the way of your goals.

Next time…

Allow some slack in your writing schedule. When things do go wrong, you’ll have a back-up. That might mean getting ahead in a good week and “banking” words, or keeping three possible slots clear for writing when you only need two.

 

Much as I’d love my writing life, and yours, to always go according to plan … I know that’ s just not how it works! If you’re feeling frustrated because you didn’t meet a target recently, or if you’re worried about how to meet your future targets, I hope this post helps.

And remember: be proud of what you have achieved, even if it fell short of what you hoped for. If you like, share your recent successes (even if they started out as failures) in the comments below.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Monday Must-Reads [9/9/13] - YESENIA VARGAS
September 12, 2013 at 4:41 am
How to Create a Writing, Publishing and Marketing Plan for the Year [Includes Template] — Aliventures
January 8, 2014 at 1:44 pm

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth September 4, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I’m guilty of #3. A lot. I think #3 can be a direct cause of #1; when I set an unrealistic goal, I’m overwhelmed by it so I put it off. And like you said about dieting, the whole thing can snowball.

Definitely, I am more productive when I set reasonable goals. It feels great being able to achieve them, and then that can snowball too. Thanks for sharing your experience, and don’t feel bad. You juggle so many projects, and I’m sure I speak for plenty of your readers when I say we are “a little in awe” of you!
Elizabeth’s last blog post ..Let’s (Not) Talk About Sex

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Ali September 4, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Thanks Elizabeth! You made me smile. :-)

I wanted to share this because I know there are quite a few writers / bloggers I’m a bit (or a lot!) in awe of, and I forget sometimes that they probably have bad days too. Figured my readers would like to know I’m not perfect. ;-)

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Jacki Dilley September 4, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Thanks, Ali, for your openness about your writing over the past couple weeks. When I see that experienced writers have the same real-life struggles I do, I don’t feel discouraged.

I also took part in the Writers’ Huddle challenge you mentioned, and also didn’t quite achieve the goals I set for myself.

I now see that my goals were too ambitious. I resolved to finish two stories, come hell or high water, and the pressure gave me writer’s block. So I gave up and did free writing instead of working on the stories for awhile. It got me un-stuck.

I felt that this wasn’t “real writing,” but it kept me on my path. So I ended up completing one story and the second one is now almost there.

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Ali September 4, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Jacki, you did brilliantly in the Summer Challenge (you and LycoRogue, who pops up from time to time in the comments here, were the only two who made their writing target every single week). By the way, you should have an email from me … :-)

Well done you on taking a break and doing some free writing — I’m so glad it’s resulted in getting the second story nearly there. I’ve had times when I’ve been unreasonably fixated on a goal, and that sort of pressure is almost always unhelpful.

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Joel D Canfield September 4, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Newslettering this (that’s a new verb I just made up.)

Goals, not deadlines. I avoid the word “dead” unless something will die. It helps with all the points you make, but especially with giving ourselves permission to celebrate what we did instead of kicking ourselves for what we didn’t.
Joel D Canfield’s last blog post ..Leveling Up: Thinking Less Like Poor Folk

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Ali September 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Well, hey, if Shakespeare could make up words…

I’m actually pretty good at hitting externally imposed deadlines (my For Dummies editors were very happy about that!) but I find it tough to set and meet deadlines of my own. I think permission to celebrate is crucial — it’s all too easy to lose sight of what we’ve actually accomplished.

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Allison September 4, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Oh gods, did I ever need this.
You didn’t do so badly compared to me.
Premise: Wake at 5, excercise, then write all the sweatiness off.
What happens: I actually wake at five!!!
And then I either cook lunch or pack it, and/or surf the internet.
Sometimes with exercise…

I needed this SO BADLY! Thank you. :)
Definitely need to work on planning and my distractions.
First, plan on packing lunches…

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Ali September 5, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I don’t think I’ve ever in my life got up at 5am. :-P Well, occasionally with Kitty, or to catch a train or something, but that’s it! So you’re already way ahead of me…

Planning and avoiding distractions, though, those are good at any time of day. :-)

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Allison September 8, 2013 at 10:06 pm

I’ve been rethinking–I’ll just make lunch in the morning, because most of the time I’m too tired to do any quality writing…so to late night writing I go. :P Seems like I can’t escape late night writing as my best stuff…

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Minerva Pacle September 11, 2013 at 2:03 am

I’m struggling with being healthy in writing. So, I wanna know how writers stay healthy while writing? Because I’m always draining even just several paragraphs of redrafting and I forgot the hours and didn’t think I’ve skipped a meal and when I stood up from the computer, I feel like my knees are so weak. I think you understand how writers forget the time when they’re burning with ideas to write. So, that’s it. Because my body, with all the obligation at home and at school, I have to spare a stamina for writing, too. So, do you have some trick to keeping healthy while writing??

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Joel D Canfield September 11, 2013 at 2:08 am

Preparation and a timer.

Before I get into the zone, I make sure I’ve eaten some protein, had water (with more nearby so I can drink without thinking about it) and have a good quality chair (now I just need a more ergonomic desk.)

And since the benefits of being in the zone diminish rapidly after about 90 minutes, when you start, set a 2-hour timer. 30 minutes to get into the zone, and 90 minutes in it. Then pause, take care of physical needs, and if you like, get back in it.
Joel D Canfield’s last blog post ..Right and Wrong and Tolerance and Best

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Ali September 11, 2013 at 10:04 am

I think I’ve only ever once forgotten to eat because I was into writing, so I’m not sure I have a huge amount of advice here!

Joel’s recommendations are great ones. I sit on an exercise ball at my desk — started doing so when I was pregnant and getting backache in my regular chair. I always have a glass of water to hand. You might also want to keep some high-energy snacks nearby — nuts, dried fruit, whatever works for you.

And, of course, a healthy lifestyle in general always helps — try to do 20 mins walking or some other form of gentle cardio every day, and eat sensible meals. Obvious, I know, but the tried-and-tested advice is often what works!

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Minerva Pacle September 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Thank you!! Thank you so much! I love all your advises!!! I’ll keep them all in mind an in my notepad. Bless you people!

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Minerva Pacle September 15, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Thank you! Thank you so much! I love all your advises! I’ll keep them in mind and in my notepad. Bless you people!

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Ali September 17, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Glad to help, Minerva!

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jason October 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Sometime writing is some sort of torture to me, maybe I’m not born to write. But I never give up even thought I always felt guilty when I can’t reach my writing goals. Most of the time I just afraid to confront my guilt and I kept reminding myself that I will start writing again next week but it never happen. Lately, I’ve been busy with family matters and it’s even harder to stick with my schedule. It’s time to continue my writing schedule, can’t afford to slack off too much or my motivation will die off…

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Allison October 4, 2013 at 2:13 am

Join the club. I’ve actually made writing my novel a school assignment (special project thing for IB program.) However, I keep getting distracted by my family as well and talking with friends tends to be a distractor as well.
Started blocking out specific times for myself to write though, so it’s getting better.
Hope your project goes well! Glad you have a writing in schedule (i’m just starting to form mine.) At least your best writing isn’t from 1-2 in the morning (WONDERFUL for a high school student…-.-)

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Ali October 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Maybe I should write about guilt! I think it’s all too easy to beat ourselves up when life gets busy — and feeling guilty often isn’t especially motivating.

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