(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.