5 Strategies for Setting (and Keeping) Writing Goals

5 Strategies for Setting (and Keeping) Writing Goals, Guest Post by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

5 Strategies for Setting (and Keeping) Writing Goals, Guest Post by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

Writing a novel is like climbing a mountain. The trick is to break the journey down into manageable steps. Here are some strategies for shaping those steps and making sure you take them.

1. Write by your own schedule.
Many famous, prolific writers offer “best practices” advice about building a disciplined writing schedule: write at the same time each day, block off 4-6 hours, write Every. Single. Day. “Best practices?” Certainly. But most of us work other jobs and juggle other obligations. If we wait for best practices, we won’t ever write.

5 Strategies for Setting (and Keeping) Writing Goals, Guest Post by Dana Chamblee Carpenter
Instead, you need to deal with your schedule in all it’s crazy reality. Imagine your week is an empty jar. You have big “marbles”—work, classes, family (the things that matter most to you)—and you have little “marbles”—appointments, meetups, vacuuming, obligations. We tend to fill our jars with the little marbles first, and then there’s no room for the big ones. If you put the big marbles in first, you can get most of the little ones in, too, because they roll around the big ones and find their own space.

Make writing a BIG marble. Block off time—doesn’t have to be the same time each day, doesn’t even have to be every day. At least two-hour chunks serve the writing brain best, but if you’ve only got an hour here or there, grab it. The important thing is to make your writing time a priority.

2. Write even when you’re away from the computer.
Once you have your schedule, you can plan to make the most of the time when you can’t be writing. How much brain space do you really need to sit in the school pick-up line, wait in the doctor’s office, drive in rush hour traffic? Okay, so maybe the last one takes some gray matter, but think about how often in a day you’re “marking time” or waiting.

If you anticipate those times, you can prep your head to be in your writer’s space. Play with a difficult scene in your head—let it roll like a movie. Zoom in on details or pause to catch a bit of dialogue. You can also make a book or character playlist. These songs should follow the tone of a work. The playlist should reflect the character—something they would put together. Listen to the music while you’re driving/waiting/cooking, and see what it calls up in your head.

Make sure you have a notebook handy to jot down when something juicy comes to you. Or have your phone set up to take notes by voice command.

3. Figure out how you best “count your steps.”
You can think about this as crafting your own writer FitBit. Some people measure successful exercise in steps, others by miles, some by minutes, and there are even folks who literally assess success by measurements of waist or weight. Writers have the same flexibility, and you should figure out what works for you. Many writers keep a daily word count tally. The idea of tracking word count as a gauge for my daily goals sets off so many panic buttons for me that I’d be lucky to get a single word written. I clock hours or weigh progress on a scene or chapter. Sometimes I measure those by the day, sometimes by the week. Try different approaches until you find the method that works best for you.

4. Build in some accountability (and rewards).
Writing is a solitary job, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Having a community of fellow writers and/or readers to help hold you accountable can make the difference between finishing a book or leaving it in the perpetual WIP loop.

You can use this community to hold you to immediate goals, long before you’re ready to hand them something to read. Share your goals with someone you trust to check in on you but won’t make you feel like a loser if you don’t succeed. When we’re just trying to get words on a page, we need cheerleaders not coaches.

Setting up small rewards for yourself can also serve as a motivator. You get to watch the new episode of Doctor Who or eat that piece of chocolate cake, but only after you’ve finished this chapter.

5. Chuck the guilt.
Guilt over not meeting a self-imposed goal is wasted energy. It does absolutely nothing to inspire you to get back on the horse and do better next week. It weighs you down and makes taking that next first step even harder. You didn’t make your goal this week? Okay. Figure out where things went awry and anticipate the bumps in the road this week. Cut the guilt loose.

5 Strategies for Setting (and Keeping) Writing Goals, Guest Post by Dana Chamblee Carpenter Dana Chamblee Carpenter is the author of Book of the Just, the third novel in The Bohemian Trilogy. The first book in the series, Bohemian Gospel, won the 2014 Killer Nashville Claymore Award. Publishers Weekly called it “a deliciously creepy debut.” Her second book, The Devil’s Bible, also received rave reviews. Booklist said: “Carpenter’s follow-up to her debut novel, Bohemian Gospel, is as richly woven as her first. A terrific follow-up.” Book of the Just is due out in October 2018. She teaches at a university in Nashville, TN where she lives with her husband and two children, who are desperately trying to turn the house into a model of Luna Lovegood’s eccentric home with glass beads and bells and little figures nestled into every nook and cranny. Hopefully there aren’t any exploding dragon horns.


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