Welcome to the Bite Size Edition of the Editor Roundtable Podcast. Here on the Roundtable we’re dedicated to helping you become a better writer, following the Story Grid method developed by Shawn Coyne.
In these episodes we bring you some shorter solo articles and interviews on topics that interest us as writers.
I’m Valerie Francis, and today I’ll be talking to you about daily writing targets and our old friend, Resistance.
So join me for a quick bite of writing insight, starting right now.
This week, I want to build on something Jarie mentioned in last week’s bite-sized episode. He talked about a plan of record and outlined a method for achieving writing goals using a daily word count. In other words, if you write 500 words a day, then in six months you’ll have about 90,000 words which is a pretty standard manuscript length – for an adult novel anyway.
While this method works for a lot of writers, it doesn’t work for me.
First, it’s too easy to game the system. I’ve had multiple 10,000 word days so I can clearly crank out words. The problem is that what I end up creating is mostly garbage. It’s just a bunch of words on a page. The quantity is there, but not the quality.
And quality is what we’re going for because at Story Grid, we’re all about levelling up our craft.
Since daily word counts don’t work for me, I had to devise other methods. Now, when I’m working with clients, I let them know that they can set writing goals based on word count, time or task.
Time goals work well for people who have a limited amount of time to write. Many people write during a lunch break, or early in the morning before they go to their day jobs, or late at night after their kids have gone to bed. If that’s you then your goal might be to write for 60 minutes a day.
It doesn’t matter how many words you write or how much of your project you’ve finished. Just show up and write for the hour.
If you’re brand new to writing, or if Resistance has a strangle hold on you, timed writing goals are amazing. This approach is also called the pomodoro method, or writing sprints. Write for 20 minutes, take a 5-minute break, then go again.
This is also a great way to develop writing endurance and to develop your ability to concentrate. The pros write for four or more hours a day, so if your dream is to be a professional author, that’s the target you’re shooting for.
Word count is irrelevant because some days you’ll write a lot, other days you won’t. However, you’ll be creating a solid writing habit and that’s worth its weight in gold.
And then there’s, TASK GOALS
Sometimes, especially when I’m on deadline, I write by task. This episode is an excellent example. I needed to get the recording to Anne on a particular day so she could do post-production, so when I sat down to prepare the podcast notes, I knew that I couldn’t get up from this desk until I finished. I might be here a half an hour, or I might be here half the day.
When I’m working on a novel, my task could be to write a scene a day.
Time is irrelevant here because I work until the task is done. Word count is also irrelevant because the scene could be 500 words or it could be 2,000 words; the length of it doesn’t matter because I’m focusing on the elements of storytelling, for example, whether the scene contains all five commandments.
DAY BY DAY
Now, I’ve separated time and task into two different strategies, and honestly I usually toggle back and forth between the two depending on how a project is going. If Resistance is breathing down my neck, I go for time. If I’m on deadline, I go for task.
WHAT WORKS FOR YOU
Of course, the only important thing here is that you find the method that works best for you. And if that’s a daily word count goal, then by all means keep doing it!
However, if that doesn’t work for you, try setting a goal based on time or task and see how it goes.
THE TOUGH QUESTION
Alright, this brings me to a really interesting point.
I’m going to go out on a limb here to say that these techniques, while effective, are not news to you. Even if you’re at the very beginning of your writer’s journey, you’ve heard someone, somewhere along the line, suggest that you write a certain number of words a day, or a scene a day, or an hour a day. It’s not rocket science.
What’s really interesting here, and what you have to be brave enough to ask yourself, is:
Given that you’re aware of these techniques, and you know they work, how long has it been since you made progress on your novel? Has it been days, weeks or months since you last had a serious writing session?
Why are you having so much trouble finishing your novel?
The answer is that you haven’t yet made a committed decision to finish your novel. That’s why Resistance is having such a field day with you.
Yes, sometimes life happens and despite our best intentions, our writing sessions get derailed. Most of the time though, we simply lack discipline. We have chosen not to prioritize our writing.
And that truth hurts.
Listen, I’m not up on a soapbox here. Believe me. I’m dealing with these issues just like you are — just like every writer is. But over the past couple of years I’ve learned that the thing that separates the professional from the amateur is simple. The pro chooses to be a pro. Every single day.
That takes a lot of mental strength. That takes guts. And, it takes practice.
If we’re willing to do that hard work, Resistance won’t knock us off our goal for long.
So, no matter what state your manuscript is in, or how frustrated you are with it right now, make a decision — a committed decision — that today, you’re going to get some writing done.
You don’t have to worry about tomorrow or next week. Focus on today, because it’s always today.
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