Saturday, November 16, 2013

NaNoWriMo and Setting Realistic Goals

It’s mid-November and for those authors who signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month where authors make a commitment to write a 50,000 word novel in only 30 days), we’re knee deep in novel-writing frenzy. Or, at least we’re supposed to be. For authors who are on track toward achieving their goal, NaNoWriMo provides a way to track their word count online and to feel a sense of community with other writers. For authors who are far behind in word count, NaNoWriMo can be a month-long guilt fest.

This is my third NaNoWriMo and I don’t think I’m going to reach my goal. At first, I wasn’t even going to participate, but after reading Facebook updates and blog posts by pumped-up, mega-motivated authors, I decided to enter. It’s day sixteen and I’m now several thousand words behind. It’s unlikely I’ll hit 50,000 words by the end of the month. I might not even make it to 25,000.

For some authors, writing 50,000 words a month is a realistic goal. For others, it is not.

On Authors to Watch, one of the interview questions I always ask authors is this: What advice do you have to offer new or aspiring authors? Lots of authors (indie and traditionally published) tell aspiring authors to write every day. “Write even when you don’t want to. If you want to be a professional author, act like one. Professional writers write every day even when they don’t feel like it.”

While I think there is some wisdom in this advice, I don’t believe it’s realistic to tell ALL authors to write every day. While this might work for SOME authors, it will not work for all. Our writing goals are constantly changing. We need to be flexible and cut ourselves some slack when life gets in the way and we’re unable to reach our daily word count goals.

In the past, having a daily word count goal has helped me finish novels. Sometimes a chart (like the one on NaNo) or a spreadsheet can be a powerful motivator. But, if you’re an author who strives for perfection on a first draft, self-editing and rewriting as you go, you’re probably going to write at a slower pace. If you’re writing a novel that requires extensive research, there are going to be days (or even weeks) where you’re busy reading, researching, or interviewing. Just because you haven’t been adding to a word count chart doesn’t mean you haven’t been productive.

We all have our own unique writing process that fits our individual needs. We all have different goals. For some authors, writing a book every two years is the goal. For others, they aim to crank out three of four books a year. Is the second type of author more productive? More professional? Not necessarily.

Before we set a realistic writing goal, we need to define for ourselves what our long-term goals are. We need to define what it means to be a “professional” writer and if we in fact want to be one. There is nothing wrong with writing for pleasure or writing only when we feel like it. It doesn’t make you any less of a writer. There’s nothing wrong with publishing twelve novellas a year just like there is nothing wrong with not wanting to publish anything at all.

Define your long term goals and then you’ll be able to set realistic short term goals. If you want to eventually make a living from novel-writing, you’ll need to set some challenging goals. You’ll need to push yourself to write nearly every day. You’ll have to train yourself to meet deadlines.

As for NaNoWriMo… Adjust it to suit your own needs. Try these ideas:

  • If you can’t possibly write 50,000 words in November, select a word count you can work with.
  • Create your own spreadsheet and set your own goals. Or go to Story Toolz to get a nifty Word Count Meter to track your progress.
  • If you can’t consider starting a new project until you finish your WIP or edit an existing manuscript, set an editing or project-finishing goal for the month.
  • Start a Facebook Group with like-minded individuals and update each other on your progress.
  • Set small goals and reward yourself when you accomplish each one.
  • As writers, goal setting is important, but our goals shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. As long as you’re making progress toward YOUR goal, you’re a winner! Happy Writing everyone!

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