Why Deadlines and Goals are Important
From the Midnight Writers Podcast, Episode 2
Adapted by Brittany Thurman
Setting deadlines and goals for your story is one of the best ways to ensure you actually finish your story. Breaking any large project down into smaller pieces will help keep you motivated and moving toward the final goal. Goals are a good way to track progress through a project, and these waypoints aren’t as scary as the full project may seem.
Types of Goals
Each project may call for a different type of goal. Daily goals are often most helpful to get yourself into the writing habit. There are several types of goals that writers can combine and utilize:
- Set a goal to write a specific word count per day
- Set a goal to write for a set amount of time per day
- Set a goal to write anything each day
No matter which goal, or goals, you use, be sure to make them obtainable. Setting and surpassing obtainable goals is helpful in getting you started with your writing. Once you’ve started, the rest follows much more smoothly. As you set these goals, they may be easier at first, but as you achieve these, you can set higher goals and feel confident that you can reach them. No matter how you set your goals or deadlines, always be sure to include a reward of some sort for reaching your goals. If your schedule does not make a daily goal obtainable, you may need to adjust these methods and set a weekly goal, where you can use the weekend to write.
Setting a specific word count to hit each day is a popular method. This type of goal is often popular in NaNoWriMo, where the ultimate goal of fifty thousand words in the month of November is broken into a daily goal of 1,666 words. This can be a useful method when trying to reach any specific word goal in a set amount of time, not just during NaNoWriMo.
It’s important to write every day to be successful. Make it a part of your schedule. It can be tempting to say you will write whenever you find the time, or when you feel like it, but if you don’t make it a priority and schedule the time, you are unlikely to just “find” extra time lying around. This is especially true if you are busy with other obligations, such as a day job, school, or family. Waiting until you feel like it will never allow you to get into a consistent schedule, and may cause you to give up when you don’t see progress being made. Decide on a time that you can work without interruptions and will not give up, whether it is before everyone else wakes up in the morning, or in the evening after work. The best time to write is when you know you will stick with it.
Just Write Something!
Some days, no matter how well you’ve scheduled your time and are prepared to write, life will get in the way and not allow you to write as much as you have planned, when you planned. Or perhaps you just can’t muster the energy to write for the full two hours you scheduled. On these days, it’s important to be flexible and adjust your goal and just write something. Perhaps your goal might need to be to just write a sentence. A few words are better than nothing, and often, just one sentence can lead to paragraphs and chapters you didn’t think you had in you. Even if the one sentence is all you can get out, that’s okay! The important thing is to write something every single day. Getting into this habit is how you will meet your goals and realize your dreams.
Deadlines You Don’t Control
When you are given a deadline that is out of your control, setting mini goals along the way will help make sure you stay on track. If you have a month and a half to submit a story, plan it out. Working backwards can be an effective planning method. If you need a week to revise once you have it back from your editor, and your editor needs a week to edit it, then you know you need to have it to your editor at least two weeks before the submission deadline. From there, you can work out how long you have to plan it out, write the rough draft, and do your own initial revisions; then set those mini deadlines, as well. Always give yourself a buffer, too, in case something goes wrong or takes longer than expected. This can reduce stress on you and on anyone who is helping you, such as an editor or beta reader.
When you decide to write, you have to prioritize. This is especially important when you are considering trying to meet a deadline that is out of your control. You have to make the decision about what things in your life are a priority. Some things may need to be cut out, either temporarily or long term, for you to meet your goals. You have to ask yourself, “Is this something that’s a high enough priority that even though I don’t want to write tonight, I will?”
In addition to prioritizing things that demand your time, you may also need to prioritize what goes into your story. You may not always have time to do as much revising or fluffing as you would like. Knowing that you will have to stop when the deadline hits can make you reevaluate what you want to do, and helps you make sure that you get done what must be done.
Make Goals Public
Letting other people know what your goals are can have many benefits. It can help ease tension with people, so they know why you may have to turn down certain opportunities. It also gives you a higher level of accountability, and can help others help you. If you’ve told people that you are going to finish something, they will hopefully ask you about it and keep you motivated to reach that goal. Letting beta readers or editors know when you plan to finish something helps them plan their time accordingly. Discussing goals with other writers, such as in a writing group, can be encouraging, as well, since they likely understand the issues you may be dealing with, such as full-time jobs that get in the way. In a group, everyone has a project they are working on and will all be working to hold each other accountable.
What If You Get Behind?
So, you’ve set mini goals and deadlines, made sure to write each day, prioritized to determine what you can actually accomplish, and told everyone you meet about your goals, but you still got behind. What now? Well, it depends on what your goal was.
If it is a hard deadline, and you cannot produce a work with the necessary quality, you may have to reconsider this goal. Or, you might be able to cut back on editing time, and warn the editors–but this could have detrimental consequences on your work being chosen for publication.
If the deadline is flexible, you might be able to rearrange your schedule to fit it in. This comes back to prioritizing. Is this something really important to you right now? How important? Is it a realistic priority? Can you work through some grueling hours to produce the final product? Is a 10,000-word day a possibility? (Warning: This takes training!)
In addition to looking at your priorities, you may need to reexamine how you organize your time and space. Perhaps your writing spot isn’t working for you, and finding a new spot could make all the difference. Changing when you write or how your writing space is laid out may be just what you need to catch up. Be sure you’ve eliminated all distractions and found your motivation to write.
Deadlines and goals can help make a big project easier to accomplish by giving you a way to track your progress. Writing daily is an important habit to build to successfully meet your goals. Letting others know what your goals are can help keep you accountable and motivated to write. Prioritizing is vital to determine what is important to you and what you can plan to accomplish.