Written by A Guest Author June 1st, 2023

How to Set Concrete Goals for Your Writing

By Ratika Deshpande

One of the most helpful things I’ve done for my writing is setting concrete goals.

Writers struggle to establish a daily writing habit because, well, building habits is difficult, and we have other responsibilities that need our attention–jobs, families, health. In all that mess and uncertainty and lack of time, a concrete writing goal keeps one focused.

What do I mean by a concrete goal, exactly? When I was young and wanted to be A WriterTM, I made several attempts to establish a regular writing habit but failed because my goals were easy to cheat my way out of.

For example, I’d set a goal to write 2 pages every day. I was an analog writer back then—many of my favourite authors preferred the tangibility of pen and paper, so I chose the same tools.

But the problem with such a goal, regardless of whether those 2 pages are analog or digital, is that it’s very easy to fill pages but make no progress. You can use big letters, leave a line after every paragraph, write the words far apart, take up a significant portion of the paper just to write the heading, and so on.

Naturally, I didn’t write anything good and gave up very quickly.

Several months later, when I resolved again to write regularly, I gave myself a goal I knew I couldn’t cheat my way out of: writing 500 words every day.

It was irrelevant if I wrote those words on paper or on a computer or even on my phone. It was irrelevant if it took a burst of inspiration to get them down in just 15 minutes or an hour before bed to crank out something. The goal was to write 500 words and write them every day.

(One thing I’ve understood since is to be kind to oneself when life gets in the way, and then resume the next day if you do miss a day. But not more than one. I’ve found it very important to get back to my routine as soon as possible.)

500 words was a good word count for me because I was getting started, so it was not too ambitious. I was also a high school student and had to spend a lot of time studying for my exams so I couldn’t spend hours on writing. In summers, when I had more time, I increased my word count goal to 750 words per day. During exam season, I reduced it to 250 words.

Despite this, there were days when I was pressed for time because I’d gone out or I’d forgotten to write or I had no inspiration. On those days, I used my writing habit to clear my head. I wrote about my day. I broke rules. I let myself write long sentences, ignore grammar, change form, change topic, freewrite. As long as I got 500 words out of my head every day, it didn’t matter that once in a while those 500 words were absolutely useless. Because on the good days, I started with an idea and ended up finding a story. Or I had a nice little post that I could put on my personal blog. Or a little essay about a book that moved me recently.

I was not seeking publication all the time because I was in school. My aim was to practise as much as I could (with the occasional acceptance from magazines). For my purposes, this goal worked.

Now I’m a freelance writer. I write short stories, personal essays and articles like this. I have more time because writing is my career now, so my goals have been adjusted accordingly: start and finish a piece of writing every day. Or when I’m in the editing mode, to start and finish editing a piece of writing every day.

The finish part is important, because if I leave a piece half done—during writing, not editing—I lose all my excitement for it and never finish it. I have too many good—but incomplete—stories languishing in my folders. I’ve accepted that I’ll never finish them. But I’ve also tried to not repeat my mistake. So I’ve adjusted my goal: it’s not about how many words I write, but that I finish projects.

So if you’re looking to establish a daily/regular writing habit (I take an off on Sundays), don’t aim to “write every day” (or every weekday). Instead, set a concrete goal:

  • Write 500 words (or a bigger/smaller word count that suits your routine and needs) every day.
  • Finish the first draft of a short story/essay/blog post every day.
  • Write one chapter every day—or if you deal with longer chapters, one scene every day.

Don’t aim to write for 15 minutes or an hour either. Because you can either write 250 words in a quarter of an hour like Anthony Trollope did on a regular basis, or you can sit there at your computer, paralysed with fear, overthinking the first line, and the hour will be over before you know it. There is no deliverable when your goal is time-based.

Set concrete goals. Your progress may be slow, but it will be progress nonetheless. And that’s what matters.

Bio: Ratika Deshpande is a freelance psychology and culture writer from New Delhi, India. She has previously written for Tor.com and Submittable’s blog, Discover. Find her on her website.



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