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Today I want to talk about the importance of setting goals for writing. I have a personal goal to write every day, which I’ve managed for over 18 months straight now. This has been great to keep my creative brain working, and to keep momentum. However, I don’t have a set amount of words or time for these daily writing sessions, which is deliberate so that I don’t burn out.

But sometimes, I need a kick start. When I wrote the first draft of Somniloquy, I did it in a month – 30 days to be exact. This was during NaNoWriMo in 2016. The first draft was just over 52000 words and it was rough. But I worked on it and wrote more and rewrote and edited and finally published it in June 2020. For two or three months of those years I did editing goals of 15-30 mins a day. That’s not much but it really helped keep me going.

Skip forward to now and I’ve started writing a sequel to my first novel. It seemed a logical choice. I have more story to tell for these characters and this world I’ve created, but, let’s be honest, I’d also like to make a living out of this and quit my day job! It’s very unlikely that a first-time self-published author, or even a first-time traditionally published one, will become an overnight sensation. More work and dedication is required. Oh, and patience. Lots and lots of patience. This gig could take a while before it gives a return on investment!

But I had/have so many doubts. Was this first book, one that I’m so proud of and can’t believe I actually created… was that a fluke? How did I write that in a month (well that first draft anyway)? Could I do that again? Did I even have another book in me?

I’d had lots of ideas, and part of an outline, but I’d really been floundering. I’d managed about 15000 words, which if I’m being fair to myself, is actually a pretty good achievement while also finalising the first book, and then marketing it. But I couldn’t seem to quite get motivated to write more than a few hundred words at a time.

What to do, what to do? Well, the only thing I could think of: recreate the circumstances around the success of Somniloquy‘s first draft, and see if I could do it again.

This week is the first time in a month that I’ve allowed my ‘write every day’ goal to be loose and flexible again. Throughout all of July, I wrote an average of around 1650 words every single day. July is one of two Camp NaNoWriMo sessions per year, which are supplementary NaNo events that you can have a flexible goal for.

I set a goal of 50000 new words on my second novel for July and, lo and behold, I made my target! With a few tweaks and cuts on the existing content, the total word count is now currently just over 62000. And oh, do I have so much more I want to write!

Setting a goal – a serious commitment of a goal – is the hard motivation I need to really dedicate and push myself with my writing. If you are someone like me, then you too respond well to seeing a chart or percentage completed of your goal. This drives me to keep going, even when things were tough – and July was a tough month.

It always is because it’s the anniversary of my brother’s death, but this one was crappier because of the death of a close friend’s sister. So that brought it all home just a few days after the anniversary. With dealing with my own sadness, and then the compounded sadness for my friend (and her sister, who I also knew), July was a bit of a despairing month. But, writing is catharsis sometimes too, and those feelings are useful fodder for story, because they lend a genuine sincerity to the emotion your writing is trying to evoke.

I digress. I want to talk about some tools I use for my goal setting.

This year I set up my goal on the NaNoWriMo site, which has recently had a face lift. You can set flexible goals, but at the moment these only seem to be focused around word count. Previously you could set minute/hour based goals which is what I’d used for my editing sessions in the past. You can join up to groups for your region or local area, and receive pep talks from famous authors, plus lots of encouragement and writing advice. There are also badges for your profile when you unlock certain events such as sequential writing targets or word counts. It has a chart to track your progress, and you can have multiple goals on the go at once – you aren’t limited to a single project. When I originally did NaNo in 2016, I loved the boost I got from completing the badges, but I think now, in my dotage, I am just interested in tracking progress. To be honest, I don’t love the new goal setting dashboard for NaNoWriMo, so this will probably be my last. But don’t let my opinion stop you from checking it out because everyone works differently!

I’ve also now discovered the StoryOrigin goal tracker. I’ve talked about StoryOrigin before, as a tool that is good for building your audience through newsletter swaps and promotions. It is great for setting up your mailing list and newsletter campaigns and you can set up review copies too if you want to. But the big thing for me is that StoryOrigin also has a simple and effective goal tracker, which you can use any time you like. I love the simplicity of this tool. It has none of the guilt-chasing gamification of NaNoWriMo’s goal tracker, which as I said before was fun the first time round, but has become something I no longer need or want. StoryOrigin’s tracker has a simple column graph to show word count by day, and a progress meter of planned vs actual word count. And that’s it. But its simplicity is, to me, its big drawcard. I don’t have to be distracted by anything and I can just track my count and see my progress, and that is glorious.

This month I’ll ease off a little for a week or two, but then I’ll be diving back into book two and using StoryOrigin’s tracker to set a new goal. I think I’ll start a bit lower this time. Maybe 500 words. It’s good to have a break from intensive writing so you don’t burn yourself out! That is, unless you write to market and push out new work a couple of times a month as some people do! Perhaps that’s something I’ll strive for in the future, if I can give up my day job.

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