This year I made it my goal to write 2 million words. I made this goal back in January, when I was struggling to find time at all to write, because of all the responsibilities that it takes to run a house of eight, manage healthy relationships and balance a fledgling business.

Honestly, I did not think it was possible to reach 2 million words, because of kids and time and so many responsibilities and the fact that I don’t have a clone. I just thought that this goal would set me firmly on my way to writing consistently and, I hoped, unceasingly.

Not only that, but I wanted this goal to frame my year, because I had decided beforehand that this was going to be a content year. I would create as much content as I possibly could so that it could be turned into books or blog posts or social media content or something that remained private, only for me and my family.

When I reached the month of November, which happens to be National Novel Writing Month (you might have participated), I only had about 30,000 words to go to achieve my goal. So I decided to smash it, and the way I would smash it was to make it my goal to write 150,000 words on a series project in the month of November, including a whole week of Sabbatical where I would not write at all—or, if I did, not toward this particular project.

I wrote 180,000 words on my project in November.

Okay, that’s great for me, but why am I telling you this? Because I believe you can do it, too.

Every year, as the old year is closing down and the new year is just beginning, I make a very comprehensive list of my goals for the next year. I do this with two-year goals and three-year-goals and five-year goals, although they’re not quite as intricate as the yearly goals are. But what these goals do for me is they frame an entire year and help me remember what it is I need to do to reach those goals.

I keep my goals on cork boards that sit on my desk. Every day, before I start work, I review them. I have them broken down into year goals, quarter goals, month goals, week goals, and everything I do is framed by these note cards.

My goals have changed a little over the course of this year, and that’s okay. What’s important is to start somewhere. Goals set us along the path to accomplishing what it is we really want to accomplish. They show us a starting place by providing a temporary ending place. They make the ridiculously impossible possible.

If you’re in this to be a career writer, the first place to start is a goal.

So here are my best tips for making and accomplishing goals:

1. Think of what’s realistically possible and then add 20 percent.

This one’s really important. The first year I set goals, I set some really ridiculous ones, sort of like this word count goal. That’s not bad, but if you’re the kind of person who is very goal-motivated, it’s probably not the best thing to do. I tend to shift and shape my goals throughout the year, but if you’re the kind who dies hard to those goals you set six months ago, then you’ll want to asses what is first realistically possible.

How do you do this when you’re a writer? Well, you have to keep pretty extensive notes on how much you can write in a certain amount of time. I know that if I’m writing a rough draft, I can write between 5,000 and 6,000 words in an hour. Which means if I only have an hour every day five days a week, what is realistically possible is 25,000 words a week or 1.3 million words a year. Add 20 percent, and you have 1.6 million words for the year.

I know that if I’m writing a final draft, that number falls to about 2500 to 3,000 words in an hour.

So the first thing you’ll have to do in order to find what’s realistic is assess your own writing speed and what you’ll be writing. You can do this by keeping a log of your word count in a particular amount of time.

It’s also really important that you make your goals really concrete rather than abstract. “Write on novel 1 for one hour every day” is a much better goal than “Write sometime every day.” “Write 4,000 words on novel 1 for one hour every day” is even better than the first.

2. Make a plan.

Once you’ve written down all your goals for the year, focus in on either the largest goal that will take the most amount of time or the goal that’s farthest away.

If you start with the largest goal, break it down into manageable steps, and assign those steps to a month or a week or even a day if you want to get really detailed. Schedule it on your calendar, but don’t forget to break that really big goal into smaller steps. This is one of the most important things you can do.

If you decide start with the goal that’s farthest away, say, at the end of next year, work your way backward and set smaller goals for each month. My goal document has a “look ahead” section where I can see what’s coming in the next month and plan for that a month in advance. Planning is key to accomplishing goals. Do something every day toward your goal, and those small steps will get you there.

3. Evaluate.

Each week, Husband and I have about an hour-long conversation about our goals for the quarter, our goals for the month, our goals for the next week. We ask each other questions about how we did in the last week working toward our goals and what we can do differently in the coming week that will make us more efficient or focused. It helps to bounce all of this off each other and also have a partner in accountability.

Which leads me to the last point:

4. Invite someone into the process.

It’s really helpful to have someone help you refine your goals. It could be a partner, a parent, a friend, whoever you want it to be. When you’ve jotted down some goals, set a meeting with someone else and offer to listen to their goals if they’ll listen to yours. Sometimes the most creative things come out of meetings like this.

Goals are one of the most important tools for a writer’s business, so I hope you’ll attempt to make your own ridiculous goal for the next year. And when you achieve it, be sure and let me know.


Week’s prompt

A picture is one of my favorite ways to generate inspiration. Look at the picture below. Write whatever you want for as long as you can.

Photo by Anthony Delanoix.

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