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Hit Your Writing Goals by Setting Smarter Quotas

Yesterday I wrote 3,300 fiction words in one day.

This isn’t usual for me — even when I’m on a pretty good writing streak. This especially isn’t usual for me lately — after all, I’ve been in a 2-month-long fiction slump.

(Need proof? I wrote 2,650 fiction words in the entire month of October.)

Part of that has been busyness (I had my biggest freelancing month ever in November). Part of that was burnout (I finished up a massive revision of a fantasy novel in September). Part of that was the stress of the current political climate (ugh).

But a lot of it was just a lack of momentum on any particular project.

Nineteen days ago, I knew something had to give. I had just come back from the annual retreat with my business mastermind group, the Trifecta, and while the other two members of the group clearly sympathized with my feelings of ennui when it came to my writing, they had no time for complaining without action. Write or don’t write, they said (super nicely), but stop complaining about not meeting your writing goals if you’re not going to do something about it.

To quota, or not to quota

I’ve used word count quotas to try to get in the daily writing habit on multiple occasions, but something never clicked for me. No matter how small the quota, I would still have a hard time fitting it in with client work. If I tried to do it before, I would be too anxious about upcoming deadlines to really focus. If I tried to do it after, I would be too brain-dead.

Plus, if I ended up between projects or in the editing or planning stage, I wasn’t sure how to track my progress. David D. Levine once told me he counts every word deleted during the editing phase as progress toward his daily word count quota, which is great, but somehow also didn’t click for me. For some reason, the logistical problem of how to count the words, combined with never knowing how long writing 500 or 1000 words would take out of my day made it difficult for me to stick with a word count quota.

Nineteen days ago, I decided to try something a little different. Instead of a word count quota, I just told myself I had to work on fiction for 30 minutes.

That was it. Just 30 minutes. I could write character bios, scene sketches, snippets of dialogue — whatever. I could edit something I’d already written. I could just stare out of the window for 30 minutes thinking about the plot.

The point was that I spent 30 minutes every morning working on a piece of fiction.

For some reason, that was ridiculously easy. Even during the height of last month’s client work crush, I could find 30 minutes in the morning to play around with a project. Because I knew it was only 30 minutes, it was easy for me to compartmentalize the stress about client deadlines. I just turned on Freedom and got to work.

Baby steps add up toward writing goals

The first few days were nothing to write home about. Because I was starting work on a brand-new novel*, I wasn’t sure who my characters were or where anything was going. The first few days I logged two to three hundred words of exploratory setting descriptions — but, hey, that was two to three hundred words more than I had written any other day for weeks.

At first, the work was mechanical. The muse was far from the room — I was just putting fingers to keyboard and making them plod away.

But after a week, I started to get into the story. I started thinking about it outside of that 30 minutes. I started writing down snippets of dialogue on my lunch break or before bed.

Soon, I was even scheduling in a second timed writing session later in the day — 15 minutes here, another 30 minutes there.

I was gaining momentum. And all of those little snippets of writing sessions have added up: 19 days ago I wasn’t working on anything; today I’m 12,000 words into a brand-new novel.

For so long, I’ve put off writing unless I can have a large chunk of time to work on a project. I had no faith that I could accomplish so much in so little time.

Man, was I wrong.

How much progress could you make toward your writing goals in 30 minutes?

*Sorry mom. I’ll actually finish one of my many works-in-progress for you to read soon.

(Feature image by Bartosz Gorlewicz, via Unsplash.)

2 Responses

  • Dec 13, 2016

    You’ve got something there, Jessie! I have to admit that you’re not the first person I’ve heard relaying the productivity tip to just do ____________ (whatever it is you’re not doing that’s really on your mind) for 30 minutes a day. But I can relate to your situation of totally not making the time to write anything and then finding a little gem to get that excitement about a writing project again. Love your enthusiasm and how you are even fitting in more time to write. It really isn’t about finding the time, but about making the time for the good stuff. Thanks for the renewal of my love of writing – You’re so good at writing in an inspiring way!

    Steph Morrison Dec 13, 2016
    Reply
    • Jessie
      Dec 13, 2016

      Thanks, Steph! Yeah, the advice definitely isn’t original – but I’m surprised at how truly effective it is now that I’ve started applying it to my day. 🙂

      Jessie Dec 13, 2016

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