What’s the secret to writing every day—and successfully maintaining it? K. R. Green reveals the power of a flexible daily goal.
At the beginning of 2014, I signed up for the Write Chain Challenge. The idea is that you commit to a daily goal, and each day you meet that goal, you get another link in your chain.
I’d never committed to a daily practise before, which made it a tricky goal to keep. My original attempts were very much stop-start actions until March, when I re-started for the 4th or 5th time; and somehow, I reached 10 days. That was enough for me to keep going. The thought of losing 10 links in my chain was too much.
Meeting Your Needs
I continued until I finished my novel—90 days in. I wanted to keep going, because in our culture, 100 is a big number. But I’d finished it, and adding more random words would not improve the quality of writing; which was my ultimate goal.
I took some time off, and then re-started with a goal of editing. Realising I can’t write 500 words a day, every day for the rest of my life; I set myself a more realistic goal.
So far, I’m up to 70-odd days on the new chain, having created a mixture of editing and writing goals. This works better for me, as switching goals from writing to editing, yet continuing to ‘count’ from 90, would feel like cheating in my head if I hadn’t designed it this way from the beginning.
If you know what your projects will be throughout the year, this is a great way to create a flexible goal that suits your writing. My key processes include “idea brewing/planning”, “drafting a first draft” and “in edits” after some down-time. Thus, you can make a goal that gives you an “and/or” like this:
If editing, write 55 new words.
If writing from scratch, write 268 new words.
That’s 20,000 words a year edited or the remaining 50,000-odd words (from when I changed my goal) that I needed to meet my external goal of 150k words written this year. You can pick whatever numbers suit you though!
I think the important aspect of the Write Chain Challenge is that any tool of a writer is to get you writing. That means you tweak it in any way that meets your needs. When I only remembered to do my writing at 1 a.m., I decided that as long as it was before I went to sleep for the night, it counted under the previous day’s word count. That’s not an official rule, but I feel as long as it’s a consistent rule; it’s allowed.
If it’s not serving you, then you need to evaluate how this tool can better support your writing.
Although the goal is a great motivator, the most important thing is down to you. No matter what goals you set, if you want to have written something, you need to sit down, and write. In whatever format works best for you, find a way that motivates you.
For me, being held accountable and ensuring I tweeted with the #WriteChain hashtag that I was keeping up (or failing) gave me that little nudge. But don’t just pick one method. An odd, but useful method for me, is playing the Sims. The sim of ‘me’ is a writer, and I make her eat, sleep and shower before I force her to sit down and write for hours. And that’s how she is successful. For me, that serves as a reminder; each time I play the game, I’m reminded that I could be actually writing; making that reality true for me. It’s also a good reminder to do all the things you may get distracted by first.
Perhaps you work best with little rewards, or have a friend who’s also trying to form a daily goal. Either way—find a way to keep yourself writing, and use the goal as a motivator to get you to that set number.
Why Set Goals?
Nora Roberts is often quoted as saying “you can’t edit a blank page.” I’d add that you don’t know the full story until you reach “The End.” So many writers begin books, but fail to complete them. Goals can help you to reach some form of end, which allows you to see the full picture, and hopefully give you something to edit.
Having an arbitrary number may seem like a negative; but if you use it sensibly, a goal can force you to write when the inner editor or writer’s block is making writing difficult.
Similarly, if you pick a reasonable goal to begin with, you’ll get to enjoy it as a challenge rather than shy away from a chore—especially during parts of your writing which are slower or more of a struggle.
Trying (no matter if you succeed or fail) to complete a goal can also teach you about your processes. I wouldn’t have recognised some aspects of my writing experience without doing this challenge for 5 months, nor without trying to complete it during multiple processes. And learning about yourself is always helpful.
Finally, it’s a motivator to keep going—anything which gets you writing is going to lead to an improvement in writing skill, and you’re more likely to finish a story. And that’s such an achievement.
Something I’ve recently come to realise is that writing daily for me doesn’t actually lead to my best work. So I’m currently planning how best to tweak the goal to suit me.
Thinking about National Novel Writing Month (which technically gives you a goal of 1,667 words a day, but as long as you reach 50,000 by November 30th, you win/pass the goal), I’m seeing how to use this theory around the Write Chain structure.
If you’re looking to begin a goal, keep it realistic, ensure its flexible (think about holidays and different writing processes) and then put your words down on the page.
If a goal isn’t serving you, that’s a sign to tweak it.