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Looking back on past writing goals and tweaking them for the future

by Jan 17, 2011On Writing: Craft and Commiseration, Word Count Updates and Writing Goals0 comments

I’m frequently asked how I work or how I get “so much done” (which I think is funny because I feel like I never get enough done) but I get the question enough that I feel like I should address it. A huge part of how I get anything done, especially in a writing world, is by setting goals. I think for anyone who sets yearly goals, sometimes the most useful part of that process is looking back at the end of the year and evaluating the goals you set and figuring out how to tweak them in the future to make them more worthwhile. I wanted to give you a look into how I personally evaluate the value of my writing goals and the mental process that goes into how I change them for the next year to get more out of them.

I was going through old blog posts the other day and I came across a post called 1 million words in 2009 or Damn, I need to acquire some writing discipline. I had written it at the end of January 2009 and I was lamenting the fact that several writers I knew had set the goal of writing 1 million words that year. I wasn’t keeping track of my word count back then to the level that I am now, but I’m pretty sure I wrote less than 75,000 words in 2008. Within that same post, I toyed with setting a goal for myself of 250,000 words for the year but decided to go with a list of projects I wanted to finish instead of any word count goal.

My 2009 plan didn’t work. I didn’t write much more in 2009 than I did in 2008. That’s why I started the word count goal last year. I started last year with the goal of writing 500 words a day for a total of 182,500 words for the year . I also put a ton of restrictions on it, and basically only let myself count new fiction and some edits. (Editing counted at a rate of 1,000 words an hour. It takes me 1 hour to write over 2k words so editing is half that.) As we approached the end of the year, I realized I could up it to 200,000 words and still meet the deadline and so I did.

The first thing that really struck me when I looked back over this year is the fact that I was able to hit only 50k shy of that writing goal which seemed so difficult back in 2009. Moreover, I was able to hit it, nay, surpass it, even with having to take several months off because of the ongoing issue with my hands. At no point during the year was I ever that far behind my goal but I wasn’t writing every day, not by a long shot. Whether I’m being hard on myself or not, it really seems like I could have upped the goal to make myself work a little bit harder and it still would’ve been reachable.

Let me lay another little statistic on you while we are at it: as a little experiment, I added some of the writing I did during the year that I didn’t count into the total and, even without everything in there, I wrote just shy of 450,000 words in 2010. This was a strange realization for me. It made me realize that my job involves a lot more writing beyond just the fiction that I was counting and that “other writing” was over double the writing I did only on new fiction projects.

Armed with this information, I spent the end of 2010 thinking about the flaws with my writing goals in the past and how I could improve them for the new year. Here’s what I identified as the problems:

  • The goal was too easy to reach. I didn’t write every day. I took weeks at a time off when my hands were injured and I still hit the goal without even breaking a sweat. To me, that means I need to set the bar a bit higher so that it truly is a challenge throughout the year.
  • The goal was too restrictive. The biggest flaw with my goal was the way that it excluded my nonfiction writing, as well as articles I wrote, and other miscellaneous writing that didn’t fit into my narrow definition before. My paying writing shouldn’t feel like a waste of time and last year’s system almost punished that kind of writing by not counting it which is silly. So I need to embrace all my writing (except total nonsense personal posts) but still figure out a way to keep the amount of new fiction up.
  • I need to write every day. Like, for real this time. As I showed you with my graph, I have a terrible habit of binge writing. I want to make a serious effort this year to never go more than 48 hours with at least writing something. I’m hoping that increasing my goal for the year will help me accomplish this more easily, but I also need to step up my game and keep writing on the forefront.
  • Take care of yourself and know your limitations. The thing with my hands is going to be a lifetime thing. I need to remember to use the speech program as often as I can. This is one of those things that I realized only at the end of the year and is going to be a steep learning curve. Previously, I would use my hands to type for as long as I could and then, only when they really hurt, would I switch to the speech program. I’ve been realizing more and more that what I really need to do is use the speech program for just about everything that I can and only use my hands when I absolutely need to. (I’m writing this with the speech program in case you’re curious). I’m finding it hard to break myself of the habit of just putting my hands down on the keyboard and typing when I have something to say but I really need to work on it because the health of my hands is incredibly important to my future.
  • Goals need to be both general and specific. I need to focus not just on the big picture (increasing word count, etc) but also on finishing specific projects on my list. Overall, I’m incredibly pleased with what I accomplished writing wise in 2010 with one big BUT. I mentioned above that, in my goals for the start of 2009, I wrote up a list of projects that I wanted to finish in 2009. All but two of the projects on that list STILL aren’t finished and its 2011. Eek.
    Now, right now, my top priority is Mistress Novel which didn’t exist in 2009 so that is a factor. But, while I was keenly aware those projects weren’t finished, it was sobering to realize just how long they haven’t been done. It’s an excellent example of how time can get away from us and we don’t even realize it. So I need to tweak my goals for the year so that it’s not just word count goals, it’s also getting these things done that have been on the list for far too long. Some of the things on that list are less than a week of work, there is no reason I shouldn’t be able to finish them this year.

So there’s a little look into my mental process and how I evaluate my goals. What will be my goal for 2011 that takes all these things into consideration? That will have to be another post since this one is insanely long already. 🙂

What worked about the goals you set for yourself this year and what didn’t? How will you be tweaking your goals for 2011?



  1. Hillary » My 2011 Writing Goal - [...] last Monday, I told you what I learned from writing goals of the past and how I was going…
  2. Hillary » My 2012 Pledge: To write 500,000 words this year (Again.) - [...] Muppet Play,TheLibrary,Wife Novel Last year, I took an in depth look into my writing habits (see Looking back on…

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Hillary DePiano is a playwright, fiction and non-fiction writer who loves writing of all kinds except for writing bios like this.

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