The Art of Being Prolific #4 – Set overly realistic goals

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The Art of Being Prolific tip #4 is a little different than the previous three tips. Previous tips in the series focused on finding time to write. For example, tip #1 focused on writing in short bursts, #2 used a recorder to write, and #3 went back to a pen and paper. In this segment, we will focus on setting goals. More specifically: setting overly realistic goals.

First: Let’s look at what prolific means. For simplicity, prolific means being fruitful, or producing in abundance. As we’ve discussed, that is achieved through consistency more than it is through binge writing.  For the purpose of this series, I am looking at producing a lot in regards to a first draft and ignoring all of the editing and rewrites that come later. My premise is that once you have a completed first draft you will find the motivation to finish your book, books, or writing. Whatever your “prolific number” is, the real goal of this series is to get you writing and realize the excuse of time can be tossed out the door. 

Second: The reason most writers fail at writing, is not that they don’t write, it’s that they have idealistic, yet unrealistic goals. For example, I have the ability to write 10,000+ words a day. But, to set that as a goal is unrealistic. Yet, if my goal is 500 words a day, that is overly realistic as I can do that in thirty minutes.

Finding your goal

I am not going to sit here and tell you that you should write 1,000 words a day minimum, or give you any kind of number. That would be presumptuous for me to assume you do have the time, ability, and skills to do so. Every writer has different allotments of each of those variables. So, as a bit of a homework assignment, I’d like you to figure out what a realistic goal is for you and what an unrealistic goal is for you.

Finding your Realistic goal:

Your realistic writing goal is what you feel you can successfully write each day, minus a couple stumbling blocks such as a lunch with friends, unscheduled meeting, working late, kids, etc. Many “how-to-write” books will recommend 500-2000 words a day for this goal. And, your goal might fall in there somewhere.

I’m someone who likes calculations, so I’ll give you a little exercise to help you along. I want you to set a timer for one minute, and as soon as the timer begins I want you to just start typing. You can type anything you want and it doesn’t have to make sense. The more nonsensical the better. After the one-minute timer goes off count the words you wrote. If you’d like to repeat this multiple times and take an average then feel free. This is obviously giving you a word per minute (wpm) estimate of your speed while free-thinking.

Now, take that number and multiply it by 15 minutes. For example, my wpm is 70, I multiply by 15 minutes and I have 1050 words per day. That is a good number to start with, but realistically to achieve that number you’re probably looking at 30-45 minutes. Is this number attainable? Yes! Is the number attainable every day? Maybe not, and that is where the “overly” in overly realistic comes from.

Finding your overly realistic goal:

Okay, so you have 1050 words per day as your realistic goal. I’m sure on most days you can hit this goal. The problem is that you may not be able to hit this goal every day. As mentioned above, life can get in the way. I’m sure you know what happens when you can’t hit a goal every day – you slowly become demotivated to hit any goal. So, what we want to do is find a word count that you can hit every day. This is our overly realistic writing goal.

The calculation isn’t difficult. Simply take 25% of your realistic goal. That is your overly realistic goal. In my example, this would be 262 words. Doesn’t seem like much, does it? Well, it’s not supposed to be. You just need a number to hit every day. You can go over that number if you’d like, and I encourage you to. But, most important is that you hit that number every day. But, don’t think there is no value in 262 words a day. After all, that is about one typed page of your manuscript.

Benefits of having an overly realistic writing goal

Failure in reaching writing goals occur when you set a goal that seems attainable, but life prevents you from hitting your goal. If you miss a single day, you may still have motivation. But, two days, three days, or more and you will begin to put your writing aside, soon to be forgotten.

Setting the overly realistic goal makes sure that you are hitting your goal each day – a motivator. Regardless of how long it will take you to complete a book at this rate, the goal is to build your need to write. 262 will turn into 524, then 1050, and so on.

This technique is to put you in the mindset of daily writing – no excuse. Start small and as your obsession begins you can build on your goals. But, remember that the key to being prolific is being consistent.

Write everyday and you will find your way to being a prolific writer.

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