Thursday, August 18, 2011

Setting Goals and Making Schedules

Yesterday Jessica asked if I would talk more about how I go about goals and schedules in my writing, and I thought it was a question definitely worth a whole post.

Knowing Your Personality
Before you set goals or schedules, you have to be honest with yourself about how you work. You are not going to change your skill set overnight. Your personality and strengths are likely to remain the same throughout your life, actually. So it's important to work WITH yourself, not against yourself.

Are you daunted by daily tasks or do they spur you on? Do you like BIG end goals or focusing on the little steps? Do you push yourself or are you more laid back?

Whatever way you work—it's not wrong. Just takes some figuring out.

Making Goals
I'm the type of person who can be easily overwhelmed by a BIG project. Some people can say "I will write a book in a year" and just set about doing it without much more. For me, that doesn't work. I'm a small bites kind of person, a day by day worker. If the goal is too big and too far out, I end up procrastinating and not finishing, maybe even giving up.

Especially when I'm working to get out of a slump, I set very small, accomplishable goals. They're always something I know I can meet even in the busiest of times. Right now that goal is one page each workday. I like small goals like these because when I meet them—and often surpass them—it builds my confidence. It's much better to meet a small goal than to keep missing a big one and feeling guilty about it.

When I'm in a more serious writing mood, my goal can be something like write a chapter each workday (I always take weekends off to regroup). When I'm editing, my goal is often three chapters a day. If have deadlines, I do the math and divide the work evenly for each day. I'm easily burned out if I work too much, so even if I feel like I can do more work I try to stick with my goals and not go over.

Making A Schedule
The hardest thing for me, I think, is finding time to write. But no matter the amount of time I have, I've learned that the only way to get it done is to make it a priority. Sometimes you have to save that TV show for later, or stay up an extra hour, or get up early, or whatever. There is time. There is always time if you make it.

My schedule has been crazy this summer, but for the first half when I was writing I would squeeze in time during the afternoons. Yes, I would turn on the TV for my kids, plug in my headphones, and try to get in an hour. It wasn't the most productive, but I managed...until I got all summer lazy at least.

For me, finding time to write revolves a lot around my kids. When they're in school, I try to make that my writing time. Before that, it was during nap time. When I was in school and working, it was in the evenings.

Most of the time when I sit down for writing time, I don't want to write. I want to check out blogs or WoW or whatnot. But I try to tell myself after—after I finish my goal. I always have some kind of small reward, be it watching some Hulu or having a scoop of ice cream. It's silly, but true. It gives me something to look forward to when I finish my work for the day, and it helps me keep my schedule because good things happen when I do. Positive reinforcement, I respond to it.


That's my basic method of keeping goals and schedules. I know it probably doesn't seem very complex or really all that organized, but it's simple and that's what I like. It's served me well over the years. One day at a time, I've written over a dozen books. It's crazy to think that each day, while small, has already amounted to so much.


  1. Great tips, Natalie. I think there is a thought that scheduling your creative time can somehow remove the 'pixie dust' from the formula, but I think for most busy folks it's the only way to get any kind of consistent work done.


  2. I write between 250-500 words a day. That may not seem like much but it all adds up and it's not as if I'm in a hurry anyway.

    I think it's better to be a process-oriented person rather than a goal-oriented person. If you are hurtling yourself towards your goal and not taking the time to learn from the process, you are missing out.

  3. Aw, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question Natalie! You definitely struck a chord with the "whatever way you work, it's not wrong" thing... I think that's where I've been getting hung up. I get too ambitious and set myself up for failure instead of admitting to myself that that's just *not* the way I work... and that's okay. So, new plan, starting today: realistic goals, and schedules I can actually keep. Makes so much more sense than banging my head against a wall! Thanks again. :)

  4. "So it's important to work WITH yourself, not against yourself."

    EXACTLY! It took me YEARS to understand that. I kept trying to change myself. Now I'm cooperating with myself, and it's going so much better.

    Also, like you, looking at the big picture intimidates me. I have to break things down into small, manageable bits and celebrate them when I finish.

  5. There's my problem! When I make big goals, I procrastinate and never get them done.

  6. Thanks Natalie, as always, your feedback and suggestions are so valuable =) And you are absolutely right, you have to do it bit-by-bit otherwise, it becomes too overwhelming =) and the reward system, also true =) ♥
    Caro =)

  7. I completely agree about making small goals (if that's the kind of person you are). I also find that in the process making those small goals happen, I often end up doing much more than I expected. If I plan to write 500 words a day, I sometimes end up getting in the zone after a little while and write 1,000 words. And even if I don't, I still met my goal and can feel awesome about that!

  8. I definitely share your preference for small goals. I often have trouble estimating just how long a whole book or even a particular section or a rewrite is going to be, so I prefer something more predictable like a number of scenes or just a certain number of words. That's much easier for me to wrap my mind around than the length of a whole project.

  9. Excellent tips, Natalie. I think I'm a "small bites" writer at times too.

  10. Well done, I do hope I shall eventually write that number.

  11. "The hardest thing for me, I think, is finding time to write. But no matter the amount of time I have, I've learned that the only way to get it done is to make it a priority."

    Amen, sister. And 12 books?! WOOT! Just awesome. :D
    Another positive, inspiring post. :D

  12. Thanks for sharing, Natalie! Love your tip about knowing your personality. Sometimes I get a burst of optimism and decide I will be all disciplined and awesome STARTING TOMORROW and it never works out, haha. Great post, and hope you get out of your slump soon!

  13. Timely post for me to read. We moved a few months ago and I just unpacked my "writing" box. It has taken me so long because as long as it was in a box I didn't feel guilty for not having a schedule. I am now at a point (kids started school this week) where I can begin to look at a schedule. Thanks for some great points to think about when making one.

  14. I like the idea of small goals. I try to get about 500 words written a day. If I want a bigger goal I try for a chapter a day, but that hasn't happened in a little while :P