Wednesday, December 4, 2013

IWSG -- Am I Writing Enough?

Today is the first Wednesday of the last month of the latest year of my life. So of course that means it's time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group (ISWG) post!

For this edition, how about some thoughts on writing goals and the concern that I might not be writing "enough:"

When I first dabbled with "becoming a writer" I was very focused on output.  I think that in a lot of ways, that can be a good thing.  A writer writes, and just making it through the process of getting words onto the page is much of the battle. But, of course, being the geeky engineering type, I naturally created a spreadsheet to track my output in words per day.

I'd read many places that the goal for many "professional" writers is 1,000 words a day.  But I've also got the day-job and a house and a family and other commitments and while those blessed few who could support themselves with their writing might be able to crank that out in a day, I knew I was too pressed for time to try and live up to that daily 4-digit dream level of production. So I settled on 250 as a goal, preloaded several months worth of my tracking spreadsheet with that daily amount, and set to writing and tracking my actual output versus the goal.

At first, for quite a long while, I was doing well.  Even with an erratic schedule and days where I accomplished no writing at all, I was still averaging closer to 350-400 words per day.  Then life interrupted, my schedule got disrupted, more and more days slipped by with little or no writing, and my actual-versus-goal cumulative total slid into the negative and kept going that way.  

It was excruciating to watch that artificial goal I had set for myself slip further and further away from my grasp. Soon it became overwhelming.  I'd reached a point where even if I spent days writing at thousands of words a day, it would take seemingly forever to catch back up to where I'd decided I was "supposed" to be.

So I quit.

The fact that I hadn't been "successful" in getting anything published also added to me throwing up my hands and walking away from it, but that oppressive thought that I wasn't even writing "enough" to be a "real writer" was a key factor.

My writing stopped and my blogging stopped -- why blog about something you weren't doing?  I mean, if any of my blog readers could see that huge deficit of my actual writing output versus my target, they'd realize I was really a big phoney. What the heck kind of writer was I???

But slowly, thankfully, without an artificial and arbitrary target anymore, and away from the blogosphere, I came to my senses.  With the "goal" long surrendered, I eventually started writing again.  Simply because I like it and felt like it.  250 words or 2 words -- it didn't matter. I just like to write.

And that's kind of where I still am.  I'm writing, but I really couldn't tell you "how much" off the top of my head.  The spreadsheet's been retired.  And I think I'm better for it.

But I sometimes still feel those nagging thoughts start to creep in -- am I really writing "enough?"  Maybe I should set a goal and start tracking it again.

Or not...

So what do you think? Do you set a writing goal?  How rigid is it? If it's flexible and likely not to be met, is it really a "goal?"  How much do you beat yourself up if you fall short of your goal?

How do you set a goal and use it as positive motivation without it becoming a burden and a oppressive drag? 


  1. Those goals work for some people and not for others. Sometimes it's too much pressure. If you are back at writing, no matter how much, celebrate and enjoy it. Because if you're not enjoying it, why bother?
    I'm a lazy writer. Without a goal, I don't write anything, so I need things like NaNo to prod me to action. Once I realized that, I was good to go.

  2. I've never set a word count goal, just a time goal. Whatever i accomplish during that time is good enough.

  3. This is what I'm worrying about too. I see writers with crazy word counts every day, and I'm afraid I'm not doing enough. Yet even writing just a few hundred words is still writing and that's awesome. Last year I set goals that were hard, but I met them. This coming year, I want to be more kind to myself, my family and CPs. I'm trying to tell myself that my deadlines are my own and if I don't make them, it's okay, but I do beat up on myself.

  4. I'm glad you retired the spreadsheet. I found myself doing the same thing. I demanded I write in my book each and everyday even if I didn't feel like it. Well, my work, when I didn't feel like writing, wasn't all that great. So, I changed it to write something everyday. That works much better for me. If I don't write a day or two, I'm still okay with it. Self-induced deadlines can kill us and our creativity.

    co-host IWSG

  5. @Alex: You're absolutely right -- whatever works to get words on the paper needs to be embraced and celebrated. I'm very glad I'm writing again, and think my single, new & improved goal of "just get the thing done, no matter how long it takes" works best for me.

    @L. Diane: That's a perfect way to do it! I'm glad it works for you!

    @Christine: It's hard not to, isn't it? I hope your goals for 2014 end up being perfectly matched to balance your writing and your life, and that you have tremendous success with them!

    @Elise: Yes they can. At least they did me. But I can meet the "Write what I can, when I can, and keep at it" level of goal and not feel overburdened.

  6. You should never submit yourself to that kind of pressure. Write because you love it and because it is fun. Things will fall in place and you won't get discouraged, but to push yourself so hard will only spell disappointment. I'm glad you are back, back writing, back blogging. I think you have talent, you just have to give yourself the chance to follow your heart. <3

  7. I don't have a word count per day. If I did, I think I would also be inclined to throw in the towel. I would always feel like I am playing catch up and failing miserably. On the flip side, I sometimes need a kick in the pants to "just do it."

  8. Chris, every writer I know goes through cycles with this issue. I've dealt with it by planning day by day at this point--only I have to plan a day ahead or the fear of creating will stop me from producing anything! Every night before we go to bed, Mark and I take a look at the next day's plans and set a goal and a requirement for what we'll write. (So...requirement=one paragraph or 250 words or research a certain topic, while goal=a page or 1000 words, etc.) This has been working for us for the past few months since we started planning this way...we'll see how long we can keep it up. ;)

  9. I think the goal is to just keep writing. Heck, sometimes for me it's a grocery list, but at least I wrote something. Don't beat yourself up, it's counterproductive and trust me, there are plenty of others who will do it for you. Do what you can, when you can and you might be surprised at how much you actually accomplish.

  10. No more spreadsheets! That's why I can't do NaNo---I think I'd end up just staring at the word count at the bottom of the page and so it would stay at zero. But if you feel the need for some kind of daily goal (I operate more on monthly/weekly goals in terms of the number of chapters I'd like to have drafted/edited) I like what Diane said---a time goal, and whatever happens in that time happens, and even if you only knock out one paragraph, it's one paragraph more than if you hadn't carved that specific writing time.

    Also, your blog post writing counts as writing. And I say you deserve bonus point for your clever and entertaining cheers during the Joust. :D

  11. Great job on jumping back into writing regularly!
    A spreadsheet does seem a bit rigid, especially when you find yourself falling behind on an artificially created goal. One of the hardest lessons to learn seems to be not to compare yourself with other writers! Stephen King writes two thousand words a day, Ray Bradbury wrote about a thousand, but lots of writers produce a nice output on five hundred words a day.
    I started out setting a soft goal of five hundred words a day, five days a week. If I missed a day, I didn't ever try to make it up but just did my five hundred or so words the next day. Sometimes I went over, because I was so caught up in what I was writing--but that didn't mean I had to write the same amount of words, or less the next day. If I just couldn't find the words or the time, and ended up with three hundred words, same thing--the next day my goal was five hundred words.
    That worked really well for me, and even though I've gotten faster over the years, I still find that five hundred or so words a day is my sweet spot.
    And like some of the above posts have said, all writing counts, IMO. Blog posts, critiques, even private rants with recalcitrant characters ... ;)

  12.! I sure don't. I'm in no hurry to drive myself batty with deadlines. now if I am being PAID to do it, that's another thing. I don't need the added stress, ya know? and it's not a competition. it's a passion

  13. I think you've made a great discovery for yourself - you started writing again just because you wanted to. That's the only reason that matters. I never set deadlines for myself anymore because I'm like this quote: "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." ~ Douglas Adams

  14. @Georgina: Thank you for saying that -- I really appreciate it. And I agree -- writing because it's fun and because you love it are the best reasons to do it!

    @Robin: I hear you. Not having the negative pressure of an arbitrary word-count goal is great, but there can be times I do need some sort of extra kick of motivation, too. :)

    @Faith: Sounds like a good plan and I'm really glad that having a tiered and flexible daily goal is working for you guys. I know with a brand new beautiful baby in the house, writing time is even more limited. Heck, even basic SLEEP time is limited! :)

    @FAE: Absolutely -- that's exactly my line of thought these days! And it is working -- things are getting written. Sometimes slowly, sometimes VERY slowly, but at least there's forward progress.

    @Nicki: Yep -- no spreadsheets and no, no NaNo! And thank you for the kind words -- I'm happy I was able to help you in the Joust!

    @Kirsten: Thank you very much for the comment, the positive support, and the great thoughts. Yes all writing helps, even here on my little backwater eddy of the blogging internet stream. But the time I spend blogging does sometimes feel like a distraction from my "real" writing. :)

    @Tammy: I like that -- "it's not a competition. it's a passion!" Great thought! But, um.... This "PAID" thing you mention -- does that really happen?!?!? I've only heard vague rumors and whispered hints that such a magical and mystical thing might actually exist...

    @Lexa: Wonderful quote, Lexa! And I agree -- writing because I want to is the best motivator for me.

    --And thank you all for the visit and comments! They mean a lot to me!!!

  15. Sometimes life gets in the way and we struggle to write. I never set a word count goal for a day. Of course, I haven't written in a while, but that's only because I'm busy promoting my new eBook. Before that though I would write whenever I could, and I'd just write. I wouldn't focus on reaching a certain page or word count. I feel that adds pressure and can make us clam up. So just write when you can. :)

  16. @Chrys: That's the approach that seems to work best for me, too. Thank you for visiting and commenting!

  17. Hmmm. I've read your post. I've read the excellent, sincere dialogue that has ensued as a result. Now. What is my response?

    How about honesty?

    I stopped blogging in the months of November and December after a very swift and unexpected cross-country move. My family was *completely* uprooted. Quickly. I was half-heartedly querying a children's novel I'd written in the spring with that 1,000-words a day count hanging over me. Sometimes, those tools will assist us in accomplishing a desired output. But if we've simply driven ourselves to do something, we might have to deal with the fallout of ambivalence and uncertainty afterward. (I'm not sure I want to be a children's writer but now I have this beautiful manuscript that I'm proud of and I'm (still) not sure what to do with it.) The full is out with two agents right now, one of whom I read online interviews with and thought, 'I'd like to work with this person.' He requested the full the same day and it kind of shocked me, tell the truth.

    Anyway, Chris, I am a little stuck and lost right now. I stepped away from blogging to clear my head and it's not working exactly as I'd hoped. I almost keep hoping for something outside of me to happen and for it to nudge me into a particular trajectory. I'm not writing at all. Not blogging or manuscripts. I'm reading like crazy. I'm dreaming, hashing things out. It almost feels like a slow and painful process mostly because why? No tangible results. We are a very results-oriented people, aren't we?

    I just sighed. I'm hoping my rambling is making you feel less alone. No answers. Just companionship and support.

  18. I think writing with a purpose is the only way to actually get anywhere. A daily goal is awesome, but only if it's backed by a larger goal--as in a completed manuscript. At least, that's when I find my daily word count consistent. For most people, the deadline thing really helps.

  19. Great post, Chris! I started out the year writing 1k/day but couldn't keep it up. For one thing, revisions take time, and while I'm in the middle of those time-suckers, I don't have much in the way of extra creative juice for any other projects. The way I figure, if we're making progress in the right direction, that's the way to go. The words will ebb and flow. Glad to have you back in the blogosphere. You were missed!

  20. I was glad when I got to the part where you threw away the self-imposed goals.
    My 2 cents is, don't ever compare yourself to anyone (or anyone's numbers or stats) no matter what. You do what you do and let them do what they do. No one can write the story Chris Fries has to tell so write at your own pace, confident in that fact.
    That's my story and I'm sticking to it. :)

  21. @Suze: Thank you very much -- companionship and support is always welcome! And I send you wishes that life soon settles for you after the uprooting, that you find peace and serenity and stability, that your dreams materialize, and that your ms is gobbled up by that agent with fabulous results!

    @Crystal: A deadline does actually help motivate me, but maybe it's my inner rebellious nature asserting itself in that most of my efforts to break a deadline down into daily goals turns the fromerly-enjoyable act of writing into a series of over-bearing regimented "gottas" that only seem to completely dam up my creative flow.

    @Milo: Thanks, Milo! I appreciate that! And you're right -- for me, there definitely seems to be an ebb and a flow, and as long as I ain't only ebbin' and not flowin', things are good. :)

    @David: I like that story! And thank you very much for that. :)

  22. I gave up on daily writing goals a long time ago. My schedule is much too unpredictable. So now my goals are measured in yearly increments. And wouldn't you know it--I missed this year's goal too. Arggggg!

  23. @Ken: Lol! I totally understand. Regardless of the time-frame involved, goals can be aggravating. Did you write at all in the last year? Have you made progress on your WIPs? Have you finished any pieces? If so, then you've had a successful writing year. :)


Don't be shy -- feel free to comment. I really appreciate your thoughts.