Is it useful to set a daily writing goal for yourself?
I’ve been giving this question some thought lately. I’ve read that many published authors set a daily number-based writing goal for themselves. For example, they push themselves to write four thousand words a day, and they can’t stop until they hit that mark. Doesn’t matter if it takes two hours or six. They have to hit it.
I’ve tried this in the past. I used to have a daily goal of one thousand words a day. When that didn’t work out, I lowered it to five hundred. It’s a far more manageable target, especially since fiction writing isn’t my full-time job. And yes, I hit that goal daily between blog posts, journaling, and short fiction.
To me, any kind of writing qualifies. As long as I’m putting words on a page – either a physical page or a virtual one – it counts. Why should I limit myself to only counting fiction when I may type out five hundred words on a blog post?
Lately, however, I’ve started wondering if pushing myself to hit a goal is a good thing. Five hundred words a day isn’t like climbing a mountain. I can generally hit that in an hour, depending on whether I’m writing freehand or typing.
But even then, there are mornings when other things come up. Life gets in the way, and I can only get fifty or one hundred words down before I have to move on. I spend the rest of the day with a shadow of guilt lurking over my shoulder for not doing more.
I recently read a tweet from Neil Gaiman where he claims he wrote Coraline at the rate of fifty words a day. That was surprising, but also comforting. Knowing that a popular author penned one of his most popular books at that pace eases my mind. Now, when I only get fifty or one hundred words written before I log into my day job, I know I’m in good company.
I think having goals can be beneficial. Truth is, some people need to set goals for themselves in order to stay motivated. I know they’ve helped me. However, the problem with setting number-based goals for oneself is that there aren’t any repercussions if we don’t hit it. No slap on the wrist, no detention, no withholding of dessert after dinner. Is that really motivational?
Over the past year, I changed my daily writing goal from a number to simply “write something every day”. To me, that’s far more important than forcing myself to hit an arbitrary number. In turn, I feel my writing has improved because I’m not putting words on a page just to hit the goal. Instead, my writing has improved in quality, which I think is better than quantity.
As I always say, everyone is different and something that works for me may not work for you. But if you do set a daily number-based goal for yourself and you find yourself struggling to hit it, consider an alternative. Goals can be useful when it comes to motivation, but they can also affect the quality of your writing.