Set A Goal, Reward Yourself Afterwards

Writing my current novel has been an on-again, off-again love affair for years. I would have days where I seem committed to it, and I felt nothing could break my momentum. Then a few weeks or months go by and my unfinished draft goes untouched, gathering digital dust in a folder on my computer. Now that I’ve managed to gradually overcome the hurdles stopping me from writing, regardless of how much I still doubt if what I’m doing is still worth the effort of pursuit, I’ve gotten into a writing routine that has worked and helped me immensely in the last few months.

There are plenty of writing websites that give advice on how to become a writer, or the best techniques to keep writing when sometimes you may not always feel like you want to. Some writers say it’s best to write a little of your book every day, wherever you can squeeze in the time. Others say it’s good to set a word count goal and aim to accomplish that each day you block out time to write. I’ve tried many of these suggestions in the past and I can honestly say that none of these have quite worked for me.

While I agree writing a little each day would probably get at least the first draft of your manuscript finished sooner, I’ve run into problems with this method every time I tried it in the past. Because I have a full time job during the day that often demands a lot of my time and energy five days a week, I’m often mentally drained by the time I come home. The last thing I want to do in the evenings is stare at another computer screen and will my brain to conjure the equivalent of a Michelangelo of the written word. If my mind is just too tired and sluggish from a long day of work, there’s no amount of intention that’s going to get me to write a single sentence.

I’ve also tried setting a word count or chapter goal when I set aside a day for writing. Not only did I find this unhelpful during my writing process, I absolutely loathe this type of goal. I felt it put a lot of pressure on me to produce something that didn’t flow naturally during my writing time. Instead of enjoying the art of creativity and allowing myself to see where the story would go, I wound up hating the time I put into writing my own story.

None of these techniques did the job I needed them to do, which was to keep writing.

When I finally reached a mental breakthrough to complete the first draft of my manuscript no matter how long it took, I was back to trying to figure out how to consistently keep writing without letting the digital dust gather on my work…again. I didn’t approach this conundrum with any kind of plan. Instead, I started with something simple—I would write for a half hour without stopping in the mornings, every weekend. After I reached this goal, I would reward myself with watching Netflix, playing a video game, or reading. Starting off with a very small goal made me realize I kept hitting my target every time and I managed to write a few new sentences on Saturdays and Sundays. Eventually, I was able to extend those half hour writing goals to an hour. Once I started writing, even when it took a lot of effort to open my laptop and begin, I found I couldn’t stop. I wanted to keep going without feeling like I’m forcing myself to do it.

I may not exactly be finishing a chapter during the hour I write on weekends but that’s okay. What matters to me is just getting the words and story on the page. As an aspiring writer who hopes to have her first book published someday, I think it’s okay to set goals that are easier to achieve right now. I’m still finding my story and my writing voice. I consider the first manuscript to be the exploration phase of the process. Once I get the rough ideas down, the next draft will be about fine tuning everything that’s already on the pages. Find the gems hiding just beneath the surface.

By working with the current system I have in place, I can truly enjoy the reward I have decided to give myself that day. It’s a reminder that I made a commitment to this passion I intend to keep this time. I have many interests and by tying those other hobbies with my writing goals, it allows me to have my cake and eat it too. I think it’s a win-win situation all around. Now my weekend mornings start and end with my writing, reserving everything else for the afternoon.

There’s no right or wrong way to accomplish a goal. What’s important is you find the one that works for you and gets the job done.

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