She who fails to plan, plans to fail.

Last year, for my birthday, my then 17-year-old son gave me what turned out to be one of the best birthday presents I have ever received. He admitted that he hadn’t gotten around to buying anything, so, on a simple card, he wrote that he knew I wanted to take my writing more seriously, so he was giving me the gift of telling me to write 250 words per day for a month. I asked him if I could email my daily output to him as a way to keep myself accountable (reassuring him that he didn’t have to read it if he didn’t want to), and he agreed.

I decided to use his gift as a way to begin a work of children’s fiction that I had been planning in my head for awhile. Two months later, the first draft was complete.

Two hundred and fifty words might not seem like a lot, but it was the perfect goal. It wasn’t overwhelming. Even if I didn’t get around to writing during the day, I could crank out 250 words in twenty minutes before bed, if I put my mind to it. I had no excuses. And, most days, I wrote much more. My son knows me well, especially my being a late bloomer when it comes to learning to make detailed goals, and my need for baby steps in the planning department.

Ali Hale, in a DailyWritingTips’ review of Stephen King’s book On Writing, agrees that setting modest, pragmatic goals may work better for many writers than aiming too high:

“King strongly believes in setting writing goals, and recommends a minimum of a thousand words a day, six days a week. I tried following his advice (whilst working a full-time office job) and didn’t last long – you might prefer to set your own goal at five hundred words a day or even two hundred. Since King himself says he writes 2,000 words a day whilst working on a book, I suspect his advice is aimed at those aiming to make fiction writing their career (especially given his advice to read for four-six hours a day as well!).”

In Publish Your Nonfiction Book, Sharlene Martin and Anthony Flacco suggest a goal of two pages per writing session, which is a bit different from a measurable daily output, because it applies whether you write once a week or every day. Their “Two (2) Page Rule” includes any new writing that directly contributes to your current project, from character sketches to first drafts, outlines to dialogue.

Since I will be traveling next week, I am setting an interim goal of writing one long-hand page of manuscript every day until I come home. Writing long-hand will be easier in hotel rooms and at my parents’ house than trying to find a computer. Also, I want to experiment with writing first-draft material by hand, something I haven’t done in awhile. Finally, I know that one page is do-able. If I write more, great, but I want to be sure that I begin this project with some success upon which I can build. Once I get home from my trip, I will reassess and set more permanent goals.

I have also decided to keep a small notebook with me at all times for this project, in which I keep a running list of ideas for scenes or even short descriptions or bits of dialogue. That way I will never be at a loss for something to write each day, even if it is a snippet from the middle of the story or a description of a character’s clothes.

What are your writing goals? Do you aim for a certain number of words per day? Pages per day? Something else?

What works for you? What hasn’t worked before?