What are your daily writing goals?

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?

Day One: Are you ready to write your first novel?

Hello, hello, fellow readers and writers! Thank you for reading this post, the first of this new blog that will be my companion as I fulfill a lifelong goal: to be a novelist.

Probably like many of you, I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I first started thinking about such things. Perhaps your path has been similar: I wrote stories and poems in grade school and articles for the school newspaper in high school. I began college as a journalism major before switching to English, then got an M.A. in literary studies, which led to a job as an adjunct college writing instructor.

When our son was a baby, I stopped teaching for a while but was soon itching to do something. Somewhere I read the excellent advice to freelance writers to start small and start local. Our family had recently become vegetarian, and I loved to cook, so I asked a community food and wellness magazine if they could use a cookbook reviewer, and, to my amazement, they said yes. That job eventually led to a cooking column and articles in our local newspaper and several national vegetarian magazines, as well as a newsletter I wrote and published for several years.

Continuing to write about my interests and passions, I switched my focus to education when our son was school age, especially gifted education and homeschooling, and have published four non-fiction books and several articles on those topics. I continued to teach college freshman composition, technical writing and creative thinking, and I also worked with a terrific group of teen writers while our son was in high school. Then, last year, I wrote a children’s historical fiction novel, which is currently with a wonderful agent who is finding it a good home.

Yet, through it all and for reasons I can’t explain, I still feel that something is missing that keeps me from thinking of myself as a real writer: I have yet to write a full-length novel, although I have tinkered for years with ideas and timelines, plot synopses and points of view. Somehow, though, I never get past a handful of pages.

My first novel is in me and no longer content to stay there. The characters are begging to be born. I’m ready to hear their voices and welcome them into my life.

Day One. It is time. Are you ready for your own First Novel Project? Are you with me? Let’s do this together!