Many writers that I know express frustration. They’re frustrated that they don’t have a book published or that the book they’ve published isn’t doing as well as they’d hoped. They’re frustrated with their lack of progress on a manuscript or they express anger that they’ve worked hard and written every day and yet they feel they have nothing to show for it.
I can tell you from personal experience that you can have the best intentions, and work ethic, but if you’re making these mistakes, you’re sabotaging your writing success.
#1 You Only Think You’re Being Productive
Let’s face it, you can piddle around on the computer or with a notebook in hand all day. However, unless you’re actually making tangible progress on your writing project, which we’ll assume is a romance novel, then you’re not actually being productive.
There are many ways that writers fool themselves into thinking they’re productive. Research is a biggie. You surf the net digging up articles and reading posts on Scotland for example because you have an idea for a novel in Scotland. (Maybe you just read Outlander and feel inspired to write about men in kilts!)
So you spend hours researching about Scotland and you end up with a desire to read Outlander again and to book a trip. Your book isn’t any further along. I have oodles of advice on how to research productively, but we’re talking about being productive.
You’re not going to get anywhere with your writing goals and career if you aren’t actually making real progress on your goals. Be honest with yourself about your productivity.
#2 You Tell Yourself You’ll Do Better Tomorrow, But You Don’t
I have no problem with making a mistake and promising yourself you’ll do better tomorrow. If you make that mistake, and we all have done this, then by all means follow through and actually do better tomorrow.
I’ve done this. I’ve missed a day of writing and told myself, “I’ll write double tomorrow.” Then that double goal is missed and by the end of the week I’m telling myself, “I’ll spend all of Saturday writing. I’ll write a few chapters and I’ll make up for the week and a half I’ve missed.” It doesn’t work.
What does work for me is to sit down the next day and meet my writing goal for that day. If I try to make up for lost time or past mistakes it doesn’t work. I just have to admit I messed up and to follow through the next day. It’s kind of like cheating on your diet. If you eat a pie and then tell yourself you won’t eat anything the next day to make up for it, we’ll that’s just not going to work. – besides starving yourself is sad. The better approach is to eat healthy the next day and to not buy pie.
#3 You Overestimate Your Abilities
I don’t mean your writing abilities here – you’re an amazing writer with oodles of talent and you’re going to go far. What I mean is that you overestimate your follow through abilities. Here’s a perfect example…
I have a friend who writes a book in about two months. She whips them out, spends a few weeks on revisions and editing and voila, she has another book for sale. I thought I could keep up. I set a goal to write about 1500 – 2000 words a day. That’d give me about 90 to 100 thousand words at the end of two months – the length of a good book. I even scheduled time to write that much. I figured I could take Fridays off from my regular work and spend the day writing fiction. I even had a cute name for it – “Fiction Friday.”
This turned out to be a huge mistake. You see, 2000 words a day times 7 days is a shit ton of words. And I thought I could write 14,000 words in a single day? I don’t care what you call it, that’s a huge goal. Perhaps it’s possible if your muse has decided to make you her best friend for the day and never leave your side, but it’s not something that is sustainable, at least not for me.
The other mistake is that I write for a living. I get paid to ghostwrite books, articles, blog posts and all sorts of stuff. I write about 2500 words on a daily basis. So to add another huge word count goal to my day, whether it’s 2000 words a day or 14,000 on Friday, just didn’t work for me.
The moral of the story is to set goals that you know you can meet. My friend who is capable of meeting those goals is a school administrator and she has time during her day to work on her manuscripts and write 2000+ words a day. Maybe you do too. I don’t and it was a mistake for me to think that I could. If you realize that the goal you’ve set is too small, increase it a little until you hit the sweet spot. It’s better to make consistent progress toward your writing goal than to stop because you’re overwhelmed and have overestimated your abilities.
Remember that writing is a process and so too is goal setting. Allow for mistakes and like that stupid horse cliche, get back on it when you fall off. Become aware of your writing strengths and weaknesses and stay true to your goals and yourself. You can’t go wrong.