Friday, June 3, 2011

Setting Manuscript Goals

With each new manuscript I write, I learn more about myself as a writer. I learn my strengths and weaknesses, and basically what makes me the most productive as a writer. And we all know as writers, being productive in every sense is a good thing.

So what are good goals to set before beginning each manuscript in order to be the most productive we can be?

Word Count

Before I begin writing, I estimate approximately how long I want my novel to be. It doesn't have to be exact, though a general range is a great idea. I also estimate the approximate day I want my novel to be finished, and from that I establish a word count goal I need to meet each week in order to finish that novel on time.

For my current WIP, I made a spreadsheet for the first time with Xcel. With it, I am able to simply and quickly input my progress each day and let it tally (weekly and overall) my progress. It's been a great tool to keep me on track.

Know the Story

Whether a beginner or a long-time writer, being more productive with your writing time means knowing your story. For some of us, extensive plotting is involved and for others, it's a lot more basic.

Regardless of how extensive our approach, there are a few elements of a story it truly helps to make a goal to know before beginning.

Goal and motivation for main characters - it doesn't have to be a major outline or character sketch, but at least a general sense of what our characters want and why they want it.

A general feel for the direction of the novel - major plot points and even a vague idea of the ending.

Your purpose in writing the story - to reveal a theme, to entertain, to touch readers, etc.

Small Goals

I've learned some of my weaknesses as I move from one manuscript to the next and one of my big issues is repetitive words. I've begun keeping a sheet of words I use too often so that I can either try to avoid them or be able to look for them when I'm doing the edit.

We all have our weaknesses, so being aware of them is so valuable. And...that brings me to the next goal.

Improving From the Past

Again, we learn from each manuscript we write. Becoming aware of these mistakes, whether through our own realization or through advice from critique partners or editors, is so beneficial as we continue our writing journey. We can make general or specific goals to grow from what we've learned and make every additional piece of writing better than the last.

These are just a few tools I use as I begin each new story. I'd love to hear goals you set as you begin each new manuscript, and what helps you to be as productive as you can be.


Julia said...


Great post! I need to think about resetting some goals now that summer is here and I can hopefully realistically increase my writing time.

I also love your thoughts about improving on the past and being open to change. This is something I need to be constantly working on, probably why it finds its way into so many of my posts. And as a new writer I have a lot of weaknesses, but God is faithful to bring us the help we need.

Keli Gwyn said...

I really like your final point, Cindy. I'm trying hard to improve with each story I write. I tend to choose an area or two that needs work. While rewriting my debut novel, I focused on character likability and tension. In my WIP I'm working on tension again as well as avoiding trite mannerisms such as sighs, nods, etc.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi Julia. Yeah, I always find I'm, like you said "resetting" my goals. It seems like with writing there's always something new to endeavor to do and that's fun, scary, and challenging all at the same time :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Keli, that's a great idea focusing on one or two main things you can do to improve your novel. And I hear you on the trite mannerisms :) I am REALLY focusing on that this time--WAY too many smiles and nods and shoulder lifts! Hope you have a great weekend!

Laura S. said...

I definitely make small goals and work on improving from my past writings.

linda said...

Thanks for the great post! I'm working on my own game plan for writing a novel. Glad to see I'm on the right track.

Joanne Sher said...

I'm super at the little goals, but long term is NOT my strength.

Also discovered that I wrote 50+k of my book without really knowing what it was about. Going back and doing some of the "know your story" stuff now. Plugging away!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Laura, sounds like you're on the right track :) Big goals are always a great idea, but sometimes it's those small ones that really help us improve.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi, Linda! Having a game plan usually ends up being a great thing, especially further down the road :) All the best with your novel.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Joanne, isn't that funny how that can happen? Sometimes seeing the bigger picture isn't always quite as easy as seeing the individual details - I've definitely been there before! Hope you have a great weekend.

patti.mallett_pp said...

Great Post, Cindy!! Your suggestion for setting Long-Term Goals is really helpful! I'm going to try it!! (I'm also trying to cut out, or down on, my overused words, at least the Top Ten.) Thanks to everyone for the fabulous comments. (I've Bookmarked this page!)


Cindy R. Wilson said...

Patti, I love your enthusiasm :) and I'm glad the post was helpful. I LOVE setting goals so it makes me smile when I see others excited about them as well! I hope you have a super weekend.

Janice Hardy said...

Your process sounds a lot like mine. I like to know the core conflict, the major set pieces and turning points, usually a theme, but beyond that I just aim my characters and see what they do with the problems I throw at them. I like to know where I'm going, but have no clue how I'll get there. That keeps it fresh and fun for me, but still keeps me on track.

I also love using word counts to keep me motivated. I found a daily tally was too much for me, so I went to a weekly goal of three chapters a week. That fit my style and was achievable, so I didn't feel like i was behind if I didn't have a big writing day during the week. But word counts also help me with the pacing and when things should happen in a chapter.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Janice, you make a great point about word counts and pacing. Words counts are great for overall encouragement and to keep us on track, but they're also wonderful for making sure our stories are moving along and keeping up a solid pace that draws readers in.

And three chapters a week? That's great progress!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks Cindy,
Setting goals is a productive answer to many writing issues, and breaking those goals into doable jobs is better. Life skills apply to all areas of life, eh?
This was a fabulous post, Cindy. Thanks.

Tracy Krauss said...

These were excellent tips. I especially liked the idea of setting smaller/daily goals. Chunking makes it do-able!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Thank you, Mary! I hear you about life skills, and anything to make my writing more productive is a good thing :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Tracy, smaller goals are great, aren't they? They give you the chance to accomplish something daily or even weekly, which is really encouraging as a writer. Thanks for stopping by!