Keep Yourself Accountable by Establishing a Personal Metric

You may already be a published author, or perhaps you’re an aspiring novelist at the moment. Either way, you likely wear any of a number of other hats in your life: husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, father, mother, employee, employer, president of (fill in blank) club, soccer coach, church volunteer, etc. In other words, being a writer is only one of many things you are doing with your life, which further means that your wordsmithery needs to find a place on your schedule just like everything else you do.

Does this mean you need to have a daily writing goal? Maybe so many words or so many minutes (or hours, if you have them available)? I believe it does, because if you are serious about being a writer, then you’ll want to hold yourself accountable by clearly establishing some type of daily personal metric for yourself.

If you have a good chunk of time to dedicate to writing each day, then consider a goal of getting so many words written within your available time. In his book On Writing, Stephen King states that he aims for 2,000 words a day, seven days a week, no matter how long it takes him. He suggests that more fledgling writers may want to aim for 1,000 words a day, six days a week. Maybe even that seems a bit daunting to you, and that’s okay. Start somewhere! If you write 500 words a day, with one day a week off, you’ll still be amassing somewhere around 13,000 words every month.

Of course, if you are in more of a time crunch, then you may want to establish a time block for your writing. Maybe you can squeeze an hour a day in, but maybe only half an hour. I don’t think I’d recommend anything less than half an hour, though, as it’s difficult to really jump into your story and then proceed to get some traction and momentum without spending at least thirty minutes doing so.

Ah, but what about those days that you just aren’t able to hit your goal, whether your metric is based on words or time? Or what if you absolutely don’t feel like writing because you’re under the weather? It’s okay. Life will go one and so will your story. But even on those days that you aren’t able to write—because of a long road trip, sickness, waking to a dead refrigerator, etc.—can you do something related to the story you’re working on? Can you daydream about your story and what you see happening next? Can you jot down some notes on a sticky plot point that you won’t go back and fix until your first draft is done? Can you do something that advances your work on the story even in some small way?

(A quick note here: If you find yourself having a hard time writing each day even if you feel fine and have plenty of time to do it, then I’d start thinking hard about whether or not you are serious about writing fiction, or if you’ve just been seduced by the romantic lure of being called an author. Yes, even the best authors do get writer’s block sometimes, but more often than not, they write with a passion that drives them to want to write again the next day and the next, ad infinitum.)

The bottom line is progress. You can never rewrite or edit a blank page, so any amount of time you spend on your writing during a day will ultimately help you get your story onto paper. After that, the sky is the limit if you’ve got what it takes to be a novelist.