The Five Biggest Mistakes Busy Writers Make: Mistake Number One

Mistake Number One: Not Setting Goals

“But I did set a goal,” you say. “I want to be a famous, wealthy, inspirational author!” Okay, sure. That is a goal. Is it a goal that’s going to make your life any easier? No. So for now, take that goal, put a little bubble wrap on it, and toss it in a cabinet. I only want you to worry about goals that are going to take advantage of your own brain chemistry and psychology to make writing easier for you. After all, it’s all about results.

Set a Writing Goal and Track Your Progress

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I started with this tip because it’s the most important. Often, the first thing that goes out the window when our schedules get busy is writing time. This tip will help you prevent the biggest and most detrimental hazard to your writing: not writing.

The right kind of goal helps your brain chemistry work for you. When you set a goal and reach it, your brain releases dopamine, which is like a Scooby Snack for your body. Even no-brainer goals that take seconds to complete will give you a dopamine fix and help you establish a positive association for your brain between writing and satisfaction.

What does that mean? It means you need to set short-term, easily obtainable goals. My suggestions are to set at least three goals for yourself every day and track them.

Three Goals That Work For Me

Goal number one: Open the word processor every day. Whether you write in Word, Scrivener, Evernote, on the cloud, Yarny, or on your uncle’s hairy back with a sharpie, make goal number one to open the word-processing program every day (or un-cap the sharpie).

Goal number two: Write one more sentence when you feel like stopping. Even if you only write two sentences and just aren’t feeling it that day, write one more and check that goal off on the spreadsheet you will be using. As an added bonus, forcing yourself to write just one more sentence after you want to stop does two great things. It forces you to push past whatever obstacle made you want to stop, which often will lead to many more sentences. It also helps build your mental muscles and strengthen you against the desire to just call it a day whenever you run into a sticky situation in your writing.

The first two goals are your freebies. They protect you from the inevitable moments when something comes up and you can’t meet your word count. This gives your brain two shots of positive reinforcement to outweigh the negative feelings that can come from failing to meet your third goal.

Goal number three: Write X amount of words per day. A lot of authors swear by 1000 words a day, but you can find what works for you or even plan to write more on days before a holiday or an event that you know will have you out of commission.

Try Svenja Gosen’s beautiful and artistic spreadsheets for tracking your words.

You can also use a more utilitarian approach through google sheets. 

Isn’t There Research Against Setting Goals?

Yes. Kind of. If you set goals like the ones above, you’ll be fine. If you set goals that are too hard to reach, your brain gets confused. It has a lot of trouble telling the difference between “want” and “have”. So your identity gets wrapped up in what you want. This can feel good at first. Think of the New Years resolution syndrome. It felt great to promise yourself you would go to the gym every day for the rest of your life. For a while, you even started identifying as a gym-goer and started thinking of yourself as a healthier person. But even if you do keep going, the results often don’t match up with your expectations.

The problem is that big results like a better physique (or a successful writing career) take a lot of time. Eventually, cognitive dissonance will begin to sap your motivation and get your brain to send out chemicals that are in no way good for your progress. So it is okay to have that goal on the back burner, but don’t put it in the trophy case and show it off to everybody you meet. Focus on the small goals.

Keep It to Yourself!

The last tip about goals is probably the toughest. Don’t tell people about your goals or that you’re planning to accomplish them. Your brain gives you the same feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction from receiving praise for having a goal as it does for completing the goal. So if you read this article and got hyped up about writing and planned to go tell your significant other that you’re going to start writing 1000 words a day and tracking your progress and so on and so on; well, don’t. You’ll get the same feeling of accomplishment from talking about it that you would’ve gained from doing it and chances are that you won’t actually do it.

In short, keep your goals daily and simple, keep track of your progress, and keep it to yourself. You’ll be happy that you did.

One thought to “The Five Biggest Mistakes Busy Writers Make: Mistake Number One”

  1. Keep it to yourself is great advice. I recently hit 50k words on my draft, but the satisfaction I expected was diluted due to me already mentioning to a friend a few days ago that I was nearing my 50k target. Lesson learned. From now on I’ll wait until my work is finished before shouting off about it.

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