Goal-setting for writers

Is it better to structure the process of writing a book by setting goals, timetables and routines – or to let yourself be spontaneously guided by opportunity and inspiration?

Many successful professional authors approach their work in a highly organised way. For example they might have a system of completing one new book each year, like the late Dick Francis who wrote over 40 best-selling thrillers set in the world of horse-racing. He began writing a new book every January, and finished it in May, ready for publication in September. Then after a summer holiday break he combined promotional events for the new book with planning and researching the next one, to be started the following  January. Some set themselves a rule of writing for a certain number of hours per day, often at the same time in the same place. Some like to produce a consistent daily word count, while others might be content to spend all morning revising a single paragraph.

The structured approach is suitable for those who like a regular lifestyle, who need to maintain a steady output of new material to earn their living, or who tend to procrastinate unless they discipline themselves. But goals, timetables and routines are tools to help with achieving your broader aims, rather than ends in themselves, and allowing yourself to be rigidly controlled by them can produce needless stress. Sometimes it pays to be flexible in response to variations in your own energy levels, or to external events. If circumstances prevent you from meeting a ‘deadline’ this can seem most frustrating, however it may turn out that the delay was all for the best in the long term; perhaps it gives you time to polish your work, or for market conditions to improve, or for better ideas and opportunities to appear. Even if you never achieve the goal, this could be a blessing in disguise; looking back, I am glad that the manuscript of the novel which I once tried so desperately to get published was never accepted. As the Dalai Lama says ‘Sometimes not getting what you wanted can be a wonderful stroke of luck.’ Also, goals need to be reviewed from time to time to see if they are still appropriate. When I started this blog I resolved to write one post each week, but only for so long as I had plenty of ideas for topics, and then to space them out. This time is now coming so I shall be posting less often here, but more often on my other blogs Jennifer Barraclough Bach Flowers and Woman of Aquarius.

If you are passionately involved with your current writing project, there is no need for rules and routines. Intensive bursts of creative inspiration may only come once in a lifetime and it can be worth making the most of them, even if it means going short on sleep, exercise, and time with family and friends for a while. In her autobiography, Agatha Christie describes how she wrote Absent in the Spring, published under the pen-name Mary Westmacott. After an incubation period of several years, the story and characters suddenly fell into place in her mind and she wrote the entire book as a single draft ‘in a white heat’ over three days, determined to get it all down on paper without interruptions to break the flow. After it was finished she was exhausted, went to sleep for 24 hours and then ate an enormous dinner. This book, though not nearly so well known as her crime novels, is the only one which satisfied her completely. 

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