How Does Goal Setting Help With Writing?

by jeanineoloughlin

Thinking Through My Fingers

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” – Issac Asimov

Goal setting is very key for me to completing a writing piece. I’m not someone who can just sit down and crank out a story from nothing. I do a lot of “pre-production” if you will. Part of that is setting goals for the piece. I use word counts as part of my goal setting. Word counts, for me, are great guidelines to judge how well I’m progressing or if I’ve gone off course a bit. To explain how I use word counts in this manner I need to give you a little insight into how I think. I have worked the last eight years in a job that is highly data oriented and I do a lot of data analysis in my job. So from past projects I have gathered several data points to help me understand how I get from point A to point B. My “crap draft” is usually between 10-20k words, typically I cut about ½ that in the first rewrite and through the edit process my final product comes to be about 6-8k on average (give or take 2k).

So, with this data as I’m writing I can look at where I am in the story (via the outline) vs where I’m at with the word count. If I’m only a ¼ of the way through the outline and I’m already at 10k words I know I’m in trouble and need to work on cutting the fluff as I continue on. This doesn’t mean I go back and edit, but it lets me know my writing has been straying from the core story. Usually this takes the form of too much lore (a topic we’ll need to discuss another time), and I need to just focus on the action and add the lore in later where it’s really needed. However, if I’m ¾ of the way through the story and only at 6k words I know I’m probably on track for a good story. The latter situation rarely happens on the crap draft.

Word counts can be a great course corrector, but don’t let word count limit your stories. They should be as long as they need to be but as short as you can get away with. Stories that linger on too long lose the reader more often than not, but a story that’s too short often leaves the reader confused or unsatisfied, so do what works for you but always keep in mind more isn’t always better.

Happy Writing!