Determine Your Writing Goals

Schedule your writing. Do I mean select a specific time of day to write? Yes and no. Yes, but only in the case that you can write that way, but no, in case you prefer more flexibility regarding your writing. So what do I mean? There are twelve months in a year. January is almost complete, but what would you like to see yourself accomplish regarding your writing goals in the month of February? What about March? How long does it take you to complete writing the first draft of your novel?

Most people just write. Sure, they have a goal in mind—finish this story and publish it…someday. Then Writer’s Block hits, and it really delays the writing process. However, if you lay your goals out for the year, you’ll have more of an incentive to press on and meet your deadlines. You’ll know if you don’t finish this story by this specific month, then you won’t be able to start on revising and editing it, and if you don’t get through that by this other date, you won’t be able to send out query letters or self-publish your work at the appointed time.

But how do you know when you’ll be finished writing the book? Well, everyone is different. Some people write daily while others don’t. You will have to determine the best way for you to write. The important thing is to set realistic goals and keep them. One way you can do this is by knowing how much you write in certain increments such as the following:

  • How much can you write in 15 minutes?
  • How much can you write in an hour?
  • How long does it take you to complete the first draft of a novel?
  • How long does it take you to revise a draft?
  • How long does it take you to edit a draft?
  • How long does it take you to proofread a draft?
  • How many revisions must you complete before being satisfied with your novel? (This question will likely not have a fixed number because each novel will be different. However, it is still something you should keep in mind.)
  • If you’re seeking traditional publishing or an agent, what is the common waiting time to get a response?
  • If you’re self-publishing and formatting your own work, how long does it take you to format a book?
  • If you’re having other people beta read, proof, or edit your novel, how long does it take them to get back to you?

Now, the answer to every question listed above is subject to change due to numerous circumstances (what you’re working on, who you’re working with, and just plain Real Life getting in the way). Nevertheless, if you can list a tentative answer, it will give you a general idea of how long it’ll take you to reach your goal. With that in mind, you can set your goals.

For example, here are my answers to some of the questions:

How much can you write in 15 minutes? 500 words.

How much can you write in an hour? 2,000 words.

How long does it take you to complete the first draft of a novel? 3-6 months.

How long does it take you to revise a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How long does it take you to edit a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How long does it take you to proofread a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How many revisions must you complete before being satisfied with your novel? (This question will likely not have a fixed number because each novel will be different. However, it is still something you should keep in mind.) At least 5 revisions.

If you’re having other people beta read, proof, or edit your novel, how long does it take them to get back to you? At least two weeks but maybe month.

Knowing this information, I can plot my approach to the writing year. I’m the kind of person who must write daily, and in my mind revision, editing, proofreading, and researching the market doesn’t qualify as ‘writing’. Revision might be the only exception especially if there are major revisions necessary where I have to add an entirely new chapter or section to a chapter. In that case, I am writing. However, with that aside, I like to write in addition to all my other work. Why? So I can constantly have something to publish. In my mind, it looks something like this:

Write Book 1

Write Book 2, revise/edit/proof Book 1

Write Book 3, revise/edit/proof Book 2, publish Book 1

And so forth.

Is this a perfect system? No, because you can’t predict the exact timing of everything, and Real Life just happens, but this is how I work.

In other words, if you really want to become a published author, you have to plan for it. Not only do you have to set the goals, but you also have to determine the necessary steps to reach that goal. Anyone can say, “I want to publish a book one day!” Yet it takes a disciplined writer to say, “I’m going to publish my book at this date, and this is how I’m going to do it…and here’s Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D if Plan A doesn’t work.” So try to plan your writing year.

Also, if you feel as if you’re nowhere near being ready to be published because you’re not confident in your skills handling different elements of writing, it might be a good idea to schedule your year by month and what elements you want to master. For instance, you could say, “In February, I really want to focus on writing good descriptions.” And in March you could say, “I want to focus on dialogue.” Or it could be plot, strong characterization, pacing of a story—whatever you want. Now, not every element requires a month to master it. It may take less than a month or more than a month. You would have to measure the time according to your own pace.

Sometimes a writing mentor can help keep you lay out your goals and keep you on track. If you’re interested in such a mentor, feel free to join my Facebook group and let me know: I mentor writers beyond blog posts and would love to interact with more of my readers and help you reach your writing goals.

The Fundamentals of Timing in a Story

Timing is everything. It is simple and yet complex.

When you write, if you use poetic elements, there is a rhythm and therefore a pace. When you have a pace in a story, there is an element of timing. 

What is timing? How are you supposed to keep an eye on it and make sure it runs smoothly? Here is a brief scene I wrote specifically for this post. Notice the purposely delayed introduction of a character as well as the deliberate diversion of the conversation:

Janet waited in her darkened kitchen sitting at the island with her hands around her now-lukewarm coffee mug. She heard her husband’s car pull into the drive, and then he slammed the car door as he got out. Though she couldn’t hear his footsteps, she counted the seconds until the side door creaked open, and he stepped in—still wearing his gray business suit with his coat draped over his arm, and he carried his briefcase.

He looked at her—surprised to see her. “Sorry I’m late. Meeting ran long and traffic was a pain.” He closed the door with his foot. “Why are you still up? You never wait for me.”

He was right. She usually went to bed at nine o’clock whether or not he was home. Her daily headaches hindered her staying up later than that, but this evening was different. Her headache still split her skull, but a more important matter kept her awake—the man sitting in the chair in the shadows behind her husband. He came for answers—of a life her husband knew nothing about. She had intended to tell him one day—today even, but she saw the exhaustion in his face. He faced his daily battles at work, and he didn’t need to come home and stress some more. Home was to be his haven, and if she could give him one more night of peace, she would.

I was just worried about you.” She smiled as she rose to her feet and went to him, kissing his cheek. “But of course there’s nothing to worry about. Why don’t you go upstairs and freshen up? I’ll be up there soon.”

Yeah—sure.” He bobbed his head as he headed for the stairs. When he moved passed her, Janet locked eyes with the silent man in their living room. She would give him the answers he wanted, but just one more night of peace in the comfort of their routine.

The man nodded but remained seated. He had time—he always had time.

In real life there might be a time when you have to tell someone something important, but you wait for the right time to tell them. This can be applied to stories. Just like Janet knew of the silent man’s presence in the house and the importance of her husband knowing, she also knew her husband didn’t need to know at that specific time. It’s okay for characters to keep information to themselves so long as they know why. This tactic builds tension and adds another dimension to the scene as well as depth to the characters.

Another element of timing is literally the passage of time. As writers, we can fast-forward and rewind time at will. We can travel hundreds of years to the past or to the future. Due to this ability, we might forget how important it is to simply let time move naturally in the story. For instance, I was revising a historical fiction novel of mine and realized one chapter took place in December and the next chapter occurred in June. I had compacted the scenes so tightly together, I couldn’t pull it apart without causing havoc. However, the passage of time was a complete wreck. In order to give the feeling of time passing, I took the opportunity to weave into the story a new important subplot between the two chapters. This slowed down the pace, gave the reader a chance to breath and reevaluate the status of the story, and it gave me the chance to add another element to the entire overarching story. This isn’t recommended, but sometimes you have no choice, and you have to be careful when you apply this tactic.

Another way to keep time moving naturally in a story is to take advantage of multiple subplots and use a circuit from plot to plot before circling back to the original plot. This strategy is best used when writing third person, but it can be employed when writing multiple POV-first person. Let me give you an example. Here are the players: Leo, Vivienne, Anna, Todd, Liam, Irene and Isabella.

  • Leo and Vivienne go into an operating room.
  • Anna goes to find Irene and Isabella and take them where they need to go.
  • Todd and Liam go to find Richard.
  • Vivienne leaves Leo to join Anna, Irene, and Isabella.
  • When Vivienne arrives, Anna goes to join Todd and Liam.
  • Richard isn’t responding well to Todd and Liam, so when Anna arrives, Liam asks her to take Todd aside.
  • While being operated upon, Leo uses his magic to discover all isn’t what it seems.
  • Vivienne, Irene, and Isabella are the distraction and pick a fight with Sebastian and Abraham to get the Guardians’ attention.
  • Liam talks with Richard, trying to figure out his angle. Something isn’t adding up.
  • Todd and Anna finally have a meaningful conversation in which a lot is revealed.
  • Leo makes a startling revelation.
  • The Guardians finally get involved in the fight, and Vivienne manages to unmask one of them—and in doing so, she’s surprised by her discovery of the origin of the Guardians.
  • Anna is upset with what Todd has told her, and they argue, but then she storms away.
  • Liam has learned Richard’s real motive, and it is disturbing. Just as he leaves from talking with the man, Anna storms pass him, and Todd is close behind. Liam knows the conversation did not go well.
  • They all come back together, and the game has definitely changed.

Now, take a closer look at how these scenes worked. First it was Leo (with Vivienne), then Anna (with Irene and Isabella), then Todd and Liam. Then Vivienne joined Anna, Irene, and Isabella, and Anna left and joined Todd and Liam, and eventually Todd leaves with Anna. We have a circuit of scenes: Leo, then Vivienne (with Irene and Isabella), then Liam with Richard, then Anna with Todd, and then it circles back to Leo, Vivienne, Liam, and Anna, and so forth.

Leo is first, and by the time we get back to him after going through all those other scenes, he’s had enough time to discover something else. This applies to all the other characters as well when you have this kind of circuit working for you. This technique is often fast-paced, but it allows to time to pass realistically through the scenes.

Timing is important for the pace and development of a story. It allows you to slip a major but not-yet-introduced character into a scene, so when he is introduced, you already have a lot you can work with regarding the character. It also gives you the ability to create misunderstandings and miscommunications by having a character refrain from saying something at a specific time just because the timing was wrong. You can slow down a scene and bring into focus the little details, or you can speed it up in an organized though somewhat chaotic manner much like a camera in cinema.

Stories have their own sense of timing, and for the most part all you need to do is let it run at its own pace. However, sometimes a story may demand a specific tempo at a certain part, and you need to be ready to change the pace for that scene before reverting back to the normal speed of the story.

Be aware of timing in your story. If you’re writing a medieval story and a character sent a message to a land far away, you’ll have to speed up the time in order to show the other character receiving the message. It’s not like they can send or receive a text message or email. Likewise if you’re writing modern stories or science fiction. The technology is different, so it allows for a different pace.

Don’t rush the story—otherwise you may completely miss a plot of gemstones buried beneath the levels of different scenes. Be aware of time in your story, and go ahead and experiment with it–use different techniques. You may discover an entirely new depth to your writing voice.