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Thursday, 10 November 2011

Writing Targets: They Should Be Servant, Not Master

To-do lists, savings plans, shopping lists, the 'to-be-read' pile, deadlines, NaNoWriMo - they're all targets of a sort. Fine if they seem attainable, and you're in charge - then they're your servants. Bad news if if they're too threatening - they're your masters.

Fiction or non-fiction, there can't be many writers who don't set themselves writing targets. Without them, productivity would probably be slower, but they can generate more tension than is helpful. Here are some brief thoughts on why inappropriate targets can cause problems, and how wise and considered targets are the business.

Inappropriate Targets
Key issues here include timing and scope ...

1  If a writing target has been set by someone or something else, and it seems unattainable, it should not
    be agreed in the first place, but negotiated.

2  If the completion target is too soon, it may cause the writer to speed up, but this will bring an
    unhelpful degree of stress, so quality may be affected because research/planning/editing are rushed.

3  Careful planning is important when a writer suggests their own target to an outside agency. If
    anything, the temptation is to offer a deadline which is closer than it might be.

4  Most writers prefer always to say 'yes' to a request for work - especially true for non-fiction writers.
    I have pitched an article in detail recently, only to be told it would be fine if I changed the angle
    substantially. I agreed; it involved unexpected research, but the deadline was well ahead so the task
    was manageable without stress. Taking on an assignment of any sort which is beyond a writer's usual
    scope needs consideration - it can be uplifting and fascinating but will be hard work.

5  Lastly, writers who take on NaNoWriMo but get bogged down and can't complete should never
    beat themselves up about it. It was a good target in itself, but in their case it turned out not to be
    appropriate. It's a strength to come to terms with that.

Happy Targets
1  A goal which the writer really wants to reach.

2  A goal towards which there is a 'time-planned journey' which includes some leeway to allow for
    unexpected problems.

3  Maybe a target which is broken down into units, such as first draft: chapter 1 within 10 days,
    chapter 2 within the next 8 days, and so on. For articles, could be plan day 1, research days 2-4,
    first draft day 5, final edit day 6.

4  If working with units, good idea to use a chart so that they can be ticked off as completed. Very
    motivating, and gives writers 'permission' to log off if they're ready to.

5  Best bit - plan a suitable reward for completion of units, and a cracker of a treat at the end. (But then
    you probably already do that last one already, judging by Twitter!)

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