Staying on Track: Setting Realistic Writing Goals and Sticking with Them
The key to any writing project is creating practical goals, setting writing deadlines, and working hard to meet them. We’ve compiled a list of tips from Cognella signing and project editors to help authors reduce stress, embrace strategic productivity, and stay on track.
Rather than trying to set one overarching deadline for your full manuscript draft, it’s helpful to set shorter-term deadlines, too. Establish your goal date for your full manuscript to be completed and then work backward. For example, you could have a goal to draft a chapter or section a month leading up to your full manuscript due date. You could set a goal to finish 25% of your manuscript in two months, another 25% in another two months, and so on. You could set weekly goals to write about specific topics within a larger chapter or section. Achieving small goals and meeting deadlines consistently can help you stay motivated and avoid burnout. Remember to recognize and celebrate little victories throughout the writing process.
There is no rule that says you need to write your chapters in a set order. Even if your text proceeds chronologically or will be organized according to specific topics, you have the flexibility to approach writing the material however you’d like. Perhaps Chapter 5 will be the easiest for you to draft, because you’ve already published a good deal of research on the topic or it’s one of your academic specialties. Start there, get a chapter fully drafted, and then use that momentum to fuel your next writing task. As your manuscript comes together, you can revisit and edit your work to smooth out transitions and ensure your material flows well.
You may benefit from creating a chapter or unit template. By planning out the specific topics addressed within a chapter or unit, the pedagogical features you want to include, and how you’d like the content to be presented, you can ensure that each chapter or unit is consistent and provides students with an effective reading experience. This also allows you to work on smaller sections or features of a chapter at a time—items like pre- or post-reading questions, callout boxes, learning objectives, case studies, etc.—rather than tackling all the instructional content in one fell swoop.
Create a regular, non-negotiable writing schedule—one that is realistic and supports your creativity. Before committing to any type of writing schedule, make a list of the personal and professional responsibilities that consistently require your time. With this list in mind, ask yourself how much time you can realistically devote to both researching and writing per week (make sure you build in time to rest and practice self-care, too!). Once you’ve established a reasonable goal, make that time sacred. Block out time on your calendar. Tell your colleagues and loved ones how important this writing time is to you, and ask for their support.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to commit to an epic amount of writing time on a daily basis. A four-hour writing block may not be conducive to your creativity. You might, instead, commit to a half hour in the morning before work, a 45-minute session midday, or a couple hours late at night if it’s easiest to work when others are asleep. Perhaps you block out multiple, short writing sessions each day that naturally fit in between your other obligations. Tailor your schedule so that it works for you, not against you.
If you’re working with a project or developmental editor, ask for feedback throughout. We’ve all been there—staring at the blinking cursor in Microsoft Word and feeling unsure of our work. This can lead to second-guessing, writer’s block, and unnecessary stress. As you draft chapters, send them to your editor and ask for feedback. If you aren’t working with an editor, ask trusted colleagues or peers to serve as first readers. A second set of eyes can be a priceless gift. Suggestions, critique, and praise from others may spark new ideas and energy for your work.
Don’t wait for summer or winter break to start writing. While you may have more free time during these periods, beginning a project and asking yourself to create, create, create during a time that is supposed to be your break can be very stressful. Your time off becomes work time, and your deadlines loom heavy. This isn’t to say you can’t devote more time to writing over the break, but it’s much easier to create a writing habit before summer or winter break and then increase your writing output incrementally during these periods.
At the end of the day, setting realistic goals comes down to acknowledging your current responsibilities, cultivating a consistent writing practice that keeps these responsibilities in mind, and celebrating milestones as you go.
For more tips on effective strategizing, planning, and pre-writing, check out the post Get It Right Before You Write: Pre-Writing Strategies for Success.