Writing

On Goal Calendars for Writing

I’ve made one more addition to my writing regime: A calendar/checklist for “having written a page that day.” I was going to mention it in my monthly novel update for April, but it was longish and I thought it might be useful for people if I broke everything down into details. There are any number of methods like this out there, so this is a more in-depth example of how I actually work.

Basically, the method is to take a calendar and check off each date on which you’ve achieved your daily goal, and reward yourself if you do the thing every day of the month (or week, or whatever). I check off the day when I’ve written a page, and if I write a page every day in the month, I get a previously-determined reward of some kind. I’ve done this before and it worked well. Back then I used a hand-drawn not-cute calendar on graph paper, but this year (as of April) I’m using the cute one K.L. Wightman posted a while back:

Don't Break the Chain goal calendar

I printed it out, and just check through the date when I write on that day. I wrote in my rewards under the months.

I have many motivations to write — I love writing, for one thing. I want to write, I want to have written, and I want to be a writer (all different motivations). I have many ideas and other things I want to write, but I also want to write this story very badly.

So, the day-check method is not to motivate me to write. It’s really more to track when I’ve written, but it also motivates me to write just a little more. No slacking off after 6/8ths of a page, I’ve gotta write the whole page. “I’ve written 268 words, that’s practically the same as writing a 300-word page…” Uh-uh. The entire page, girlfriend. I often write more than a page when I get into a groove, but I also often write a bit less, or think “I’ll just write two pages tomorrow.” None of that, either.

There’s always an issue with this in that if you mess up, you lose your motivation to continue until the next month. To keep that from being an issue, I do three things: I give exceptions for days when I have to do something else, I let myself make up missed days at the end of the month, and I scale rewards.

In April, there were several days when I gave myself permission to do coursework in the morning instead of write, because I literally could not get everything done otherwise. I did not play stupid internet games during those days/weeks, I did not watch TV, I did not take extra time in the shower. I just did not have time to get all of my vital stuff done. If I ended up with extra time later in the day or after I’d turned in my assignment, then I tried to get in my one page of writing then… If I wrote the page, it counted, whether it was in the morning or not. Still, it being the last month of the semester, there were 15 days when I just couldn’t write. I marked them through with a line.

Goal Calendar April

Like so.

Since there were days I didn’t achieve my goal, I didn’t get the reward I was promised. However, since I had permission from myself to miss those days and it was for a legitimate reason, and I wrote for every other day, I gave myself a smaller version of the reward. If your reward is eating out, the smaller reward might be eating at a cheaper restaurant or buying a cupcake instead of a meal. (My rewards tend to be cheap things like “a fancy cupcake” anyway, but it might be a cheaper less-exciting cupcake, or a muffin.) If it was the deluxe Batman playhouse, it might be a Batman action figure instead. Something like that. This way I don’t have to stress out about it if I literally must do something else, but there’s still motivation to finish out the month.

Then, I do let myself go back and make up for a day sometimes. The key there is that I cannot do them ahead, thus giving myself an excuse to not write the next day, and its a last-ditch effort somewhere later in the month if I only missed a day or two. It’s mainly a way to make myself feel better about not having had time to write. Basically, I can only go back and make up a day that I gave myself permission to miss, not a day when I just didn’t do it. I hope that distinction makes sense. I may decide putting together a scene list or something counts for a day as well, but it has to be a pretty strenuous project — most of my outlining and whatnot doesn’t come into the goal calendar rewards method because I’ll do that anyway. That’s my favorite part; it’s the actual writing that I slack off doing.

I come up with rewards a few months ahead of time, but not for the whole year, so there’s some flexibility. The key here is the choice of prize, naturally. It’s gotta be something I really want, but not something I need, because I will not get it if I don’t meet my goal. It will not roll over to the next month. It might make another appearance on next year’s goal calendar, but that’s an awfully long time. I also don’t publicize my rewards ahead of time, just because for some perverse reason I don’t want it anymore if strangers know I’m trying to earn it.

Elsa doll

(Since its already happened I can tell you: For April, I was gonna get an Elsa doll, but the nice ones are really expensive online and impossible to find in town. I know, I looked. I had all those schoolwork days too, so I ended up getting the Frozen soundtrack as my smaller reward. Yes, if you see a cheap doll or plushie listed online do send me the link, but not until the middle of June because I’m paying for summer classes right now and it sucks…)

A further note on “permission,” since I don’t know if other people do this: I’m used to giving myself permission (or no permission) for things. My excitable self asks if I can do something, my rational self determines if I can afford it or if it’s a good idea, and my pouty self abides by the decision. It sort of disassociates the issue so that I won’t wheedle myself into things or spend money on a whim, and it lets me plan ahead. Another way to think of it is just having an impulse and then checking it against my budget or my schedule to see if it’ll work.

All this to say, it sounds crazy complicated to keep track of everything, but it’s what works for me. I’ve tried other methods, and the results just weren’t there. You probably know by now if any of this would work for you. A lot of it’s specific to me; a lot of it’s adapted from other people’s methods or suggestions. So, take anything that looks useful, but don’t stress yourself out about the rest! The trick is knowing how to deal with yourself, figuring out what motivates you and what kinds of goals you should incorporate. It’s figuring out how to talk to yourself.

I recommend starting with the simple calendar and goal, and then experimenting with what it takes for you to actually meet that goal. Maybe you need to say “NO concessions WHATSOEVER.” Maybe you need a “five times a week” goal instead of a daily one, or a weekly reward instead of a monthly one. Maybe you want to try just “Work on the project every day” instead of setting how much progress you want to make each day. Just be realistic about what you can do and want to do, and see what happens. If you’ve never tried anything like this, it might be worth a shot.

Ever tried it? What was your experience? What’s your method of getting stuff done?

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13 thoughts on “On Goal Calendars for Writing

  1. I use the calendar method also, though I haven’t used your system of a page = a mark. I used to put an X on the day if I wrote at all – low standards – then I switched to writing in the hours I worked for that day. I’m still currently writing in my hours, but I decided to quit that and adopt your method; mine is not working. Thanks for the idea, and carry on with the writing!

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    1. Good luck with it! I’ve tried the hours method before too, but it doesn’t work with my bizarro writing methods. I get much better work down with distractions, for the most part, so “I wrote for three hours” is basically meaningless.

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  2. What a fantastic idea, Hannah! I’m always curious to others’ writing processes, and this is a new one for me – I think I’ll definitely have to try it out. I have an awful tendency to smash out 3-5K in a day, then just … let it sit … and sit … and sit -_- So this might just be the kick-starter I need for ultimate productivity. I especially love the idea of rewards when I reach the goal!

    Thanks so much for the inspiration, it’s exactly what I needed right now 🙂 Good luck with the rest of your month’s calender!

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  3. I really like this idea. I’ve gotten better at writing… and by better, I mean I write 1 – 2 pages 2 – 3 times a week (pages in this case being the back and front of pages in a note book since I’m writing it all out by hand). It’s been hard just to find a groove. Then, things get in the way. Like yesterday… after work I had errands to run. Then it was after 6pm and I was hungry, so I spent time making food and eating it. By that point, I had no juice in me (and I had to get a blog post ready). All of those events are just excuses, though. Maybe this will help me stay on track.

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  4. I’ve had some success with monthly calendars but the most specific my goals can be are “post/finish one chapter of said project this week.” This seems like an enormous, time sucking, guilt inducing waste of energy to me, and I have a functioning memory so I know if I wrote something without needing to track it on a daily basis. The best thing for me is to set a goal of time investment per day or week, I’m actually thinking of starting a monthly “state of the characters” as a way of keeping track of who’s doing what. I use simple rewards like “now I can play a game or watch something I want.” if I meet the daily goals. What you’re doing with “yay I get a present” and quantitative goals just leads me to garbage I can’t use anyway.

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    1. I’m not surprised it’s backwards. Like I was just commenting to Natacha, I have to have records of what I’ve already done or I get confused. I have to do that with anything that requires sustained attention, and I’m finding out it’s more important even than a guide for future activity. I like to have an overall to-do list, and then lots of details about what I’ve already done. For this in particular, I’ll literally think I worked on something “yesterday” and it’ll have been four months.

      Time investment goals just mean I’ll sit staring at the wall for a certain amount of time without even noticing, and simple goals like “If I finish I can play a game” invariably lead to me just playing the game and not writing, and/or writing crap because my mind’s already on the game. So, both of those are my enormous timesucking guilt-inducing wastes of energy. 🙂

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  5. I always am interested in reading how other writers work on keeping track of their work and/or organize their goals. I have done it different ways, but I realize that I do things per project. I mean I decide of the next writing goal I will tackle (given paper/abstract and so on) and then depending on the word count it has to be, I break down work like “I’m going to write 500 or 1000 word minimum a day”. Every time something is finished, I start again. I realize that going for long term goals or keeping track of which day I wrote doesn’t really work for me. I tend to need my mind to be uncluttered (wishful thinking with the muses I know).

    I like the reward aspect, as it can be really good and motivating. I can’t really do this due to how broke I am these days, but in a way I use roleplaying as both a reward and a writing stretching process you could say. 🙂

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    1. That’s great!

      It’s interesting to me what unclutters people’s minds. I’m so cluttered already that I need detailed records of what I’ve already done or I get confused.

      And yeah, I have to be pretty creative with affordable rewards sometimes, lol.

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