Why You Need Realistic Writing Expectations

As you gear up for a new year of writing, it’s important to set expectations and goals. Just “hoping to write a novel this year” probably won’t result in a lot of work, so how will you approach it? A certain number of pages a day? A goal of a chapter a week? A month? Or just “progress every month,” and see where life takes you?

Different writers find different approaches work better for them, so this isn’t about “Why You Have to Write This Way.” Instead, I thought I’d talk about the types of writing expectations you can have.

openbook sebastiansantanam8qnfs

Most writing goals fall under three types:

  • What You Can Easily Do
  • What You’ll Have to Work to Achieve
  • What You’d Love to Pull Off but Isn’t Likely

Goals That Are Too Easy

Goals that are too easy can be tempting to pick, as you can pile up a lot of “I did this” in a relatively short amount of time. The problem with those goals is that you don’t really gain satisfaction through doing them because, deep down, you know you could do better.

Sometimes, an easy goal makes us lose our drive to try because it’s too easy and thus there’s no real reward when we make it happen. If we just give ourselves the goal of writing one paragraph a month, and we could do more, we don’t necessarily feel “proud of ourselves” when we make it happen. Instead, it’s about as satisfying as doing Kindergarten work when we’re in high school or college. It might be quick and easy, but there’s not the same emotional feeling of a “job well done” when we finish.

Goals That Are Too Hard

These ones can appeal to our ambitions, especially when we’re comparing ourselves to someone else. Ernest Hemingway wrote every morning, so we’re going to do the same thing. Jodi Picoult said you need a page to edit, so you’re going to make sure you have a page written every night. A. J. Jacobs wrote after dropping kids off at work and while walking on the treadmile, so you’re going to combine exercise and writing.

The problem with these kinds of goals is that we can quickly become discouraged by them. When we fail—and we will fail goals that are too hard—we can be tempted to give up entirely. We never reach “look at how much we did,” and thus we rob ourselves of the emotional reward we could have if we’d set more realistic goals for ourselves.

Goals That Are “Just Right”

Like Goldilocks, we need a balance. We need goals that challenge and inspire us while giving us a chance to actually pull off the work, to reach “the end” and look back at what we did. Whether we achieve this by having more than one goal—a “dream goal” and the “what I’m definitely doing this week/month/year” goal—or by just starting with goals that are a little bit more challenging than what we did yesterday, realistic goals can ultimately provide the emotional encouragement and reward we need while not feeling “so easy as to be cheating.”

Was there a time when you picked something too easy or too hard? What are your current writing goals?


Copyright 2021 Andrea Lundgren

Photo by sebastiansantanam8qnfs, used per Creative Commons

4 thoughts on “Why You Need Realistic Writing Expectations

  1. My writing goals were a huge challenge in 2020, partially because they kept moving on me. My 100k book ended up being nearly 150k, so I kept reaching my goals, only to discover the project still wasn’t finished. It was very frustrating, and I blew past my self-chosen publish deadline more than once. The whole year turned out to be a lesson in perseverence, and I am pretty sure it was worthwhile, but I guess the readers will have the ultimate say. 🙂


    1. I know the whole “word count thing” can really help some people get “something” on the page, but I agree. For me, it’s going to be more about “opening the file and doing something with it” every week this year, if possible, rather than anything particularly quantifiable.

      Liked by 1 person

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