Writer's Craft Article by Karen S. Wiesner
Two Crucial Writing Goal Sheets
Based on FIRST DRAFT OUTLINE (formerly titled FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS)
Once you become a published author, the pressure to maintain the standard of quality with every book is crucial. Publishers and readers will expect that, as you the author have to of yourself. That’s why it’s absolutely essential to become a productive writer as soon as you can--ideally, before you sell your first book. You’ll be confident about what you can do, and you’ll have more to offer any publisher who contracts for your books.
A good rule of thumb for unpublished writers is to stay one or two projects ahead of your submissions. If you’re a published author, you should stay one or two projects ahead of your releases. Three to six months before a new year, you need to be thinking--or preferably working--on next year's projects.
The purpose of a writing goal sheet is to help you determine how much time you need to spend turning your formatted outline into a manuscript draft. To complete this goal sheet, you’ll need to have a rough estimate of how much you can accomplish on a daily basis. As a general rule, writing at least one scene a day, regardless of how long or short that scene ends up, is ideal. If you’re prone to writer’s block, the chances of burning out or hitting a roadblock are significantly less when you’re brainstorming on one scene a day instead of two or more. Furthermore, each scene must be written with its own mood and objective--it can be difficult to switch gears in the middle of your writing session when you have to move on to the next scene. If you stick to writing one scene every day, you’ll rarely feel you’re doing too much or too little. If your scenes are consistently too long or short, you may need to re-evaluate whether your pacing is on track, and make any necessary adjustments.
For some authors, it works best to write a certain number of pages a day instead of a scene or more a day. Personally, I find this method to be inefficient, though I know everyone's different and what works for one writer is unimaginable to another and vice versa. Writing page by page, even if you’re going strong, do you stop at 10 pages using this method? If you’re not feeling inspired at all, do you quit at 10 pages, even if you’re in the middle of a scene or, heck, in the middle of a sentence? How does that work? Regardless of whether it's not really that dramatic where a page-by-pager cuts off for the day, to me if you haven't finished the scene, you are essentially in the middle of something that has a very specific mood. To come back the next day (or whenever) is to interrupt that mood, which you'll have to start from scratch to get back into when you return. It would drive me crazy to work that way. However, if you choose to write a certain number of pages per day, your goal sheet would be based on the projected length of the book. The chart below will help you estimate the number of pages in your complete manuscript based on the number of words you’re shooting for:
(estimated 250 words per page)
50,000 words = 200 pages
60,000 words = 240 pages
70,000 words = 280 pages
80,000 words = 320 pages
90,000 words = 360 pages
100,000 words = 400 pages
Therefore, if you estimate your book will be 50,000 words and you want to write 10 pages a day (not taking holidays or weekends into account), your goal sheet might look something like this:
1/1: write 10 pages
1/2: write 10 pages
1/3: write 10 pages
1/4: write 10 pages
1/5: write 10 pages
Test yourself for a week or a couple weeks by writing however many pages you can and taking notes on what you accomplish each day. At the end of the time, figure out your average number of pages per day. Then add a page or two to your daily page goal to challenge yourself.
It might sound impossible to accurately predict how long it’ll take you to complete a project, especially down to the day (assuming life doesn’t throw you any radical curves). But there is a method for doing just that that anyone can use. You need to complete the following steps before you can make your prediction:
1. Develop a solid idea of how much you’re able to write per working day. (This method works best if you write scene by scene rather than page by page.)
2. Determine whether you’ll work weekends or holidays, and what your schedule (personal, writing, and your other job, if you have one) is like for the time period in which you’ll be working on this particular book.
3. Complete a formatted outline, with scenes divided.
First, make sure you allow the outline sufficient shelf-time before you begin writing. Next, plan to give yourself at least a week or two before you start writing to go over your outline and make sure it’s still solid.
Using a blank sheet of paper and your formatted outline, make a list of the scenes within the book, putting one scene on each line. Obviously, these scenes will come from your formatted outline. You can simply make a sequential list of scenes, as shown below:
Or you can specify chapter and scene number:
chapter 1, scene 1
chapter 1, scene 2
chapter 2, scene 1
chapter 2, scene 2
Figure out how many working days you’ll have in a month. (I generally don’t write on weekends, so for me, most months amount to approximately twenty working days.) Now, get out your calendar or planner--whatever you use to schedule your days. Any standard calendar of the upcoming months will work, but if you have events (dentist appointment or whatever) planned during the time you’ll be working, you’ll want to take that into account on your writing goal sheet.
Decide the date you want to begin writing and mark it down on your writing goal sheet next to the first scene. If you’re writing one scene per day, you will then write the next date by the second scene, etc. Don’t forget to skip weekends and holidays if you don’t plan to write on those days.
8/10: chapter 1, scene 1
8/11: scene 2
8/12: chapter 2, scene 1
8/13: scene 2
By the time you’ve put a date next to each scene in your book, you know exactly when you’ll be done with the first draft.
It’s my experience, after outlining and writing close to 150 books, that an outline will be approximately a quarter of the size of your finished story. There certainly can be a wide variance because every project is different and some authors write consistently short or long scenes. The list below is an estimate of how the number of scenes in an outline will translate to novel length, assuming there are roughly 250 words per page:
up to 20 scenes in an outline = a novella-length work of 7,000–15,000 words
30–40 scenes in the outline = 50,000–75,000 words
41–70 scenes in the outline = 76,000–90,000 words
71 or more scenes in the outline = 100,000+ words
Here are some examples of how I figured out my own schedule estimations:
Vows & the Vagabond
· 46 scenes at 20 working days per month
· 2 months, 6 days to write an 80,000 word novel, not including editing, polishing, and proposal
· budget 2 1⁄2 to 3 months for project completion
No Ordinary Love
· 68 scenes at 20 working days per month
· 3 months, 8 days to write a 90,000 word novel, not including editing, polishing, and proposal
· budget 3 1⁄2 to 4 months for project completion
Tears on Stone
· 74 scenes at 20 working days per month
· 3 months, 14 days to write a 110,000-word novel, not including editing, polishing, and proposal
· budget 4 months for project completion
You’ll notice I budgeted some extra time at the end of the writing process--that's for editing and polishing.
As soon as an outline is complete, you can work up a writing goal sheet, taking into account shelf-time and a week or two for outline review and revision.
Once you have a writing goal sheet, you can then translate the information from your writing goal sheet directly into a yearly goal sheet, something like:
Yearly Goals With New Writing Goal
WHAT I want to accomplish
WHEN I want to accomplish it
Write Vows & the Vagabond
January 10-February 26
Write Tears on Stone
March 8-June 8
Write No Ordinary Love
July 3-September 4
Accurately estimating the time you’ll spend on various projects during the year will be very helpful when you’re filling out your yearly goal sheets. If you want to see examples of detailed, multiyear goal sheets, visit my WIP page here: https://karenwiesner.weebly.com/works-in-progress.html.
Remember: Being productive should not mean being rushed. If a story needs more time, give it all it needs--as long as you continue to meet your daily goals. If you’re a beginner, you may need to be more flexible, but having personal goals can help you no matter what stage you’re in. Should you find that you’re daily goals make you feel rushed, take time to evaluate whether you’re trying to do too much. Would one scene per day be more manageable for you than two? Be more flexible with yearly goals than daily goals.
Karen S. Wiesner is the author of First Draft Outline and Cohesive Story Building
Volumes 1 and 2 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection
Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series. Visit her here: