NaNoWriMo and Setting Realistic Goals

It’s mid-November and for those authors who signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month where authors make a commitment to write a 50,000 word novel in only 30 days), we’re knee deep in novel-writing frenzy. Or, at least we’re supposed to be. For authors who are on track toward achieving their goal, NaNoWriMo provides a way to track their word count online and to feel a sense of community with other writers. For authors who are far behind in word count, NaNoWriMo can be a month-long guilt fest.

This is my third NaNoWriMo and I don’t think I’m going to reach my goal. At first, I wasn’t even going to participate, but after reading Facebook updates and blog posts by pumped-up, mega-motivated authors, I decided to enter. It’s day sixteen and I’m now several thousand words behind. It’s unlikely I’ll hit 50,000 words by the end of the month. I might not even make it to 25,000.

For some authors, writing 50,000 words a month is a realistic goal. For others, it is not.

On Authors to Watch, one of the interview questions I always ask authors is this: What advice do you have to offer new or aspiring authors? Lots of authors (indie and traditionally published) tell aspiring authors to write every day. “Write even when you don’t want to. If you want to be a professional author, act like one. Professional writers write every day even when they don’t feel like it.”

While I think there is some wisdom in this advice, I don’t believe it’s realistic to tell ALL authors to write every day. While this might work for SOME authors, it will not work for all. Our writing goals are constantly changing. We need to be flexible and cut ourselves some slack when life gets in the way and we’re unable to reach our daily word count goals.

In the past, having a daily word count goal has helped me finish novels. Sometimes a chart (like the one on NaNo) or a spreadsheet can be a powerful motivator. But, if you’re an author who strives for perfection on a first draft, self-editing and rewriting as you go, you’re probably going to write at a slower pace. If you’re writing a novel that requires extensive research, there are going to be days (or even weeks) where you’re busy reading, researching, or interviewing. Just because you haven’t been adding to a word count chart doesn’t mean you haven’t been productive.

We all have our own unique writing process that fits our individual needs. We all have different goals. For some authors, writing a book every two years is the goal. For others, they aim to crank out three of four books a year. Is the second type of author more productive? More professional? Not necessarily.

Before we set a realistic writing goal, we need to define for ourselves what our long-term goals are. We need to define what it means to be a “professional” writer and if we in fact want to be one. There is nothing wrong with writing for pleasure or writing only when we feel like it. It doesn’t make you any less of a writer. There’s nothing wrong with publishing twelve novellas a year just like there is nothing wrong with not wanting to publish anything at all.

Define your long term goals and then you’ll be able to set realistic short term goals. If you want to eventually make a living from novel-writing, you’ll need to set some challenging goals. You’ll need to push yourself to write nearly every day. You’ll have to train yourself to meet deadlines.

As for NaNoWriMo… Adjust it to suit your own needs. Try these ideas:

  • If you can’t possibly write 50,000 words in November, select a word count you can work with.
  • Create your own spreadsheet and set your own goals. Or go to Story Toolz to get a nifty Word Count Meter to track your progress.
  • If you can’t consider starting a new project until you finish your WIP or edit an existing manuscript, set an editing or project-finishing goal for the month.
  • Start a Facebook Group with like-minded individuals and update each other on your progress.
  • Set small goals and reward yourself when you accomplish each one.

As writers, goal setting is important, but our goals shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. As long as you’re making progress toward YOUR goal, you’re a winner! Happy Writing everyone!


18 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo and Setting Realistic Goals

  1. Refreshing post amidst the frenzy of people participating in NaNoWriMo, Tricia. I chose not to participate this year (after 3 years in a row) to save myself the inevitable frustration I run into in trying to write so much in the month of November. I think I’m better suited to either participating in the summer time camps, or creating my own version of NaNoWriMo that suits me better. People are different. Some write fast, some write slow. And some are more involved in a particular season than others. For this year, at least, NaNoWriMo didn’t make sense. Between now and next November, I hope to participate in at least one summer camp, or one month of my own choosing where I push my writing limits beyond the norm. Until then, I’m enjoying the beginning of the holiday season by relaxing and taking things a bit slower without the worry of hitting an unusually high word count goal.

    Thanks for the great post, Tricia.


    • You make an excellent point–November NaNo is is tough for those who travel for Thanksgiving or have other family obligations that accompany the holiday season. I’m glad you’ve decided to relax and enjoy the beginning of the holiday season!


  2. Inspiring post! It’s halfway through the month and I’m already discouraged :p I think I’ll come close but not close enough. This post definitely makes me feel better about setting my own goals! Thanks Tricia, for another great round of advice!


  3. There are so many people who feel bad about themselves when they miss deadlines, and as writers, we’re already dealing with our internal editors, so we don’t need to create more reasons to stumble and fall. While I think the advice to write every day works for those who need motivation to get words on the page, I love your statement that “we need to define for ourselves what our long-term goals are.” We are all on different paths, and we should be supportive of each other no matter what that path is.


    • You’re right about being supportive of each others’ individual paths. So much of the “good” advice only feeds our guilt for not achieving what is often unreasonable goals for us. This advice that is meant to be helpful can sometimes be counterproductive, particularly when we’re telling authors they have to reach a certain word count goal or publish a certain number of books every year. Thanks for the comment!


  4. Great post, Tricia. I must say, I have some admiration for any writer who takes up the NaNo write challenge, really don’t think I’d be up to it. But one of these days, I’ll bite the bullet and give it a whirl. HUGE good luck to everyone. 😀


  5. Great post 🙂 I like the “setting your own word count” idea. I was all gung ho to hit 50k words this month, but as I’m currently sitting at 5880 words on day 18, that doesn’t seem very doable. I’ve officially decided to reset my word count goal to 10k … fingers crossed it turns out 🙂


  6. Some days I write what I consider a lot of words, say 2000. If I brag about it to my husband who is a translator and might have been wrangling the same paragraph all day, he asks: ‘But are they 2000 good words?’ I have never understood NaNo. Why write 50K words in a month if 90% of them are no good? I can only speak for myself, but some days the words flow, other days they don’t. Some days I write poetry, some days prose. But I try to end the day with a positive wordcount of ‘good’ words. Even if it’s only a handful.


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