We Need To Talk About Realistic Writing Goals | Opinion

A few days ago, I came across a tweet that really got my gears grinding.

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Shared by user @Hezzah, this post sparked a discussion over on Twitter, amassing several thousand likes and comments as well as fellow writers retweeting to show their support and contribute their own thoughts.

Now that I’ve taken some time to process mine, I wanted to share them in this opinion piece about the extreme nature of this “commitment.”

Though one person did point out that 15,000 words in a month is roughly 500 per day, that’s not always doable.

For most of us, writing is not our full-time focus. It’s not necessarily something that pays the bills, especially if you’re unpublished or only have one or two published works out there.

As I’ve mentioned a time or two here and elsewhere, I have a retail job that takes up most of my week and can be hard to carve out a specific time to write.

I feel like I had an easier time establishing a writing block when I was a student with a more regimented routine.

I went to a technical high school, so the curriculum was a little different than a traditional high school in that we were only in academic classes for half of the school year and spent the rest of that time in our respective shop, switching between the two every so often. Apart from weekly after-school Chamber Singers rehearsals and other occasional music department things, my writing time was basically 3PM on.

In college, my schedule was still pretty regimented. I could say “Okay, my first class gets out at 11 and then I have work from 12-5 so I can write for that hour in between while grabbing lunch in the cafeteria.” That consistency also allowed me to write from maybe about 9 PM on provided I didn’t have any homework to finish or exams to study for.

My current schedule changes fairly often from week to week, and varies from day to day; I’m often working from Open to 6 one day and then 3 to Close the next.

Especially with shifts like the latter, especially when they are the first half of a “Clopening” shift, it can be almost impossible to squeeze in even an hour of writing time.

I try to get a little done on my break, even bringing my tablet with me to work, but that timeframe I’m lucky if I can get a paragraph or half a conversation written.

I think this is why several panelists at writing conventions and authors at book signings make it a point to mention how they wrote their first book on the subway while commuting to work or getting up super early in the morning to write before getting ready to head out for the day. One author in particular made it clear she was only able to start writing full-time after retiring from a career in the medical field, and another who wasn’t able to begin writing full-time until after her second book was published and had been given an advance from her publisher ahead of the third. It’s important to understand that so many of us have to squeeze writing in where we can, but we manage it because we are writers regardless of how much we manage to get done in any given amount of time.

It’s also worth noting that although a day job is time-consuming, many of my fellow writers are parents. Caring for a child is perhaps one of life’s greatest undertakings, and it should go without saying that parents can be and often are pulled in so many directions between family and work that actually managing to take part in any hobbies is a remarkable feat.

Writing a book is most definitely included in that.

As one user pointed out in the comments to the original tweet, this expectation that you have to write 15,000 words per month or be kicked out of the group is one born out of privilege. It takes a lot of work to reach a point where a writer can write full-time and be paid to do so. Even when you do publish a book, traditionally or self-published, you will not be able to stroll into your boss’s office and turn in your resignation notice on release day. It takes time to build a sustainable writing career. Even with supplements like Patreon or monetizing your blog on WordPress, both things I’ve looked into out of genuine curiosity, making a livable income on writing alone is not going to happen instantly, so to assume you can just forgo all responsibilities like you are on a permanent writing retreat is not logical for most of us.

By no means does not being able to write every day or reach a specific word count mean you are not committed to writing. Life happens. Certain things have to be prioritized. Allowing yourself to take a break now and then is important not only for your own wellbeing but for your project.

Put your heart and soul into your writing but don’t burn yourself out in doing so.

As I said in my own reply to the post, I’m all for setting goals for my writing and try to establish a few to take on every year.

However, establishing such a demand of 15,000 words per month in order to maintain membership in this group is completely unreasonable and unfair.

And that part about being a “pretend writer” if you’re unable to achieve that?

In the simplest of terms, if you have written something, then you are a writer. Nothing pretend about it.

Am I a published writer? Not yet.

Am I a writer? Absolutely.

There shouldn’t be anything else to it.

The worst part of this is the frankly elitist attitude that comes with conditions such as these. Although I did see a few comments suggesting there is some good in having a goal to chase after with others can be a great motivator, having that goal be something so out of reach for so many is crushing. To go as far as to even suggest that someone is not a real writer because they aren’t able to hit an arbitrary word count is horrid.

Bouncing off of this point, it’s also important to note that no two writers are alike. We all have our own quirks and traits when it comes to our process. We write at different speeds and approach storytelling from different angles, and the method that works for you might not work for someone else. Setting such a specific rule about word counts and time frames is limiting and forces writers to try and cram themselves into a box that is not meant for them.

And speaking of writing processes, this 15,000 words per month command does not appear to take other aspects of writing a book into account. Between things like brainstorming, plotting and outlining, research, and editing, you’re not always going to be adding to your word count, but that doesn’t mean you’re not working on the project.

What happened to quality over quantity? I would rather take my time and make sure my 1,000 words are worth reading than to churn out 15,000 of them like I’m throwing them against the wall and hoping a string of them sticks.

In response to a comment left on the original tweet, @Hezzah noted, “The minute she started talking about the changes, it stopped being fun and became anxiety-inducing. I write because I love it, & it’s the ONE thing I do for myself these days–imposing harsh guidelines on myself would ruin that, I think.”

This is honestly so true.

For a lot of us, writing provides an escape. Our characters become our family and their worlds become a second home to us.

But to demand that those stories be written a certain way strips all of that away and adds a troubling pressure to what would have otherwise been an enjoyable thing.

Overall, it is completely absurd to suggest that only a select few writers have the right to call themselves writers while the rest of us must relegate ourselves to “pretenders.” We all need people to push us to our potential, but that should not be done by pushing others down to make yourself look better or feel better about your capabilities.

I know there is so much more to say on this subject, but I also know that if I add anything else to this post I’m going to rile myself up further. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t made a little sick upon first reading the tweet that inspired this post.

I don’t want to leave this on a sour note, though, so I will instead offer some advice.

Set goals for yourself, but don’t make them so grand they become unobtainable. Instead, set goals based on you. What you know about yourself, your writing habits, and your life should be of more importance than trying to do as others might (strongly) suggest.

My heart sincerely goes out to @Hezzah and any other writers who have had a similar experience in their writing journey. As creators, we need to support each other and build one another up, not rip each other to shreds.

We are a #WritingCommunity. Not #WritingFactions.

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