Working Towards Goals Without Deadlines

It's all very well and good when you have a writing deadline to meet, because you have to have your manuscript finished by a certain date.

But what happens when you don't have a publishing contract? Or any way to force yourself to be accountable for completing a first draft?

If you already understand why it's important to complete the first draft (you can't edit a blank page, people), you're a step there. The next part - the setting a self-appointed goal - can be harder. If you want to start querying by December, say, how do you make sure you've done a first draft and an editing round by that stage? It's even harder with first drafts because you have no idea how many words the manuscript will end up being.

For Lintang 3, I didn't have a deadline because at that point I didn't have a contract. I wanted to write a first draft of it just in case, though. While I was waiting on copyedits for Lintang 1 and structural edits for Lintang 2, I set myself a goal of 500 words a day. Not much, but with full-time work and other manuscripts to think about, this was the perfect amount. I could get that done if I woke up early, or churn it out after school, even if my brain was fried.

I'm not saying it was easy. That first draft was an uphill climb the whole way through. Some days the words were so difficult to get out, I had to tally each hundred words to get myself to make the target. The next few drafts were better, but that first one was awful. I'm not sure I would've made it through if I hadn't given myself such a small, achievable goal. This kind of strategy is good for when you just want a draft finished, regardless of when it's finished.

For the Super Secret Project I'm working on now, again, I don't have a deadline, but I want to submit it to my agent by the end of the month. (My agent has a book-by-book contract, rather than taking clients on for life.) Now, I won't be anywhere near finished this book by the end of the month, but I'll be a solid chunk of the way through the first act and she'll have a good idea what kind of story she's looking at. I'll also have a synopsis prepared, telling her where the plot's going.

How I've set the goal this time is based on the advice of my crit partner, who warned me to write at least 50 pages before pitching it to anyone. That way I know whether it's going to last, or whether this Shiny New Idea will fizzle out (as so many Shiny New Ideas have in the past). So I need 50 pages written by August 31st. I currently have 21. I need to think about work, bookstore tours, and Lintang edits. The way I'm writing this manuscript is slow and careful, so I need to pace myself, too.

My goals are: by the end of this weekend I'll be up to 28 pages. By the end of next weekend, I'll be at 35 pages. The weekend after that, 48 pages. By the Thursday - last day of the month - I'll have hit 50.

From there I'll see what my agent has to say, whether she has any suggestions, and whether she'll take this project on. From there I can reevaluate my goals without necessarily giving myself a word count.

Note: buying pretty, goal-orientated things from places like Kikki-K have never not helped!

Do you have your own way of getting that draft done?