How to Win NaNo Using Totally Doable Daily and Weekly Writing Goals

How to Win NaNo Using Totally Doable Daily and Weekly Writing Goals

What’s the one and only key to winning National Novel Writing Month? For that matter, what’s the key to writing a novel to its finish and being a successful writer, day in and day out, for the rest of your life? If you cheated by peeking at the title, then you’re probably already guessing “writing goals.”

Well, you’re wrong.

Okay, only partly wrong—because the title isn’t lying. We are going to talk about the importance of writing goals and how you can implement them into your daily and weekly writing schedules. But before we can talk about writing goals, we first have to talk about your math skills.

If you’re now groaning, then know I feel your pain, since high school Algebra and I were pretty much mortal enemies. We’re writers, man. We don’t need no stinkin’ math! Except that we totally do. Why? Because successful goals are totally about numbers.

Today, we’re going to find out what it takes to set successful writing goals that will carry you through NaNo—and beyond. (And I promise that if I can do the math, so can you.)

What Specific Value Do Writing Goals Bring to the Table?

First, we have to ask: What’s the point of writing goals in the first place? I’m talking about specific writing goals, the kind that challenge us—the kind that are sometimes a little uncomfortable, even downright hard.

The answer to that depends entirely on you. Because here’s a secret you don’t always hear: über-specific goals aren’t inherently valuable.

Although I’m definitely a productivity-oriented person (my end-of-day gratitude prayers inevitably begin, “thank You for everything I was able to get done today”), I’m surprisingly not prone to setting high goals. I never have been. Since I know I’ll work at more or less top speed toward the end of production regardless, I prefer to avoid the extra stress of placing myself under deadlines.

For most of my writing life, I’ve chosen not to compromise the fun and the flow of my naturally steady production level in order to ramp up the output. In all truth, there isn’t always going to be a good reason to put the clamps on the Muse and rev her into the red zone. In our productivity-obsessed world, it’s important to recognize that.

However, there comes a time for all of us (and for many writers, that time is November), when we just plain need the good firm kick in the pants that a solid set of goals can provide. That’s what NaNo is all about: encouraging the sort of steady and challenging writing output that allows us to move through our overall goals of finishing and writing books with consistency and efficiency.

That sort of motivation is only provided by goals that are a leetle more specific than: Finish book … someday.

Ask Yourself: What Is Your Overall Writing Goal?

There are two different types of specific writing goals you can use, separately or in conjunction, to help you maximize your writing time and effort. They are:

1. Time Goals

This is the one I use when I can trust myself not to be a lollygagging, space-gazing daydreamer. As I hinted above and wrote about more thoroughly here, productivity-specific goals can sometimes end up compromising both the quality and the overall experience of writing. Instead of focusing on the amount we’re writing, we can put the focus on the amount of time we’re writing each day. Set yourself a daily writing time—and discipline yourself to write for the whole of it.

2. Production Goals

These are “word-count goals.” We set ourselves a word count and write to the end of it no matter how much time it takes. This is a much higher-stakes game. Depending on how steep a goal you’re setting yourself, this can really up the ante—and the stress level—and force you to keep writing past all time limits, past even the point of mental and physical exhaustion.

The great thing about NaNo is that it’s all about utilizing the best of both of these goals.

3. Time + Productivity Goals

When you set yourself a time limit and a projected word goal within that time limit, that’s when your ability to produce has the potential to fly off the charts. And that’s what NaNo is all about. It provides both the time goal (30 days) and the productivity goal (50,000 words). You can easily use this same system all year long to keep your productivity consistently high.

Big Writing Goals Got to You Intimidated? Here’s the Secret

Writing is full of big goals. A book is a huge end product to get your mind around all at once. It’s downright scary. No wonder we sit down before our computer’s blank screen and stare like a deer in the headlights. For that matter, the idea of writing approximately 1,700 words every single day for 30 days! is a pretty scary thought in its own right.

So stop thinking about it.

I used to jump rope every morning (until I bone-bruised my big toe–and also wore a hole in the carpet). My initial goal was fifteen minutes of fast skipping. But my wimpiness knew no bounds. Fifteen minutes of sweating and wheezing was an eternity. My body probably could have handled it right from the start, but my brain was a big fat cream puff. So I played nice and started out with a goal I knew I could handle: one minute the first day. (Yeah. Don’t judge.)

Then two minutes the next day and three minutes the day after that. I climbed my way up to the full goal painlessly.

Writing goals work in exactly the same way. The first thing you need to do is ask yourself: What level of productivity are you at now? It’s okay to be a honest wimp. One minute a day? Ten words a day? (I definitely won’t judge.)

Start there. Then slowly start adding as much as you know you can handle. Add ten minutes a day. Ten minutes is painless. Do that consistently and before you know it you’ll be skipping through massive goals without breaking a sweat.

Smaller and Smaller Goals: The Secret to Productivity

Remember how I said that non-specific, time-oriented goals are often less mentally taxing that “tighter” goals that focus on specific productivity objectives? There’s a reason for that. General goals you aim to complete “sometime off in the future,” with perhaps a vague idea that “sometime” will be “oh, late next year,” are totally misleading.

When I use goals like this, I’m inevitably surprised to discover my productivity is nowhere near as good as I think it is. This is because, even though I may be working steadily every day, I have no yardstick by which to measure my progress. I might think, Yeah, I’ve been writing almost every day for six months now. I’m doing great. But if I then do the math (dun-dun-da-dunh–told you we were going to talk numbers), I’m usually stunned to realize how little I’ve actually accomplished in those months–and how much longer it’s actually going to take me to finish my project.

If you’re planning to be productive day in and day out–whether it’s just during NaNo or for the rest of forever–you’re going to need to get in the habit of breaking down your big, general goals into smaller and smaller integers. Again, NaNo is a great incentive for this. If you have the large goal of writing 50k words in 30 days, then you can (painlessly) put your latent math skills to work and figure out that you’re going to have to write 1,666 words every single day.

Boom. Suddenly, you don’t just have a goal, you have a daily action plan for achieving that goal. Small goals like this keep you focused on a daily basis. You always know exactly where you are in relation to the big goal. You know how much work you’ve already accomplished and how much you still have left to do. You’re never left to flounder in the blinding “bigness” of the overall goal.

But the rabbit hole goes even deeper.

Here’s How to Create Super-Productive Writing Goals–That Are Surprisingly Painless

Facing down the mammoth idea of 50,000 words in 30 days can be gaze-glazing. Even just the idea of taking it day by day and having to somehow create 1,700 words out of nothing–not just once, but thirty times–can be more than scary enough in its own right to freeze your muse.

So let’s say you have two hours a day in which to write (which I was I do). Okay, so that’s 850 words an hour. I know I can knock that out relatively painlessly, but, even still, the sheer bulk of the words, when faced by the blank page I’m starting with, can be a little intimidating.

Fine. Let’s forget hourly goals. An hour’s way too much time for my roaming and highly distractible brain (squirrel!) to get lost in anyway. Let’s just make things easy for everybody and focus on writing 15 minutes at a time. That’s a measly 212 words. That’s only 50 more words than I’ve already written in this section of this post. Three paragraphs.

Up Dug the Dog Squirrel

Up (2009), Walt Disney Pictures.

Let me say that again: three par-a-graphs. Does it get any more manageable than that?

Nope. And then all you have to do is put four fifteen minute sprints together into one hour–two hours together into one day’s writing session–and thirty days worth of writing sessions together into a NaNoWriMo victory.

Still Overwhelmed? Here’s the Next Step: Incentivize Your Writing Goals

The time + productivity goal of 212 words per 15 minutes is easy, but bet on it: there will still be days when it’s tough to get it done. This is where I bring in the incentives: punishments and rewards.

Punishments are admittedly harder (I tell myself no ice cream after supper, but somehow I just never listen). I also just plain don’t like the idea. Why turn the joy of writing into a guilt trip? Still, one über-effective method you might want to try is Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die app, which offers a number of nasty hand-slaps when you fail to meet your goals–everything from blowing your eardrums with loud and obnoxious noises to literally deleting your writing one word at a time. Ouch.

Dr Wicked Write or Die

On the happier end of the spectrum, we have rewards. My hands-down favorite method is jelly beans. If I’m having trouble staying focused on a difficult project, I’ll bribe myself with a jelly bean after every small goal met. It’s a small reward, but if I know I can’t reach into the jelly bean bowl until I write another 200 words, guess what? You got it: I write another 200 words.

Editing With Jelly Beans

Train Yourself to Look Beyond Your Current Goal

You know what motivates me more than anything else to conquer my current writing goals? The next goal. The sooner you finish this goal, the sooner you can begin the next one.

You do have a next one, right?

Start thinking beyond NaNo right now. What happens December 1st? (Other than It’s a Wonderful Life reruns, of course.) Will you have 50,000 more words to write? Will you edit the 50,000 you’ve already written? Will there be another book? Writing workshops to attend? An author mailing list to build?

I keep a list of all my writing goals (which, basically, is a glorified to-do list). Seeing that list and knowing how much I still have to do is what keeps me focused on accomplishing my current goals and tuning up my productivity every single day. If you do the same, you’re not only going to kill NaNo (and do your high-school Algebra teacher proud), you’re also going to be one of the most productive writers on the planet. No lie.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What are your overall and daily writing goals right now? Tell me in the comments!

How to Win NaNo Using Totally Doable Daily and Weekly Writing Goals

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Great post! I’ve been worrying about nanowrimo for the last couple weeks. The daily output to get those 50k words is a lot larger than my usual amount. I’m looking forward to pressing myself, though, and all the tips about small writing goals is going to help me get it done.

    My usual writing goals are pretty relaxed. “I need to atleast finish this scene before I do something else.” or “I need to atleast keep my butt in this chair until 10.”

    Since I’m in the middle of a current WIP, I’m not going to pump the breaks and start a new one just for nano. My hope is that I can utilize the gumption of nanowrimo as a catalyst to finally get this thing done!

    • My inner adhd kid is always at odds with my inner productivity manager. It’s a toss up who usually wins out, but at least they’re still fighting!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      As I (more or less) state here, there’s nothing wrong with relaxed goals. I love ’em. And there’s also nothing wrong with *not* cranking out the 1,666 words a day necessary to win NaNo. What *is* important about the challenge of NaNo is using it to find the zone where your maximum production level intersects with your comfort zone.

  2. Great thoughts!!

    Setting those wordcount goals are SO easy if you have Scrivener. I admit I’ve become a bit addicted to the little Target app in there, which is currently set at 2250/daily. It’s nice to be aware it’s slowly shifting from red to orange to yellow to sickly green to Ireland green.

    For me, it’s usually just a relief to get up out of my chair when I hit a goal–like 1000 words or the whole enchilada of 2250. And my arthritic knee is generally grateful, especially if I’ve done all 2250 (or more) in one sitting!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve actually never messed with the word-count settings in Scrivener. I’m kinda afraid I’ll get addicted to them too. :p

  3. Extremely helpful, as always!

  4. I think the advice to break everything up into smaller chunks is going to get me through. I will have 25 working days since I take off Sundays, so I need 2000 words per day. I think this will be workable if I break it into four chunks of 500 words each, but if not, I’ll break it into six chunks. I can do this!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You can do it. When I’m on a roll, I can write close to 2,000 words in an hour. Just stay focused and keep your fingers moving over that keyboard.

    • A great way to break daily goals down is to write while the laundry is washing/drying…. That’s a very do-able session of 25-30 minutes…500+ words during the wash cycle is very do-able.

      • Thank you, Mike! For that matter, it would be helpful if I did a little laundry every day, instead of doing it all on Saturday, but that’s a little off topic. 😀

  5. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    That one’s not hyperbole, actually. The percentage of writers who are productive day in and day out is comparatively small. Any writer who can implement all these tips on a consistent basis *will* be in the top percentile of productive writers.

  6. I’m doing too many others things after my day job to be able to write this much fiction – but that doesn’t mean these tips don’t matter to me.

    I’m supposed to be doing much more technical writing and project development than I am, but I often find myself starting and not finishing, getting caught up in making it too perfect, then getting distracted by the next new idea before the last is finished.

    I will study what you have proposed here to see how it can aid my non-fiction writing.

  7. I was thinking about doing something like this. Thank you for giving me the format as to how to do it.

  8. I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I do write a lot, so these are very helpful tips.

  9. I think time based goals work well because you can more easily slot those in; You know if you have the time to write for 30 minutes because…well, you know if you have 30 minutes to spare. Word counts are more subjective and therefore less easy to plan….Who knows how long 500 words will take to write? Could be 20 minutes, could be 45.

    Also, know how long it takes you to get into ‘the zone’ and writing the way you like; if it take 30 minutes of writing to get the words flowing the way you want them to, setting aside 20 minutes will not accomplish much.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      True. I used to schedule half an hour for “warming up” to my writing. These days, I can get in the zone almost right away. But it’s important to know how much time you *have* for throat clearing in the beginning. You don’t want to eat up half your writing time with editing or reviewing notes.

  10. I like the jelly bean idea, except I’d use M&Ms personally. 🙂 One of the years I won Nanowrimo I did it using Write or Die. Little spurts got it done. The trick is to get focused fast and stay focused, even for a short period of time. I may need to use the timer for my 5 year old, too, simultaneously. “You play quietly for 15 minutes until this timer goes off and I’ll write. When the timer goes off, we’ll both take a break!”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      M&Ms work too! I have to be honest: I’m always too chicken to actually dry Write or Die. :p

      • To be honest, anything lower than having Write or Die erase your words is OK….An annoying noise is acceptable…..Unless you want to incur the wrath of your fellow coffee shoppers and set your laptop speakers to 100% and risk blasting them with the buzzer, should you not complete your words on time.

  11. Thanks for the tips! Last month I finally found my most productive writing strategies (after struggling to just get a thousand words a day, I’m now averaging 3000 in my 2 hour sessions). I’m hoping that, if I keep it up and write daily, I’ll more than meet Nano’s 50,000 words. I love the idea of having that list of goals that go beyond writing and can’t wait to get started on actually writing down everything I’ve got planned.

  12. Productivity goals are the bomb. Sit down and don’t move a muscle in another direction until you’ve finished (specify word count). That’s my go-to working set, although I totally use time goals when I’m pushed for hours in a day.

    Both, as you pointed out, have their uses. It largely depends on the person!


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally–and the situation. Sometimes time goals are more useful, sometime word count goals. It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

  13. Great post. I’ve been working on my ‘writing habit’ this month and on day 43 of Morning Pages which helps to clear my mind and send my inner critic to bed. I usually time myself in 25 minutes slots whatever I’m doing (admin and social medai stuff) to remind me to get up and walk around, that is if my Springer pup isn’t pulling at my toes 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s a great idea too! I always try to get up on the hour, but I know it would be better if I did it more often.

  14. Love these tips! I’m doing my own version of NaNoWriMo, which is attempting to finish a first draft in 3 months, instead of 7 (my current shortest drafting time). Perhaps next year I’ll be able to whittle it down into one, but regardless this article is so helpful. Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s great. I love it when authors adjust challenges like this to fit their own personal needs.

  15. Davis Drake says

    I wanted to get back into writing and decided to throw myself into the fire by entering NaNo. Due to your NaNo tips (and excellent book Outlining Your Novel) I no longer have that small voice inside my head saying “what have you done?” Now it’s rattling the cage and shouting “I can’t wait to get started!” Thanks K.M.!

  16. Awesome Post as always…thanks. I just might do it this year…..

  17. Kinza Sheikh says

    I was already planning on writing in twenty-five minute sprints. But hadn’t thought about keeping a word count goal for those sessions. Now that I have read this post, I realize it would be necessary to keep a word count goal simultaneously, I know my inner critic well enough to say without that, I would be still on one word or two into my manuscript after every passing twenty five minutes. I sometime do successfully shut my internal editor on prose or other things, but typos are something I never ignore successfully. Even with my word-check off.
    So I have developed this method of not looking at the screen, but rather at the keyboard the entire time I type. I even go as far as lower my laptop screen enough so I can’t actually see it. So far it is really helping me in shutting internal editor up and focusing more on the task at hand.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I find that the word count goals are *most* useful in short bursts. They keep you focused, which is the whole point, since you don’t have time to waste in the shorter periods.

  18. Ah, this was such a fantastic post! There was some really great advice that I’m definitely going to be implementing this NaNoWriMo.

    I think it’s incredibly easy to be intimidated by a huge word count, and for such a long time too! 30 days feels like forever. Yet, I think breaking it down into 10 minute word sprints (my preferred writing sprint time!) is far easier to think about. In a good sprint, I can get anywhere from 300-500 words written, so for the daily NaNoWriMo goal, I only need to have 4-5 of those. If I space them out throughout the idea, then the daily goal is easily achievable.

    This year, I’m also planning to wake up early to write in the hopes that I’ll be more productive. 🙂

    Fantastic post, thanks for sharing! <3

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You can do it! And it’s worth nothing that, really, the 30 days of NaNo are just warm-up for the rest of your writing life. Now *that’s* a long time! 😉

  19. Well, today I started my novel. I’d like to write in small intervals during the day but one old problem is getting back into where I am in the book. Any ideas on how to get back onto where I left off quickly?

    • Have an idea where you wanted the story to go next…leave a little note at the bottom of wherever you left off.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      One of my favorite tricks is straight out of Ernest Hemingway’s workflow: Whenever you stop writing at the end of the day, stop mid-sentence or mid-idea. That way, you’re already in medias res when you begin the next day, and you can start right where you left off.

  20. I never knew that’s one of the ways to totally kick NaNo’s butt. I might try it, if I go back to NanoWriMo.

  21. I would regularly set daily goals for all of my school writing assignments. The two most intimidating writing assignments for school was my Senior Thesis and my Law Review Article. Daily writing goals made these assignments a breeze.

    The approach I preferred to take was to set a page count goal for each day, this will translate to a word count goal for the upcoming Nanowrimo. Being the competitive person that I am, I enjoy working past my daily goals because by doing so I am left with a lot of daily gratification.


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