Last week, I reached a writing goal I had set for myself: 25,000 words written on my thesis novel by the end of July. I reached it with a few days to spare, and I immediately shared it on various social media platforms (the links to which you can find in my sidebar/menu). I was excited and gratified to reach that point, as it made me feel like am finally starting to build up momentum. I’d set the goal at the start of the month, and I had to write nearly every day in order to reach it. (I missed a few days, but I had higher output on other days, so it all evened out.)
After hitting that goal, I eased up a bit. I took a couple days off and focused on other things. I caught up on some reading, did some stuff around the house, and made some plans for the next couple of months with my wife. A bit of rest after reaching a goal is normal, but this morning, I had to remind myself that the 25,000 word goal was just the most recent one; the writing’s not done.
Plus, that goal was arbitrary, if you think about it. 25,000 is a nice round number, but it’s not necessarily more meaningful that the quantity it represents. I’m sure I’ll celebrate 50K, 75K, and the completion of the full first draft with equal (perhaps escalating) excitement. But, a more meaningful goal would be to complete the drafting of Act One. I’m close, but I am not there yet. Another week should get me there, at which point I’ll take a step back, focus on something else for a few days, then do a revision pass on Act One. In the course of writing what I have so far, I’ve changed my mind about a few important story elements and want to re-craft the first act to reflect those changes, so I’ll have a firmer foundation for the rest of the book. It’s worth noting that in mid-September, I start my first formal thesis class, for which I must have at least 15K words written. I’m well past that, but I expect to cut a bunch in revision (there’s this one scene that’s pretty cringe-worthy, and I’m pretty sure I’ll just cut it out entirely — that’s 1000 words gone!), and I want Act One to be strong going into that thesis class.
All of which is to say that in thinking about writing milestones, it occurs to me that word count milestones are arbitrary, while milestones related to the story and its structure are not. Coming from a career in software development, where we define large, complex (multi-person, sometimes multi-year) projects in terms of milestones, I should have realized this already. Software project milestones are typically focused on meaningful deliverables that represent key components of the overall goal: get a foundational piece up and running, integrate a third-party component that provides some important functionality, deploy the MVP for beta testers to try, release the first full version to the world, etc.
I’m going to start thinking about my book milestones in the same way: draft Act One, revise Act One, draft through the midpoint shift, draft through the Act Three transition, draft through the end of the book, revise the full manuscript, engage alpha and beta readers, etc. Just like software project milestones, each writing milestone will contain smaller steps (individual chapters, advancing or resolving subplots, etc.). Just like software milestones, I’ll announce and celebrate each one, maintaining momentum to keep going until the end. And hopefully, just like successful software projects, the final product will be something I’m proud of and that readers will enjoy.
If you’re a writer, how do you think about milestones?