Goal setting, for a writer, is one of those things where its tempting to make lots of lists of huge things that might be far into the future. For example, writing a novel. When you write that down on your goals, it seems like a big insurmountable thing. Possibly one of the reasons writers have a few abandoned unfinished novels is because it seems almost impossible. Yet it isn’t. The reason it isn’t impossible is because you have to break it down into smaller parts. For example, if you dive in to writing a novel and say ‘right, I’m going to write 1500 words today’, you might be setting yourself up for failure, or feeling like one. Its better to start small. Instead of that big word count, how about starting with 200 words a day? That adds up to 1,400 a week and might not seem like much in the short term, but trust me, 1,400 a week adds up to 5,600 a month, and in about six months you will have written 33, 600 words. No small feat! What I’m getting at is that writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint. Unless you’re doing NaNoWriMo (in which case, it is a sprint…).
The first thing you need to do to set goals is start with the big ones. For example, your goal might be to write a novel in a year. How many words do you want your novel to be? Most novels are between 70,000 to 100,000 words long. If you break that down into months, you might want to achieve, say, 8,333 words per month. That means writing 297 words, more or less, every day. If you look at it like that, it seems very achievable. 297 words is about two to three paragraphs. The point is, there will also be days when you want to write and write, and days when you’ll find it difficult to write even two sentences. You know you have that little goal. So on the days you don’t write much, you won’t feel as though there’s far to go, and on the days you write thousands of words, you’ll feel a real sense of achievement.
Goal setting also starts with making time. Showing up at the laptop/notebook/desk each day, at a time that you’ve carved out for writing, and only writing. It trains your brain – ‘this is my writing time’ – even if you don’t get as many words, or any at all out. The rule must just be that this is your writing time and if you don’t write, you don’t do anything else. I’ve also found that it works better over a whole week rather than crunching that time into a weekend or a day. Its always better to train your brain and body to know that there is a certain time when you’re going to be creative, and writing. It doesn’t have to be much time – ten or fifteen minutes – but it can, and should be, pretty much every day. You could scratch out a bit of time when you usually surf the channels in the evening or wake up ten minutes earlier, or take a bit of time during lunch. For writing, it is always about making the time. Sometimes I find that even though writing is most of my time, I often have to push myself to make the time around other things. It isn’t easy showing up after a while of doing this writing lark. It gets a bit stale sometimes, and its like always disciplining yourself and knowing that this is the time when you’re meant to be writing something.
I’ve always thought that there are three types of goals. The first is the long term, the second medium term and the last short term. The long term goals are the ones when you don’t really know when or if you’ll achieve them – they are often determined by things outside our control, such as having a novel published, having an article published in a national newspaper, winning the Booker Prize. The medium term goals are the things we can try to get to that place – such as writing a novel, writing short stories, writing articles to pitch to magazines – things within our control. The short term goals are things we can do today or tomorrow – write 200 words, write an article outline, come up with ideas, write a blog post. Things are only achievable if they get broken down. If you think ‘oh, I’d love to write a novel, but I could never find the time’ – then you won’t write a novel. You can start now, if you want, by writing 50-100 words. Nobody and nothing is stopping you! Its about having the mindset that will get you there. It means being positive, showing up and making goals that will give you a sense of achievement and possibility.
The next step, when you have your goals and your time carved out, is that you might want to make a timetable. It can vary from week to week, but it is all about making yourself productive and accountable to yourself. Its also about working out what things work best for you – whether you find you like researching in the afternoon and writing in the morning, or vice versa. Does going for a walk help to refresh you? Put that in too. Give yourself space and time to relax, but make sure you get those goals in. At the same time, don’t be too hard on yourself, because every day is different – and ten words is better than none! Some days will be more productive than others. Since life varies so much on a daily and weekly basis, it is up to you to pencil in the time to write. If it is a commitment you want to keep, then keep it.
This kind of advice seems very simple. The point is, though, that a lot of people panic when they see that big word count or big dream they have and don’t know how to go about achieving it. It is the small steps that lead up to the big dreams. The things you do each day, the small milestones. Its about celebrating when you reach 3000 words, not just when you reach 100,000. Writing is a journey, and each step teaches you something about yourself and the world around you.
The most important key to achieving great success is to decide upon your goal and launch, get started, take action, move. ~ Brian Tracy.
1 thought on “Writing Advice Series: Goal Setting.”
Really great advice! Thanks! 🙂