Friday, March 1, 2013
I-SPY: Writing Goals--Keeping It Real.
Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.
TODAY'S POST: I-Spy something beginning with ...Writing Goals.
Every year, around New Year, I sit down I figure out my goals for the coming twelve months, and reflect on whether or not I met my goals for the previous twelve months. I have a fair idea how long it takes me to write a book, I usually have a manuscript I'm trying to sell (although this has changed since I acquired an agent). I add in some promotion time, unexpected downtime (eg: school holidays, family emergencies, possible illness), and with a wish list of the books I want to write (or that I'm contracted to write) I figure out my plan.
Writing it down on paper does several things for me.
a) It organizes my brain and gives me a strategy of how to tackle everything I have going on--a strategy that is flexible with a bit of breathing room built in.
b) It makes me more realistic about what I might achieve through a given twelve month period.
c) It gives me a reference point at the beginning and end of every year, and tells me if I'm getting anywhere.
The key to success with this approach is (theoretically) very simple: set attainable goals.
This can be big-picture "how many books can I write per year" or "day-by-day" "hour-by-hour" projections of how much you expect to get done. But if you don't set a goal that is actually attainable you'll never be satisfied.
And while I thrive on a little inbuilt dissatisfaction about my work, in general you need to be able to set a goal that you have some hope of reaching if you are ever to feel good about yourself and what you have done that day/week/year.
Writing is hard work--you need to have days when you revel in what you've achieved.
When working on a new project, my personal daily word count is 2500 words. That might sound like peanuts to some and ridiculously high to others. It doesn't matter. What matters is that is my attainable goal. Some days 2.5K can happen in a couple of hours. Other days I can be sitting here for twelve hours and I'm still not done, and my scalp is bald and my teeth are nubs. But 2.5K is doable almost every day (so it's attainable/doable/not out of the realms of possibility). And if the writing is going well and I reach my goal early, I can either go with the flow and try and build some momentum, or I stop, do the things that need doing (like feeding those pesky kids) without the constant feeling of writers' guilt eating away at me.
A lot of writers struggle with finding enough time in the day to write. I understand this. I totally get it. Again, the key to making any forward progress is setting yourself a goal that is attainable. Rather than deciding you have to write 2.5K a day and flogging yourself with guilt six days out of every seven when you don't make it, make your goal a single page. Some days you'll get more done (hula dance, baby!), but if you always write at least that one single page you've given yourself a hope in hell of finishing the novel that's burning away inside you--and probably by the end of the year.
Some people need to be held accountable. This doesn't work for me. There is no-one harder on me than me. I'm the person I can't stand to disappoint. I hate wasting time and goofing off if work needs to be done. But if you're one of those people who needs the old horse whip to get you motivated, keep a log on your blog, on Facebook, in Scrivener (if that's what you use). Have a person to whom you send your daily word count (a critique partner, your mother, whoever). Just get the whip and the WIP (work-in-progress) out :).
Remember that things happen. Life happens. It screws up all those carefully laid plans of gentle easy writing time (insert insane cackle), and replaces them instead with hours fixing the dishwasher, or wreathing in agony at the dentist, or shopping for your elderly neighbor who had a stroke. Give yourself a break, life does happen. But remember if you really want to be a writer you need to fit the words in somewhere. So either make up the deficit when you might normally relax watching NCIS, or reassess your attainable goal. To reach your goal you will probably need to prioritize some of your life as absolute do-not-disturb-unless-you-are-bleeding-from-an-artery writing time.
So, I set goals for the whole year, and then for each month, and then break it down for each week, and then each day. It isn't always pretty. It can be scrawled on a sticky note and crossed out as I get down the list. My yearly goals are written in a green leather-bound notebook, but that's just me. It sounds time consuming but it's not. Figuring out the journey saves me from getting lost.
You can have primary and secondary and even tertiary goals for the week, and do something extra special if you hit that third level (gold stars and chocolate!). Reward yourself for doing well. Be enthusiastic about your goals, love what you do.
And remember, what works for one person doesn't work for another. If this post helps you--GREAT! If the idea of setting goals makes you want to stick your head in the toilet and flush--it probably isn't for you.