NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!


Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Friday, March 1, 2013

I-SPY: Writing Goals--Keeping It Real.

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

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.
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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.

Good luck!!

13 comments:

Clare London said...

Excellent advice, and just what I need at the moment, with limited time and commitments made.Thanks for making us feel good about whatever our personal goals are, regardless of how other people are doing :). I think that's where confidence in your writing and your career is born.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Good post, Toni. I have trouble with goals, resolutions, etc. I *never* set a New Year's resolution because I inevitably fail. But I've had success with setting myself a modest goal of 5000 words a week, minimum. That's roughly four novels a year's worth of words. I've yet to keep to this goal religiously, but because of it, I've written more than I normally would have. Make sense?

Anne Marie Becker said...

Great tips! Some years ago, I came across the "SMART" technique for goals and it is helpful in being realistic. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. All goals should be those things, or you'll get frustrated.

And my planner is my best friend. Putting my tasks on paper in a time block where I think I can actually tackle that task gets all the "gunk" out of my head so I can write. :)

Rita said...

Thanks for this Toni. Excellent post.
Lately my problem is finding time my head is not being invaded by a jillion other thoughts. I have so much going on in life that it’s difficult to settle into what I’m writing. The moment I do something else pops up. Grrrr.
It cracks me up when people say their goal is to get published this year but so far they haven’t written anything. Like saying I’m going to win the lottery but I haven’t bought any tickets.
I have primary, secondary, intermediate and seasonal goals. I also have the WTH plan for when everything goes wrong that involves adult beverages.

Shirley Wells said...

Excellent advice, Toni, and just what I needed to hear right now. I need my year's writing all planned out so that my head is 'de-cluttered' and ready to start writing. Because I know how much I panic when the deadline approaches, I set myself very easy goals. The plan is 1k words a day, every day. As I know I can achieve that reasonably easily, it gives me plenty of time to deal with the unexpected.

Dee J. said...

Great advice! Now if only I could follow it! I'm one of those, 'don't want to disappoint myself-ers' so I avoid the goals. I just do what I can and keep plugging, happy when I get something off my plate and can move on.

Cathy Perkins said...

Excellent Toni! When the day job and the rest of life invades, it's too easy to either beat yourself up or let things slide. A good reminder that even a page is forward progress.

JB Lynn said...

Excellent post, Toni!

I pretty much agree with everything you've said. I get so much more accomplished when I'm working toward specific, attainable goals.

I input all my goals into my calendar and then I'm automatically prodded to meet my deadlines.

Elise Warner said...

Terrific post, Toni. Life is intervening with my goals right now but I'm at my computer every day making sure that some of them are accomplished.

Jean Harrington said...

Tony, I like the idea of life breaks. We have to stop writing for those because they're going to interrupt the "count" whether we like it or not.

A sensible piece of advice for any writer, anywhere. Have you thought of passing this piece on to other writers' blog sites?

Jean Harrington said...

I know, I know It's Toni! So sorry.

Toni Anderson said...

No worries, Jean. I have only shared my 'wisdom' on NYUS I-SPY. I hope it helps someone somewhere :)

Thanks for all the comments. I love seeing how differently people work :)

J Wachowski said...

Hey Toni--thanks for the goal reminder. We do goal setting in our local RWA chapter every January. It's a good reminder to check in again. I've had years when I thought--hey, look at all I did last year. And years where I went--gulp. Whaaaat happened? :)
You all are always inspiring to me--5k words a week, Marcelle! Wow.
And lots of people mentioning de-cluttering their minds by making lists, writing stuff out. I do that too!
It's hard to open the door to my book world until I've passed through the antiroom of real-life clutter.

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