Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Start small to win BIG
By RITA Award winner Dianna Love Snell
January brings on the inevitable Goal Setting for the year. To most writers this means getting started on a book or pushing to finish one that just won’t get moving. The key to being productive is setting a realistic goal with a plan on how to achieve that target.
What is a realistic goal?
Simple. It is an objective or target you have control over reaching. For career-minded writers, a realistic goal should have only one purpose – to propel you toward publishing or continuing to publish. The first thing you have to understand about a goal is it’s extremely personal. Create one you can own…pick an objective that is suited just for YOU.
Customize each writing goal to fit your life. I do nothing in a typical way. It’s not that I try to do things differently, but more that I can’t be productive working with someone else’s game plan. For that reason, my suggestions may sound unorthodox, but I hate watching writers, particularly new ones, struggle to do “everything right” and not make progress. In fact, I feel many new writers try so hard to follow a plan created by someone else they eventually burn out. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, maybe it’s time you took a step back to do something your own way and set a goal that moves YOUR writing forward.
So what are the parameters of a goal that will move your writing forward? First, mapping out a plan that fits your personality and lifestyle, starting with how far out you feel good about setting a target. In my case, I can’t envision a five or ten year goal. I have no idea what I’ll be doing next year much less ten years from now. In fact, a one year goal is pretty much the outer limits of my attention span and the most productive way for me to work. I’ve built several successful businesses without five or ten year goals, because everything I do moves me toward my personal objective. The simplest way to determine what goal fits your personality and lifestyle is to start with a short term objective and work up to longer time frames. If you’re going to be a professional writer, you probably will need at least a weekly goal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start with a daily plan first.
The next step of a productive goal is to make sure it is realistic in your personal universe. I have writing friends who write a certain number of hours a day, because their children are in school from morning to afternoon. I don’t have children and have never had anything close to a normal schedule in my entire adult life because of my erratic business work schedule – which happens to suit me just fine. Expecting me to sit down daily and produce X pages is unrealistic. On the other hand, I can set a goal of X pages in a week and be extremely productive. I happen to be a very disciplined writer who can produce a lot of pages in one sitting. I’ve never had a problem with “butt in the chair,” but instead need to set a clock every two hours to get up and stretch. But if I had to sit down at a specific time each day to write – that would bog me down.
Once you’ve selected a realistic goal, you need a plan to accomplish that goal. Notice I just said that having to write a set time every day would bog "me" down, not you. If you work better with structure, then set aside the hours you’ll write each day or on a given day and go to your writing area just as if you were making an appointment. If your schedule lacks routine, like mine, you still have to think of your writing time as an appointment and stick to it. I highly recommend a specific setting you always write in at home or the office so that every time you settle into that spot your mind automatically thinks “it’s time to write.” Good habits play a big role in reaching goals and bad ones or the lack of good habits donates to undermining your efforts.
Change is not easy or everyone could do this. I may decide to get up earlier each day, stay up later each night, pass on a dinner invitation with friends, give up television if I want to spend the weekend with my husband or wait for the weekend to write if my husband is traveling. I will have to sacrifice something. If your goal is something really worth reaching then you have to be willing to make some sacrifices. Many of you set goals for things you want in your life ever day…and reach them. You decided to have a child – that requires personal sacrifice of time as a minimum. You decide you want a new luxury car – that might require not taking a vacation this year. You decide you want to finish your book before national so you can pitch it – that requires you starting now to make time in your week to write, which will likely mean sacrificing something else you want to do to find that time.
Once you begin to accomplish your daily goals for two weeks then start on a weekly goal. Once you’ve reached four weekly goals then think about what you want to accomplish each month for a quarter of the year. By the time you’ve executed a month of daily and weekly goals, you’ll have a pretty good idea if your three-month goal is realistic.
TIP – when making these goals, particularly anything beyond one week, have a contingency plan for “what if?” What if you have to travel unexpectedly for a family crisis or new job requirements? What if you’re sick for a week? What if you just hit the wall and need to give yourself a day off? What if you have to deal with a broken water pipe flooding your house or you have a weather crisis? I hope none of those things happen, but unfortunately at some point we all have to deal with the unexpected. When you make long term goals, build in time for the unexpected. Worst case, if nothing unexpected comes up you’ll reach your goal early.
Let’s revisit the part about “realistic” goals. The definition – in my book – of a realistic goal is one you have control over. You have control over writing your pages, submitting to contests and/or publishers, pitching your story, attending workshops and meeting other writers who will influence your writing career. You do not have control over an editor or agent requesting your material, the results of a contest or submission, an editor buying your book or an agent signing you. I cringe when I hear someone say “My goal is to be sold by X date.” In my opinion, not hitting that goal does more damage to a new writer than any benefit of having set it.
A goal should be something you look forward to because you know you are capable of reaching it. Set a realistic goal, reach it and reward yourself - which is motivation, a topic for another time.
Question for all of you – what is YOUR personal daily, weekly, monthly or annual goal and how do you plan to reach it? What do you consider a realistic goal for yourself? We learn from each other so please share.
RITA Award-winner Dianna Love Snell writes both contemporary and paranormal romantic suspense. Her next book – PHANTOM IN THE NIGHT – is a romantic suspense collaboration with NYT best seller Sherrilyn Kenyon being released June 2008.
Please visit www.DiannaLoveSnell.com and www.BreakIntoFiction.com for more on Dianna and writing.
[This is an abridged edition of an article first published in the GCCRWA Newsletter]