Goal Setting For Writers

It’s that time of year when you begin to think about the possibilities of the new year and what you could get done as well as lamenting the past year and what you might have neglected to do. Most of us like the thought of setting goals, but few of us actually do set them, or if we do we’ve forgotten about them by mid-February.

I think the problem with most goal-setting scenarios is that we’re too kind with ourselves. I mean let’s say you set a goal and then you don’t achieve it. What happens to you? Um … nothing. I mean you probably aren’t even that embarrassed because no one even knows you set the goal. What would happen if you proclaimed to everyone you knew and saw on a daily basis that you were on a diet and you were going to exercise everyday and lose 50 pounds by the end of the year? I’ll tell you what, those people would be pestering you and eyeing you while you pop that donut in your mouth.

With writing, because it’s a solitary activity, there really isn’t a lot of accountability when it comes to setting goals. We waffle a lot, we set airy-fairy goals that don’t really mean much of anything and we’re too forgiving of ourselves when we do fail to meet any goal we might have set. There are “writers” out there who have been members of RWA for years and are still struggling to finish their first book – I know several of them. They’re bright, intelligent, gifted women, but they just haven’t been able to make that commitment. So how do you get there? How do you buckle down and really focus if you’ve made the decision that you want to write professionally?

Well, one problem is solvable just by using a calendar, setting actual goals and keeping track of your writing progress. When you write things down, they become more concrete and you become a bit more inclined to remember to strive for them. But that doesn’t solve everything. I’d wager the main problem of 90% of the people struggling to write is actually getting pages written in a consistent manner. I know I struggled with this myself for a while. So why is this such a problem? Why, if we WANT to write, is it so darn hard to make ourselves do it?

Well, for one, it’s much easier to think/talk/bitch/whine about writing than it is to actually write. Once you’ve written a few pages, you quickly realize this. Writing is hard. We come up with one excuse after another for why we’re not writing even though we’re claiming to be writers. For me it was studying craft. I used that excuse for a long time … “well, I can’t write yet because I haven’t mastered scene and sequel yet.” Okay … well, here’s a tip from me, you can read every book written on the craft of writing, but until you actually write you’ll never master any of it.

Another reason … well, fear is a big one for a lot of us. Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of exposing too much of our true selves to the general public. Writers are a neurotic bunch and we’re afraid of a lot. But that’s just it, we’re all afraid … and frankly the fear never goes away, at least it hasn’t so far, so you just learn to get over it and write through the fear.

I could go on and list a few more things that might be stalling you and I’m sure some of you could make suggestions, but whatever your reason is, whatever excuse you have slinking through your mind that you think makes you special or excuses you, get over it. Are you ready for some tough love?

As yourself this now – do you really want to make it in this business?

Now I’m not talking money I’m just talking about walking into your local bookstore and seeing your book on the shelf. Do you want that? I don’t say any of this to be pious because it wasn’t too long ago I sat where you are right now and I haven’t forgotten where I came from. I also didn’t get here overnight. But I didn’t get here making excuses either. It’s time to let the excuses die. It’s time to put your big-girl panties on and quit your whining.

You say you want to be an author. You say you want to write. But what are you willing to do to make your dream happen? What are you willing to sacrifice? There will be some things you can do without (TV) and stuff you aren’t willing to part with (time with your kids) and that’s all okay, just know it now. Writing is a journey of self discovery and now’s the time to get really acquainted with yourself, to find out what you are and aren’t willing to do to see your dream of publication come to fruition. So I ask you now … how badly do you want it?

But you say, writing is hard, you can’t quite master characters and plot is a mystery to you. Or you only have a high school diploma. Well, guess what, it’s hard for all of us, even us published authors. There are certain aspects of writing that might come more readily to one writer than to another, but we all struggle. If anyone tells you writing is easy for them, they’re either lying or they’re not working hard enough. How badly do you want it?

You’re busy, you say. Well, you’re not the only person who’s tried to balance writing with a full-time day job or a house full of kids or a sick parent or whatever if is that competes for your time. How badly do you want it?

You can’t write unless you have it all plotted out/unless you have a 5-hour block of time/or unless its raining outside and approximately 56.7 degrees. Well, you need to either be writing literary fiction that affords you 5 years in between books or you need some yoga classes to teach you a little flexibility. How badly do you want it?

Okay so you get the picture. This is THE year for you to work on your dream. No more excuses. Tack that up above your computer. I don’t care what your excuse is, if you want to write, if you want to make a go at this, you’ll get it done. You’ll make the time, you’ll learn your craft, you’ll do what it takes to succeed.

Alright now that I’ve yelled at you, I’ll give you some quick tips on how to get it done. First of all you need to set big goals and then break them down into bite-sized pieces. Let’s say you want to write a brand-new single-title this year. That’s between 360-400 pages of writing, not including any prewriting or revision time. And let’s say you have a full-time job and two kids at home. So you can really only get 15-20 new pages done a week (that’s an average of 2-4 pages a day depending on if you write 5 or 7 days a week) that comes out to about 24-26 weeks to get your first draft done. Then if you revise 2-3 chapters a week you can be done revising in 6-10 weeks. That’s a total of 36 weeks on the long end of things to write a 400 page book. That leaves you with 16 weeks left over to do whatever you want with.

So you see how that works? You find your big goal and you figure out what you need to do in pieces to get there. Start big and work backwards. Just like a book is made up of chapters and chapters are made of scenes and scenes are made up of paragraphs and paragraphs are made up of words, goals work just that way.

Okay so you’ve set your goals now you need to write them down, and then share them with someone. Designate someone to be your goals keeper, preferably someone mean and scary who will give you that look if you lag behind.

I’ll ask you one more time … how badly do you want it?

Robyn DeHart is known by all her writing friends for her tough love. When she isn’t trying to motivate aspiring authors, she writes Victorian-set historicals for Avon books. The third installment of her popular Ladies’ Amateur Sleuth Society series, Tempted At Every Turn, hits stores August 07.

Copyright © 2007. Robyn DeHart. All Rights Reserved.

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