Setting goals for your writing
Over the years I have been writing this blog I have written just over 1,000 articles. Some of these include poems or stories I have written (see the sidebar for links), and many others have been about blogging and writing. Of those about writing, many have been on the topic of goal setting.
I have always been someone who likes to set goals, not just for my writing but also my daily to-do lists. Such lists help me to keep on track as well as keep me accountable to myself. After all, I do not have a boss leaning over my shoulder keeping me on task, though sometimes it feels like my wife might like to have that role.
I have just read a very thorough and useful article called Setting Goals: why you need them and how to write them. This article is a thoughtful discussion on the reasons behind having goals for your blogging, and practical ideas on how to write and implement them. While the article is primarily aimed at blogging, most of the ideas are also applicable to writing in general.
It’s worth a read.
- Goal setting – articles from the archives of this site
- Setting goals: why you need them and how to write them on ProBlogger.
The benefits of writing short stories
This morning a friend posted on Facebook a quote from another writer, inviting comments in response. The quote went:
Writing 20 short stories of 5,000 words each will teach you more about writing fiction than writing a 100,000 word novel. And they’ll make more money for you too.
The quote is from an article “Writing short stories: 3 tips for creating characters readers love“
I certainly agree with this statement.
Instead of one set of characters and one setting in a novel, you will have multiple settings, you can experiment with different voices and points of view, and include various types of characters in 20 or so stories (unless the stories are in a series written about one character).
Dealing with a diverse range of characters, settings and so on would certainly hone one’s writing skills. For beginner or emerging writers this would be particularly helpful. And to those writers my advice would be “Just write” – anything and everything. The more you practice any skill, the better you should become. Of course, mentoring and getting advice from experienced writers helps too; that’s why I did a Master of Arts (Creative Writing) a few years ago. I would also encourage the devouring of as many books and articles about writing as time allows.
Ray Bradbury (Science fiction writer) once told an aspiring writer to go away and write a million words – then come back and he’d mentor him. Malcolm Gladwell (“Outliers“) says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to develop expertise in any field of endeavour.
I never had much published until I had passed both of those marks. Once a writer has achieved those benchmarks, THEN it is time to tackle that 100,000 word novel – if that is what you want to do. By then you will know how to write, how to develop a character, how to plot and have a fairly good grasp of what it takes to be a writer. As an aside, I spent 35 years in elementary classroom teaching; it was only in the last few years that I caught myself saying that “now I know what this teaching thing is all about.”
By the way – later this year I should pass the 3 million word mark and next year the 20,000 hour mark. Despite this I have so much more yet to write about, and the more I write, the more I discover and imagine to write about.
I’ve only covered on small quote from the article my friend found. It has far more to say, especially about turning those short stories into e-books to make more money than a novel might ever produce.
Thanks to Jade for the inspiration to write this post.
Dealing with time wasters
I guess almost every occupation has inbuilt time wasting activities. Unnecessary meetings, for example. In another life I experienced – as a classroom teacher – I was aware of many time wasters, and not just some of the activities indulged in by my students.
I, too, was guilty of being sidetracked by time wasting activities in my daily routines. Overall I think I managed them at quite a reasonable level. It’s amazing how accountability to parents, colleagues and a principal can be a strong incentive to perform.
As a writer, however, I generally don’t have anyone peering over my shoulder ensuring I keep on task. I’m accountable to only myself. There’s the problem; it’s so easy to allow time wasting activities and distractions to get in the way of productive writing times.
In recent months I’ve been aware of the growing problem I have with an enormous volume of email traffic. It was severely getting in the way of essential, on task writing activities. I wasn’t making the progress I desired, so I had to do something drastic. Several years ago I solved the problem in a limited way by categorising incoming emails into folders. This streamlined the way I dealt with less important mail by placing them in their own folders waiting for attention when time allowed.
Since then the problem has escalated to a new level. Dealing with my incoming mail was taking increasingly larger slabs of time every day. Some emails sat waiting in their folder for months without being read. That was not good. The ever growing number of unread documents was beginning to really bug me. In fact, I was almost becoming depressed.
In a few weeks I will be travelling for an extended time, a significant portion of the journey will be without internet access and limited access for the rest. It horrified me to think of how many thousands of emails would be waiting for me on my return.
Dealing with the problem:
Over the last week I have been steadily unsubscribing from a whole range of newsletters that were causing the issue. Many of them are very worthy and interesting, I’m sure. In order to get some semblance of productivity back into my life I had to take this drastic action. After all, I can resubscribe again if I really need to. It will also mean I won’t have a massive problem to deal with when I return home from my travels.
That has to be a good thing.
Three enemies of writing
Writing can be both wonderful and frustrating.
When a story or poem is coming along fine, everything is wonderful. When a novel is turning out the way you want it to, and the words are flowing, life is glorious.
But the writer’s life can also be frustrating. Your family, friends, life and sometimes even the Universe conspire to prevent you from your first love, writing. They can become great burdens, or enormous hindrances to The Creative Life.
But lurking underneath these obvious mountains preventing the next publishing sensation from reaching the shelves of our favourite bookshop are three not-so-subtle enemies of our writing life.
Enemy #1: Procrastination:
I think I could write a PhD thesis paper on this topic.
If I ever get around to it, of course.
Procrastination is Enemy #1 of too many writers. Consider these statements:
- “I never have any good ideas for stories.”
- “I’m too tired to write.”
- “I’ll start that novel – on the weekend.”
- “I’m too busy at work but I’ll write when I retire.”
- “My computer has died.”
Don’t let these be your excuses: just do it.
Enemy #2: Lack of Momentum
Momentum – or rather lack of momentum – can kill off a brilliant career in writing before you even get started. And if you do get started, and life gets in the way, lack of momentum can bury the body. It is so hard to get something like a locomotive moving, but once started, it builds its own momentum and before you know it, a runaway train is thundering down the mountains taking all in its path. Starting a train is like starting a story or novel; once it gets moving get out of its way and let it choose its own path. A little bit of writing every day – consistently without fail – is far better than leaving it for the weekend, or the holidays or retirement.
Enemy #3: Timewasters
Time wasters speak for themselves.
If you are doing something other than writing, no matter how interesting and worthwhile, there is no way you can reach your writing goals. (You do have writing goals, surely? They can be good motivators and can help keep that momentum going.) Identify your time-wasters and put them in their proper place. Some I grapple with include:
- Some television programmes.
- Checking Facebook and Twitter feeds many times a day.
- Checking my email several times a day.
- Unexpected visitors.
- Unexpected phone calls.
- Computer games.
Time management for writers is essential. Get those time-wasters under control and you will be more productive. (Note to self: take note of what I’ve just written – and apply it!)
Reader responses: in the comments tell me about your Writing Enemies, and how you deal with them. I’d appreciate that.
Happy New Year
Happy New Year to all my readers.
I hope the year 2011 brings you great joy, peace and at least some success with your writing. As I explained yesterday, one of my main goals for this year is to be published in a variety of forms: novels, picture books, articles, poems, short stories and whatever else life throws on to my path. I am also determined that this year will also see lots of submissions. If you are not submitting to publishers there is no way you can get published, so I’m determined that this is one area of my writing that needs to change.
Life is more than writing, of course, but over the last few years as I completed my MA Creative Writing degree there were some things which were neglected. As I said yesterday, I’m not really into making New Year’s resolutions. I’ve observed that most people don’t keep them however well intentioned they might be. I prefer setting firm goals with definite, achievable targets. My writing goals include a daily target for the number of hours spent on writing, the number of words written and the number of poems and stories submitted to publishers. I also have goals for other aspects of my life. These include:
- Reading: writers are readers so this is of utmost importance. This year I plan to read 100 titles (books and magazines; I read most of the magazines I get from cover to cover).
- Travel 1: I plan to visit my son and his family in Sydney.
- Travel 2: I plan to visit my daughter while she is teaching overseas.
- Exercise: I plan to exercise on average five times a week.
- Weight loss: I plan to lose 12kg this year through exercise and sensible eating.
- Hobby: I plan to go birding at least once a week, taking photos to share on my birding site.
I have many more smaller specific goals, such as cleaning out the garage, cleaning my office, gardening and so on. These are much more detailed plans and I won’t bore you with them here. I like making lists of things to do – and take pleasure in crossing them off when completed.
It looks like it is going to be another busy year.
I’d better plan to have times of relaxation too.