(Note: The video version of this blog can be found here)
As writers, we all want to write amazing novels. We want to write the kind of novels that readers can’t put down. Novels that take readers on epic journeys far away from their everyday life and that allow them to experience the world through another’s eyes. Novels that challenge readers, that teach them something, that inform them about important issues or that move them in some profound way.
As writers, we want to get agents, sign deals and see our books in stores. We want to go on a book tour and do interviews with smart journalists. We want our online platforms to explode along with our sales. We want readers to send us fan art or emails detailing what our book meant to them.
These secret desires can be rocket fuel on days when inspiration is running thin. Be warned though, these same desires can quickly lead to disappointment and apathy. When these thrilling futures fail to materialise, we may wind up asking, ‘Why hasn’t it happened yet? What’s the point in trying anymore?’ or worse, ‘Maybe I’m no good at this.’
Dreaming about hitting the New York Times Best Seller List or winning a prestigious award can be a fun way to occupy your time while waiting in a doctor’s office or lazily drinking tea on a Sunday afternoon, but there is a big difference between desires and goals.
Getting an agent, a book deal, winning a literary award or experiencing skyrocketing sales are desires. You have absolutely no control (or very little) over any of these events becoming a reality. However, you are fully in charge when it comes to goals.
Goals are specific, measurable and they have deadlines.
Getting an agent is a desire. Querying five agents in the first quarter of the year is a goal. The former is ambiguous and disempowering, the latter is exact and empowering. Goals are specific and measurable. In the case of the above example, you have set the goal to email five agents, and the self-imposed deadline will help keep you on track and focused.
Of course, some goals will involve others, but it’s important that you continue to recognise the difference between a goal and a desire.
Desire: The proofreader will find all the typos in my manuscript.
Goal: The proofreader and I will complete the final round of edits by October.
While it’s fun to imagine the future our current WIP may one day experience, it’s important that we keep our feet firmly on the ground. After all, that shiny ‘one-day’ future will never happen if you don’t do the work.
When working on a project, there is tremendous value in setting goals. However, setting vague goals like “Write a Book” can lead to overwhelm and procrastination. It’s just too damn BIG! Plus, it will be a long time before you experience the satisfaction of crossing that item off your goal list. Instead, it’s much more productive to break that one massive goal into much smaller goals.
Remember: A goal is something you are in charge of.
Instead of setting “Write a Book” as a goal, consider the steps involved in that process. This one goal could easily be broken down into something like this:
- Read a craft book such as Save the Cat by Jessica Brody
- Spend one week creating character profiles
- Spend one week outline the novel using the Save the Cat principles
- Write 500-1000 words a day, five days a week. Hit 80,000 words by July 12.
- Re-read manuscript in one/two sittings while making note of any large structural issues or plot holes
- Spend one week creating a plan on how to revise initial draft
- Spend one-two hours, five days a week, revising
- Spend 2-3 weeks re-read the revised draft and make any final adjustments
- Ask five friends to become beta-readers
- Drink copious amounts of whiskey while waiting for beta-reader feedback.
Of course, some of these goals could be broken down further, but you get the idea. For instance, I prefer to complete step ten while clutching my battered copy of Stephen King’s On Writing and crying.
Desires can be inspiring, motivating and energising, but they can lead to dissatisfaction. Goals may be less thrilling, but what they lack in shimmer they make up for in pragmatism. Please, do not underestimate the energy and motivation that comes from real progress. It may not be the Ra-Ra excitement you experience when imagining hitting the New York Times Best Seller List, but those big exciting moment won’t ever happen if you don’t first build the habit of setting realistic and achievable goals.
So, what are you waiting for? Get to it!