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Setting Writing Goals

Photo: West Coast Eagles celebrating the winning goal in the 2018 Grand Final, happier times. (Image: AFL)

Without risk of dampening your creative spirit, documenting your writing goals can be a constructive means to ensure you complete the project you start.

Many people say they have a dream to write a book one day. Far fewer achieve it. Setting concrete objectives makes you accountable for your progress. The goals needn’t be shared with anyone, though evidence suggests that if you do you are more likely to achieve your goal. A compromise is documenting and displaying your goal and your plans. Pin it to the wall where you do your writing, and it becomes a visual reminder.

Photo: A writer writing (Image: Freestock)

These goal setting tips here aren’t only applicable to writing. But for the purpose of this exercise let’s assume you are setting out to write a novel of around 80,000 words. Setting a word-based goal might not suit everyone. Perhaps a final goal based on a looming

submission deadline or another milestone (e.g. a draft finished by the end of my leave in June) might be more appropriate for your circumstances. The principles are the same. In fact, the principles of goal setting are largely the same irrespective of the project you are setting out on. Chunk it down and make the goals SMART. What does this mean?

Chunk it down. This means breaking the overall task into smaller component parts. The old question of 'how you eat an elephant' is applicable. You couldn’t eat an elephant all in one go – you need to break it into smaller manageable chunks. Similarly, I am sure the number of people who have successfully written a book all in one go are very few (I couldn’t find any).

Break the overall tasks down into milestones. This allows you to measure progress and make adjustments along the way if needed. Note while I advocate writing I do not advocate eating an elephant.

Photo: Being eaten by an Elephant - roles reversed. (Image: Freestock)

SMART. An acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic (sometimes Resources) and Time-framed. Let’s look at each of these in detail.

Specific. Begin your writing journey, set Specific goals that clearly define what you want to achieve. Whether you're writing a novel or a short story, a clear and concise objective will keep you focused and prevent your ideas from wandering aimlessly. Instead of a vague goal like "write a novel," get specific about the plot, characters, and themes you want to explore. The more precise your goals, the more tangible they become, and the easier it becomes to take actionable steps towards achieving them.

A specific goal might be “by 12 December I will have completed the first draft of my 80, 000- word novel with working title – The Second Installment.”

Measurable. The specific goal above is measured – 80,000 words - but fails the elephant rule. Break the overall goal into smaller chunks. Hence an overall goal of 12 months for an 80,000-word novel might be broken down to:

· Month 1: Complete the first three chapters (Target word count: 9,000 words)

· Month 3: Reach the midpoint of the novel (Target word count: 40,000 words)

· Month 6: Complete two-thirds of the novel (Target word count: 60,000 words)

· Month 9: Finish the first draft of the novel (Target word count: 80,000 words)

· Month 12: Complete the final draft, revisions, and contingency.

You can even break these goals down further. If you know you can get to writing one day per week, the first goal might be further chunked down to 2,400 word per week. If you chunk the goal down far enough it also appears much less daunting.

Photo: A path up the mountain. (Image: Google)

Achievable. Choose goals that are realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure by drafting goals that are simply too optimistic. Focus on those goals that are a stretch but are attainable. You can always re-set the goals later if you have made an error, but set them with knowledge of how you have achieved things in the past. Realistic goals might be those as listed above. Unrealistic goals might be to write the novel in one week.

Realistic. Let’s face it, you may not become an overnight millionaire by writing a book. Some do, but (sadly) the average annual salary of an author is Australia is less than $20,000. If your goal is overnight wealth, you’ll need a Plan B. For many the financial aspect is not a consideration. Nonetheless be realistic with your goals. Realistic goals also prevent you burning out part way through the process.

Note the R of the acronym is also for Resources - those necessary to achieve the goal. For writing this is most likely to be time, but it could also refer to references, location scouting or even hardware like laptops, etc.

Photo: Rolling in cash - probably not an author. (Image: Bing freestock)

Time-framed. This one is pretty obvious. Set the goal with a time to have it achieved by. Allow some contingency (e.g. if you need multiple revisions or go off-piste). A deadline provides a target that you can hold yourself accountable to and to which you can measure progress.

Regardless of if you are a planner or a pantser* SMART goal setting can really provide a framework for achieving things. If you are pantser the goals don’t have to stifle your creativity, they merely provide structure to the process, not to the content.

*A pantser (from the expression flying by the seat of your pants) is a writer that doesn't have a formal idea of the story structure at the start. Also referred to as a discovery writer.

Photo: Plotter v Pantser - the debate continues. (Image Belinda Williams/Matt Hayward)

Good luck and let me know how you go or if you have any other advice on goal setting that you'd like to share.

P.S. I offer no apologies to Collingwood fans for the 5-point win in the final moments of the 2018 Grand Final win by the West Coast Eagles. Maybe the Pies will have a win this year (I know the Eagles wont).

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