Okay, so you want to write that book that’s been knocking about the inside of your head for the past few years. You’ve started it a few times but your efforts were always sidelined by the demands of life. There is a way of successfully finishing your book: set writing goals. People set goals for losing weight, getting fit and starting businesses. So why not set writing goals?
You may think that you can pretty much use the same technique no matter what goal you are trying to set. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and for good reason. Goals, like many things, can be tweaked and modified to suit a particular purpose. In this article, I will be looking at ways to tweak the GREATER² Goal Achievement System to achieve a writing goal.
Set Writing Goals That Suit You
As an aside, let me say that, like most things in life, you will find that you have your own “style” for achieving goals. If you don’t know what it is yet, try to set writing goals and then achieve them using different systems – or even just the parts of various systems that appeal to you. Over time, you will come up with an effective way to set writing goals. The point is, there is no one perfect goal achievement system. Use what you think will work for you and find alternatives to the rest. This goes for my system (the GREATER² Goal Achievement System) or any other.
Oh, and I will try to keep the puns to a minimum, all write? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
Step 1: Plan Your Writing Goal
Let’s start with the planning of your writing goal. Although we could use the SMART system for this purpose (and many people would), I would prefer to use GREATER² Goal Achievement System as it offers a more comprehensive foundation for the planning of a goal. It also includes most of the essential elements of the SMART system.
This GREATER² Goal Achievement System comprises of three phases – Plan, Prepare, Act.
As the song says, the beginning is a very good place to start, so let’s start with the first one: Plan.
Planning a goal in the GREATER² system involves ensuring that your goal is gaugable, exigent and that you have an emotional stake in it.
Make Your Goal Gaugable
A gaugable goal is one that is precisely defined and specific, while also being subject to a deadline. In the context of a writing goal, your goal should be framed as a number of pages or words to be completed by a specific date.
Obviously, the page or word count is not cast in stone as few people could know exactly how many words or pages it will take to tell their story before they even start writing it, but you need something to shoot for; you need a target. Your target word or page count is a very rough estimate only.
In contrast, the deadline you set must be fixed and not subject to change.
Make Your Goal Exigent
“Exigent” sounds like a skin disease or mental affliction you can get committed to an asylum for. Thankfully, that’s not the case.
An exigent goal is one that is challenging and ambitious and not objectively impossible. When you set writing goals, you can make them challenging by increasing the number of words you want to write or by reducing the time you have set aside to reach your deadline.
Have an Emotional Stake in Your Goal
Finally, the goal must be important to you – you must have an emotional stake or investment in the achievement of your goal. This is especially important when considering a creative endeavor such as writing. Your written project must mean something to you. If not, try to find an angle that will make it meaningful.
This can be difficult, sometimes, I know, especially when writing for other people. It’s hard to get excited about trains running to and from Dorset during the 1940s if that’s not your “thing”.
Once you have ensured that your goal meets these three criteria, you can move on to the next step.
Step 2: Break Up Your Goal Path
I am assuming that you have now set your writing goal, something like “I want to complete a 50 000 word manuscript about butterflies by November 30th this year”.
Let’s now look at how you get there. As with any journey, you need to travel along a path – a “goal path”.
Your goal path is the metaphorical “road” between where you are and where you want to be. At the end of your goal path is your goal – “all shiny and chrome”, to quote Immortan Joe from “Mad Max: Fury Road”.
Undoubtedly, looking at your goal from this end of the goal path (the one where you have made exactly zero progress towards your goal so far) may be a little daunting if you think about how much work lies ahead of you. And this is precisely why I suggest goal-setters break their goal path up into easily manageable “chunks”, which I call “step goals”.
The goal path should be broken into more-or-less even step goals that match the type of goal that has been set (in other words, if your goal is to be measured in words written, then so should your step goals). So, if your goal is to write 50,000 words, your step goals could be in 5,000 increments. If your goal is to write 150 pages, your step goals could be in 15-page increments.
You do not have to break your goal path into a specific number of step goals, but each should be achievable without too much effort, After all, the entire point of breaking up your goal path is to make a herculean task less overwhelming. Typically, a worthwhile goal will be divided into between eight and fourteen step goals, depending on the length of the goal path and the size of the challenge. But how you divide it is really up to you.
Weighting is the technique through which you make the initial step goals a little easier while adjusting the final ones to be more challenging, thereby bringing balance to the goal path.
The reason for weighting is that it’s often difficult to “get into” doing something new. By making the first step goals easier, you will have invested substantial time and effort in achieving your goal so that by the time you reach the point where procrastination and self-doubt start creeping in, you are already invested in the project. You would hate to waste all the time and effort already expended, so you will be less likely to give up.
Where a goal is to write a 50,000-word book, divided into ten-step goals of 5,000 words each, an example of weighting would be to reduce the required word count for the first step goal to 4000 words and then add that shortfall to the final step goal – which would be 6000 words. It’s all about the balance!
Mind Your Language
When you set writing goals, use imperative language to create the illusion of certainty in your mind. Instead of framing your goal as “I want to write a manuscript of 50,000 words by November 30th this year” state it as “I will complete a 50,000-word manuscript about butterflies by November 30th this year.”
Step 3: Prepare
Now that the planning is done, it’s time to prepare for the project. In the content of writing a book, this will most probably involve some of the following;
- Doing the necessary research for the book.
- Brainstorming ideas.
- Creating an outline of the book.
- Looking into publishing options.
- Settling on a format for the final work.
Step 4: Act
It’s now time to take action! You gotta start writing. There is no secret to completing a manuscript. It requires consistent and regular writing starting from day one.
Staying motivated is the key to seeing a lengthy project through. Without motivation, you will have no desire to continue. To this end, it is helpful to create a “Motivational Visualization”. This takes the form of a written affirmation that you reread regularly to maintain (or revitalize) your motivation.
A Motivational Visualization must be approached from the perspective of the future you, where you describe how you feel having achieved your goal spectacularly well. It should be highly evocative and include sensations that satisfy as many senses as possible.
Step 5: Accountability
Finding an accountability partner can go a long way towards achieving your writing goal – as well as getting valuable feedback on your writing. This could include joining a writers’ group.
If you want to find an accountability partner, the best option is to try to find one that is also trying to write a manuscript, as they will be able to sympathize with the struggles you are facing and can perhaps provide help and insights as you proceed. You will be able to do the same for them.
Finding an accountability partner can be a challenge, but there are several options available.
Step 6: Routine and Reminders
In the GREATER² Goal Achievement System, this “R” is reserved for Reminders, but since routine plays such a pivotal role in the process of completing a manuscript, we will double the terms assigned to this letter by adding Routine here. Let’s take a look at this aspect of writing first.
You will need to dedicated a substantial amount of time to writing if you plan to reach your goal and so you should consider setting aside a regular time period in your day or week that will be dedicated to writing.
If possible, set time aside daily as this makes establishing a routine easier. If you are unable to do this, reserve some writing time when it is convenient but realize that the more remote these writing sessions are in time, the easier they will be to forget or ignore. For that reason, a daily routine is the best option. You can leave one day free if you would like, to give you a break.
As far as how much time you should set aside for writing, that depends on your commitments. Even if it’s just half an hour a day, the routine will be easier to maintain than doing it once or twice a week or leaving your writing for weekends only – even if the time you spend writing once a week is more than if you did it every day for a shorter period.
But why not do both if you have limited time during the week. Try writing for half an hour each day and then invest several hours on the weekends as well. You will progress faster and finish quicker.
Reminders are an integral part of the GREATER² Goal Achievement System and can prove useful by not only reminding you what your current step goal is but, more importantly, providing images and quotes to inspire and motivate you. As we have already touched on, motivation is so important for a writer because if their motivation “tank” runs dry, self-doubt and procrastination will move in to do their ugly work.
In the context of the GREATER² Goal Achievement System, Reminders are slips of paper that you print out, fill in and cut out (you can find free downloadable PDF files of Reminders here). These are conspicuously placed around your house and work area. The idea behind them is that each time your eye catches one, you will be reminded why you are going to the trouble of trying to achieve your goal and you will be suitably inspired by the message or picture on it.
Step 7: Rewards
Writing is a lonely pastime, and staying motivated can be a challenge. A great way to help you is if you set up rewards for your achievements – even the small ones. You could give yourself a small reward (a piece of chocolate or a glass of your favorite beverage) for writing 1000 words. When you reach your step goal, you can reward yourself with something bigger (a spa treatment or a movie that you have been wanting to see for example) and when you finally achieve your goal, you could gift yourself something really nice.
Rewards don’t need to be expensive, but they do have to be things that entice you.
If you find that you are motivated more by the proverbial “stick” than the “carrot”, you could also set up small penalties or punishments for failing to reach your step goals. These could be silly or humorous – don’t do anything serious to yourself – and can help force you to do what you promised yourself.
Rewards also include the concept of recognition, which can include taking a picture of yourself as you reach each step goal, printing it out and placing the pictures in order somewhere they are noticeable so that you can see yourself progressing and remind yourself of what you went through to get where you are.
Okay, let’s assume you have gone through the writing process and have come out the other side a little wiser, a little greyer and a lot more confident. You now have a manuscript in your hand. That’s a real achievement. According to “data” floating around the Internet (for which I could find no credible source), only 3% of people finish the book they set out to write. If you have a completed manuscript, you are now more driven and accomplished than 97% of the general population – at least in this aspect of your life.
Now it’s time for editing and publication. These open a whole new can of worms that, fortunately for me, fall outside the purview of this article. In truth, however, they have less to do with goals and more to do with reputation, skill, connections, and plain ol’ chudzpah. Whatever happens in this final phase of your journey to publication, take solace in knowing that you have achieved something great.
When you set writing goals, you create a framework that not only structures your time but also keeps you motivated and moving forward towards the finalization of your grand (or mini) opus. At the end of the day, writing is all about belief; belief in oneself and belief that what you are writing is worthwhile. And well-formulated goals can help you bolster your confidence and smooth the path to your objective. Unfortunately, that does not translate into automatic publication but it does translate into an achievement that makes all of the frustration and self-doubt inherent in the process worthwhile.
P.S. Yes, Greg Bahlmann has written books – five, in fact.