One of the most popular questions asked of writers is “When do you find the time to write?” The short answer is, “When you want it bad enough, you’ll find the time to do it.” But it isn’t always so easy, not with work and family and chores and other demands on our time.
One way to find the balance is to set achievable and exceedable goals.
Achievable and exceedable goals are the small steps you set yourself en route to completing your project. They fit into your daily routine. They are specific, focused on a single task. And they are measurable in that you will know when it has been achieved.
Once you have your goals set: the big goals, the long term goals and your short term goals, ask yourself if they are reasonable? Do they fit with your life? Keep the daily goals smaller so that you know you will achieve it. Any extra work you do on your project, above and beyond what you had set out to do that day, is a bonus. Build your confidence, know that you can consistently achieve your goals, and exceed them, before pushing for more.
Setting achievable and exceedable goals looks like this: Maybe at first you can only write 500 words a day, or 30 minutes a day, or 2 hours every Sunday. Whatever works for you. We all have a tendency to set unattainable goals. Don’t. Start small, build up if you discover you can do more. Make sure you can achieve your smaller goals first, and be satisfied that you have done your work for the day. And if there are days you can do a little more, that is a bonus.
Setting those achievable and exceedable goals is important so let’s take a little bit of time here to develop that skill and walk through the process.
We’re going to start with the ultimate goal and work our way down through the steps.
What is your ultimate goal? Dream big here. Let your imagination run free. What is it that you really want?
For this example, let’s say that we want to be a well-published writer.
That’s being fairly modest, not really dreaming big. Okay, I want to be a best selling author with movies and television series based on my books. I want to go on book tour around the world and live in a palace.
We have the ultimate goal. Now, let’s think of the one thing or moment that would symbolize that I have reached the pinnacle of success. Believe it or not, it isn’t the palace, the movies, or the around-the-world book tour. My local bookstore has a staircase going up to the second floor. Only the biggest selling authors get to give readings from the staircase. I want to be offered to give a reading from the staircase. Perhaps for you it is being featured on the cover of a magazine or anthology. Maybe it is signing over those film rights to Brad Pitt’s movie production company. Maybe, like it was for the actor Jim Carrey, it was receiving that first million dollar cheque.
Now ask yourself, what will get you to that pinnacle of success? To be on the staircase at my local bookstore, I need to be a multiple bestseller. To be a multiple bestseller in my genre, chances are high that I’ll need to be published by one of the big publishing companies. To get signed by one of the big publishing houses, I’ll need to have a reputable agent. To get the reputable agent, I will need to have a marketable and well-written manuscript. To have a marketable and well-written manuscript I can send to agents, I need to have my novel polished and critiqued by trusted readers who will spot not only typos and grammatical errors, but plot and character issues and inconsistencies, and who will help me make this the best book ever. I can’t get a novel critiqued if I haven’t written it yet. So I have to get writing.
And now for the writing goals. If the final book is to be approximately 100,000 words, by when do I want to have it done? If I think I want to have the book done in a year then I’ll have to plan accordingly. The first draft is the most hastily written. At 1,000 words a day, it should take just over 3 months. So let’s be generous for extra long work days and maybe a sick day or two and say the first draft will take 4 months. That leaves 8 months for editing, critiquing, more editing, more critiquing, more editing, some more editing, another round of critiques, and some final edits.
Once you have your goals set: the big goals, the long term goals and your short term goals, ask yourself if they are reasonable? Do they fit with your life? If your daily goal is to write for 2 hours every morning before work but you have trouble getting out of bed to get to work on time, you may want to re-think your plan. Either find other times during the day to fit the two hours in, or start by getting up on time for work, then the next week setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier, extending the time each week until you get your 2 hours in. If your plan is to write 2,000 words a day and you have the time to make that word count but you haven’t written much more than 100 words a day before, then start with that 100 words a day. Then push yourself to 500 words until you are comfortable with that, then extend it to 1,500 words. But rather keep the goals smaller so that you know you will achieve it and possibly write more as a bonus. Build your confidence, know that you can consistently achieve your goals, and exceed them, before pushing for more.
Ask yourself: How committed are you to achieving these goals? What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve these goals? Remember, it may take years to get a book deal, but when you finally sign, the deadlines come fast and furious, with very little pay. How will you adjust to meeting the annual deadline and still maintain your family life, social life, and work life? What adjustments can you make now so that it will be easier later? You may need to re-prioritize and maybe even eliminate something from your life. Are you willing to spend less time with family and friends if necessary? Are you willing to watch less television? Are you willing to be involved in fewer volunteer activities than others would like?
It is completely up to you how much time and energy you put into reaching your long-term goal, and even in part, the big dream goal. It will take a lot of time and effort. Sacrifices will be made, and you will encounter and deal with a lot of frustration. But it isn’t all about sacrifice and punishment. I’m a firm believer in celebrating the little steps as much as the big achievements.
When you have achieved your smaller goals, be sure to treat yourself every now and then. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way suggests we take artist dates once a week, to replenish the creative well. It is an activity away from your writing, that is just you alone, to let your inner child play. They are great, they don’t always have to be her idea of an artist date. A treat for me is often a visit to my local bookstore to look at and maybe pick up a small item like a fun pen or a new journal. Other times it is writing time at a coffee shop. Or a movie. Often, it is simply time to read.
A treat once a week is ideal. Never more, it stops becoming a treat then. But treat yourself. Reward yourself. Celebrate, especially the small steps because achieving the small goals means you are committed and working toward that ultimate big dream goal.
A final note on goal setting. I’ve asked you to dream big and write down what your ultimate goal and long-term goal might be. For us as writers, these goals are often things like being a best-selling writer, a full-time writer, or having a book contract in a certain amount of time. We want to have these dreams, these goals. Without something to aim for, there is little purpose to our lesser goals. However, it is important to keep in mind that actual publication goals are not within our control. We want to have big dreams to aim for, like a carrot at the end of the stick, perhaps. While attaining them may not be in our control, the goals we set ourselves as steps to put us in a position to achieve our dreams are in our control, and if we do everything we possibly can to achieve our dreams, then we can indeed be satisfied with our efforts and achievements.
If you want to pursue this further, I will be teaching my workshop “But I have a Day Job” this November through Savvy Authors.
Writing and coaching are two of Sherry’s greatest joys in life. She considers it a great privilege to be able to combine the two, and to work with other writers to help them achieve their goals and dreams. Sherry is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, holds an M. A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and received her coach training through ICF Accredited Erickson College. Her book Silencing Your Inner Saboteur is available both as an e-book and hard copy through most online bookstores, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks. For more information on Sherry, her coaching, Silencing Your Inner Saboteur, and when Sherry will be presenting her workshops, visit her website at http://sherrypeters.wordpress.com.
All writers experience times when we don’t feel like writing, or have difficulty getting words on the page. We give these situations the umbrella name of writer’s block and blame our censor, critic, or editor. Silencing Your Inner Saboteur explores these issues and situations to discover that it is really a saboteur behind it all, preventing writers from achieving their dreams. This book is for writers of all stages, from those just beginning to those who are well into their writing careers. Inside this book, you will uncover the source of your inner saboteur, its disguises and tricks, and how to silence it. There are also exercises after each chapter to build the resources necessary for silencing your saboteur.
Buy a copy of ‘Silencing Your Inner Saboteur’ here.