How to Get Shit Done + Make Your Writing Dreams Your Reality
Every month I like to do a reflection on my achievements and a little bit of planning my goals and dreams for the coming weeks. I like to look at what I've accomplished, what I didn't accomplish, and why those things did or did not get done. I like to figure out where I'm going next and what steps I have to take to get there. (If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m definitely a planner - in my stories and my life!). Although this month is a little bit different because there’s some BIG stuff going on this time of year.
WHY IS JUNE AWESOME?
June is an awesome month. It's the sixth month of the year (yes, I can count, haha) and so it signifies the year's halfway mark. 2016 is halfway over - can you believe it?! - and this is the perfect time to check in on your New Year's Resolutions, reevaluate your priorities, and recommit yourself to making your writing dreams your reality. This is your half-year check-in to ask: Where am I at with accomplishing my writing dreams?
June is also awesome because my birthday is in June! June 10th to be exact! Birthdays are always new beginnings, new chapters in your life, that come with maturity and experiences and all that beautiful jazz. They’re also a great time to reflect on what you’ve done in the past year, how you’ve changed, and what you hope to accomplish in the coming year.
And June officially marks the start of the summer. School is out. The pool is open. All the lovely joys of summer are here for the next three months. This is a time of relaxation and adventuring. But it’s also a good chunk of time to set some concrete short-term goals that will help you reach those bigger yearly goals.
So, are you ready to get analyzing and planning your writing life?! Let's look at what you’ve already accomplished this year and what you have yet to finish. Let's evaluate where you’ve been, where you’re at right now, and where you’re going next.
evaluate + dream big
STEP #1: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
Ask yourself where you’ve been. What have you accomplished so far this year? What were your New Year’s Resolutions? Have you made progress towards them? Why or why not? Have your goals and priorities changed? What can you do in this second half of the year to reach those goals?
STEP #2: WHERE ARE YOU NOW?
Look at where you’re at. What is your current writing schedule like? Is it working? Do you need to alter it in someway? Are you prioritizing writing? How can your prioritize it more in your life? What are the reasons why you're NOT writing? Are these valid reasons, or are they excuses you can conquer?
STEP #3: WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
What do you still want to accomplish before 2016 ends? What action can you take to reach those goals? Figure out what steps you need to take to get there. What is something that you can start doing this season, this month, this day (today!) to start working towards those big goals?
NEED SOME HELP? I MADE YOU A WORKBOOK. WOOP WOOP! GET YOUR COPY IN THE CLUB!
*But if you want even more planning for your writing goals, make sure to check out The WriteLife Planner!
the actual goal setting
Once you've figured out what your big goals are for the rest of the year, you can't just throw them onto your to-do list and hope they get done. If you put "write a novel" or "read 10 books" on your list, you're going to end up doing nothing. It's important to know your lofty end-dreams like these, but to make them a reality, you've got to break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks you can tackle.
To start with, you want to set S.M.A.R.T + H.A.R.D goals: Goals that mean a lot, require some difficulty, ground you in your reality, present you with a sense of accomplishment at the end, and require a lot of freaking effort.
SMART Goals are often talked about. They've kind of gotten the reputation of being THE guide to making goals that you'll actually achieve. Why? Because they force you to take your abstract dream and make it concrete.
Your goal must be hyper-laser-focused if you want to reach it, or else you're going to be doing a lot of things that don't move towards your goal. Perhaps you dream of being a New York Times bestselling author one day (I know this is one of my dreams!). But there are so many things that go into achieving that dream that simply thinking about it won't accomplish.
Try writing a novel. Or editing said novel. Or querying agents. Or marketing it so it can get reviewed by the right people. Your path to the dream of "bestselling author" is filled with multiple, more specific goals. Additionally, when you put down "write a novel", you have to know some things about it. What kind of novel is it? What is it about? How long will it be? Get specific on what you're doing.
You must know how to see if you've finished your goal or not, or else you'll work on it forever and ever and ever. (How many times have you just written and written and written, dumped hundreds of thousands of words onto the page, but not known where you're at in your "finish the novel" project?). You need to figure out how to assess your progress and know when you're finished. Instead of "write a novel about x, y, and z," you also need to add the length of it. Perhaps you want to finish a 70,000 word manuscript. Perhaps you want to write 500 words a day, or for 10 minutes a day. Find a way to document your results.
Depending on who's talking about SMART Goals, the "A" can stand for a few different things. (I've seen actionable, achievable, attainable, ambitious, and aligned, among others). I think it's necessary that your goal is actionable. For your goal to be actionable, you must be doing something to achieve it as much as you can. Again, thinking about the dream of being a "bestselling author", you can't dream something into reality. You have to take steps to get there. Your goal must inherently describe something actionable that you can do to achieve it.
This usually entails, at the basic level, adding a strong verb to your goal: write, edit, publish, read, work.
This is a crucial step in your goal-making. If you set a goal too lofty, you'll fail and be disappointed. If you set a goal too weak, you'll be bored and unchallenged, which will make you unmotivated. You have to pay attention to what you can reasonably accomplish in a given amount of time. You also have to pay attention to what's logical. It's important to dream big dreams - looking at you again, "bestselling author" dream - but now is the time to focus on what's actually happening in your life. There's a LOT of factors that go into that dream, many of which you can't control.
But there are a lot of things you can: You can write a Real+Good book. You can edit it with all your might. You can market it the best you can. Be realistic with you can personally accomplish with your goal. You should also be realistic with your time, which leads us to the next part...
I'm a firm believer in deadlines. Perhaps they don't work for you, but for me, they're essential to getting things done. They create just enough stress, just enough sense of urgency, that I have to act and do something. The SMART goal's "T" is a deadline for yourself. When must your goal be completed by?
As you choose this date, make sure to keep it realistic as well. Will you draft your entire novel in two days? Probably not. Over a couple months? Perhaps, under the right circumstances. Over a year? Definitely. Over 10 years? You could, but you'll probably be unmotivated and distracted.
Make sure to pay attention to and respect your reality, while also giving yourself a bit of a challenge. Consider what other things in your life are keeping you from writing that you can't eliminate (a day job, kids, other projects) as well as what you can actually accomplish (can you give up an hour of TV time each week to work on your goals?). Creating a sense of urgency will motivate you to work on it sooner, rather than later, and increase the likelihood that you'll actually get it done.
HARD Goals are a newer concept. Based on the book by Mark Murphy, HARD Goals build the emotion behind the goal, which enables the person to have more motivation, energy, and passion that is needed to complete the goal.
If you don't care about your goal, you're not going to do it. You will NEVER finish writing a novel if it's a novel that you don't care about or if it's not aligned with your writer's DNA. Whatever your goal is, it must be important to you. You must care about it a whole heck of a lot. It better have value for you. Because in writing, you're going to spend a long long long long long time working towards your goals. You better love it.
So get emotional, get passionate! Feel the weight of this goal. Believe in it. This is your "why", your driving force to keep you pressing forward when times get rough (and notice, I said "when" not "if" times get rough). This is what will make you committed to your goal.
One of the most important steps for accomplishing something is visualization. And this isn't woo-woo magic stuff, this is imagining your dreams as your reality. Should be pretty easy for us writers, who are excellent users of our imaginations, right?
To do this, take all of the details that make your goal uniquely yours and highlight them. Imagine your name on the cover of your book. Imagine seeing your book at the bookstore. Imagine typing "the end" on your manuscript in Times New Roman font or whatever you use. Imagine that glass of wine you drink after you've typed the end. Imagine getting a love letter from one of your readers that declares how much she adored your book. Your goal should be so important to you that it should be easily and frequently visualized.
And you should make sure that you use this as a technique in helping transform your dream into your reality. Visualize your intended reality as often as you can, and you'd be surprised how much more motivated you are to transform those imagined visualizations into an actual reality.
You want your goal to be so important and necessary to you that there's no way you won't achieve it. Your goal has to be of the utmost importance. You want to switch your mindset so that you're no longer considering your goal an "option" or a nice thing to have one day, but a necessary "requirement" for you as a person. If you've made it heartfelt and full of emotional resonance, and animated what successful completion of it will look like in the future, you're on your way to making it a requirement. This will make it much much more likely that you'll actually get it done.
If your goal is too easy, you won't be motivated to do it at all. If your goal is too hard, you won't do it either. There's a balance you have to achieve between the two. You must feel a sense of accomplishment once you complete it. You want to be proud of what you've done, and know that it was worth it to put in a lot of hard work and effort. You want it to have a strong, significant purpose with a well-deserved payoff. Simultaneously, you want it to challenge you without destroying you. You want to learn new things, grow as a person, but not get so overwhelmed that you'll give up.
Think of when you start a new exercise habit. If you're an average able-bodied, but non-athletic person, setting a goal to walk up and down your driveway would be too easy. There's no effort, no work, no learning, and no payoff. You'll be on autopilot and you won't do anything significant. But if you make your goal to run a marathon by tomorrow, you'll be too exhausted by the idea of it that you won't do anything at all. It's too hard, too much effort. The sweet spot is finding what you're comfortable doing, and then working at one level above that. A compromise in the exercise metaphor may be to run/walk a mile 3x a week.
This is something that will constantly have to be adjusted as your comfort level rises. Once you're used to something, you want to up it again. In a writing example, perhaps you plan to write for 10 minutes a day. When you develop that habit and get comfortable with it, perhaps you try writing for 20 minutes a day. Always reevaluate where your comfort level is and adjust your habits accordingly. Challenge yourself, just a little bit.
So, when you put all these components together, your goals are going to look quite different than putting "write a novel" on your to-do list. They will be specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, timely, heartfelt, animated, required, and difficult. That's a lot of things to be! When you write out your goals, include all of these things, and include the reasons why you want to achieve these things.
YOUR GOALS MAY LOOK SOMETHING LIKE THIS:
- I want to write 70,000 words of my novel "Ghosts+Love" by June 10. I want this goal because it's on track with my dreams of being a published novelist and it challenges me to create a "serious" novel I actually like. I know it's a story that means a lot to me as a human, and I believe it is a story that needs to be shared with others.
- I want to write 3 new short stories by August 1. I want this goal because I believe one of the next steps in my literary career is to go to grad school, and I would like to draft some new strong fiction for MFA applications.
- I want to finish writing my short story about the mermaids by June 21. I want this goal because this story has been around for a long, long time and I want some closure. I want this goal because it's an important story that is extremely close to my heart, and I think the completion of it will help me heal.
- I want to revise my short story "Z" by June 25. I want this goal because I think it's a good candidate for publication and I want to begin publishing my work professionally. I want this goal because I want to submit it for publication deadlines that close at the end of this month.
- I want to schedule 3 book readings at my local library/bookstores. I want this goal because I want to have a successful launch of my book and I want to interact with readers. I want to see my book in action and hear the reception of my hard-work in-person. I want this goal because it's aligned with my big dreams of being a successful, professional author.
- I want to write 500 words a day for the next 30 days. I want this goal because, currently, I am not following a strict writing routine and, therefore, I'm not accomplishing my dreams. This goal will help me develop a habit that will help me achieve my dreams of being a professional writer.
- I want to read the book "xxx" by July 1. I want to read this book because I believe it's in conversation with my novel and I want to see how it can influence my work. This will stimulate my motivation for my WIP and help me learn what's working in my given genre, so I can tailor or not tailor my WIP appropriately.
- I want to read 10 articles on plot by July 15. I want this goal because I'm having trouble outlining my novel in a way that logically makes sense. I believe that by learning more about plot, I'll be able to see the issues I'm having more clearly with my own work, and resolve them.
Feel free to take any of these sample goals and use them as templates for your own goal!
The sections of each goal that are bolded above are highlighting the essential components that your goals should have. They have emotion, beliefs, timeliness, specificity, reasons why, concreteness. You should include as many of these as possible (ideally all of them) into the development of your own goals.
At the basic level, there's a simple formula for writing your goals. This isn't a one-size fits all, but as a general guideline, try this:
YOUR GOAL = WHAT you want to accomplish + WHEN you'll have it done + WHY it's important to you
ACTUALLY GETTING SHIT DONE
Once you've got your goals all figured out, you have to put them into practice. This may mean a daily habit, or scheduling writing down as an appointment in your planner. When you say you're going to do something, you must do it. So design yourself a routine to get it done.
I also learned something really cool the other day about goal planning. Todd Herman has an online course (that I have not yet taken, but have heard amazing things about) called The 90 Day Year. It talks about planning out your big goals for 90 days, then breaking those days down into two-week chunks. In these two-week chunks, you narrow your focus and accomplish little itty bitty goals. Together, they all add up to your big goal and you’ve accomplished something wonderful. These are much more manageable than putting your long-winded big goal on your to-do list.
And what better time to do this than at the beginning of summer? You can do this for any season, or any 90-day chunk, for that matter. But right now, it's the beginning of June and a good 90-day stretch lies ahead of you. What are your dreams for the end of the summer? What do you hope to accomplish? When you set your goals, especially the big ones like writing a novel, make your deadline a bit far out.
For me, I have 3 big goals to accomplish in 90-days, or September 1st.
- I want to finish my novel and start submitting it to agents.
- I want to launch this AWESOME course that helps you reach the writing life and productivity level that you desire. (More on this soon!)
- I want to draft a solid round of short stories to revise heavily for MFA applications.
Let's break down one of these into smaller chunks, so you can see how these big things fit into a daily lifestyle. Let's play with finishing a novel.
STEP #1: WRITE DOWN ALL THE STEPS NEEDED TO COMPLETE THE GOAL
For writing a novel and being ready to submit it to agents at the end of the summer, you're going to have to write a full first draft, edit said draft, write another draft, edit said draft (you could do this process for a million bajillion years if you'd like, but please don't do that). You'll probably want to get some other eyes on it, some beta readers, and then incorporate their feedback. Then you'll have to research agents that are looking for work like yours, draft a query letter, and then send it out.
Put these steps in a logical order:
- Finish writing draft
- Take a break from it to refresh and recharge
- Revise heavily
- Let beta-readers read the draft
- Incorporate feedback
- Research agents
- Draft query letters
STEP #2: BREAK THESE STEPS INTO TWO WEEK CHUNKS
If you're constantly thinking about all the things that go into completing your goal, you'll paralyze yourself and not accomplish anything. What you want to do is get hyper-laser-focused on the most immediate thing. Breaking your steps down into two-week chunks gives you a focus that frees you from worrying about everything you have to do, and asks you only to do the thing right in front of your face. It also presents you with a nice deadline to create that sense of urgency we talked about, that motivation to do it now.
For preparing a novel for submissions, your two-week chunks might look something like this:
- WEEK 1 + 2: Write full draft.
- WEEK 3 + 4: Take time off to recharge and work on other projects. Perhaps write a draft of another project.
- WEEK 5 + 6: Revise revise revise!
- WEEK 7 + 8: Send off to beta-readers and let them devour it.
- WEEK 9 + 10: Incorporate beta-reader feedback. Revise, revise, revise.
- WEEK 11 + 12: Research agents, draft query letters, submit!
Or, perhaps your present reality requires you to go a bit slower. Perhaps you have to finish the very first draft. Your two-week chunks might look like this for a 70,000 word novel:
- WEEK 1 + 2: Write 11,666 words.
- WEEK 3 + 4: Write 11,666 more words. Total words should be 23,333.
- WEEK 5 + 6: Write 11,666 more words. Total words should be 34,999.
- WEEK 7 + 8: Write 11,666 more words. Total words should be 46,665.
- WEEK 9 + 10: Write 11,666 more words. Total words should be 58,331.
- WEEK 11 + 12: Write the final 11,666 more words. Total should be 69,997 + 3 words (you can do it!) = 70,000.
You can break these down even further into weekly or daily goals, depending on what works best for your schedule. For a weekly goal, you'd be looking at writing 5,833 words each week. For a daily goal, you'd be looking at writing 833 words a day. Suddenly, writing a whole 70,000-word novel becomes a lot more manageable when you're only looking at writing 833 word a day. That's about one solid page each day! And you know some days will be more than that, and some days will be less than that. But now you can see that if you average 833 words, you'll write your whole freaking novel in no time at all.
STEP #3: DO IT! GET WRITING!
Once you've got your goal defined, and you've broken it down into manageable chunks, there's nothing left to do but actually put your butt in your chair and get going!
Go forth and accomplish your writing dreams, dear writer. You've got the tools, the passion, the scheduling. Go write your novel by completing 833 words a day. Go prepare it for publishers by focusing on two-week chunks at a time. Go make your writing dreams your reality. I'm cheering you on.