I have a (not-so-secret) confession – I’m a bit of a planning addict. Project planning, goal planning, even finance planning, I love it all.
So when I got my three-book publishing deal to produce a novel a year (no pressure !), I knew planning would be the only way I would be able to deliver while running a business and looking after my young children. It was a crazy time. Exhilarating and exciting, but crazy.
I always get asked how I managed those publishing deadlines and I firmly believe it was down to creating writing goals. And no, it didn't take away from my creativity - in fact it helped me be MORE creative because I wasn't stressing about missing deadlines.
Many people talk about writing a book, they may even start writing a few chapters, but the reality is less than 1% of people finish writing their manuscript. (Hardly surprising when you think how daunting it can be.) But a little planning can take away the overwhelm, so with that in mind, I’m sharing my step-by-step goal-setting process (it is January, after all!) to help you not only start writing your book, but more importantly, to finish it.
So grab a coffee and your favourite note-book and let's get planning!
STEP 1: Get Clear On Your Why
Why are you writing this book? What is driving you to tell this particular story? Is it to convey your message to a bigger audience? To leave a legacy or explore your creativity? It could be about earning money – who doesn’t dream of hitting the big time like JK Rowling?
Writing a book can be hard work and time-consuming so by getting clear on your why, this will act as a powerful motivator when the words aren't flowing.
TIP: Ask yourself these questions to help identify your purpose:
· Is this book for me or someone else?
· Who is my dream reader for this book?
· If I never wrote my book, how would I feel?
· How will writing help me in in my life?
STEP 2: Define The Finish Line
Because if you don’t, it will drag on, and in ten years’ time, you’ll still be saying, I want to write a book. Your overarching goal should be to have a first draft of your manuscript written. Notice I say first draft here - it will be rough and full of typos but once you've achieved this major milestone, you can then start crafting it, rewriting, editing and polishing. For first drafts, I would suggest a maximum timeframe of a year if you have full-time responsibilities. If you have the luxury of a little more time, such as three to four hours a day to dedicate to writing, I would restrict yourself to six months. Any longer and you risk losing momentum and losing connection with your characters or ideas.
TIP: Choose an end date (be specific, for example, Wednesday 30th June 2021) and write a short paragraph about how you would feel once you'd finished a first draft. Imagine typing The End and write about how you would celebrate. Print it out and put it in your workspace as visual reminder.
STEP 3: Identify Your Writing Time
Next, you need to look at your current and future commitments. Where do you have space in your diary for writing? If you don’t have the time, what are you willing to sacrifice? Where can you free up time? What can you outsource?
Ideally, you want to identify a regular slot – think little and often, even if it’s just fifteen minutes a day in your lunch hour. This is a great start, because you start to form the habit.
Also consider your other commitments. If you know that every Tuesday night, you go out with your friends then perhaps Wednesday morning isn’t the best time to work on your book. If you’re busy with family commitments every weekend, perhaps weekdays will suit you better. The less distracted you are when working on your book the better. Don't forget to make allowances for important events and holidays and address any potential obstacles such as childcare. Once you’ve identified your regular slots, put them in your diary as non-negotiable appointments.
TIP: When are you most creative? If you’re an early bird, get up an hour earlier than your alarm or if you’re more of a night owl, schedule your writing slots in the evening. Writing is a lot easier when you’re in sync with your natural rhythms.
STEP 4: Decide On Your Milestones
There are different tasks when it comes to writing a book such as fleshing out the main idea, deciding on the structure, research, and then of course the actual writing. You don’t want to spend so much time outlining that you don’t get any words down so set time-bound sub-goals, for example: by February 28th, I will have completed the chapter outline. Once you start writing, I would suggest switching to numerical based goals within your allocated time slot. For example, if you have blocked one hour to write from 7 am to 8 am, Monday to Friday, then aim to write 200 words during that hour. This technique will ensure that you are productive during your writing sessions.
TIP: Communicate your goals to those who might be impacted by them. If you’re planning to write on a Saturday, yet you’ve always spent Saturday mornings having brunch with the family, it’s best to manage expectations.
STEP 5: Choose Your Reward & Show Up
A reward system might not be necessary for everyone, but if you suspect you might not be as disciplined as you would like, then a reward might help. You can do small daily rewards (I will browse Instagram for fifteen minutes once I’ve written two hundred words) or a bigger goal, weekly (spa trip, anyone?) Once you have chosen your rewards, there’s nothing left to do but to show up for your writing appointments. Many writers find it hard to start but if you can manage the first five minutes, then you’ll find it easier to keep going.
TIP: Make your environment as conducive as possible so it’s easier for you to achieve your goal. That means making your writing area as attractive and as comfortable as possible so you actually want to sit at your desk and get those words down.
Even as a full-time writer, I still have bad days, where I feel tired or uninspired and the last thing I want to do is type. It’s normal – we’re only human after all. The secret is to write something – anything – even if you believe it to be rubbish! Remember, you can always come back and edit it later.
RELATED POST: 5 Writing Resolutions for 2021
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What are your writing goals for 2021?