For many writers, writing tends to fall in the same category as exercise. It’s something we know we should be doing but it tends to take a back seat to things we don’t really care about, like cleaning or *cough* earning money. Just like exercise, if you want to see results, you have to do the work. If you want to eventually earn an income from your writing, you need to write today even if you are not getting paid for it. If you believe writing can help you heal, then write today.
On the bright side, unlike exercise, writing does not require you to get off your butt and get moving. I once had a personal trainer in my workshop, and we laughed about the fact that he spends his time getting people to get up out of their chairs and I spend my time getting them to sit down.
I believe that people are called to writing, that writing is a vocation. Many people who come to writing do so because they were profoundly affected by a story, or because they went through something traumatic and discovered that writing can help them heal. The latter is how I came to writing. However you came to writing, writers all have at least one thing in common: They feel the need to express themselves, to tell stories that can get people to think about their lives. Because words can change lives.
If you have a story idea that you want to share with the world and possibly change lives, then you need to prioritize your writing. You need to give it a central place in your life. But how do you do that when you need to put food on the table? Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you wanted something badly and found a way to get it? I’m guessing you can come up with several examples. When you want something bad enough, you make it happen. Remember that smartphone you wanted to buy? You made it happen. Remember when you wanted the computer you’re reading this article on? You made that happen.
Remember that novel you want to write? Why aren’t you making it happen?
Learning how to create writing goals isn’t just about writing down the date you want to finish your draft or the date you want to be published. It’s about examining why you really want to do this thing and reinvigorating your passion for it. It’s about finding ways to get started again when you get off schedule. To help you with this, here are six steps to help you map out your own writing goals:
Make a Learning List
Compile a list of things you need to learn. Sometimes writers stop writing when they feel like they don’t know what they’re doing or if what they are writing is working. If you goal is to start your own blog, list out all the things you need to figure out in order to start your own blog. Do you need to understand the advantages and disadvantages of the various blogging platforms? Write that down. Do you need to learn how to write good content? Write that down. If you’re working on a novel, do you understand how to construct a good scene? Do you understand three-act structure so well that you can recite it? Do you know these things well enough to be able to teach someone else about them? If the answer is no, then you need to learn more. List all those things you need to figure out in order to get to your goal.
Identify and Eliminate Distractions
Get honest with yourself about why you don’t write, about those things that you allow yourself to be distracted by. Simply being aware of these things is the first step toward creating the space in your life to do your writing. Make a list of distractions and come up with a plan to free yourself of them when you write.
Build a Recovery Plan
Everyone slips up on goals. This is part of the process, unfortunately. How will you get yourself back on track when a week slips by and you haven’t made any progress? Write it out. What things will you do? What will you tell yourself? How will you keep yourself from falling into a shame loop (I didn’t do my writing today | I suck | I can’t write | I’m not a writer | I don’t feel like writing again today)? Coming up with a way to circumvent the shame loop is about building perseverance and finding a way to push forward even when you slip up.
Focus on Process Goals
A process goal is a baby step that gets you to your outcome goal. Instead of just having a single outcome goal such as “get my book published,” which is a goal that you cannot control, instead make a list of the steps you can control to get there and focus on those baby steps. Focus on those process goals, one at a time and use them as achievements. If you are writing a memoir, then maybe you spend a week brainstorming scenes from your life. Then the next week, you work on organizing them into a journey and story arc. Then the next week you write one of those scenes, and so on. Sit down and write out your process goals
Create the Space
This applies both to your schedule and the physical space where you write. If you really want to get to the end and be able to say, “I wrote a _____,” then you need to clear out the time in your schedule to actually do the work. Writing does not magically appear. You have to clear out the time, and you have to sit down and do it. It’s the only way. Saying you want to write a project is not the same and sitting down and doing the work. Writing is hard. It’s like writing a 200-page dissertation. It’s hard as hell. And let’s face it, maybe that’s part of the reason we’re intrigued by it, because it’s challenging.
Stop Waiting for Inspiration
Inspiration is a feeling. Like happiness or anger. If you waited to write until you felt happy or angry, that would be ridiculous, no? Inspiration is something that comes and goes. It’s not the thing that you should rely on to start writing. It’s the thing you hope shows up when you write. It doesn’t always show up, but never let that stop you from moving forward. Stop waiting to feel a certain way before you sit down and write.
Now go forth and work on your writing goals!
-Nicole Criona is the owner of Los Angeles Writers Group and a First Draft Coach who works exclusively with writers who want to complete their first draft of a project. If you are interested in working with Nicole privately, schedule a free phone consultation or book a Goal-Setting Session today.