No Six Sentence Sunday this week as I’m doing a blog swap with Jane Ayres. Jane had her first short story published at the age of 14. Her 30 books for children and teenagers have been translated into 7 different languages, and she has just released 3 of her popular titles as e-books to raise money for Redwings Horse Sanctuary.
Her trilogy of Matty Horse and Pony Adventures books for pre-teens and teen (and nostalgic older readers) are available for Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. To find out more go to Jane’s Blog
In light of Nano next week (and you know how passionate I am about my Monday To Do List), Jane has written an article for me about Goal Setting…..enjoy
Targets and Goal Setting
Setting unrealistic targets and then beating yourself up when you don’t achieve them. Does that sound like you? That’s what I do. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it seems to be ingrained into my thinking. Especially when it comes to writing.
Whether it is the number of tasks I want to complete or simply achieving a daily word count, I always veer towards a challenging target. I sometimes wonder if being so hard on ourselves is the bane of writers and creatives, because we often have perfectionist tendencies when it comes to our work.
So why do we do it? Do we enjoy putting ourselves under pressure? Does it reap better results?
Some writers do indeed thrive under pressure, so writing to a deadline can be beneficial. Until recently, I was one of those writers, but as I get older, I find this approach doesn’t always succeed. I wonder if this is part of the ageing process? Or maybe I’m rebelling against my self-imposed work ethic? Why not just meander through the day and see what happens? The idea appeals but I’ve never actually put it into practice. And like most writers, I’ve always had a salaried job that writing has had to fit around, so a disciplined routine is essential.
I’ve always been goal oriented, and it’s hard to switch off learned behaviour reinforced over time and by repetition. I like to have lists and work my way through them (or not). It is satisfying ticking off a task completed. I usually start the day checking my multi-coloured post-it notes, which are distributed all over the house. But by the time I have ploughed through one list, I am already creating another and the process becomes an eternal quest.
Having a target to work towards can definitely be a helpful focus for your writing. Whether this is a personal goal to complete a novel or short story for your own satisfaction, or to meet a deadline for a publication, or a competition entry, or to write a regular blog or daily diary entry, what matters is that the target is realistic and achievable, because if not, it can be very de-motivating. This might sound like common sense but I think we can all be so influenced by images and perceptions of what other writers are doing and achieving, that we judge ourselves harshly if we “fail” to meet these standards. Be inspired by other writers but don’t use their success to beat yourself up. Writing is a personal pursuit and what’s right for one writer may not be effective or productive for another.
Know what you need to work on – with me, when I set a target I usually underestimate how long it will take me to complete the task and get over-ambitious, then end up rushing to finish something. (Vikki will testify to this – she had her blog post done and sent to me well before our deadline, whereas mine took longer than I anticipated!) You need to build in time for reflection and editing, so decide how much time you need and double it. Then set your target.
I remember from a business course I did once that goals should be SMART, which, if I recall correctly, stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based. This does make sense, and is helpful when we set targets. I do try to apply this to my writing goals. Try being the operative word here! So for a novel, your target might be to complete the first draft of a chapter, which might comprise 4000 words, in a day. But remember this has to be achievable and realistic. In my twenties, I could easily write 2 chapters a day and on a good weekend, I managed 15,000 words. Now I struggle with 1000 words a day. I think targets should be reviewable, and flexible. If the novel writing isn’t going well, then take a break and work on something else, like an article, a blog post, forward planning or marketing. That way you will still feel you have achieved something substantial, even if it wasn’t what you originally planned.
It would be interesting to know how other writers use goals and target setting to increase their output effectively. If you have found a technique that works well, or you have useful tips to share, or if you simply work better without goals and just go with the flow, I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, I will continue to litter the house with pretty-coloured post-it notes…..