As I write this post, I’m sitting on my daughter’s couch looking over at her desk. It’s piled with special pens, highlighters, post it notes, notebooks, and multiple hole punches. In short, my daughter has become a goal-setting, planning, and tracking champion. Her planners have planners which have companion planners.
It’s a little overwhelming…and guilt inducing.
I’m more of a “go with the flow” kind of girl. Every time I visit my daughter, it takes me weeks to come out of my under-achieving cloud of shame. But she’s taught me some valuable lessons which came in quite handy this summer.
One of the crazy things about being a writer is that you throw proposals out hoping one will stick. Most of the time, the hard part is dealing with rejection. Every once in a while, the hard part is juggling multiple deadlines because too many stick. That was my problem this summer. I had four deadlines in four consecutive months: three novellas and one co-written full-length. For this “go with the flow” girl, that meant some serious goal setting work to figure out how to accomplish everything that was on my plate.
To begin, I started with the end in mind. Every story had a deadline. My goal was to meet each one. I knew the deadlines were coming well enough in advance to figure out my schedule. It worked…until my writing partner’s house caught fire and we had to extend the full-length story by a month which left me only six days to write a whole novella.
That was fun.
To keep me going in that last bit, I used every trick in the book:
- Use a timer. This one was used both to monitor break times and to do writing “sprints.” Some days, I hit a wall at 2pm. I’d set the timer for a half-hour, lie down, and let my brain spin out. I had a notepad beside my bed so I could write down the random things that needed to be remembered: text hubby to bring home dinner, pay internet bill, call Mom. Yes, I had to remind myself to call my own mother. I also used the timer to motivate those last two-hundred words when it was already eleven at night and I’d been writing since eight in the morning. I’d set the timer for half-an-hour and just see how much I could get done. I know writers who have timed challenges with each other because the competition motivates them.
- Bribe yourself. Let’s just say there was chocolate involved. It stayed in the kitchen; I stayed in my office. If I finished my writing goal, I got to go to the kitchen. Childish, but it worked.
- Tackle the big job when you have the most energy. This was a tricky one sometimes. What exactly was the biggest job? Obviously getting my word count in was always high on my priority list, but some days I needed to go back and edit a scene that wasn’t working. Believe me, it killed to delete words I’d sweated bullets over the prior day, but it was better than continuing down a bad path. While under such a tight deadline, I constantly assessed and updated what constituted my biggest job. When it wasn’t such a crunch, I would finish writing for the day, have dinner, do some evening activity, and then write out my list of priorities for the following day—both personal and professional—before going to bed. Most advice says to tackle the big job in the morning. Yeah…that doesn’t work for me so well. I’m better in the afternoon. So, on a regular writing day, I do research and any tasks that aren’t actual hind-end-in-chair, fingers-tapping in the mornings and save the “big job” of writing until the afternoon.
- Just do it. After four months of constant pressure, a delayed deadline, and a nearly impossible task of writing 20K words in a week instead of a month, I was done. Stick-a-fork-in-me done, to be precise. Every day was a battle just to walk inside my office, sit down at my computer, and start writing. But the starting was the thing. Once I started, I stayed. It’s a pretty well-known principle that a body in motion stays in motion. In my case, a brain and fingers in motion stayed in motion.
- Leave the sentence/paragraph unfinished. If you struggle with the above, sometimes it helps to stop at a place where you know the rest of the sentence or paragraph. You sit down, open your computer, and you know what to write next. It gives you forward momentum.
- Give yourself a break. Sometimes you need to refresh and reboot. When I only had six days to write the last novella, I took a break by getting out of the house and writing at a coffee shop. Just being in a different place allowed me to keep going. On a normal schedule, I plan for lunches out and other social activities that get me out of the house on a regular basis. This keeps me from becoming too stagnant in my writing cave.
- Set a schedule and stick to it. I discussed this already, but it’s worth repeating. Whether you set a schedule for the day, week, or month, set it and stick to it. You need to figure out what works for you. I’m a word count person. You might be an hours-per-day person or a milestone person. Whichever method works for you, break down your big goal into ones that can be achieved daily or weekly. Don’t let yourself get sucked into something you didn’t plan on if you can help it. If you work from home, set office hours. If you work a full-time job and write “on the side,” figure out what days and/or times are non-negotiable.
- Find an accountability partner. This is someone who will call you daily or weekly to say, “What’d you get done? How well did you meet your goals? Do I need to come over there with chocolate?” Or, if you’re lucky, “Can I bring you dinner tonight?” and “How can I pray for you this week?” These people are to be treasured. If you have a critiquing group that meets regularly, they can also be your accountability partners.
The main thing about goal setting is to be realistic. Figure out how much time you’ll honestly need to complete a task by breaking it down into what you know you can handle. Don’t decide that, for the first time in your writing life, you’re going to write 10K words a day when your best day ever has been 3.2K up to now and your average is 2K. Set your pace then use whatever tricks are necessary to keep them.
With pen to paper,