How to Write a Novel to the End: Setting Smart Goals
Goal setting can sound intimidating, but it is simply a tool to help you optimize your time, increase your productivity, and ensure you are going in a direction you choose.
I find that, unless I write my goals down, they slip right out of my mind. The fleeting nature of New Year’s resolutions are an example of this phenomenon. There’s an amazing advantage to writing your goals down, which makes the investment of time and effort worthwhile. Read on.
Author and social media leader Michael Hyatt refers to a goal-setting study by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, when he notes that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down."5 Reasons Why You Should Commit Your Goals to Writing"
What is a SMART Goal?
Too broad a goal can’t break into manageable chunks. Clarity is the key here, so think your goals through. Knowing just what you want to do guards against inertia caused by confusion. When you choose goals that affirm a passion (like writing a book), planning specifics empowers you.
As an example, it’s one thing to want to fight human trafficking and quite another to write a book to elevate awareness of the factors contributing to human trafficking. Wanting to fight human trafficking is a dream or vague hope, while writing a book is a specific goal.
To make a goal specific, try to answer the following:
- Who does it pertain to?
- What will you do?
- Where will it happen?
- Why will you do it?
Now ask yourself how you will know you’ve attained your goal. If a goal can’t be measured, it will be impossible to know when you’ve accomplished it. Being able to measure steps along the way can be a huge motivator.
Writing your book over a set period of time creates a measurable goal.
I’m a former insurance agent and assistant underwriter, and a basic insurance concept can help us here. When someone wants to take out a policy, it’s important to determine ownership of the property being insured (say, for example, a car). If the car is in the Insured’s full care, custody, and control, an insurable interest is said to exist. If not, then the person doesn’t have the right to insure the car.
Likewise, goals should be in the care, custody, and control of the person taking ownership of them. A goal, then, is something you own.
Having a goal of traditional publication for your book, as one example, fails in the area of ownership. Why? Because at least in part, success depends on the decisions of others, placing attainment outside your complete control. Can you still find a traditional publisher? Possibly. but not as a goal.
A better goal is to query ten agents within two months of completion of your manuscript. Transforming an unmanageable goal into one that is under your full control can empower you and save heartache. I told myself at the outset of my own writing career that I only had to try my hardest to succeed. It was a subtle shift in mindset, but one that pulled me through a rough stretch.
You can write out your goals and even break them into daily chunks, but if you set your sites too high, you’ll be primed to fail. Why do this to yourself? Can you really write 3,000 words a day with no time off for a year straight? Have you factored in time for any needed research?
Setting realistic goals from the start saves frustration and the time needed to adjust your schedule.
When will you attain your goal? Set a date, and line up all the deadlines leading to it. Making your goals time-bound takes them out of the ether and casts them in real terms. Establishing deadlines helps you focus and gives you waymarks to help measure your progress.
Include some margin in your schedule. That way you might have a hope of staying on course when life intrudes on your writing, as it sometimes can.
How Do You Set Goals?
Now that you know how to set SMART goals, pick a time when interruptions will be at a minimum to set the goals that will see you through writing your book to the end.
You may want to cut activities to clear time to write. How will you measure progress? Should you set a time goal for your writing sessions? Or maybe you’ll aim for a certain word count each time you write. Is there a deadline to finish the first draft, and then one for each editing pass? Decide what you want to accomplish, and write it all down, even the things you’re not sure you’ll do. At this stage, keeping your creativity flowing is vital.
Wait a bit, and then go over your ideas. Now that your ardor has cooled a little, are there any that don’t appeal to you? Eliminate or recast unattainable, immeasurable, and unrealistic ideas, but don’t forget to stretch yourself. Pare down your ideas so the next step will cause you less consternation.
Pick only a few goals from your list, from three to five, with three being better, and put the others away to consider for later consideration. You only have so much time each day, and putting yourself into burnout mode is a poor option. Having fewer goals means you can perform the tasks they engender with less stress and more time, so bear that in mind.
Now that you’ve picked what to work on, make sure you create SMART goals. Don’t give this step short shrift. It can mean the difference between establishing mediocre or dynamic goals. Which do you want impacting your writing career?
Drawbacks of Goal Setting
While the benefits of setting goals are greater than the pitfalls, touching on some of the drawbacks of goal setting can help us avoid or overcome them.
Cramming activities into a limited time frame is far too easy. Setting goals is a lot like creating a vacation itinerary. Of course, you know what happens when a vacation gets busy. You either skip all but urgent stops and feel disappointed or run yourself ragged trying to do it all.
Paralysis by analysis can ensue. This works hand-in-glove with the previous drawback to immobilize you. Breaking too many goals into smaller bites only means you’ll wind up choking on your schedule. Less really can be more.
Spontaneity can suffer. On any given day, you might cross off everything on your list, having missed an opportunity you felt you didn’t have time to grasp. Adhering stringently to a schedule can cost you more than it nets you. Be aware of what else is going on and flexible enough to change tack when the occasion warrants.
Managing Your Goals
Break big projects into smaller units and establish a system to help you manage everything. Several models exist.
You can enter each day’s tasks into a schedule you follow throughout the day. I use this system and have learned that assigning times for each task prevents me from overloading myself. You can automate a schedule using a calendar system like Google Calendar that lets you schedule reminders that either pop up or go to your inbox.
I’ve also used a to-do list, sometimes in conjunction with a schedule. Whenever my list gets intimidatingly long, I assign a letter of the alphabet to each item to help prioritize my list. ‘A’ items are first priority, ‘B’ comes next, and so on. I usually stop at C or D.
Make a separate to-do list for each of your goals, and work on a project as need compels you. This is a tactic Pat Flynn, of Smart Passive Income fame, first brought to my attention.
Tracking Your Goals
Set a date to evaluate progress on your goals, perhaps monthly. If you aren’t accomplishing what you set out to do, figure out what is holding you back. If you can’t keep up with the timeline you set, either adjust your life to allow more time, work to increase your productivity, or adjust your goals to a more attainable level.
It may take a while to become used to setting, managing, and tracking goals, but the results of better focus and increased productivity are well worth the effort.