Goals are Constructive Dreams

Would you start a trip across uncharted territory without a map? Perhaps you only have a few landmarks scribbled on a napkin, or maybe you have a Michelin’s with the route highlighted, but the point is—you have an idea where you’re headed.

As writers, whether you consider yourself a planner or a ‘pantser’, you likely have some internal goals guiding your project development process.

There is no achievement without goals!

I forgot long ago where I first heard that, but I keep it permanently posted at the top of my To Do list. Goal-setting and tracking is one of my favorite personal and professional activities. Goals are, after all, constructive dreams.

From a personal standpoint, planning what I want to accomplish as a writer is essential. For years, I juggled a full-time job, a weekend a month playing Army with the National Guard, a part-time class schedule at the local university, a teenager who was hygienically challenged, a menagerie of animals, and a husband who wanted my attention as well (awfully selfish of him, don’t you think?).

Despite all the demands on my time, I managed to accomplish quite a lot after I began writing in January 2000.

I wasn’t Superwoman. Nor could I bring home the bacon and fry it in a pan (I can’t cook—ask anyone). But I can share some of my strategies for setting and meeting goals, and perhaps you’ll come away with one nugget to help you with your objectives.

The Big Picture

The other saying that I try to live by is “Begin with the end in mind.” (Steven Covey) Once a year I purchase an annual calendar, preferably something that displays the year at a glance. I enter all events on the calendar that I know will interfere with my writing schedule—vacations, conferences, etc. Next, I post major project target dates, for instance: Submit OO to Harlequin Blaze, or Enter T&J in the Eppie. Then I stand back.

If my goals appear bunched up, I’m probably biting off more than I can chew and need to space them out better. If I don’t detect a problem, I move on to the next step.

Knowing your ultimate destination helps direct you, even sub-consciously, toward achieving that goal.

Backwards Planning

Before you can do this step, you need to know what your productivity rate is. What kind of page count can you expect to produce each week?

When I started writing, I didn’t have a clue how much I could produce. Now I keep an MS Excel spreadsheet. If I add pages to a current WIP, write an article, or make notes for a future project, I count every single page I produce and enter it on the chart.

Once you know your expected page count, count back the weeks from your target to your start date. Take your word count at the completion of your goal and divide it by the number of weeks you just counted. Is the number greater than your productivity rate?

If so, you probably need to adjust the date out, unless you’re willing to make some lifestyle changes to free up more time for writing.

If not, then you can continue with the next step.

Plan for Interim Successes to Celebrate

Writing a book is kind of like a marriage—it’s a long commitment. With marriage, you count your anniversaries to measure your success along the way. You need to count some milestone events for your writing as well, or that manuscript will seem even more like a marriage—’til death do us part!

Give yourself something to celebrate along the way—completion of a partial, completion of a rough draft, submission to an editor, etc.

In addition to counting coup, use these milestones to measure how well you are doing against your plan. Are you running behind or ahead? Do you need to adjust your plan?

A plan isn’t set in stone and should only be a guidepost on your journey

My then writing partner and I were “cooking” in 2000, when our plan encountered a major snag. Being new to the process, and oh-so-excited that we’d written three whole chapters, we sent a partial at the end of February to several editors. Three weeks later, three of them asked for the full manuscript. Of course, we couldn’t tell them they’d have to wait because we weren’t scheduled to finish until June!

We adjusted. We sent her family on vacation, and I spent as much time at her place as possible for two and a half weeks, while we wrote feverishly. Of course, it was a horrible book because we knew NOTHING. Every editor passed on it.

But the point is we finished and mailed the full manuscript before the end of April. We proved to ourselves just how much work we could do in a short space of time. Afterward, we adjusted our annual plan and moved on.

The value of the planning we did was that we knew exactly how many hours of effort the remaining work would require, and adjusted our schedules for every other activity we were involved in to accommodate the change.

I like the idea of flying to Europe with nothing but a backpack slung across my shoulders and a Eurail pass in my pocket, and deciding once I’ve exited Customs to head first to Heidelberg because I crave a jagerschnitzel. That’s not being a ‘pantser.’

I know Heidelberg is south of Frankfurt. And if I want Café au Lait in Paris in the morning, I’ll hang a right and head west.

5 thoughts on “Goals are Constructive Dreams

  1. I love a good plan. I don’t swing my legs out of bed in the morning without some kind of plan in mind, but when it comes to writing I plot very loosely. I always start a book with a general idea of where it’s going, but I like to let the story unfold on its own. I can always rein it in when it’s time to revise. Great post, Delilah!

  2. Very good look at goals and process. I like the idea of the annual calendar.

    I have a running list of all my projects and goals that I update at least once a week. A small number of things are sectioned off for immediate attention. Seeing the goals spelled out reminds me how much there is to get done, and the weekly updates make me evaluate progress.

    I find I’m less likely to chase random plot bunnies when i have a focused list, plus having it posted on my crit group’s forum means that my friends keep me in line and nudge me if I get off-track.

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