Breaking Down Your Writing Goals and Setting Doable Tasks
(This article was originally published on the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL) blog – https://www.institutechildrenslit.com)
Setting writing goals is easy, but achieving them is a whole different beast. When you're up against limited time to achieve your writing dreams, it's easy to fall prey to resistance. It takes time to write, do your market research, and query editors.
It's also easy to put your writing on hold indefinitely while you pursue a career in some other field that has higher perceived financial security. You're too exhausted after work to pick up your pen or sit down at your computer to write. But years later, you're still unhappy and unfulfilled by your lack of progress. You've barely written a thing and you certainly haven't published anything, besides your blog, or as many stories or articles as you would have liked.
Many of us want to leap before we can crawl. It's exhilarating to imagine ourselves at the finish line. But we have to take a different approach to defining our goals and setting tasks so that we can achieve our writing dreams.
A Different Approach to Defining Your Goals
Do you have a list of writing goals buried underneath a stack of papers or hidden in a drawer? If so, take it out. Dust it off or smooth it out if you have to.
It's time to review that list. If you don't have a list of your goals, write them out on a piece of paper.
Do you want to write a book? Publish short stories and articles?
Once you have your list of writing goals either written or revised, pick one goal and write out all of the smaller goals you will need to achieve to make that big goal happen.
For example, let's say your main goal is: Submit 20 new articles or stories to editors by the end of this month.
When breaking that goal down into smaller goals, you'll get something like the following:
Learn how to write a (better) query
Learn how to approach editors
Come up with 20 new ideas
Develop 20 queries
Write 20 articles/stories
Now that you have your big goal broken down into smaller goals, start writing out all the doable tasks you need to do to work toward each smaller goal.
For instance, for the smaller goal, "learn how to write a better query", your doable tasks might include:
type, word for word, a sample query* that has worked for another writer
study each of the elements in the query
write one query on a made-up idea
revise that query until it sells the idea
Here is another example of breaking down goals:
Let's say your main goal is to write a book.
That goal can be broken down into goals like the following:
Learn how to write a book
Develop the book's outline
Define the main characters
Write a chapter a day
Complete the first rough draft
The tasks for learning how to write a book could be:
Study books on writing books
Use a how-to guide, such as Novelist's Boot Camp by Todd A. Stone, as a guideline for writing a book
Study techniques, such as "What If", for developing better plots and characters
Do this exercise for each of your big goals. You should have a long list of goals and tasks when you're done.
Focus on small doable tasks. By breaking down your goals into smaller goals and setting small doable tasks, you won't feel so overwhelmed with trying to achieve that main goal. Mark Twain says in response to the question, "How do you write a book?", "one word at a time." Set yourself on the straight and narrow path and focus on one little thing at a time.
Other Tricks of the Writing Trade
Use Multiple Idea Generating Tools
Coming up with many different ways to generate ideas will keep you moving toward your goals: clustering, mind mapping, reading reference guides. So, your task might be to browse a book and come up with one good idea you could pitch to an editor. Then come up with an idea using another method.
Write a Book
If you want to break into book publishing, I highly recommend you participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) if you haven't already. You can start in November or at any time.
Writing a book in 30 days will give you an idea of how much information you need going in for your next book and where your problem areas are. Do you have trouble writing chapters and ending with dangling carrots? Do you have trouble breaking your writing down into scenes? Do you have trouble mixing dialogue and description?
While the likelihood of writing any quality work during this time is slim, you'll have a much better idea of what you need to move forward.
Use a Two-Part To-Do List
Another trick to getting your work done is to write your tasks on your to-do list, and then, on a white board or separate piece of paper, write down one small task. You must complete this task before moving onto another task. It will help hold you accountable for your writing goals and help you work toward your writing dreams.
Achieving your writing dreams starts with breaking down goals into smaller ones and setting doable tasks. Now, go work toward your writing dreams!
*You can find sample queries online or in the ICL writer's market guide.