Gregg LeVoy, in his book This Business of Writing, says:
All achievements begin as pictures in someone’s mind, and the more clearly they are held there, the more easily they can be hewn onto paper, stone, and playing field.
Businesses are no different. They work better when you have a picture to work from. If you can hold solidly in your mind the picture of what you want your writing business to become, without losing it in the static of a million competing impulses, all the better; and I envy you. Otherwise, write it down.
Years ago, after having been a pastor for seven years, I was transferred into an office job in publishing. I decided the relatively set work hours (unlike the 24/7 job of pastoring) presented an opportunity: I would write a book.
My two children were young enough that their bedtimes preceded mine by a couple hours, so I set a series of goals. I would write for the two hours (or so) between their bedtime and mine. I had outlined a book of fourteen chapters, so I decided that I would complete a chapter a week on my trusty manual typewriter (oh yeah, that’s how old I am). If Saturday night arrived and my chapter for that week wasn’t finished, I determined that I wouldn’t go to bed until it was, even if it meant pulling an all-nighter. (Since I was no longer pastoring, I reasoned that I could always catch up on sleep during the sermon at church the next morning, which is hard to do when you’re the preacher, but much easier when you’re not.) I don’t think I ever had to write all night, but I did stay up late several times in order to meet my goal of a chapter a week.
Each Monday morning, I would take the typewritten pages into the office, where we had a scanner, computers, and an early word processing program. After fourteen weeks, I had a first draft of my manuscript, complete and digitally preserved.
That book didn’t become my first to be accepted for publication; but it was later revised, professionally edited, and traditionally published. And I think it happened because my special brand of obsessive-compulsive disorder translated, whether I realized it or not, into a few pro tips:
- Define your objective—what you want to accomplish (e.g., complete an article or a book, write a book proposal, book a writers conference, etc.).
- Break it down into the incremental steps it will take to achieve the objective.
- Set a specific, realistic, measurable goal.
- Give it a deadline, a time frame by which you’ll accomplish your goal.
- Build in triggers—rewards or adjustments, like my all-nighter trigger.
- Re-evaluate along the way if you get sidetracked.
- Start again at #1.
To be fair, I didn’t realize at the time that I was doing each of those steps. It was more instinctive than anything else. But that goal-setting process has since been repeated many times. It doesn’t guarantee success when I reach my destination, but it does help me get to my destination. And, often, helps me move on to the next challenge.