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.
I like this. Simple, yet effective. It gives me hope! Thanks for sharing.
These are the precise steps our leadership team used to grow our sales over 20% each year over a 5 year period. We would start with each sales person, ask them how much they wanted to make each year, then break down that dollar amount into incremental product units, per day, per week, per month, etc. What a ride! Thank you for the post.
I like the quote from Chuck Coonradt – “In the absence of clearly defined goals, we are forced to concentrate on activity, and ultimately become enslaved by it.”
Or, we could go a bit more colloquial with the ever-fascinating Yogi Berra – “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
Brennan S. McPherson
I do the same thing to stay on task between a full-time job, being a father to a 3-year old daughter, and running my own micro-publishing/author business. I write 1,000 words in the morning before my daughter wakes. Every day (and double up on Saturday to take Sunday off). A month and a half in and I’m 46,000 words into my 4th full-length novel. Then I do the business/marketing/publishing side in the evenings. Life intervenes at times, so it’s not perfect. But the point is to set goals to make progress. That’s how I’ve managed to write nearly 2 novels, a non-fiction book, and two and a half screenplays for hire in the last 12 months while working a full-time job. It’s reasonable that most writers can do this. I nearly failed my college English class. Don’t count yourself out. Just be diligent and work hard/always be learning.
Steve–I never knew you were a pastor! Nor that you’d written a book early on. Great post.
Brennan S. McPherson
I see now that the identity of the blog post author changed since I posted my original comment. It originally said Steve Laube posted it. 🙂 Hi, Bob. Now this all makes more sense. PS: I use a mechanical typewriter on purpose, and I’m 28.
Yeah, Steve hogs all the glory.
I love these steps. I’m all about goals and persoanl deadlines. They keeps me focused. Although, I made the mistake of opening my mouth to an editor at the ACFW conference and mentioned my personal deadline to submit to her was January. As I walked away, she told me she expected the manuscript on her desk the first of the year. Needless to say, I’ve been very focused on my goals.
I used to look forward to Spring, because I love gardening and outdoor projects. But this year I dreaded the tasks because they were taking time away from finishing my book. As the earth begins to settle down for the winter, I find myself excited to be inside during the cold days, completing my goals, step-by-step. I’ve already decided that hiring neighborhood kids to shovel snow this year will be money well spent. Now to keep my perfectionism at bay, so I can focus on the heart of the story. Planning to have at least a first draft by February.
The best processes are the simplest. Great tips.
A chapter a week seems doable.
I need to start breaking down my goals into small, doable tasks.
Thank-you for this article. Your process (step #3) is similar to the SMART goals I use in my classroom:
I shall no longer meet my goals;
ambition’s held in check
for I am hulked upon the shoals,
a dark and sagging wreck.
No longer shall the Western breeze
let me run out, proud and free,
but there are other victories;
look close, and you will see
that the ropework on the railings
is clean, precise and tight,
and there has been no failing
in keeping brasswork bright.
There’s nothing will the breakers stay,
but I’ll keep head up unto that day.
If I didn’t set goals half of the tasks I’ve planned to accomplish won’t get done. I’m a goal setter and a list maker. And I remember the old typewriters and the sheets of blue used to make a duplicate or complete a form. Yikes! Thank the Lord for the invention of word processors, keyboards, computers, etc. You’ve got to love the simplicity of writing a novel nowadays on a computer.
Great advice, Bob! And perfect timing for NaNoWriMo!
indeed, perfect timing for nano. As I edit, try to write 1500 words and read other authors I am reminded of my time constraints and thankfully I have horrific insomnia. Up still at 2:30 I can get more done. Perhaps idiotically, but somewhat done.
I am a planster and procrastinator. Yeeks. So I get a great idea and age-related ( ie from room to room why did I come here again), I forget to put pen and paper and flashlight on the bed. When I do, it’s either Greek or the stupidest thing ever thunk up.
Nano does help with those goals. I may take it ‘to the mats’ and edit the thing there, killing off darlings and what-not instead of building it all up. bleh.
This is great advice. The word “incremental” jumped out. When I began choosing a word of the year, incremental was my first and best so far. I think I need to go back and revisit it in 2020, or maybe right now. Thanks!