Have you ever made a new writing goal only to find yourself getting distracted, giving up and failing? The sad fact is, that a staggering 82% of new years resolutions fail. The vast majority of goal setters don’t follow through. The problem is not the goal, it is in the lack of preparation. Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
By intentionally creating a Writing Action Plan you set yourself up for success – to finally finish that novel, to find an agent, or to get published.
Use the included Writing Action Plan Worksheet and the following steps to create your perfect writing goal and increase your chances of success to be in the top 18% of goal setters.
And remember what the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
1. Define your goal
Defining your goal is the first step in creating a successful writing plan. What do you want to achieve? Do you want to write a novel? Complete a work in progress? Edit and submit a completed work? Write it down. The physical act of writing the goal makes it feel real and concrete. Adopt the widely used business acronym S.M.A.R.T. to draft your perfect writing goal.
S – Specific: A specific and clear goal will help you feel motivated. When drafting your goal, think about precisely what you want to accomplish. Avoid vagueness and use precise language.
Example: Instead of “I want to write more,” try “I will complete a first draft of a novel.”
M – Measurable: Having a measurable goal helps to track your progress and stay focused. Ask yourself how you will know when you have accomplished your goal? Other questions to ask are: “how much?” or “how many?”.
Example: “I will complete a first draft of a novel by writing for 60 minutes every week day.”
A – Attainable: To be successful, your goal needs to be realistic. It should be challenging but not overwhelming, while recognizing possible constraints. From the example above, does the thought of writing every week day seem overwhelming? What other obligations do you have during the week that would interfere with that goal? Try lessening the initial objective to something more achievable.
Example: “I will complete a first draft of a novel by writing for 30 minutes every week day.” Or “I will complete a first draft of a novel by writing for 60 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday.”
R – Relevant: A relevant goal is worthwhile to you and aligns with other areas of your life. In order for a goal to be successful you need to approach it at the right time when you have sufficient energy and focus to give to it. Is this goal worth working hard for at this time in your life?
T – Timely: Setting a deadline or a target date gives you a focus and a tangible aim to work toward. Creating a time-specific goal creates an urgency and helps avoid procrastination.
Example: “I will complete a first draft of a novel by December 31st by writing for 30 minutes every week day.”
Like writing it down, saying your goal out loud to someone you trust has a positive psychological affect and makes the goal feel real. Check in regularly and update them with your progress.
One way to do this is to have an accountability partner or group. I belong to an accountability group with several other writers. We meet online every other week and discuss our writing goals, obstacles, and progress. I have noticed that when I don’t write down my goal and send it to my group, I don’t accomplish it. Telling my accountability partners the goal I am going to work on for the next two weeks gives me motivation. They encourage me, cheer me on and are excited for me when I accomplish what I set out to do.
Post your writing goal on social media. Tell your colleagues, family members, or friends and encourage them to ask you how you are doing. For a visual reminder, display your goal and action plan near your writing space or in a high traffic area of your home, like next to the coffee pot or on the fridge.
3. Identify Obstacles
Analyze your goal and try to identify potential obstacles and roadblocks that could hinder or derail your success. When you become aware of and plan for obstacles, it is easier to overcome them. Decide now what you will do if a specific hindrance comes up. For example, what will you do if you or a family member becomes ill, or you take a vacation, or if your computer or internet breaks down? Have a contingency plan in place by temporarily adjusting or pausing your goal. Expect that snags will arise and don’t beat yourself up when they do.
When you are behind on your goal timeline, don’t try to make up for missed time. Trying to catch up on tasks that have been missed can add stress and might cause burnout. For example, your goal was to write 500 words per day. Yesterday that goal was missed. Don’t add the missed wordcount to today and try to write 1,000 words. Stick to the original goal and write 500 words. Compounding missed tasks can get overwhelming and be a deterrent to continuing your action plan. Start from where you are. Everyday is a blank slate and you can always start fresh again tomorrow.
4. Organize Tasks
Break down your writing goal into separate tasks. What is the most important thing that needs to be done first? Sometimes a menial task needs to be completed before you even can begin writing, such as cleaning your writing space, buying a cheap notebook, or completing a writing software tutorial. Consider what is preventing you from getting started. Getting this first task out of the way creates a mental space to begin.
Next, list tasks in the order that they need to be completed. These mini goals can also utilize S.M.A.R.T. and will provide checkpoints or milestones towards your ultimate goal. This helps you stay motivated and gives a sense of accomplishment.
In order to accomplish the goal outlined above, some tasks may include plot outline, character development, research, chapter completion, or word count totals.
Celebrate the small successes and reward yourself for each task completed. Rewards can improve motivation, work enjoyment and engagement. Studies suggest that allowing yourself immediate mini-rewards after a completed task helps you develop a positive attitude and increases motivation. Keep the rewards small and minimally disruptive. Don’t take a week off after completing a chapter when taking an hour or two out of your day for a nature walk will do. A larger reward can be reserved for the completion of your ultimate writing goal. Plan your rewards beforehand so you have something to look forward to.
Some examples of mini-rewards may include watching an episode of your favourite T.V. show, attending an exercise class, taking a nap, getting a massage, playing a board game, eating dessert, or reading a novel. Do something small that makes you happy.
Remember to pay attention to how good you feel when completing a task. This sense of accomplishment provides an intrinsic reward that can encourage you if you feel unmotivated or discouraged.
6. Don’t Give Up!
Keep going! Remember that obstacles will come – you already planned for them. At times you may feel discouraged and worry you will never accomplish your goal. That’s okay. Be persistent and recognize that a temporary setback is not a failure.
Monitor your progress to see if you are on track to complete your tasks and goals on time. If not, does your action plan need to be adjusted? Be flexible and revise your plan – and even your goal – when necessary. New habits take time to learn and you may need to take a step back and take a breath before continuing on. You can do it!
Now get to it. Take time to really think about your writing goals and create a plan that will lead you to writing success. Use the worksheet to create your own Writing Action Plan and start now. Like the Indian politician, Indira Gandhi, said, “Have a bias towards action – let’s see something happen right now. You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away.”
S.M.A.R.T goals here