Goal setting for writers who don’t set goals

It’s the 21st January and the odds are that you have no resolutions or goals in mind. That you deliberately ignored the possibility that you might start 2013 that way. After all, goals don’t work for you, and neither do resolutions.

A lot of people talk about goal setting – in books, on websites, in podcasts. Studies show that 87% of people don’t set goals. Of the 13% that do, only 4% (of the 13%) actually carry them out in any kind of sustained way. That sounds like a lot until you translate it into numbers. For every 10,000 people, only 52 people work on achieving goals they have set.

I checked my maths a few times because I couldn’t quite believe it. But it doesn’t totally surprise me. I only know ONE person in my various circles of writers, friends, family and workmates who does goal setting and works at it. She’s a writer. She understands that if she wants to achieve in her writing, to pay the bills, have books published, feel satisfied with what she is writing and how much, she can use goal setting to keep her focused, on track and successful.

She and I use accountability checks. That is, we set up check-ins with each other. Not all the time, but when we feel we really want to focus and achieve concrete outcomes. We swap our goals for each year in January and talk about how to prioritise. But I know that for most of you, goal setting is a foreign concept, or at the very least, one you have tried and given up on.

Why? Why do so many writers not write? Why is it so easy to procrastinate, to avoid writing? A big part of it is fear of failure. If you don’t write (always for very good reasons, you tell yourself), then you don’t fail. If that novel doesn’t get finished and revised, it can’t get rejected. OK, I won’t labour the point. But I have one simple thing for you to try.

Write for half an hour every day for 28 days.

That’s it.

Work out when you write best – early in the morning before everyone else gets up? Late at night when the world has gone to sleep? Midday when you have a split shift at work? You decide. It might be different on different days.  Work it out.

Then find an accountability partner, someone you can email every day when you have done your 30 minutes and just say, “Done.” It doesn’t even have to be a writer (although writers understand and can be the best accountability partners). If it’s not a writer, organise a reward. Tell your partner that if you write for 28 days, they can hand over the movie tickets (or chocolate or wine) you gave them for safekeeping. The most important part of this is: committing to it.

Commit to 28 days, no matter what.  If you aren’t working on a novel, find a bunch of writing prompts (search here for my May writing prompts, or find a book of them, or make your own list).  I’m starting my own 28 days here on the 28th January, and I have others who have said they will do it with me. Will they? That’s their decision, but if they do, they will be amply rewarded. Think how many pages you can write! Even 2 pages a day will give you 56 new pages.

What happens after the 28 days? Well, if it worked for you (and it will if you commit and stick to it), then you can do another 28, and then another 28. And by the end of the third (84 days) you will have a writing habit (and 168 pages). Go!

(And if you want to read a bit more about this, try Kristi Holl’s blog post.)

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  1. […] to writing first thing each morning on our own projects. [Note later: I just found that Sherryl blogged about it today too! Read her "Goal setting for writers who don’t set […]

  2. […] to writing first thing each morning on our own projects. [Note later: I just found that Sherryl blogged about it today too! Read her "Goal setting for writers who don’t set […]

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