Lately, it seems we've been talking a lot about goals and accountability.
One of the biggest struggles freelance writers and aspiring novelists face is establishing a daily writing schedule.
In the the workforce, an employer assigns a time that the workday begins and ends, as well as the time and length of lunch and breaks. Work-at-home writers have the luxury and curse of defining their own schedules. It's often difficult to carve out the time to write when juggling traditional employment, domestic responsibilities, and caring for children.
The best way for a writer to meet her daily word count is to set effective writing goals. It's not enough to say: "My goal is to be published by the end of the year." Goals need to be measurable, meaningful, and attainable.
Attainable. It's always great to dream big. The NYT Bestseller List. Oprah's Book Club Selection. Appearances on the Tonight Show and Good Morning, America. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. Post those images on your Vision Board.
The distance between where we are and where we want to be often seems insurmountable. Establishing effective goals can help close that perceived gap. Baby steps. Bird by bird. There are a number of ways to describe the same concept of taking manageable and doable steps toward reaching our goals.
If your dream is to become a self-supporting, full-time freelance writer and leave your day job, make an action plan to get you to your destination. Outline each individual step. Take a business course for freelance writers, so you know how to properly set up your new business. Examine your knowledge base and decide what markets you want to pursue. Join something like Premium Green--a resource for information and market listings and an organization of supportive women freelance writers on a private listserv.
Perhaps you're a freelance writer and you've always wanted to write a novel. Take the steps: take a novel writing class, come up with your premise, outline your story, do any necessary research, join a local or online critique group. Give yourself a challenge to get moving: join other aspiring novelists and participate in National Novel Writing Month. Each individual step you take brings you closer to attaining your dream.
To set attainable goals, you must be realistic about what you are able to achieve. If you set goals like winning next year's Oscar for Best Original Screenplay before you've taken your first screenwriting class, you are setting yourself up for failure. Make the goals do-able.
Measurable. It's always good to want to become a better writer and be successful in your writing career, but those aren't measurable goals. You can only gauge your progress toward your goals by using concrete and measurable results.
Define your goals in terms of time and number. "I will write X number of pages this week." "I will submit five queries by Wednesday." Don't get bogged down by over-scheduling yourself. You won't feel any sense of accomplishment if you pile too much on your goals plate. Take those cliche baby steps one-at-a-time. You have to crawl before you can run, grasshopper. It's best to have success at a few incremental goals than failure with a lot of big ones.
Meaningful. The most important point I can make is to remind you to run your own race. Set goals that are meaningful to you. It's not about keeping up with other writers. There will always be someone who has received more accolades, achieved greater financial success, or acquired more publishing credits. In the end, reaching your writing career goals should be personally satisfying to YOU.