Sometimes, as a writer, it’s difficult to think about large, overarching goals when you’re working on a project or planning to start on something new.
For example, thinking, “I’m going to write a novel this year and have it completed by the 1st of April,” while an ambitious target, for sure — it may not be exactly reachable.
Instead, start with a plan and break your target down into reasonable bite size chunks. And consider writing the sections of your fiction book (or non-fiction book) that you find more interesting than others first.
Challenge yourself, but make your goals and expectations reasonable and attainable, this makes the practice of writing that much more rewarding.
Consider this scenario:
“So, what do you do?” asks the fellow dad at the soccer match, leaning over at you while he keeps an eye on his daughter, the star forward.
“I’m a writer,” you announce proudly.
“That’s fascinating! Anything I would recognize?” he asks, while you both cheer for an exciting save by your team’s goalie.
“Not yet,” you admit.
“I haven’t had much luck, yet, in getting published.” There is a pause while he makes a empathetic-sounding awww and responds with an “I see…”
“Actually, I haven’t been writing much lately at all,” you continue. “Being home with the kids takes so much of my energy that by the time they’re in bed at the end of the day all I want to do is watch television. Plus, writing is so discouraging when you can’t get someone to even look at your work.”
A moment passes while he processes the information. “But, you’re a writer, right? How can you be a writer without actually writing?”
This scenario may cause you to either chuckle or hold your head down in shame to how accurate it really is.
You see, real writers write!
Successful writers find the time every day to strengthen their craft and meet their writing obligations — whether those obligations are external (from editors) or internal (from an unmeasurable desire to write).
What usually separates good writers from bad ones (and often, published writers from unpublished ones) is a strong work ethic, or habit. And that’s it! That’s the big secret. In fact, real writers work hard, and most work ridiculously hard.
Professional writers know there’s nothing like a dreadful deadline to make them focus on their work. In fact, the real problem for newbie writers is usually not scrambling to meet a deadline, but simply managing their time efficiently enough to find time to write at a productive pace.
The truth is, all writers feel this way from time to time. Just as life often times gets in the way, and other obligations begin to creep in on our days, writing is often pushed aside like an unpleasant chore.
In order to take massive action towards your writing goals this year, consider crafting up a writing plan, which is a specific time schedule that lists what you need to do and when.
Writing is a Choice (How Will You Choose?)
Fact: Everybody on the planet has the same amount of time every day. How we choose to use that time makes some of us writers — and others of us — wanna be writers.
If you’re a newbie writer, who really wants to write, I would recommend stopping for a moment and thinking about how you use your time.
Sandra Felton, who has written more than a dozen books on how to get organized and prioritize effectively had this to say.
“I think the whole answer is focus. I think what focus means is you have to decide what you want to do and lob off other stuff that you also want to do. Because you want to write more.”
Understand that the choice is not between writing and doing something else that you don’t want to do. The choice is among an overwhelming array of things that seem appealing: checking in with your friends on Facebook, reading for pleasure, or having people over for dinner.
Then there’s things like going to the movies or to the opera or to family get-togethers and on trips, or just watching way too much television. (Consider reading this article I wrote for The Innovation)
Sometimes people would even rather do laundry and dishes than write. But surely that couldn’t be you — right?
All writers have days like this, but if that’s what you constantly resort to, you may wish to rethink pursuing this vocation.
Faced with so many different things coming at you at once, some people tend to choose too many and feel like there is never enough time in the day.
Believe it not, there are some professional writers who actually use small chunks of “free time” to write, such as penning novels on the back of envelopes while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store.
Or if they have ten minutes between helping a child with homework and driving her to piano lessons, they use those ten precious minutes to write or polish a small snippet of prose.
Such people are the envy of most of us. You see, for the rest of us, writing a novel or non-fiction book requires larger chunks of time to research, dream and imagine, draft, rewrite, and polish — and so on and so on.
Writing is a Habit, Just as Exercise is a Habit
Finding writing time requires excellent management and organizational skills, but using it productively demands dedication.
The theme of virtually every article about getting organized to write that you might read here on Medium is straightforward: Just do it!
Wanting to write and writing itself are cousins, not identical twins. Psychological research indicates that writing every day produces not only more writing, but also more ideas for future writing.
You see, the writing habit, like the exercise habit, is its own reward. When you don’t do it, you feel as if you’re cheating yourself.
Real writers don’t sit around and wait for inspiration to strike before they put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard; they just start typing or writing and know that somewhere during those hours they will discover small nuggets of inspiration.
The fingers-to-keyboard, butt-in-the-chair dedication is like exercise for the writer. In a way, this is just like professional runners who pound the pavement in all kinds of weather, whether they running a marathon or running for fun.
Like physical exercise, writing is often not enjoyable while you’re doing it, though occasionally an endorphin or two will spark and the serotonin does its thing. In fact, believe it or not, there is a myth out there that some believe work is a penal sentence given to us because of the Fall.
However, the truth is work is one of the first assignments given to Adam. It was part of the creation ordinance, similar to that of the family ordinance, that God originally put in place.
In fact, Genesis 2:15 reads, “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” In other words, to “work” the land or the field.
Now, the time frame of this is extremely important. You see, this took place in chapter 2, sin does not enter into the picture until chapter 3.
With that said, Genesis 3:17–19 is where we find the actual punishment given to Adam, which was not work, but rather Adam would have to sweat while in the process of work.
It is similar to that of the punishment given to Eve, that she would have to experience sorrow through child birth. You see, giving birth is not the punishment. In fact, it is a gift. The child you receive is a blessing. However, the pain that is endured through receiving the gift is the punishment.
With that said, work is not the punishment, it is the gift we are given. The punishment is that we have to sweat through it.
Think about that for a moment. That means that, prior to the Fall, Adam worked tending to the garden for many days without experiencing sorrow through the sweat of his brow.
In fact, it was the kind of work that brought joy to him day in and and day out. And it was still joyful work, it was just that he had to experience sorrow through sweat while doing the work.
In short, God honors work. Work is not our punishment, it is the gift; so we honor God with our work by going through it, sweat and all.
Now, with that said, writing is a matter of discipline, plain and simple. Discipline comes more easily to some people than to others, but it is certainly a skill that can be cultivated and nurtured.
“The only thing I can tell you I do that’s inviolate is when I have to write, I get up in the morning and literally go straight to the typewriter,” says Stephanie Culp, who has written several books on organization and time management.
“Any little distraction that takes me away from my desk kills it. When I’m writing something large, it takes about three fitful days, and then I’m in the rhythm of it, and I write it. I can still write a book in three weeks.”
Here are some tips to develop a writing habit:
- Start by setting aside an hour or a half hour every day to write.
- Or make a goal to write a certain amount of words each day.
- Try to write at the same time every day so it will feel weird to do something else at that time.
- Write even if you feel uninspired, or even if you don’t feel ready to write.
Remember: If you want to be a writer, you must write!
The Writer’s Massive Action Writing Plan
Often, getting started on a writing project is the hardest part. Most writing jobs, however, can be viewed as a sequence of doable tasks that follow the same general path from beginning to end.
If you accomplish each task in order, you can follow the plan to a finished piece. In short, the more you write the more you will be able to anticipate how much time a particular project will take you.
The planning guidelines below help you break your book project into smaller tasks. Start with individual chapters, and break down the chapters into integral parts.
Schedule your writing project into your day at specific times, and, with a little passion, but more hard work and dedication, you’ll finish your masterpiece in a timely manner.
If you’re a person who resents and resists scheduling, remember that creating a massive action writing plan is intended to help you, not restrict you.
The goal is to relieve some stress, organize your life, and make your writing process more efficient. Meeting even mini deadlines can lift your spirits and skyrocket your confidence.
Simply crossing items off on your to-do lists feels so good that the act of it in and of itself becomes a reward, and keeps you writing.
Take a look at the following guidelines, which will help you better organize your writing time and, in turn, finish your book projects.
1) Set Reasonable and Measurable Goals
Even if you’re not writing to someone else’s external deadline, give yourself your own deadline and treat it seriously.
Because you understand the power of the written word, write down a specific goal with a due date: “Finish chapter by [whatever date].”
Some people even establish a punishment and/or reward if they meet or don’t meet their self-imposed deadlines, such as, “If I complete chapter five by Friday, I can go to see a movie; if I don’t finish on time, I will force myself to scrub the toilets as punishment.”
In short, you might not have to clean the toilets, but a little self-discipline is probably good for you.
2) Create a Plan of Ordered Tasks
View your book project, not as an overwhelming unattainable dream, but a compilation of many smaller tasks.
The reason hard jobs get tossed to the side is that they often seem too daunting if they’re written as one entry on your list of goals.
For example, “Write a book in the next year” can be overwhelming. The scope of the project is so big, and the deadline so far away, that achieving the goal seems impossible, and is so, if left that vague.
Instead, focus on smaller tasks to do today, tomorrow, this week, or this month to help you reach that goal. You’re likelier to accomplish smaller tasks in the near future than a vague goal in the abstract distant plains.
Smaller tasks help you reach that distant goal step-by-step. Consider reading this article I wrote for The Ascent.
3) Take Dominion Over Your Negative Thoughts
Writing down tasks in the order in which they should be done keeps you focused, as well as frees your mind to concentrate on the important thing.
Instead of wasting mental energy trying to remember all the nagging details that must be done each day. Break the task down into manageable steps and take massive action.
4) Have Accountability
“Someday, I’m going to write a book.”
How many times have we all thought this? Turn your lofty dream into an actual accomplishment by adopting a workable schedule.
For example, choose a date on your calendar for beginning your book project. Make it today. You’ll be surprised by how much more quickly you’ll work with deadlines, especially if they come with positive and negative consequences.
For instance, if you miss your deadline at a major magazine you may never be hired again, and may in fact, never see your piece in print, which are both negative consequences.
But if you make your deadline and determine that you will give yourself a real day off, or a massage, or an entire chocolate cake, it makes the sorrow through the work that much more endurable.
And when you enlist other people to hold you accountable the more you are able to accomplish.
5) Start With the End in Mind (Thank You Mr. Covey)
The most important step in planning the time for your book project is this one: On your calendar, mark the writing projects final due date. (If you don’t have a deadline from a publisher, give yourself a reasonable one.)
Then, from there, figure out each of the specific items, such as chapters, sections, etc. in reverse order. Determine which ones must be completed if you are to meet your deadline.
Now, with that said, allow a little wiggle room in your calendar for the delays that inevitably happen: an interviewee gets the flu and has to postpone by a few days, the computer crashes, etc.
Next, write beside each specific item on your list the time you think it will take to accomplish it, as well as the deadline for completing it.
With that said, people commonly put far too many items on their to-do list or tasks list and, as a result, feel defeated when they have to copy uncompleted items from one day to the other. As William James once wrote
“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”
With that said, jot down what you can reasonably expect to accomplish in a day, and then work backwards from there.
To that end, some people work better using online organizational tools to help them stay on track, such as Toodledo.com. With Toodledo, users can create goals for themselves, color code them, assign themselves deadlines, prioritize the tasks in a “hotlist,” and keep track of the time spent on each project.
There are other similar sites as well, including many that are compatible with tablets and smart phones. (Of course, the old-fashioned system of a pen and a sticky note works good, too.)
❤ If you liked this article, you might also love:
Writing a Book Is a Demanding Task That Isn’t for Everyone
Remember: There’s more work to do after the writing.
William Ballard is one of the most sought-after business and leadership coaches in the world. As founder and CEO of William Ballard Enterprise, his core business development and leadership programs are designed to be a catalyst for entrepreneurs and leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their business, their lives, and the world. To learn more about how to get back to your first love as a writer again, subscribe to William’s free business insider newsletter.