Goal Setting

“How do you eat an elephant?”
“One bite at a time.”

So you’re sitting in front of a computer with a blinking cursor amid a vast emptiness of white. It’s a blank canvas yawning at you, daring you to spoil it with digital ink.

Your goal?

Write a novel.

Seventy-five thousand words.

No big deal.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

There are some folks who can write by the seat of their pants. They have the beginning and end kinda worked out in their head and they just write until it’s done.

If you’re Stephen King, great.

If you’re writing flash-fiction, have at ‘er.

But if you’re embarking on a large project, then the lofty goal of ‘write a novel’ may be a little hard to fathom.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

Breaking Goals

Let’s get some confusing things out of the way when we talk about goals. Goals are guideposts and many folks can’t make them. For example:

“I want to be a famous author.”

This is not a goal. It’s a dream or vision.

“I’m going to write a compelling fantasy novel that the world needs to read.”

This is also not really a goal. It’s a mission. It talks about a ‘what‘ and a ‘why‘.

“I’m going to write the first draft of a 75000-word fantasy novel by December 2017.”

This is still not quite a goal; it’s an objective, highlighting ‘what‘ and ‘when‘.

“I’m going to write the first draft of my novel by outlining along a beat sheet and structuring along a hero’s journey character arc.”

This is a strategy, ‘how‘ you’re going to do it.

Get SMART

For a goal to be something real that will actually end up with a result, it must be SMART. The goal should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.

“I’m going to write the first draft outline of a 75000-word fantasy novel by December 2017 structured using a hero’s journey character arc.”

Yup. It’s a goal. This never feels like enough to me, though. A goal like that doesn’t inspire. It’s all ‘how‘, ‘what‘, and ‘when‘ but misses something.

Start With Why

Simon Sinek wrote a great leadership book called ‘Start With Why’ that can equally apply to personal goal-setting. There is a neat TED Talk here. The point here is to go through a process of starting with ‘why‘, work through the ‘how‘ and then determine the ‘what‘.

So, why are you writing a novel? Think about that. And while you’re at it, make it an epic story of a goal.

“I want  to entertain fantasy fans by crafting a compelling 75000-word novel. I will take the first step by creating vivid characters and perfecting an outline using the hero’s journey. I will have this outline completed and ready for review by my trusted ally no later than December 15th, 2017.”

That’s how you write a goal.

The next step?

Draft the action plan that takes the above thinking and lays out key activities along the way and what you need to get it done. This is about tasks and timelines. Treat your grand novel endeavor like what it actually is: a project. Do the planning. It’s tedious but can make all the difference. The magic here is to think about the tasks and activities as outcomes– but that’s the topic of another post.


Author Notes

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