This article first appeared on LifeWithJessica.
Writing my first two novels took the better part of a decade because I only worked on them in between my job as a painting contractor, or when I wasn’t skiing, making an effort to date or simply goofing off. Looking back, it surprises me that I actually wrote two full-length novels since I didn’t have any set goals along the way—I just wrote haphazardly when the time and mood presented themselves.
There’s a common term in the publishing industry for getting writing done: deadline. It probably exists because procrastination runs rampant in the field—without deadlines writers might procrastinate forever. Unfortunately for those of us who decide to self-publish, nobody is going to crack the whip and place a deadline over our heads. It’s up to us to get the job done. So how do we do that? For many writers, setting a goal really helps.
Something happened to me in 2010 that forever changed my thinking about writing. I didn’t plan on it to happen, but it just did and taught me the most incredible lesson about setting goals and reaching goals.
The last time I attended a writing conference, 2010 San Francisco WC, came just a few months after taking the plunge as an Indie author. During the conference I engaged in dozens of conversations with other writers, each of us sharing experiences. The chats often delved into what I was doing to self-publish. When I told these writers my novels were on sale at Amazon for Kindle and at Barnes & Noble for Nook, their eyes would perk up. When I also explained I had websites and blogs and used social media to spread the message, they found that exciting too. And when I mentioned all these things weren’t costing me anything but time, that’s when they started taking notes.
The light bulb went off in my head. An inner voice said, “Writers want to know how to sell books effectively using free methods. A how-to guide is your next book.”
On the drive home from the conference, I was energized and made a silent vow to work as much as possible for one month, 30 days, just to see how far I could get on this new venture. My job of painting houses was slow since it was winter, so I set a goal of writing diligently for one month. 30 days wouldn’t be a ton of time considering there was also research and designing example websites plus a blog, but I knew my best effort would be required. Then after the month, I’d hopefully be well into the project.
The results were instantaneous. I had never been more focused and began working 12-hour days, amazed how quickly the information was piling up. I also researched like crazy, learned how to build sites, format books, design covers and discovered so many new marketing methods for my novels.
After 30 days to my utter amazement, I had a finished book. Not only that, I made example websites and a great blog to go with it. How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks All for Free immediately began selling and is currently my best-selling book and paying the mortgage.
This productivity was spurred by an idea, which we all have. What made this one different was that I made a concrete goal, to simply work hard for 30 days and see the progress. In the end I achieved far more than the original plan. Here’s some advice for writers considering setting a goal and reaching that goal:
• Write your goal down somewhere you’ll see it every day.
• Keep the goal realistic, something you know you can accomplish but just need incentive. My goal of writing like mad for a month is actually quite a challenge. Perhaps try to write an hour a day for one week and take the next week off, and repeat that for a month or two. Achieving and surpassing a realistic goal is far better than being overwhelmed by a lofty one you can’t live up to.
• Make a goal of 1,000 words written on certain days of the week when you have free time. Do this for a month and be amazed at the results. When the pages start adding up, it’s an incredible feeling.
• Tell others about your goal. This will make it harder to quit if the feeling presents itself.
• Get some writing friends to share the goal, or share similar goals (even with non-writing friends). Incorporating others creates a support network.
• Don’t get caught up editing your work—there’s time for that later. Keep producing and keep the creative juices flowing.
• If you want a serious challenge, do NaNoWriMo. It’s a month-long writing adventure in November with a goal of 50,000 words. I’ve done it once and can report it is not easy but a great motivator to write. Or make your own version with different numbers and get a few friends to do it with you.
Setting and reaching goals is much more appealing than having deadlines. I hope you’ll achieve them and share the experiences.