How to achieve your writing goals

Woman on a laptop

Motivations/Strengths and Weaknesses

Motivations

We can set goals and do our best to reach them but there are a few factors to consider if we want our efforts to be as successful as they can be.  If we want to write our book then we need to consider our motivations, and take a look at our strengths and weaknesses.

When I talk about motivations its less about why you are writing your book.  That is incredibly important but for the purposes of this exercise its more about whether we are motivated towards something or away from something.  Let me explain.

If, like me, you are motivated towards something then you are motivated by such things as seeing your named on your published book, being comfortable saying you are an author, seeing your book on bookshelf or even on Amazon.

If, like so many, you are motivated away from something then what gets you writing is the desire not to have to put ‘writing my book’ on your New Year’s resolution list or not having to answer ‘it’s a work in progress’ to friends, family or work colleagues when they ask how your book is going. 

Neither is right or wrong but knowing which one motivates you can really help.  For example, drafting a book cover on Canva with your book title and your name and putting in somewhere you can see it every day, can be a remarkable motivator.

Strengths and weaknesses

You are reading this because you haven’t met your writing goals.  You’ve undoubtedly tried previously and not succeeded in getting your books started or finished.

So, its helpful to take a look at why.  What distracted you?  Why wasn’t your book a sufficient priority to get it finished?  Everybody has well developed procrastination techniques – whether its kids, housework, reading or working – we all have our ‘go-to’ options when our writing is challenging us. 

You need to look at what yours are, acknowledge them and then decide how you are you going to manage them.  Those are our weaknesses. 

I’m not a fan of routine.  I love the romantic idea of writing being a process undertaken when the muse takes me on a journey.  If I followed that theory I would never have finished a single book.  I have to force myself to get started writing.  Why?  I love writing – really love it!  That doesn’t stop me finding credible excuses not to get started.

What are yours?  Find them, flush them out and manage them. 

Your strengths are just as important. What do you do well?  Are you best with a deadline?  If so, set one – and if committing to yourself is not enough, then make a clear commitment to someone who will hold you accountable.

If you are reliable and always turn up to your meetings, then schedule a meeting in your diary for your writing. 

Set goals

It’s a no brainer that we need to set goals but how can we do it to make sure we achieve them?

SMART goals are a good place to start if you don’t already have something that works for you. 

Make your goals:

http://www.houseofhunt.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/SMART-Goals.jpg

(http://www.houseofhunt.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/SMART-Goals.jpg)

But better still…

We’ve all been told that writing down our goals makes a huge difference but there is evidence. 

Gail Matthew from Dominican University and Steve Krause from Harvard put it to the test.  They took a random sample of participants and broke them up into five groups who were all asked to decide on their goals for the next 4 weeks.

Group 1 were asked to decide on goals 

Group 2 were asked to write down their goals

Group 3 wrote down their goals and make commitments to action

Group 4 wrote down their goals and make commitments to action to a supportive friend

Group 5 wrote down their goals, make action commitments and progress reports to their supportive friend. 

The good news is that Group 2 who simply wrote down their goals did significantly better than those in Group 1 at achieving their goals. 

The great news is that Group 5 did better than all of the other groups. 

So, 3 key pieces of advice about achieving your goals are evidenced by this research – accountability, commitment to action and writing down your goals. 

(You check out the summary of the findings at Dominican.edu/academics/ac/undergraduate-programs/psych/faculty/assets-gail-matthews/researchsummary2.pdf)

Overwhelm

Setting goals that are unachievable is not going to motivate you to write and neither is trying to take on an entire book at all once.  If you sit down at your computer and decide that you’re going to write a book the chances are that you’re going to feel like hiding. So, here are some options to help.

Break down your goals into bitesize pieces.  As most people crazy enough to take on NaNoWriMo (where writers take on the task of writing 50 000 words in 30 days) do, you should break into down from 50 000 words into smaller, achievable pieces.  50 000 divided by 30 day is 1666 per day.  Now that sounds a lot more doable – doesn’t it?

Another strategy is to set aside chunks of time to write every day.  Some writers argue that they don’t need to write every day.  Here is where we need to be extremely honest with ourselves.  If you are meeting all of your writing goals, then by all means use whatever strategy you are currently using.  If you’re not, and that would be most of us, then you NEED to write every single day, whether its for 10 minutes or 3 hours.  Regular writing, every single day. 

Prioritising your writing

Another strategy advised by Julia Cameron author of the ‘The Artist’s Way’ is to make an appointment with yourself.  It’s a very clever idea to prioritise your writing.  Most of us have a tendency to prioritise those things that are scheduled in our diaries. 

Many of us don’t prioritise our writing – in my case its because I see it as fun so I feel as though I need to get ‘my work’ done first.  Yet writing is my work.  I should be prioritising it and even if it wasn’t ‘work’ then why is something I enjoy so much, not one of my main priorities in my life. 

The truth is that even the busiest person will find time to write if its important to them.  What you feed is what you will grow.

Another suggestion is to write first thing in the morning.  I personally write better from 10pm to 2am however with too many things I have to get done, I often find I’m too tired to get it done late at night.  I have had to change my schedule to accommodate it in the mornings to give it the energy it deserves.  Many writers find the quietest, least interrupted time of the day is before their families get up. 

A friend of mine shared this idea with me many years ago while they were writing their dissertation. They would set a timer for 20 minutes and force themselves to write for that twenty minutes.  If they were really struggling they would finish up after twenty minutes but they most often found that they were so ‘into it’ by then that they wouldn’t notice the timer run out. 

Some other ideas…

If your writing is starting to feel like ‘work’ then consider changing your environment.  Even something as simple as writing in a café, in a garden or even, as Marian Keyes is known to do, writing in bed in her pyjamas, can make it feel less like a job. 

Ernest Hemingway used to track his writing.  To check that he was achieving his goals he would write them down and every day, when he finished, he would record what he actually wrote.  Then he would check the two against each other to see if he was achieving his target wordcount.  

Another way to achieve your goals is to carry a notebook or your phone to record any ideas you have and to take advantage of any free time you have.  One writer I know wrote their entire crime novel in her lunch breaks. 

Happy writing!

Show, don’t tell

We’ve all heard it said but what does it mean?

Whether we are writing a piece of fiction or content for our business there are some rules and one of them is ‘show, don’t tell’.

We know human beings are wired to stories, from as far back in our history as ochre images on cave walls.  If you want to communicate anything storytelling is the best way of getting your message across.

If you want your reader to resonate with you story – to see it in their minds, to smell it or ‘feel’ it then you must aim to ‘show’ them your story.

You want your reader to feel what you or your character feel.

One of the best quotes on this subject is from Anton Chekov

‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.’

How do you do this?

Describe what your character is sensing or the body language he is using. 

For example – which gets your attention?

‘I heard a crash and ran to see what had happened.’

Or…

‘My breath caught in my chest, the sound – a sudden, clang rang loud in the silent night.  I stumbled, my feet hitting cold, hard tiles in my haste to check it out.’

You can feel or at least imagine a person so shocked that their breath caught in their chest for a few seconds.  You can imagine them stumbling and the cold on their feet. 

In a piece of business writing let’s use someone giving interview advice for job candidates.

You could write

‘When you go for an interview you may feel nervous.  How can you appear to be more confident?’

Or you could say…

‘We’ve all been there – a dry mouth, clammy hands and a blank mind where our carefully prepared interview answers should be.  Take a breath, remember that your interviewers are probably as nervous as you are.  Stand up straight, shake their hands firmly and smile like you mean it.’

Which version are you more likely to be able to visualise or imagine yourself in? 

Why else is it important?

1.It gives a stronger sense of your character.  Rather than telling people your character is a bully use dialogue and body language to demonstrate their behaviour.

‘Donald is a bully’

Or

‘Just do it now,’ his jaw set into a hard line, ‘or don’t bother coming in tomorrow.’  The door slammed behind him as he strode out of the room.’

2.It gives a much more powerful sense of your story’s location or setting.  Which office can you visualise more easily, below?

‘He walked into his empty office.

‘He stood and gazed at the grey expanse.  The pristine tiled floor reflected the harsh strip lights.  A glass desk with obligatory Flow ECO chair in winter white behind it.’

3.Try to keep the description proportionate to the importance of what you are describing.  If you’re character is walking through Oxford Street, unless it tells us something important that moves the story forward, for example, she sees someone relevant to the story, then don’t spend a lot of time on it. 

Or if it reveals something significant about your character for example, she felt her breath catch, the sense of being trapped in a limited space, surrounded by people.  We now know that your character struggles with being in busy places or around a lot of people. 

Read paragraphs by your favourite authors and see if you can picture the scene they describe or if it gives you a better sense of their characters.  That is the best way to learn how to do it in your own writing.

Maintaining Momentum with your writing

Tips for maintaining momentum on your writing

So, you’re writing your book.  There are so many people who say they want to write a book but few start and even less finish. 

You’re already miles ahead of many millions who just talk or think about it.  How can you make sure that you are in that group of motivated souls who finish and publish their book?

Maintaining momentum is key to get there.  It is the small things we do everyday that make the biggest and most lasting differences to our lives. 

Darren Hardy, author of ‘The Compound Effect’ says ‘It’s the principle of reaping huge rewards from a series of small, smart choices. Success is earned in the moment to moment decisions that in themselves make no visible difference whatsoever, but the accumulated compounding effect is profound.’

Writing is the same.  It is the writing you do every day that will get your book finished.  Most of us don’t have the luxury to write in huge bursts, as former Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis did for his book ‘Talking to my daughter about the economy’ sitting in a beautiful part of his country for nine days.  That’s fantastic if you’ve got the option but for most of us that isn’t an option. 

So, we’re back to having to write every day.  Given that let’s look at some tips on how to maintain your momentum on what can be months of creating your masterpiece.

Tip 1: Write every day

I know I repeat this a LOT but there is no replacement for writing every single day.  Just as we can get into a habit of writing daily, we can equally slip out of the habit. 

Many writers I’ve met think that they can get away with bursts of writing irregularly, unless you have proven that by writing a book or meeting other writing deadlines consistently then, like the vast majority of us, you need to write every day.

Set yourself a goal – and stick to it.  Whether your goal is a timeframe – 10 minutes, 1 hour or 3 hours a day – doesn’t matter.  What does matter is to stick to it!  You can choose a wordcount instead of a time related goal.

Tip 2: Find a time to write

We don’t all have the luxury of being able to write at a particular time of the day or night.  However, there is little question that forming a routine is incredibly helpful.  Your brain will get used to needing to write at 6am every morning or 10pm every night.  You will very likely find that it makes it easier for to slip into the creative side of your brain when you need to.

It’s not a problem if it can’t be at the same time every day but it must be every day.

If you set a time related goal one suggestion that has worked for many writers is setting a timer and making yourself write for that time.  For example, set your timer for twenty minutes and push yourself to write for that time frame as a minimum.  Most writers will be so into the writing by then they won’t notice timer run out.  If you do notice it run out then get up and leave it until the next day, but you will still have met your writing goal for the day.

Tip 3: Find a space to write

It doesn’t matter where you write – most writers use their dining table.  Don’t let not having a writing room be a reason to procrastinate. 

People write on their commute – plane, train or automobile (tram or bus as well).  Whether you write in a park on a bench, in a café on a table or at home doesn’t matter, just that you have a space to write, every day.

Tips 2 and 3 are incredibly important.  If you have a space and a time set aside then you won’t waste writing time deciding where to go and when.  Even five minutes working it out every day adds up to more than 30 hours over a year.  It can also increase the chances of getting distracted while you decide where to write and win.

Tip 4: Get everything down on paper

Always take a notebook and pen with you or use your phone if you need to.  Some of those ideas we have in the middle of the night are rubbish, but some are not.  Some of the ideas we have on the bus on the way to work are unworkable, but some are not.  Get everything down on paper to ensure you don’t lose it – just in case there is some genius in there. 

Many of our best ideas come to us at the oddest times – when our brains are operating automatically – when we are in the shower, washing the dishes or even getting dressed for work. 

Some of those ideas rely on our brain’s downtimes to be heard, so make sure you listen to them.  If they are not great ideas editing will sort that out but its those creative pieces of genius that can make your book stand out from its competition.

Tip 5: Stimulate the creative side of your brain

Writing a book can be great fun, especially once you are in your creative flow.  However, writing can also be tiring.  If you are writing and working, which most of us are, your brain can be tired. 

Take some time out to regenerate your brain.  The chances are that you already have some strategies to ease your weary brain.  One thing that EVERY writer must do is to read.  If reading isn’t easy for you, then consider audible books.  Reading and absorbing other writers’ works will stimulate your creative juices. 

Stephen King says, ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’

I have never heard any writer or writing coach who doesn’t agree 100 percent with this.  There’s a reason for that – Stephen is right!

Other things that might stimulate your creative juices are music, spending some time in a quiet space and journaling.  Journaling is fantastic for clearing your head so that you can concentrate on writing.

In the end – Yoda’s quote is probably the most apt ‘Do or do not.  There is no try.’

So, running with that theme, may the force be with you. 

Seven tips to make your blogs pop

1. Find your niche.

This might sound obvious but the better you know what your topic – the more successful your blog will be.In business we know that targeting a specific audience is more likely to succeed than trying to be all things to all people. Blogging is the same. People are going to read your blogs if they reflect or represent something that your tribe really wants or needs to know about.

2. Be consistent.

Whatever you choose to do – stick with it. If you blog daily, weekly, every fortnight or monthly – stick with it. Let people know when they can expect to hear from you.

There is so much content on the net right now. A lot of ‘noise’ and information attempting to distract your readers from their scrolling.Aside from the fact that the more you engage, connect and post the more likely it is that social media platforms will prioritise your posts, how great would it be if your readers were looking out for your next post?

If you post once a day for two weeks and then don’t post for three weeks you may lose the audience you’ve built up and need to start again. I’m not advocating posting blogs every day – just make a decision that works for you and stick to it.

3. Write about something you’re passionate about

As a reader you know the difference between someone writing about something they love and those who don’t.Those who write know how much easier the words flow when you’re crafting a piece about something that really matters to them.The easy way around this is to choose your blog from the things you most want to talk about or do.

4. Know who you’re writing for

Who is your ‘ideal’ reader. If you’re writing about starting a business – then start-ups or those contemplating starting their own business are very likely to be your readers.

If you’re writing a blog about how to run events – then your audience is primarily those who can’t afford to subcontract an events company to do it for them – charities and small businesses.If you know who you want to read your blogs then you can work out what it is they will want or need from you.

If you’re blogging on business starts up – what do new business owners need – practical tips, reassurance, resources and perhaps to virtually or directly connect with others doing the same.

5. Not too many statistics

If you’re trying to inform your readers about an issue then some figures can be incredibly powerful. The recent figures about the number of women experiencing sexual harassment, abuse and even rape in their workplaces were shocking.

Short, sharp references to figures like this can focus your audience on the ‘problem’ you’re writing about, so you’ve established the importance of your subject early on in your blog.However, people don’t have a long attention span for statistics.

They want to read ‘stories’ about real people and their lives. Preferably they want to know about people like them and their lives. If they have to wade through piles of figures and graphs they’ll move on to something else.

6. Be you

There are so many blogs and articles on the net. What can you do to stand out? Be you. Don’t try to imitate someone else’s style or their content. Its very rare that any of us have anything truly different to say in our writing. What we do have to bring to our blogs is ourselves, our perspectives, our learning and our experiences.Someone may have heard the same thing from one hundred writers but there may be something about the way you write it or use your experiences to demonstrate a point that will resonate with a specific audience.

People want to connect with people. They don’t want a perfect public face. They want to learn from people who have had failures and success, who have imperfections and flaws. So put down your mask a little and let people know the person behind the blogging.

7. Encourage engagement

Allow comments, shares and likes. On most social media the reach you get is based on this level of interaction. Your writing will resonate with some people and not others. Timing is important – every now and then we read something at exactly the time we needed to hear it. It jumps out and grabs us. Give your readers the chance to tell you that.Ask them questions – open ended ones that can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. We get to know so much about our readers through comments. It will give us ideas on what other content they’d like to see, which will help you plan your future blogs.

Nobody can please all of the people all of the time. Unfortunately there are a lot of people with too much time on their hands and its very likely these will be the people who will post negative or personal comments. If they are expressing a genuine opinion – it may cause more engagement and discussion amongst your readers.

Even those who disagree with you can give you ideas for blogs.If they are just trolls then feel free to delete them. Its your page and I operate a zero tolerance on abusive or discriminatory language or behaviour. Happily I have never had to block anyone for this behaviour.

What type of writer are you – plotter or pantser?

Okay there is only one rule of writing and that is – write, everyday!

Aside from that – it really is whatever works for you.There are writing tutors who will tell you that you need to plan your book – we’ve all hear ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’.

That’s not true – I’ve written 7 manuscripts – that’s effectively seven novels. The only novels I ever planned I never wrote. Fact – you can plan the best book in the world but if you never write it – then its just a great plan.

Whatever makes you write – do that! If you don’t know what works for you – try each way and work out what works best for you.

So – what are the different types?

Plotter

The planners of the writing tribe are most commonly known as ‘plotters’. They outline, plan to varying degrees their non-fiction or fiction books. James Patterson and J.K Rowling are two well known examples of plotters.

James Patterson outlines all of his books, even those he co-authors with others. His outlines are paragraphs of each and every chapter of his novel. He and his co-authors work through each chapter consecutively.

Pros of being a plotter·

  • You know exactly where your book is going;
  • It is easier to determine how long your book is going to take to write;
  • It is much easier to see the holes in your story;
  • It is easier to see in advance where there are loose ends that need to be tied up by the end of your book;
  • Virtually every agent will require you to provide a synopsis – depending on what they are asking for exactly – an outline can be cut and pasted saving you having to draft a separate synopsis;
  • Some advocates of plotting say that its prevents writer’s block because you know what you need to write next;
  • It can help avoid inconsistencies in plot and characters;
  • The editing process is usually much easier

Cons of being a plotter·

  • Spending a lot of time plotting and planning can be a distraction from the actual writing that will get the book finished;
  • The story can take a different turn leaving writers with a dilemma as to whether to follow your outline or off on a tangent;
  • It can feel a more logical brain exercise rather than a creative process;
  • Margaret Atwood says that she considers planning to be a bit like writing by numbers

Pantsers

The term pantsers comes from the phrase ‘flying by the seat of your pants’.

I am a pantser – I’ve taken advice twice to outline my book and both times it has felt like once the outline was done – the book was done – which it wasn’t. It felt as though it ruined the creative flow for me. I like finding out about my characters as I write. I find it exciting and not unlike reading.

Stephen King starts with a character and a circumstance for example a man’s car breaks down in a remote area – he knocks on the closest door. That’s what he started with, ALL he started with and it became ‘Misery’.

Another pantser is Margaret Atwood who says that planning her books would be too much like ‘painting by numbers’.

For every plotter there are equal numbers of pantsers. And then there are occasionally those who are ‘in-betweeners’. Those who do a version of both.

‘In-betweeners’

One author I met said they write about three chapters of their book while they get to know their characters without any planning. Then they stop – take stock of what they’ve written and do a basic plan of the rest of their story.

TIP: DO WHATEVER WORKS FOR YOU – WHATEVER GETS YOUR BOOK OR STORY WRITTEN IS YOUR STYLE. IGNORE ALL ADVICE TO THE CONTRARY AND JUST WRITE.

TIP: IF YOU’RE NOT SURE WHICH YOU ARE – TRY BOTH AND SEE WHICH SEEMS TO WORK FOR YOU BEST.NEITHER IS WRONG – IT REALLY IS ABOUT WHATEVER GETS YOUR BOOK WRITTEN.