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Is your writing goal too small?

Advanced tips for writers

Is your writing goal too small?

If you’ve read my posts before, you’ll probably know that I wrote about the small steps method in a book on goal setting and time management (published in 2012) – in other words, I often talk about breaking goals down to make the steps more specific and manageable. So it might seem strange to hear me talking about goals being too small.

But when I say ‘Is your writing goal too small?‘ I’m talking about an overarching goal. Consider for a moment (humour me) that a goal like ‘finish my novel’ might well be too small. Why? Because a writing career is about much more than one book (or about more than one project – depending on what you’re writing). You could be focusing so much on one project that you’ve started to believe that it’s all or nothing, if this book doesn’t work, you might as well give up. I thought about my first novel as The Novel (capital T, capital N) while I was writing it and it turns out that’s not the right attitude, although I didn’t know it at the time. Remember: it’s not all about one book (or one project).

Looking for my other posts on Your 2021 Writing Plan? Go here. 

Compare yourself to other writers

One way to get round this way of thinking is to dig deep into the lives of writers you admire. Don’t only look at their successes, look at their life story, look at their failures. I’ve heard so many successful writers say something similar to: I wrote six books / screenplays / plays before I was published / produced. This isn’t a coincidence or an unfortunate set of circumstances. That’s how it works. Yes you can find examples of people whose first novel was picked up, made loads of money and was turned into a film but remember, the ‘it’s not about one book’ rule applies here too. Was it the first book they wrote or the first book they published?

Even if it was literally the first time this writer put pen to paper, they’re still the exception to the rule, and it’s still the case for them as it is for all writers, that a writing career isn’t all about one particular project. A plumbing career isn’t about fitting one bathroom, no matter how ornate and complicated. Why should a writing career be any different?

One book thinking

Pinning all your writing hopes on one project leads to this kind of thinking / behaving:

  • Saying to myself that if this doesn’t work I’ll give up, or alternatively that I can’t send this out because I can’t handle rejection.
  • Sending to one agent at a time and feeling devastated if they decline, or if they ignore you.
  • Entering one competition, not getting placed, and deciding that all writing competitions must be biased.
  • Writing only one book / screenplay / play / set of poems, or abandoning a project part way through.

Make your goal bigger

All of these problems can be overcome by making your overall writing goal about more than one book or more than one writing project. I’ve written before about this process of dealing with goals that are way outside your comfort zone. You can read more about it here, but essentially it involves:

  1. Committing to a scary goal in the spirit of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’
  2. Breaking it down into slightly less scary goals (which you turn into small steps)
  3. Working through these one at a time and forgetting about the scary goal in the meantime

So if making your goal about more than one book / project feels too scary get yourself some less scary goals to practise on in the meantime.

Big goal thinking

Once you start making your writing goals bigger, by making them about more than one book / project then you’ve got an alternative to the above thoughts and behaviours:

  • Saying to myself that if this doesn’t work, I’ll give up becomes: if this doesn’t work, I’ll try writing something else (or I’ll try x instead).
  • I can’t send this out because I can’t handle rejection becomes if the agent declines then I know s/he wasn’t the right agent for me.
  • Instead of sending to one agent at a time and feeling devastated if the work is declined you can draw up a shortlist of agents to send to, and send your work out in batches of, say, five agents at a time – with more names in reserve on your list.
  • Instead of entering one competition and deciding that all writing competitions must be biased you can do a survey of several competitions, paid for and free, talk to other writers, and make an informed decision about which competitions to enter if any.
  • Instead of writing only one book / screenplay / play / set of poems or abandoning a project part way through you can take a strategic decision to work on something different or to work to a deadline and set up regular reviews of you of writing throughout the year.

Hopefully you can see how the same writer could think / behave in two different ways here, none of these ‘big goal’ alternatives are based on external results.

I’d like to ask you some questions

I’ve been writing a lot about planning in the last few posts because I’m creating a masterclass on planning your writing life for 2021, setting achievable goals, and how to quantify your writing without losing site of your values. I’m putting the finishing touches on it right now. You can help me out by answering some questions about it here.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Louise xx

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