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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Start small to win BIG

By RITA Award winner Dianna Love Snell

January brings on the inevitable Goal Setting for the year. To most writers this means getting started on a book or pushing to finish one that just won’t get moving. The key to being productive is setting a realistic goal with a plan on how to achieve that target.

What is a realistic goal?

Simple. It is an objective or target you have control over reaching. For career-minded writers, a realistic goal should have only one purpose – to propel you toward publishing or continuing to publish. The first thing you have to understand about a goal is it’s extremely personal. Create one you can own…pick an objective that is suited just for YOU.

Customize each writing goal to fit your life. I do nothing in a typical way. It’s not that I try to do things differently, but more that I can’t be productive working with someone else’s game plan. For that reason, my suggestions may sound unorthodox, but I hate watching writers, particularly new ones, struggle to do “everything right” and not make progress. In fact, I feel many new writers try so hard to follow a plan created by someone else they eventually burn out. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, maybe it’s time you took a step back to do something your own way and set a goal that moves YOUR writing forward.

So what are the parameters of a goal that will move your writing forward? First, mapping out a plan that fits your personality and lifestyle, starting with how far out you feel good about setting a target. In my case, I can’t envision a five or ten year goal. I have no idea what I’ll be doing next year much less ten years from now. In fact, a one year goal is pretty much the outer limits of my attention span and the most productive way for me to work. I’ve built several successful businesses without five or ten year goals, because everything I do moves me toward my personal objective. The simplest way to determine what goal fits your personality and lifestyle is to start with a short term objective and work up to longer time frames. If you’re going to be a professional writer, you probably will need at least a weekly goal, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start with a daily plan first.

The next step of a productive goal is to make sure it is realistic in your personal universe. I have writing friends who write a certain number of hours a day, because their children are in school from morning to afternoon. I don’t have children and have never had anything close to a normal schedule in my entire adult life because of my erratic business work schedule – which happens to suit me just fine. Expecting me to sit down daily and produce X pages is unrealistic. On the other hand, I can set a goal of X pages in a week and be extremely productive. I happen to be a very disciplined writer who can produce a lot of pages in one sitting. I’ve never had a problem with “butt in the chair,” but instead need to set a clock every two hours to get up and stretch. But if I had to sit down at a specific time each day to write – that would bog me down.

Once you’ve selected a realistic goal, you need a plan to accomplish that goal. Notice I just said that having to write a set time every day would bog "me" down, not you. If you work better with structure, then set aside the hours you’ll write each day or on a given day and go to your writing area just as if you were making an appointment. If your schedule lacks routine, like mine, you still have to think of your writing time as an appointment and stick to it. I highly recommend a specific setting you always write in at home or the office so that every time you settle into that spot your mind automatically thinks “it’s time to write.” Good habits play a big role in reaching goals and bad ones or the lack of good habits donates to undermining your efforts.

Change is not easy or everyone could do this. I may decide to get up earlier each day, stay up later each night, pass on a dinner invitation with friends, give up television if I want to spend the weekend with my husband or wait for the weekend to write if my husband is traveling. I will have to sacrifice something. If your goal is something really worth reaching then you have to be willing to make some sacrifices. Many of you set goals for things you want in your life ever day…and reach them. You decided to have a child – that requires personal sacrifice of time as a minimum. You decide you want a new luxury car – that might require not taking a vacation this year. You decide you want to finish your book before national so you can pitch it – that requires you starting now to make time in your week to write, which will likely mean sacrificing something else you want to do to find that time.

Once you begin to accomplish your daily goals for two weeks then start on a weekly goal. Once you’ve reached four weekly goals then think about what you want to accomplish each month for a quarter of the year. By the time you’ve executed a month of daily and weekly goals, you’ll have a pretty good idea if your three-month goal is realistic.

TIP – when making these goals, particularly anything beyond one week, have a contingency plan for “what if?” What if you have to travel unexpectedly for a family crisis or new job requirements? What if you’re sick for a week? What if you just hit the wall and need to give yourself a day off? What if you have to deal with a broken water pipe flooding your house or you have a weather crisis? I hope none of those things happen, but unfortunately at some point we all have to deal with the unexpected. When you make long term goals, build in time for the unexpected. Worst case, if nothing unexpected comes up you’ll reach your goal early.

Let’s revisit the part about “realistic” goals. The definition – in my book – of a realistic goal is one you have control over. You have control over writing your pages, submitting to contests and/or publishers, pitching your story, attending workshops and meeting other writers who will influence your writing career. You do not have control over an editor or agent requesting your material, the results of a contest or submission, an editor buying your book or an agent signing you. I cringe when I hear someone say “My goal is to be sold by X date.” In my opinion, not hitting that goal does more damage to a new writer than any benefit of having set it.

A goal should be something you look forward to because you know you are capable of reaching it. Set a realistic goal, reach it and reward yourself - which is motivation, a topic for another time.

Question for all of you – what is YOUR personal daily, weekly, monthly or annual goal and how do you plan to reach it? What do you consider a realistic goal for yourself? We learn from each other so please share.

RITA Award-winner Dianna Love Snell writes both contemporary and paranormal romantic suspense. Her next book – PHANTOM IN THE NIGHT – is a romantic suspense collaboration with NYT best seller Sherrilyn Kenyon being released June 2008.

Please visit and for more on Dianna and writing.

[This is an abridged edition of an article first published in the GCCRWA Newsletter]


At 6:09 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Great post! I really love your thoughts on working on daily and weekly goals first to see if the monthly ones are realistic; I never thought of it like that.

My daily goal is supposed to be around a 1000 words, in conjunction with a crit group I belong to, but now that I'm revising I'm working more on a time goal--as in "I'll spend at least one hour a day revising pages and making notes on technical problems I see vs. story threads."

At 6:25 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Gillian -

I like the way you approach your daily goal by a number of words and shifting gears when it's time for a "revising" goal. I think writers plan in terms of creating new pages, but forget they do need polish time.

thanks for bringing that up and for stopping by.


At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Linda in Burlingame said...


Trying goals on - what a great idea! Instead we usually say I'm DOING X! and then fail because we didn't comply 100%. I think I take on too many goals and set myself up. My goal this month is clearning out my house of clutter to hopefully clear my mind so I can write without thinking of the mess around me. I'm also toying with Terry's TV watching ideas. I'll probably try that one on little by little and wean myself from the IdiotBox. Cable's too expensive anyway!

At 10:54 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

You make an excellent point about goal-setting has to take into account the individual. Like you, I'm not a 5-10 year plan girl. Glad to know there's someone else out there who doesn't look that far ahead.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Linda -

Good thinking to establish a writing environment free of clutter. I can't work with things laying around that need to be done so I actually schedule a day ever so often to get those annoying things done that are never important enough to "have to" be done, but are still hanging over me - like a thank you note or packaging something to mail or making a dental appt.

They can be ignored, but they are as in the way as things lying in the floor.

thanks for your thoughts and for stopping by.

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Mo -

Oh, yes, there are more of us than you might imagine. I salute those who actually set multi-year goals and reach those targets, but I have yet to personally meet someone who has.

thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.


At 1:57 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

Great post! Really brings the whole goal-setting thing down to actionable steps.

At 3:47 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Pat -

Good way to put that - actionable steps.

Thanks for stoppign by.

At 5:51 PM, Blogger Jacs said...

Hey Dianna...first thanks for leaving that trail of bread crumbs to this blog :D. Great topic.

For me, I'm pretty much sticking to my daily goal of writing every day. Doesn't have to be an 'x' amount of pages but to keep me in the habit of writing regularly. Like my relationship with my treadmill, while I do love it once I get going on it, there are days when I need to get motivated or make myself get motivated. Just as I tell myself, "Jacs, you are not going to lose weight by looking at the treadmill, get that a** in gear and get on it." I do the same with my writing. "Jacs, I don't care what time you write or how much but your book won't finish if you don't. Do at least a page." Some days it takes everything in me to write that one page but I do it, while other days, suddenly hours go by and I've written chapters.

Funny thing is whether it's one page or several I get satisfaction at keeping that promise to myself. Same with how I feel at exercising everyday--feeling and seeing the results with regular exercise--it's the same way with my daily writing. It feels great seeing me get closer to my goal of my first completed manuscript. It's good to know I can do it and the results are showing as the ending of my book gets closer. I find as the days and weeks go by, the easier the words flow from me.

My other goal is to complete my book in 3 to 4 months, a realistic goal I think as I'm thisclose to finishing it. Other than that I try not to look too far ahead, otherwise I'll drive myself crazy..

At 6:15 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Great ideas, Dianna.
My goal is to get more organized about my writing. To write certain hours of the day and to keep going so I don't have to do those marathon session near deadline time.
Linda, I've been working on house clutter today, too. My daughter and I cleaned out a whole bunch of junk. Feels good!

At 8:33 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Jacs -
You're doing exactly what I'm talking about - creating a goal or work process that suits "you." I like that you are happy as long as you are productive when you sit down to write.

That pattern gives you a sense of freedom to work. Thanks for sharing and for stopping in.


At 8:38 PM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Diane -

I'm just coming off a deadline and looking forward to a break, which to me means a historical like your new THE VANISHING VISCOUNTESS. Can't wait to read it.

I agree about staying constant to avoid marathons. I don't mind hitting it hard once in a while to either get ahead when I know I won't have time to write or to catch up back to my schedule if I've had an unplanned interruption, but it's hard to be creative with time running out.

thanks for stopping in.


At 9:39 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Dianna :-)--

I love this idea of individualized goals! One-size-fits-all anything doesn't make sense in this business that's so incredibly subjective, does it ;-)?

Pat--"actionable steps." Great phrase!

At 9:51 PM, Blogger doglady said...

This blog was just chock full of good information! Thanks, Dianna, and everyone else for these great tips. (Hey, Dianna, it's me, Pam from Southern Magic. My friend Gaill and I have had the privilege of seeing Dianna at a number of luncheons and conferences. I have one of the much coveted Dianna Love Snell tote bags!!) As my fellow Passion's Slave, Gillian said, our crit group goal is 1000 words per day, but that is not always easy. But posting our daily wordcount and posting POOP (proof of our prose) does help to keep us motivated. I am shooting for 1000 words per day or 5000 words per week. That gives me two days "off," so to speak. I am trying very hard to get into a rhythm of writing - making it a habit. They say if you do something every day for 60 days you have created a new habit. That is my goal.

At 3:56 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Terry -

How true about one-size-fits all not making sense. That would be like all of us being plotters or pantsters - just wouldn't be productive for everyone.

I've just gotten my copy of your new release A PERFECT STRANGER - it's on my TBR REAL SOON stack.

Thanks for stopping by.

At 3:58 AM, Blogger Dianna Love Snell said...

Hi Doglady (Pam "g") -

I'm so glad to hear your current writing program is working great. I love the POOP term. That's a good point about "do anything for 60 days and it becomes habit." We train ourselves to have habits of all kinds -it's just a matter of good ones vs bad ones.

thanks for stopping in and keep up the good work. Say hi to Gaill for me.


At 12:55 AM, Anonymous gaill said...

waving frantically! this is Gaill saying a big hey girl and I miss seeing you to Dianna- and I am working hard to make No Fat Chicks this year's YA to beat- thanks to you and Pam for your feedback- and I keep getting more feedback that says- I love this kid and his ramblings!
Love and miss you Diana,


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