So, where do you see yourself in five years time?
We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
In an interview, smiling one of those not-entirely-real smiles and trying to sell ourselves to a company, over every other applicant.
You don’t really want to be there. The interviewer(s) don’t really want to be there. And none of you want to be dealing with the standard set of questions, including the ‘five years time’ one.
So why does that question always get asked? Why do we ask kids what they want to be when they grow up?
Short answer: Goal setting.
Even for the best of us, it can’t be denied that humanity as a whole is nothing more than a collection of ape-descendants who really do best with a routine.
Social creatures all, we thrive on patterned behaviors, cues from our peers, and aim for those demonstrable acts we can perform to signal worth and value to the rest of the group.
Goal setting lets us work towards a measurable end, realize the goal, and thus get a nice little boost of that wonderful brain-hormone, dopamine, as a reward.I know I make it sound depressing and clinical with the above, but its true nevertheless, and it isn’t a bad thing. Dopamine is literally the core of ‘feeling good’ after all!
Goal-setting is a good thing, especially if you achieve your goals, and thus it permeates most human activities. Maybe you’re aiming for a certain run time at the gym, or to lose x amount of weight by summer, or save so much of your paycheck a month to finally visit someplace special to you.
Or maybe you’re aiming to write several thousand words a day, and write a book.
Goals and Writing
Goal setting in writing has been a harrowing coaster of ups and downs for me, as with many things. I’m sure other writers have felt it too, especially those junior or young in the art.
Where do you start? What are you working towards? How do you get there?
Whether you set out to make goals or not, these questions will nevertheless haunt a new writer (they did me), and the answer of ‘finish a book’ is far too vague and long-serving to really work.
I also no doubt started at a disadvantage as I have no ‘formal’ training in writing from studying it beyond mandatory schooling (which has had its benefits, though that’s a discussion for another day.)
Luckily, there are some very good resources available to writers to help get started on effective goal-setting… or at least on helping one to find your own natural pace and milestones to work toward.
Let’s start with the biggest one, steadily becoming more and more well known every year. NaNoWriMo stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month’, and takes places in November each year.
You can find out more about it here, including the fact there are summer camps too.
While November is actually a terrible month to try and get something like 50,000 words written (Thanksgiving, the run-up to Christmas…), that’s probably what makes it so helpful. If you can follow the guides, advice, preparation and other help the site offers in November of all months… you can achieve goals any other time of the year too.
NaNoWriMo is designed to encourage writers to get the skeleton of a book or tale onto paper, ready to be worked on for the following year. Among my writer friends, January’s New Year Resolutions are nigh always linked to completing whatever project they started during the preceding November.
The goal is to spend the month or so leading up to November blocking out or doing preparation work, ready to sit down on November 1st and write 1,667 words a day or more. The site lets you track your progress, compare yourself to others, and offers nice little awards for milestones. Best of all, at the end… you can ‘claim your win’, which definitely sparks the old dopamine flowing.
Another great tool for goal setting is doing a writing sprint. I know people who do these very regularly, several nights a week, and absolutely swear by them for productivity.
The idea is simple – sites like this one can be accessed, with sprints starting at various times. Along with other writers around the world, you sit down and write as much as you can in the allotted time limit, able to see how others are doing in real time while you work.
It’s a sort of competition, a communal activity and an incentive machine all forged into one and again offers a sense of reward for what you achieve.
Great for people who just like to let their words flow.
Want another goal setting tool, but without feeling like your against other people? Try this on for size.
Fighter’s Block is a site/app that lets you set a word goal for your session, which becomes the ‘health bar’ for a monster. Click ‘fight’, and all you need to do is write to injure and defeat the monster. Deleting words heals it, and it will ‘attack’ you to keep you on task if you want to avoid being knocked out.
It is, inherently, a gimmicky tool, but can be a fun incentive if you love video games, or just need something different to keep you engaged.
More than Just Word Counts
Of course, all of that is looking at goal setting as simply being ‘write this many words’. That’s a very important part of writing, but it’s hardly everything.
Goal setting has a lot more to it than that, too. If you go looking for help on setting goals, you’re going to come across a thousand sites and suggestions, but it all boils down to a few simple rules:
Choose goals you can actually achieve (though still a challenge)
Choose goals you can measure in some way (so you can tell when you have achieved it)
Choose a realistic time period to complete it.
Under all of that can then come time frames, to do lists, action plans, ‘listicles’, worksheets and exercises… some work for some people, some for others, but your mileage may vary.
I can’t speak, therefore, for people other than myself in this, but here is how I go about goal setting:
For actual book creation, I always have two goals on the go at any one time. This is because I like to follow the whims of my moods, rather than fight them. I do not write quality words when I’m fighting myself, so the trick has always been to recognize my own strengths and weaknesses, and exploit them. I do not try to complete both goals in a single day, but choose which of the two best suits my mood of the day.
First Goal: Write ‘x’ amount of new words by the end of the day
Second Goal: Edit ‘x’ sections of ‘y’ chapter by the end of the day
Depending on my health, current events going on in my life, appointments or other things that have to be done per day, ‘x’ can be very changeable.
In November, I will categorically keep ‘x’ in line with NaNoWriMo, but the rest of the year I am more flexible with myself and realistic. My writing is critically important to me… but it is not always more important than other factors, save in November.
To feel like I have had a ‘good’ day, I need only reach ‘x’. Sometimes it can be as little as 200 words or a single scene, but on days when I know I am in my best headspace, I can push that goal all the way up to 7,000 or more words, depending on the stage of writing I am at with the book.
Beyond my day to day goals, I also set myself some more over-arching goals to do with writing, which keeps me focused.
Goal: Maintain the website
Goal: Get chapters out at least once a month to alpha readers
Goal: Write a short story three times a year
These are all important facets to me for keeping Hevna running, and my brain active. The website lets me keep friends and family informed of what I am doing with my time, and makes sure I have a routine for my week. I work weekdays, and take weekends off, because of my website schedule. That means I give my mind time to rest.
Alpha readers help keep me motivated. I write because I love to tell stories, and that means having someone to tell them to. I know what happens after all, and thus do not really need to write matters down. But my alpha readers don’t.
Short stories help me explore the deeper world I have created, and present the world with something finished, particularly useful for keeping my alpha readers from getting too frustrated with me that I haven’t finished the bigger works yet (I promise, lovely alphas, I will resolve that whole ‘war’ thing at some point, I haven’t forgotten!). It also lets me take a rest from the more difficult parts of pulling a plot together in a longer work.
I think goals are important for writing. They certainly are for me, anyway. I like knowing I’ve achieved something of a day, and definitely sleep better when I feel I have.
Really, my rambling here only scratches the surface of staying on task for writing.
Over the next few days, I’ll take some time to go into more depth on other areas of meeting my goals… and the things which prevent that from happening sometimes.
Organization, Drafting, Procrastination, Editing and Critiquing… all areas of writing that can either help, or hinder, and often both!
In the meantime, might I suggest enjoying the resources described above? Achieving your goals, after all, should also be fun.