You’ve chosen your outfit for the Oscar ceremony and practised your smile for the waiting cameras but you still haven’t written the first scene of your screenplay let alone made a film. Don’t give up on your fantasy – here’s how to use your dreams to set achievable goals.
Setting and achieving goals is a great way to make progress and keep motivated, but many writers struggle to set realistic goals. Here’s a three-step process to work out your goals.
Step 1: Dream big
The first step of goal setting is to capture all your writing dreams and aspirations. It’s the perfect excuse to let your imagination run wild.
You can take the organised approach – empty the house of distracting humans and animals, slip into your velvet smoking jacket, and crack open a brand new Moleskine notebook for a dedicated dream-catching session – or you can jot down ideas between washing and drying-up or during meetings when the boss is banging on about quarterly performance.
“crack open a brand new Moleskine notebook for a dedicated dream-catching session”
The important thing is to get them down on paper. Think long term – in two or five years what do you want to have written? Do you want to be published, win awards, or do a reading at your childhood library? Write them all down – don’t judge and don’t censor.
Step 2: Chunk it up
After all that wonderful fantasy it’s time to get real. The reality is that you can dream of doing anything but your dreams aren’t within your control. It’s not all bad news. Goals are practical steps you can take to realise your dreams. So pick your dream notebook out of the bin, dust it down, and make some plans.
“Goals are practical steps you can take to realise your dreams”
First, take a look at your dreams to see if any of them are connected. You might find that several are linked, for example you need to finish a novel before you enter it into a competition. Group them together – you might find you already have a few steps in place.
Next, break your dreams into chunks. Let’s take a dream of writing a novel and turn it into smaller steps. Ask yourself what you need to do to write a long piece of fiction. You need an idea for the plot and some characters, a plan of what might happen, you need to write the first chapter, write the first draft. All these steps are achievable and within your control.
Check the steps are small enough, if you can’t imagine achieving them within a month or so break them down further.
You can now put deadline against your goals. Let’s say you start on 1 September, you could map out your novel writing like this.
- Two weeks to brainstorm ideas for plot and character 1-14 September
- Two weeks to outline plot 15-28 September
- Two weeks to flesh out characters 29 September – 12 October
- One week to write the first chapter 13-19 October
- Six weeks to write first act/section 20-October – 1 December
And so on until you’ve completed a first draft, perhaps edited it, sent it off to a competition.
You’ve now got a list of achievable goals and some realistic deadlines to work towards. Write them in your diary so you feel accountable.
Step 3: Allocate quotas
Now you’ve set your goals you need to put in place a course of action to achieve them.
The final stage is about setting quotas. For some writers this is about putting in the time, for example writing every day for ninety minutes, others prefer to focus on pages, word counts, scenes, poems – it doesn’t matter as long as it’s a measureable output.
“The important thing is to have achievable goals and quotas”
It might take you a while to work out a realistic output. This is where tracking comes in handy – making a note of what you’ve written and when so you can learn from it and adjust your steps accordingly.
The important thing is to have achievable goals and quotas, not set impossible deadlines and stress yourself out.
Towards dream success
Dreams are important – they make us feel excited about the future, but dreams alone won’t get your writing done. By breaking your dreams down into achievable chunks and setting daily or weekly quotas you’ll get closer to realising your writing ambitions. Research* shows that having small goals increases your chances of meeting bigger targets.
By all means indulge in your dreams, imagine the smell of your novel fresh from the printers, feel the warmth of the cameras on your skin as you walk down the red carpet, but don’t get distracted from meeting your regular quota. Focus on meeting your daily output and it will soon stack up. To keep motivated, remember to reward yourself.
Three steps to setting writing goals
- Make a list of your writing dreams and aspirations
- Break the dreams into smaller more achievable goals and put deadlines against them
- Set daily or weekly quotas to meet your goals
Keep meeting your quota and soon you’ll be hitting your deadlines and ticking off your goals. And who knows, in a few years you might get calls from designers begging you to wear their collection on the red carpet.
* Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. H. (1981). Cultivating competence, self-efficacy, and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41, 586-598.