Whether you’re ready to renounce slackerdom, or simply hope to increase your writing production, you’re probably contemplating what you want to get out of 2013. With this post, I hope to set you up for success.
Begin with a step recommended by psychologists, coaches, and efficiency experts. Draft goals with teeth by using the SMART format.
Though you’ll see variation in what each letter stands for, here’s the gist:
- Specific: You’ve crafted external goals for protagonists and antagonists, so you understand the power of specificity. Our characters don’t merely wish to become healthy –not if you want immersive, compelling fiction, anyway. They want to run the next Boston Marathon in under two hours, thereby winning a bet so they can cash in their winnings and save the family farm. Aim for comparable specificity in your goals.
- Measurable: To know if you’re making progress towards your goal, look for embedded and trackable numbers. Word counts are a good example. But what if you’re doing a task that cannot be easily quantified, such as plotting or editing? Or what if your brain shuts down when given a concrete goal? Quantify your time. For example, you might decide to spend 1 hour per day, Internet blocker on, giving your full attention to the task at hand. (I like StayFocusd — a Chrome extension and free.) Alternatively, quantify your day’s effort on a sliding scale out of 10.
- Actionable: Can you take concrete, discrete, and visible steps to make your goal come true? Does its completion depend only upon you? If not, reframe or adjust.
- Realistic: The best goals invite a sense of excitement rather than complacency. When you think of your goal, don’t end up looking like Eugene Levy in this SCTV parody of a Perry Como performance. On the other hand, don’t make your goal so gargantuan you won’t wish to begin.
- Time-bound: Give yourself a ticking clock, a deadline. You can set daily, weekly, monthly goals, and build in purposeful days of rest.
Examples of SMART writing goals:
- I will complete the first draft of this novel by Mar. 17, 2013 by writing 3000 words per week.
- I will edit 3 pages of this manuscript daily until complete, which should take place on Feb. 2, 2013.
- For the next three months, I will free-write for 15 minutes daily, with the exception of Sundays. During that time I will use the Internet blocker and put in an effort at a 7 out of 10.
The mere crafting of SMART goals is seldom sufficient.
Most of us begin the new year with good intentions, but we’re vulnerable to stumbles and detours, particularly if we lack external accountability from agents and editors. We develop sieve-brain and conveniently “forget” our daytimers and spreadsheets. Eventually we stop tracking our progress.
The good news is that it’s never been easier to increase external commitment, whether to oneself or others.
From the Friendly to the Hardcore, Options to Increase Accountability:
1. Writing communities and forums:
On the pro side, these are often free or inexpensive places to gain encouragement. They provide a big variety of writing experience and wisdom.
On the con side, they:
- Provide a big variety of writing experience and wisdom.
- If you are a nurturer, or prone to procrastinate via helping others, in a large group, it’s easy to invest more time on another’s career than building your own.
- Their size and loosey-goosey nature mean it’s easy to disappear without consequences.
2. Critique groups:
In order to qualify as a member, some critique groups establish minimal standards of words crafted and feedback provided. Does yours? If not, if it’s free-form, it might suffer from the same drawbacks as the option above.
3. Accountability Partner:
A single person with whom you’ll share your goals and track your progress on a predetermined frequency. (Often done weekly, monthly, and yearly. Some supplement with daily, rapid check-ins.)
4. Mastermind Group:
Typically a group of 5 – 8 people who meet weekly for one hour. (In person or online via Skype, Google+, etc.) In a given session, they focus their efforts on one pre-appointed individual who recaps their goals, progress, and obtains advice and feedback where required. If time permits, other members check in briefly.
Whether you go with an accountability partner or a Mastermind group, you’ll want people who are:
- Reliable, and expect the same level of commitment from you.
- Kind but exacting.
- Oriented to problem-solving rather than blame-assignment.
- Share or exceed your level of expertise.
- Devoted to keeping the group’s orientation on progress, not therapy.
5. Personal writing coach:
There are teachers and published writers who call themselves writing coaches. Some freelance editors provide deadlines and one-on-one coaching. Since this is potentially expensive, and an area ripe for scam artists and the unqualified, be diligent if you go this route. Do background checks and get referrals.
I’ve been using Habitforge for a few weeks now and am surprised by how much I enjoy it. It’s cloud-based. The website asks you to name a habit you want to establish, the reasons you want to accomplish it (both positive and negative), and it sends you daily email reminders.
You can decide if you want to set a 21-day goal — the estimated time it takes to establish a new habit — or a repetitive, long-term one. You can tweak individual goals to be private or public. There’s also a community grouped around common goals.
If you’d like to try HabitForge for free, go through THIS LINK . (You’re allowed one habit indefinitely on the ad-supported version.) At some point, if you decide to upgrade to a year’s membership with support for unlimited, ad-free habits, Writer Unboxed has been able to get you a discount by becoming an affiliate.
Use the coupon code “Writer Unboxed” at checkout and receive 25% off their $10 annual fee.
Want to connect on Habitforge after? I haven’t cleared this with the Mod Squad, but I bet they’d let us share usernames on WU’s Facebook page.
Hoo boy. This site is fascinating, and the most hardcore I’ve found, probably because it’s been established by Yale economists and legal types. To participate, you:
- Write up a commitment contract, which includes not only the goal but the stakes if you fail or forfeit. The consequences range from loss of pride (you’ve kept it private), loss of reputation (you’ve gone public), or a credit card deduction (up to $10,000 per goal.)
- Decide who will arbitrate your level of success (you or another individual.)
- Decide whether forfeited money goes to a specific individual, a charity, or an anti-charity. (If you’ve committed cash, only a note from a physician will get you off the hook.)
- Succeed in your goal, and it won’t cost you a dime.
Why haven’t I gone this route when I know it would be a powerful tool?
However, it’s a highly educational place. Nothing would prohibit an individual from recreating the model elsewhere. Do check it out, if only to learn.
When you establish goals, do you use the SMART format? What’s the best way you’ve found to hold your feet to the fire?