Saturday, July 2, 2011

Get Out Your GOALie Gear

Something really important to any writer is goals. I find that if I don't have any sort of accountability with my writing then it simply doesn't get finished. It becomes one of those "Oh right, writing. I should do that" as I go off and watch an episode of Smallville. I need to have goals, and rewards in order to get my work done. I know that I love what I'm working on, but I just need that shove to get myself back in the game. There are four important aspects to think about when it comes to goals: long term goals, short term goals, assessments, and rewards.

Long term goals are well goals that are long term. That means goals that a set in place to be accomplished over a period of time. For example, "I'll write 25 000 words before the year is up in my story", "I'll write two hundred blog posts by the end of summer", or "I'll finish my revisions before Christmas". These are the goals that, in my opinion, are the hardest. I find them hard, because they aren't something you can just finish in an hour like a short term goal. They take a long time, and a lot of work. Frankly, they can be intimidating, and scary. Now that I've listed all the cons, let me explain why they're a good idea. Long term goals provide an ending to your project. If we don't set a specific time for a story, for example, to be finished then it has the potential to drag on and on, and never get finished. Long term goals, also force you to work, but still allow some wiggle room. For example, if you say I'm going to finish my first draft before summer ends it's not like you have to work on it everyday, you just have to finish it before summer is over. Overall, LT goals are very important to finishing writing projects, and are something every writer needs to have.

I like to think of short term goals as the building blocks to achieving long term goals. Short term goals are goals you set for yourself over a short period of time, like an hour, that contribute to achieving your long term goal. Some examples of short term goals are "I'm going to finish this scene before I go to bed", "I'm going to write a page a day", or "I'm going to write a blog post before I watch Merlin". When you set short term goals it makes it so much easier to achieve your long term goal. When you just have a long term goal, it becomes something distant that creeps up on you, and before you know it you haven't achieved your long term goal. Short term goals can sometimes be a tad scary, but the good thing about short term goals is that you get to set them in the moment. You know how you're feeling, and what you are capable of accomplishing, so you can set your short term goal accordingly.

Assessments. They are a part of the goals equation that I too often forget. Assessments are something that need to happen when dealing with long term goals. When you assess your goal you are basically taking another look at it, and seeing if it's still manageable and realistic. When we set long term goals we can't foresee the future (well at least I can't!), and sometimes life happens. There's a family crisis, or a surprise vacation, or you get sick etc. etc. All of that stuff prevents you from writing, which will effect the probability of meeting your long term goal. That's when you need to assess your goal and alter it accordingly. Don't be afraid to do this, because you'll just cause more harm to your moral when you don't meet your goal, than changing it half way. Sometimes we just don't write for whatever reason, and we have to get over that guilt that we feel and alter the long term goal also. For example, if you know that you write about two pages a week, then you should be setting your goal with that in mind. Your story might have the potential to be about two hundred pages, and at two pages a week, that's a hundred weeks. Now, you have to use your esteemed judgement in whether or not you are altering a goal because you're being lazy. That would be completely missing the point of setting goals. Ultimately, assessments are key to achieving your goal, because not achieving a goal does a whole lot of damage to a writer's moral which leads to writer's block.

Now for rewards, the fun part! Reward yourself when you meet your goals, short term or long term. When you set rewards for achieving goals then it provides an incentive to write. Let's face it, we all like to think that the idea of finishing the story is incentive enough, but its not. So reward yourself! I know that I have a little reward going on with a friend of mine. If we finish our drafts before the summer is over then we're going out for ice cream. The example I gave is a reward for a long term goal, but short term goals deserve to be rewarded also. Watch some tv when you finish your blog post, or have a few cookies when you finish writing that scene. Rewards provide excellent incentive to achieving our goals.

In conclusion, I can't stress enough how important setting goals is. My final warnings:
-don't set goals that are unrealistic and don't line up with your working patterns
-don't be afraid of assessing your goals
-embrace the reward system
Hopefully, this has spurred you onto setting some of your own goals! Also, I'd like to know if people agree with this system. Should we set times to finish a story? Feel free to comment with your thoughts below, or vote in the pole!

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