My Journey as a Writer – blog (part 6)

My Journey as a Writer documents my journey as I rediscover my love of writing, and push forward into a new career path. Watch for new posts on Mondays and Thursdays.

Part 6 includes – 

  • Setting goals
  • Getting organized
  • Brainstorming
  • Outlining
  • Begin with the end in mind – and have a deadline

Setting goals

Whether you’re writing for yourself or a wider audience, it’s essential to have goals. SMART goals – Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Relatable, and Time-Sensitive, of course, are a great place to start. 

In addition to setting SMART goals, be sure that they are within your control. If you’ve never written a novel before, it may not be realistic to have a goal of becoming an author on The New York Times Best Sellers list. It’s admirable, sure, and possible, but not within your control. 

First, becoming a published author is challenging, and there’s lots of competition out there. Second, you never know how well a book will sell, if it ever gets published at all. Third, even if your book gets published and sells, it may not make the best seller’s list. Unless you buy all the copies of the book yourself, you have no control over how many copies sell. Goals that are unrealistic set yourself up for failure and disappointment.

Instead, set a goal to finish writing your book. That is something you can achieve. It’s doable and within your control. Once that goal is achieved, then set a higher goal that is within your control and work to achieve it.

Having goals helps push us forward. But, if they’re not within your control, they may be very difficult or impossible to achieve. Set yourself up for success, not a failure.

Along with realistic goals, manage your expectations as well. 

Getting organized

I had to get organized when I started writing. Managing multiple writing projects, drafts, ideas, notes, resources – it gets challenging. I now have to label drafts, folders, and other things in a way so I can find them later. I created a system for it, which wasn’t easy and had to be redesigned when it started to fail. Don’t waste valuable writing time by trying to find things that you’ve misplaced. Create a system, stick to it, and make small adjustments to it as needed to keep it from breaking down.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming can be a fun and creative activity. I like coming up with ideas and seeing where it goes. Whether it’s creating a list of writing topics, plot outlines, settings, themes, words to use in a poem, or anything else, start writing them down.

Another brainstorming exercise that I like is thinking of a topic and writing down as many questions about it as I can. It doesn’t matter if you know the answer to the question or not, it helps develop exploration and a train of thought.

Outlining

I started my first novel in October 2018. It’s sitting in Google Docs, unfinished. Not even close. You know why? Because I didn’t do much of an outline. I just started writing the damn thing, thinking I could make it up as I went. I admit, writing without an outline worked in High School and College for essays, but it’s not the way to take on an extensive writing project.  

Today, I have to force myself to do outlines. I now see the value in doing them. They make writing much easier and faster. And they can be fun, too. I like planning and organizing, so why wouldn’t I like doing that for a writing project.

I like to take it old school. I bought some 3 X 5 index cards, the ones that are lined on one side and blank on the other. I’ve found these to be useful for outlining writing projects. They’re large enough to get some ideas down, but not too big that it gets overwhelming. Plus, turn one of them over, and the blank side is suitable for storyboarding or drawing a flowchart. Index cards can be laid down on a table and rearranged. This helps with sequencing or seeing the big picture. 

I know there are probably software or apps that can do this, too, but I like index cards. It’s more tangible than something on your phone, and I think it can add to your creativity.

Begin with the end in mind – and have a deadline

You may be familiar with Stephen Covey and his self-help book titled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit #2 is “Begin with the end in mind.” This advice applies to writing, as well. After you’ve brainstormed, outlined, and are getting ready to write, it’s essential to know what the end looks like. Think about the ending – how does the story get there? Whether it’s a goal or a writing project, it often helps to begin with the end in mind and then work backward from there.

Deadlines. Many of my personal writing projects lay unfinished because I didn’t do an outline or have a deadline. I’m not great with deadlines. Even with a deadline, I sometimes wait until the last minute on things. (Like this blog post, for example.) Deadlines aren’t magic – they don’t automatically do the work for you, but they can help you plan your time and see the finish line. When used correctly, they can be a strong motivator to get things done.

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