Goals that Work: Breaking it all Down

In my last post, I introduced you to what I lovingly call the “All the Things” method of time management and goal setting. If you haven’t read it yet, visit that post now. Otherwise, you won’t get as much out of this one.

Now that you’ve cleared your brain of everything begging for your attention, it’s time to figure out the steps you need to take. If you are writing by hand, you may want to start with some new paper in addition to your list for this step. If you are working digitally, it will be a matter of copy, paste, and making bullet points from here on out.

Look at each item on your All the Things list and think hard about the steps that are needed to accomplish them. Some things, take doing laundry for instance, won’t require you to write out step by step instructions. So don’t bother with the small stuff. However, for anything big like a writing project, take a minute to think about what you will need to complete. Is that step more likely to take one hour or 100 hours? You likely have a different method, but here’s what my basic list usually looks like:

[Working Title of Book]

  • Research
    • [Topic 1]
    • [Topic 2]
  • Brainstorming (could happen multiple times, but for me the initial brain dump is the biggest and most important)
  • Beat Sheet/Outline (If you want to learn more about beat sheets, check out these posts)
  • Chapter abstracts (see aside below)
  • Write Draft 1 [due date]
  • Revise Draft 1 [due date]
  • Beta readers [date range]
  • Draft 2
  • Final Draft/Proofread

Notice how “Write Draft 1” is actually only ONE of those many bullet points? Sure, I put words down at many steps of the way, but “Write Draft 1” is a HUGE undertaking. That’s too big of a step to leave as just a bullet. So I break it down more. If I have a target word count, that’s the next bullet. Because I have already made my big list of everything I have going on and when, I know that I can’t start my next manuscript until Feb. I have to do some work travel in March and until I pass my German exam Feb 21, my time is limited. I’ve been at this long enough I know what I can reasonably write in a week, but you may need to do some more trial and error before you can do this part accurately. I tend to write down specific dates, but you can be as specific or loose with your aspirations as you want.

Aside – If you aren’t familiar with the term “abstract” in this context, it is something I have borrowed from academic writing. The abstract of an article is the paragraph at the beginning that summarizes the article so you know if it is worth taking the time to read vis-à-vis your own research/interests. For fiction, I use abstracts to help me figure out the content of my chapters, where to begin and end the action, what foreshadowing/breadcrumbs I need to lay, etc. at various steps in my process. So the location of the bullet point on this simple list is somewhat arbitrary and does not really tell the whole story. I plan to do a post on the power of abstracts in the future, so you can get more details on how to harness them later on.

Smaller Pieces

Time. Time is the inevitable piece of the goal-setting puzzle. Unless the goal is “write this book before I die,” everything will need a date attached to it. But what you want to accomplish BY those dates will vary from person to person, method to method.

If you are not using word count goals in order to stay on track, your expanded list may look something like this:

Writing Draft 1

  • Write 5 days a week
  • Check in at 4 weeks
  • Check in at 8 weeks
  • Check in at 12 weeks

There are other kinds of qualitative or frequency goals you could use, but you get the idea. For me, I really like word count so my bullets tend to look like this:

Writing Draft 1

  • Word count: 90,000 words
  • Words per week: Feb 1-Mar 17 ~8000 (~48k), Apr 6-May 6 ~12000 (~48k)
    • Week 1 Feb 1- 8000
    • Week 2 Feb 7- 8000
    • Week 3 Feb 14 – 8000
    • Week 4 Feb 21 – 8000
    • Etc

Notice how I actually built in an extra 6k words? Buffers are always a good idea. Sometimes the words will flow a lot faster than others. Some parts of the story will no doubt grow or shrink when I actually sit down to do the work. And if I write more than 90k, it’s not a bad thing. That was just my starting off point. Writing less than that wouldn’t be good in terms of making my series feel consistent, so I set that as my minimum. The important thing to remember is that if you build in a buffer, you will be more able to deal with the unexpected.

Which means this is a perfect place to leave off for now, because I will be addressing the perils of being TOO married to your deadlines in the next post.

Until next time, stay splendid!

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