Sunday, 13 September 2015

A Catch-up on Writing Goals

At the beginning of the year I listed a number of writing related goals that I've set for myself, with the idea that if I set a lot, I'd be more motivated to accomplish them. I'm happy to say that I'm mostly right, but it's also worth noting how naive some of that was.

I never got around to properly revising any of my movie treatments from last year, for instance. But I have finished a first draft of a full screenplay with a friend back in London, so I'm counting that goal as broadly done. And I've been thinking of ways to expand these old outlines (or, um, finish the one that I didn't complete last year...), so that I can actually write them into full screenplays.

As far as the new screenplay treatments, I'm well on track with those. I set myself the goal of doing three, and as of mid-September I've done two. They aren't necessarily the ones I planned on at the start of the year, or as long as I was thinking, but they're done, so this goal is pretty comprehensively on the road to completion.

The comic's been a bit more difficult, in part because I haven't really looked at how to write comics in almost 15 years. It also doesn't help that I got through a version of the first issue and then re-imagined the entire story, so I'm effectively a month behind with this one. On the plus side, because it's the same story as one of last year's movie treatments, it means I'm moving ahead with revisions on that one, too. #winwin

And then there's the 90,000 word novel I planned to write. I blogged about my progress on it a couple of times, but never did part 3 of my progress reports - but suffice to say, after a blinding start in April, where I was routinely knocking out over 1,000 words in a night, progress came a lot slower for the next couple of months, and although the story ended, I didn't come anywhere near 90,000.

This isn't necessarily an arbitrary goal, by the way, as DAW requires books to be at least 80,000 words, and Angry Robot's guidelines specify 90k. This means I'm left with two choices - either expand it by at least 35,000 words, or pare it down and turn it into a novella. I'm leaning toward the former, as I don't know if a market for fantasy novellas even exists, but probably my main focus for right now should be just to get on with revising. And the first step of that would be putting the 136 pages I printed out the other week in order - always remember to put page numbers on stuff!

The final goal I listed was submitting stories 20 times, for which I've reached the halfway point as of last night. As I mentioned at the start of the year, this required some revisions and rewrites, as I had two stories ready for submission; I've sent a couple of others, but the revising and rewriting remains beyond me, to some extent. This is probably an action point for me, of course - learn to revise properly so that I can actually get a few more stories out the door...

I mention all of this to illustrate a point made by Tim Ferriss in the Four-Hour Work Week (which he was citing from elsewhere), that tasks expand to fit the time allotted. For me the best example was the novel. In previous years, with previous novels, I wouldn't exactly set myself a deadline, I'd just write -sometimes I'd get to the end, and sometimes I wouldn't.

This time, following suggestions by Stephen King in his book On Writing, I set myself the goal of finishing the first draft in 3 months, and I'd say it helped. I let myself off the hook from all other writing during those three months (except for the blog, of course!), and just got on with it. Sticking to 1,000 words a day may have been a bit too ambitious for someone working 9-5, but on the other hand, my problem ended being too concise, rather than not having enough time...

The other thing that benefits from all these goals I set is consistency: because I had a million things I wanted to do this year, it meant I pretty much have to do something every day. Sometimes it takes hours, and sometimes it's just 15 minutes, but I'm finding that in the last couple of months I've had fewer days where I didn't do anything at all. I broke everything down into quarters, months and then weeks, and from there I just got on with it.

So my recommendation is to be ambitious with your goals... within reason. Or to put it another way, set a bunch of small goals, rather than only a couple of big ones. Break them down into smaller goals with clear milestones, and set deadlines. And then don't get discouraged (as I often have to remind myself) when you don't meet one or two goals - after all, writing is subjective, and you're relying on a lot of factors you can't control to make you successful.

And after you've set all those goals, get to work!