Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Setting Writing Goals and Planning for Success

As I mentioned yesterday, I've recently decided to expand a paper into a book.  It will be a non-fiction cultural analysis of the myth surrounding the band Joy Division and their enduring impact on contemporary popular culture, thirty years after their lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide.  The paper I wrote is 4000 words and provides me with an expandable introduction and a rough outline of how I want the book to fall into place.  Now, all I have to do is write it.  Then revise it.  Then revise it again.  And while it is not the thing that concerns me the most at this point, I'd also like to have it published. 

This is all new to me, and I'm learning a lot as I go.  Haley, who has been publishing for the last 6 years has a bit more experience and is helping me along the way, and she's told me that I need to set writing goals if I want to have a finished product within my lifetime. I've taken her advice and done some research and am now ready to set those goals.  Here's what I've learned and what I plan on doing. 

Set and specify long term goals

 When writing a business plan these long term goals are called the "Executive Summary".  They're the easiest goals to make, but it's still important to set them out, write them down and make them a real possibility.  My long term writing goal for my book is basically to finish it within a year, but I have other writing goals that I can add to my executive summary.   Here's what my executive summary looks like: 1) Finish book. 2) Finish Master's dissertation. 3) Attend 3 conferences.

Make a Plan of Action

 Once you have your long term goals established, you can start planning how you will achieve them.  There is no point in having a goal without a plan, just as there is no point in having a goal without being able to measure its success.  Making a plan makes the goal feel attainable.  The plan takes the goal from the realm of dreams and places it into the world of reality.  Rather than making qualitative goals such as "I want to be a better writer" make specific quantifiable goals.  You know that writing every day will make you a better writer, an you know that writing two hours every day is better than writing for one hour.  So rather than saying "I want to be a better writer" make a goal to write for two hours every single day, come rain or shine.  

Finishing my book is not the only writing goal I have this year, but it is the only one that is self imposed.  I have to finish my dissertation, and I have a whole department of professors who will make me do it.  I need a more elaborate plan of action for my book then, taking into consideration the time I have to focus on it.  I can only work on it part time, since I have classes, work, and other responsibilities.  But I also must be consistent if I want to see any progress. 


My plan of action

In order to complete my goal of finishing a dissertation as well as my Joy Division book I need to carefully manage my time to accommodate both projects.  The dissertation is due in September, and I'll have more time after I hand it in to work on the book, so for the summer months 4/5 of my writing and research time will be given to the dissertation and the one course I am taking, and 1/5 will go to the book.  I usually spend 25 hours a week researching and writing, so I will allocate 5 hours a week to researching and writing my Joy Division book.  This is the most manageable goal for me because I don't have a very set schedule, so that means if I want I can spend either a whole day working on the book, or a couple of hours in the evenings.

I know that I can get a lot done in 5 hours, and so this plan works perfectly.  It is easily attainable and measurable.  The next step is to make sure that the time I spend working on this goal is meaningful.  In order to do this  I plan on evaluating every week what has been done, what needs to be done, and keep the goals small and manageable, such as focusing on a particular chapter or idea. 

After September I can reevaluate what I have done and increase the time I spend on the book to 10 or 15 hours a week. 

So this is my plan of action.  Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? Do you think this will work? What kind of writing goals have you set for yourself?

Images thanks to madame.furie and clownbastard on Flickr.com

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