Setting Attainable Goals

My mother has just finished making 120 wine glass charms as small gifts for the female guests at my cousin’s wedding this coming Monday. Rather than buy boxes to put the charms in, she made them herself from card (she thought that the boxes you could buy were either too big or too expensive). She made 120 pink ribbon bows to decorate the boxes and sewed a pink crystal onto the centre of each bow. She even handstamped her own confetti to fill the boxes because the confetti you could buy in the shops was “too blue”. Beats me.

After breaking her heart-shaped-hole punch by trying to cut hearts out of too many sheets of pink tissue paper at one time, she had to use an ordinary hole punch to make the rest of the confetti, two sheets of paper at a time. It was an extraordinary amount of work and a lot of effort was required to get the boxes and charms finished on time. This led me to think about the importance of goal setting. My mother’s goal was to make 120 wine glass charms. If she had written a list of the steps needed to achieve that goal she would have quickly seen that buying beads and cutting wire loops were very necessary, handstamping confetti was not.

I think it’s very easy to become sidetracked with unimportant tasks when you are trying to complete a project so to keep my writing life focused I created a list of mid- and longterm goals for myself and have been updating my shortterm goals list on a weekly basis. On my longterm list I have: start work on second novel, complete unfinished short stories and write feature film script. My midterm list consists of: finish first draft of novel, write short story for creative writing workshop and write 60 minute pilot script.

There is no time limit for my longterm goals; I am just going to shift them onto the midterm list as soon as a vacancy arises. All of my midterm goals have deadlines so every week when I am compiling my shortterm goal list, I think about what I can do to bring my midterm projects closer to completion.

So far so good. Problems only arise when I try to tick off all the tasks on my shortterm list. It’s just not possible. My goals are either too ambitious or too vague. Write 5000 words of novel. That would be fine, if I didn’t also have to write interview for blog, do research for short story and pitch article idea to magazine.  Brainstorm ideas for pilot script doesn’t sound too demanding, right? But I’ve spent the whole morning brainstorming and have only got a few  mindmaps and two character profiles to show for it. I don’t feel I have earned my ‘tick’ when there is still a lot more brainstorming to go.

I’ve read a few articles on the web about goal setting. A good one is Setting Effective Writing Goals by Moira Allen. She advises making your goals measurable, meaningful and attainable.

Measurable goals could be writing a certain number of pages or words, or writing for a set amount of time. My vague brainstorming goal will earn its tick if I change it to: 2 hours brainstorming for pilot script.

Meaningful goals are those that will take you in the direction you want to go. I want to complete my novel and the pilot script so the most important shortterm goals for me are the ones where I work on those. I often let myself get sidetracked with writing short stories and articles, which are also worthwhile but shouldn’t take priority. From now on, these will go to the bottom of my weekly to-do list.

Setting goals that are attainable requires experience of your own writing schedule and a knowledge of the market for the work you are producing. I knew that I would be able to write 1000 words a day because when I participated in NaNoWriMo 2008 I was writing double that. Having attended a number of talks by representatives of the BBC and reading the submission guidlines on the Writersroom website, I know that getting an original drama commisioned by the BBC is not an attainable goal but submitting a 60 minute script to the Writersroom is.

It is important to regularly review your progress to make sure goals are being met or to see if they need to be re-evaluated. “The most delightful thing about goals,” Moira Allen says in her article, is that “you can change them.” So if a goal is sitting heavily on your shoulders and you just can’t seem to make any progress with it, break it down into smaller pieces and extend the deadline you have set yourself for its completion. As I have learned from the confetti incident, there is no point in making life difficult for yourself!

The Big 1000

I have recently returned to my NaNoWriMo novel after about six months off and have been inspired by Isaac Espriu’s blog to set myself some writing goals. Previously I had been trying to write for six hours a day (hah!) but never managed. I could concentrate for about three hours (with breaks) but stopping for lunch was a killer. I could never get back into the flow again.  There was no incentive to write a lot either, because I knew I would be stuck in front of the computer all day regardless of whether I churned out 50 words or 5000.

Now I’ve set myself a goal of writing 1000 words a day and so far it’s going pretty well. On a good day I can be finished after an hour and on a not-so-good day it takes around three hours. I plan to have the story in place by 30th June and the first draft (with all the holes filled in and superfluous ramblings cut out) finished by 30th September. I set the end of September as my deadline because if I had done the MA in creative writing, I would have had to hand in a completed manuscript by then and I want prove to myself that I did not throw away my only chance of writing a novel by turning down the place on the course.

Unfortunately, I’ve not got a huge amount of self discipline and I haven’t managed to reach the 1000 words every day. My brother is really into hypnotism and mind control and he’s been giving me some tips on how to improve my willpower.  One of them is to create an ‘anchor’. That means that on a day when the writing is going really well, I have to do some kind of action that will act as a trigger to spur me on to write on another day when I feel less motivated. So over the last few days as I’ve been typing away like mad I’ve had to remember to periodically tug my earlobes. If I keep this up, one day I will sit down at my laptop, tug my earlobes and a whole novel will spill out onto the computer screen. That’s how it works, right?

Another tip my brother gave me for  improving willpower is to force myself to do one disagreeable task a day. It’s true that I don’t always love writing, but I don’t want it to be my disagreeable task either.  I suppose I could try washing the dishes every day. I really don’t like doing that. I’ve eaten cereal out of saucepans and pizza off of tinfoil rather than wash up.

Putting aside these exercises in willpower for a moment, the most compelling reason for me to stick to my goal is that on the days when I manage to write 1000 words I feel great and on the days when I don’t,  I feel rubbish. It’s as simple as that.

Screen Lab – Day 1

Today was the first day of Screen Lab and I am exhausted! Partly because I spent a large part of the day concentrating hard and making notes, and partly because I had to get up at 7am to catch the train. Yikes! Despite the early start, it was a great day and I came away feeling a lot more confident about screenwriting.

We started off with some exercises to generate ideas. One of the exercises involved sitting on the floor with a large sheet of paper and felt tip pens to make a Mind Map.  We used our Mind Maps to create fictional characters, but they can be used to generate and organise ideas on almost any subject.

After that, we practiced giving each other feedback on our application scripts using the Adrian Mead’s Power of Three method. The feedback comes in the form of questions so it’s very non-confrontational and encourages you to think more about your script. It also let’s you figure out for yourself which elements of the script are working and which aren’t.

In the afternoon we talked about pitch docs and how to get an agent. I’m not at that stage yet, but getting an agent can go on my new list of goals, which we were encouraged to create.  First up, under Short Term Goals: do homework for tomorrow’s Screen Lab and go to bed!


My life is very unstructured at the moment and I think that is impeding my writing. If I define regular working hours for myself I may be more productive. So no more nonsense from now on. I am going to write every morning from 9-12. There will be no checking of e-mails, messing around on the internet or reading of magazines until lunchtime. The internet especially is a huge distraction for me. My intentions are always good: I just want to check the lunar calendar or read how air raid shelters are constructed or find out what the penalty is for speeding (all research for my novel) and next thing you know, an hour has passed and I’ve checked my e-mails twice and read up about all my favourite celebs on Wikipedia and still not found the information I need for my novel. Well, enough is enough. My new motto is going to be: write first, research later.

And another thing: I’m going to set writing goals for myself. By the end of the weekend I want to have written 50 000 words of my novel and by the end of the year I want a complete first draft. It doesn’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be coherent, but everything has to be there. Also, I have a folder of partially written short stories and I aim to have redrafted and polished two of them by the end of this year. No more messing around!