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!


5 thoughts on “Setting Attainable Goals

  1. ““The most delightful thing about goals,” Moira Allen says in her article, is that “you can change them.””

    You are perfectly right! Thank you for that, because I have always seen them as fixed!

    I relate completely with the wedding thing! when me and my husband we recruited all friends and family and hand made everything. Yes, I totally know what she means when she says the blue was wrong, believe it or not. And, please note, I was not a stickler like that prior to the wedding, nor after. 🙂

  2. I’d always seen goals as fixed too, Jennifer. That article was a revelation.
    Weddings do seem to bring out the perfectionists in us, don’t they? I spent an afternoon trimming the ends of the tiny pink bows to make them symmetrical!

  3. You might also consider dividing your short term goals into two categories. “Major goals” and “Minor Goals” The major goals would be if you get nothing else done, you would be happy if those were. Writing the interview, researching the story, and pitching an article idea could be the major goals, while “5,000” would be an OMG YAY! Addition to it.

  4. Thanks for the tip, Uninvoked. I’ve starred all the “major goals” on my shortterm list, and I will be very happy indeed if I complete them this week.

  5. Pingback: Handy Hints for the Freelance Writer #2 | Helen Caldwell

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