Remember when you grew up having Romantic notions about what made good writing? Something like... I have to be an alcoholic or heartbroken or both, spend my time holed up in a Parisian cafe, and be in constant agony of the heart and mind to achieve my writing dreams and goals, right?
Well, luckily (or unfortunately?), times have changed.
Having asked many, many writers about what they've done to succeed (or fail), I found a constant theme in their experiences: Setting goals and breaking them down is the difference between finishing and giving up. And that is why I now run a goal-driven writing web app that helps writers all over the world get it done. Because if the Hemingway approach doesn't work for you, planning, and more specifically, breaking your project down is actually how you truly achieve your writing dreams and goals.
Of course, you've heard that advice before. But allow me to break that down with 3 key points that may make you realize that it's actually EASY to do and absolutely worth the effort.
Countless writers have told me they didn't finish something they started writing because they got blocked. Translation: they had no idea what to do next. The reasons vary. Sometimes, they wrote themselves into corner, and other times, they didn't have a plan and ran out of inspiration or motivation.
Here's a not so surprising claim: a little bit of planning reduces the chances of this ever happening.
I'm not just talking about creating an outline near the beginning. Committing a little bit of time at the beginning of every day or every writing session, even 5 minutes, goes a long way in breaking your project down into achievable steps.
And for those of you have no problem popping out drafts of finished work, this also goes for the largely un-glorified part of the writer's journey: what to do with your writing after you're done writing.
Spending 5 minutes to make a plan (and adjusting it regularly) will considerably increase your chances of getting published and achieving your goals faster.
Here's a conversation you may have heard:
"I plan to write a book someday."
"Well, why don't you start writing it today?"
"Well, I guess I just don't have the time right now."
"I don't know, seems hard."
"Well, that's a big project so I guess I'll do it when I can give it the focus it deserves."
Even people I've talked to who've actually finished a draft of a book tell me they're going to publish it someday. But not right now. Why?
Because writing a book or sharing something you've written and getting it published is a large and rather undefinable feat. Something "large" and "undefined" can be scary, it can sound exhausting, and it can be incredibly difficult.
This is why breaking down your goals does a ton of work for you with little effort. It's the equivalent of what pulleys and levers do for moving massive things. Clearer steps are the pulleys and levers that’ll move your big writing goals forward.
Challenge: Break your current writing project down and see how small you can make your tasks for the next week. Can you create a checklist of small tasks that take less than an hour to do? What can you do in 30 minutes? In 10?
Here’s where the skeptics chime in: What if you don't know what to put in that checklist?
Trust me, just try it. Set a 5 minute timer and force yourself to list out what you think are next steps for your writing project. What will usually happen is that you come up with 3 or 4 big things and then realize that each of those things can turn into smaller tasks. For instance, you might start with
'Submit this thing to 5 agents'
which if you ask yourself, 'okay what are the next steps for that?',
turns into 'Find 5 agents',
which turns into
'I need to Google up resources to find agents',
'apply to this event where there might be agents to pitch' or
'Work on an email pitch',
'Google what makes a good pitch',
'Set aside time in my calendar to whip up a first draft of the pitch',
And so on…
Notice how that train of thought leads you to many tasks that seem much more doable than the thing you started with?
If you are still looking at your plan and feeling blocked, ask yourself these key questions:
Before I can do <bigger task>, is there anything else I need to do first?
Are there logistics involved? (using your calendar, writing an email to someone, etc)
What resources do I need to look up to get more information on <task>?
Write the answers to all those questions down as separate tasks. No one's asking you to do them yet, just write them down. Writing your next steps down, no matter how small, makes you statistically more likely to do them.
Writing is already hard. Use the leverage of breaking down your project to make it much, much easier.
Do you ever wonder why people put up with 'process'? It's a dirty word that means meetings, tedious work, hard to read forms and overall boring minutae, right?
But in this case, if you spend the time to break a writing project down, you bring structure to your writing. It ends up creating a habit that allows you to follow through with your writing, especially when the only deadlines for your writing are your own. Over time, you can develop a process for your writing that is built to make you succeed.
Don’t believe me? Structure was probably how you learned to read in a classroom setting. And that's basically the crux of why creating a plan and process for yourself matters. Structure allows you to learn. With all that learning, doing it again becomes easy.
If you plan on writing throughout your life or for your career, it's worth the effort to improve your craft, learn what works for you, and create a repeatable process of breaking down your writing projects so you can get more done faster and better.
I invite you to check out TheRightMargin blog for more tips! We have a ton of versatile content for the multi-faceted writer. And should you want to support our cause, we’re crowdfunding until April 3rd--check our page out!
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