National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) just ended on November 30; this year, there were more than 53,000 participants across the globe. If you haven’t heard of NaNoWriMo, it’s an annual creative writing project that challenges registrants to complete a 50,000 word minimum novel between November 1 and November 30 (see nanowrimo.org for more information). While it’s a daunting, if not crazy, venture, what I like about this creativity project is that it inspires writers to throw out perfectionism and all those reasons we can’t write, in favor of sitting down and—you know—actually writing. Not only write, but to keep going until the milestone is within your desperately tired fingers.
Too often, we set goals in our minds and don’t follow through. Why? Because they’re so easy to ignore when you haven’t written them down. Instead of concrete objectives, they’re thoughts tossed into the ether, forced to compete with all your other “stuff,” like obligations, fears, worries, and hopes. With that kind of crowd, it’s pretty easy to lose sight of what you wanted in the first place.
When I finally decided I wanted to write seriously, I sat down with a pen and paper and created a contract. I told myself that I was making a commitment to a story, and that I knew I would make mistakes and need to revise, but I was committed to doing the best I could, and that the commitment was going to start NOW. While my contract wasn’t anything fancy, just blue pen on a torn sheet of paper, it held a lot of meaning to me. I stuck it in a notebook pocket (where it remains) as a reminder of the promise I made to myself. Not to be perfect, but to write with a goal in mind.
That experience changed my outlook on writing, and while I didn’t outline every detail at the time, it did lead me to make a more specific list of goals later on. As I figured out what I wanted to write and what kind of career I wanted, I formed a list in my journal of the milestones I needed to complete. And once it is written, it’s much harder to ignore.
Step 1: Make a List of Milestones
Your writing life belongs to you, and because it belongs to you, you are all powerful when it comes to deciding the milestones you want to meet. Challenge yourself to truly define what it is you want from your writing self. Here are some examples of milestones you might want on your list:
· Complete a first chapter or scene
· Achieve a specific word count on your writing days
· Reach the middle of your draft
· Complete a first draft
· Read through your entire draft (without crying or giving up)
· Provide your writing to beta readers
· Participate in a critique
· Complete a first draft revision
· Complete a query letter
· Receive your first query letter rejection
· Participate in an online writing pitch or query contest
While these goals reflect bigger achievements, I encourage you to create your own personal list that’s specific to you and what you want to achieve. Since these items are a map to get you where you need to go, they can be as big or small as you want them to be. Small goals are still goals! And if there’s something in the process you dread (such as writing a particular scene, researching agents, or learning how to format your work for self-publication), then make sure it’s on your list. I have a strange fear of getting my drafts printed at the local print shop, as if the copy guy is going to stand up and shout, “Imposter!” while I slowly die of embarrassment. Though this has never happened, getting my drafts printed is still a milestone on my list.
Step 2: Reward Thyself
Whether your goal is to write for your own personal passion or to seek publication, the road is long and filled with challenges. If you’ve ever driven or hiked a long distance, you know that leaving without your favorite snacks and comforts is a recipe for disaster. The journey of writing is the same—if you’re going to take that road, then you have to prepare reinforcements to get you through the long haul.
I’m talking about rewards, big and small, for meeting the goals you’ve outlined. Just as important as your milestone list, your rewards list is key, since it’s the temptress luring you to away from your own excuses. If you aren’t tempted, then there’s no point. Rewards are also a nice way to pat yourself on the back for completing the action instead of judging the outcome. Your list should include incentives of various sizes to reflect the importance of your goal. Here are some ideas to get you started:
· Give yourself an allotted amount of TV time or reading time (guilty pleasures work best)
· Take your dog to the park or attend a yoga class
· Spend an allotted amount of time on social media or surfing the Internet
· Call or meet up with a good friend
· Make something crafty
· Find a quiet spot at the library and peruse your favorite magazines
· Play video games for an allotted amount of time
· Download/buy new music
· Grab a beverage and/or snack from your favorite coffee shop
· Cupcakes! (This is a personal preference)
· Treat yourself to a movie and snack at the theater or at home
· Order take-out instead of cooking dinner
· Buy yourself a new notebook and favorite brand of pens
· Plan a fun night out with the person or people you care about most
· Get tickets for a sporting event, play, comic book convention, etc.
One more thing to keep in mind: your milestones and rewards lists are not set in stone. As you change, your goals may change as well. The important thing is that you continue to make a commitment to yourself and your writing. After all, success doesn’t come from what you know; it comes from what you do.
So, are you ready to take the milestone challenge?
Throughout your writing journey, what milestones meant the most to you? What rewards were the most effective?