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Get A New Story: Set Smarter Writing Goals

Writing coach Jenna Avery discusses the SMART technique of setting new writing goals you can actually achieve in the New Year.

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Setting a goal like "I'm going to work on my script today," may work for some people, but for others it can be a deterrent to taking action because it's nebulous. There's not enough for your mind to grab hold of and you can end up floundering or procrastinating as a result.

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Defining a clear, specific goal, however, makes it easier both to take action because you know what to do, and to know when you've reached your desired outcome.

In a class I taught for The Writer's Store, "10 Practical Tips for More Consistent, Productive Writing," I discussed the use of "SMART goals" to help you create actionable goals for your writing projects.

What are SMART goals

The concept of SMART goals, or "S.M.A.R.T.," is popular in the coaching world, and translates well into the realm of writing, particularly because writing tends to be such a long-haul prospect. Writing a script isn't something we typically do over a night or a weekend, but rather a project we work on for a longer period of time. (At least usually, though most of us have heard the fabled Sylvester Stallone story of writing Rocky and Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's The Cabin In The Woods in 3 days and dream of such things ourselves.)

Setting SMART goals can help you properly pace yourself and keep you focused on the task at hand.

How to use SMART goals

SMART goals can be a powerful implementation tool when it comes designing and implementing both daily actions and bigger visions.

Here's how it works:

SMART, as an acronym, stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Resonant, and Time-Bound.

(Note: There are different variations you can find online about how to define SMART goals. This particular version comes from The Right-Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee. I prefer and recommend her approach to my clients and Writer's Circle members because it brings in an intuitive aspect that's important for creatives.)

S = Specific

Making your goal specific means choosing a clear action-step within a specific project. For example, rather than a goal like, "I'll work on my script today," you might choose something like "I'll write the new scenes at the end of Act 1."

For a bigger vision goal, still aim to be as specific as possible.

Here's my broader goal for my next projects: "To expand my spec script library with one low budget time travel romance script and one bigger budget sci-fi action story." Being specific gives you clarity about what to work on. Even better if your goals fit your storytelling brand as well.

If you're not that clear on your brand or your next projects, make that your priority. Think about what the market is looking for. Contemplate which projects can best showcase your talents. Think about where you're feeling most called to write.

And when it comes to selecting specific projects, keep a running list of concepts that you can choose from when the time is right.

M = Measurable

To make your goal measurable, choose a numeric increment for your work, like a page count, word count, or number of minutes you'll spend writing. For example, "I'll spend 30 minutes working on the new scenes at the end of Act 1." Or even, "I'll write 5 pages to complete Act 1 and hit the Act 2 turning point."

For a broader, bigger vision goal, try something like, "To expand my spec script library with two new scripts in the next year."

A = Achievable

Designing your goal to be achievable sets you up for success, because you'll be more likely to continue working on a regular basis if you aren't creating negative reinforcement around reaching for unobtainable goals.

As coach Jennifer Loudensays, make sure you pick something that's attainable on a regular-you day, not a superhuman day. The same can hold true for a regular-you year.

You can determine how attainable your goals are by getting real about your time. As writers we often have to squeeze in time to write around day jobs, families, other projects, and well, life. So be realistic.

Pay attention to how long it takes you to write a script at your current pace. Is that adjustable at all? Can you pick up your pace? Or do you need to slow down a bit to make it more sustainable in the long term? (Remember, this is a marathon.)

How long does it take you typically to outline a script, to develop your story beats, to write X pages of a script? Sure, there are variables that come up, but having a sense of your natural pace can help you check your goals for how realistic they are.

There are two basic principles we use in my Writer's Circle when it comes to setting achievable goals -- particularly good for helping to relieve procrastination and writer's block issues:

  1. If you're not doing it, you've set the bar too high. Lower it -- at least for now -- to get yourself jump-started. So let's say you aimed to write for 4 hours a day, but you're not pulling it off. Can you make it two?
  2. If you're feeling very blocked, set the bar ridiculously low. Laughably low. So low you know you can sneak past your inner demons. We're talking writing for 5 to 15 minutes, with a timer, or even just writing one sentence. That way you'll remind yourself you really can do it. Next time it gets easier.

As Pamala Gray (A Walk on the Moon, Music of the Heart, Conviction) says in "Work Habits of the Pros," "It’s more important for me to write for 15 minutes a day, six days a week, than to write for five hours on Monday and not work again until the following Monday.”

Setting attainable goals makes them possible.

In addition to your daily goals, review your goals for the week, the month, and the year, and make them attainable. You'll be much more likely to accomplish them.

R = Resonant

Having a resonant goal brings in the intuitive perspective I mentioned earlier. Goals are easier to accomplish when we are aligned with them -- when we want to do them on that deeper level of our beings.

Sure we'll still bump into rough spots on the road with any project, but if deep down a project has captured our hearts in some way, it'll be much easier to stay on track and get to the finish line.

In other words, make sure the goal FEELS right to you. You'll know if it's lacking that resonant ping and if you need to do some reconsidering.

T = Time-Bound

Set a time-frame for your goal as well, again staying within the attainability guideline.

Look at your days, weeks, months, and year and target your goals within a specific time-frame. Set an end date for your project so you have something to push up against.

Use social accountability (committing to a deadline publicly) if you have to, but set an endpoint for your project.

For example:

  • "I'll spend up to 30 minutes working on the new scenes at the end of Act 1 before the end of the day today."
  • "I'll write 2 pages a day to hit the Act 2 turning point by Friday, working in 60-minute increments per day."
  • "I'll expand my script library with two new sci-fi specs by December 31, 2013."

It's a great time to set goals

As I wrote on my coaching blog this week, I'm not that interested in resolutions, themes, or even chains right now, but I am interested in clear, specific actionable steps that I can layer into my life to make my creative and personal dreams a reality. I want that for you too.

The beginning of a new year is a natural time for reflection and contemplation about what's next. My wish for you is to take those dreams and make them into a specific, grounded reality you can take action on.

And the best part? The more you identify and work on specific, measurable, achievable goals you feel good about and can be reasonably accomplished during a specific time frame, the more you'll build and strengthen your confidence, belief, and trust in yourself, your abilities, and your creative work.

Because when you know you can do it, you'll keep doing it. And that's worth the price of admission.

Set S.M.A.R.T. writing goals to learn how to meet the deadline and be more efficient in your writing with our FREE Writing Goal Worksheet.

Download this free guide to set better writing goals and improve how you meet deadlines today!


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