Nothing is more motivating than a deadline. We’ve all experienced this in a million ways, right?
Only in recent years have I discovered that there is such a thing as a too-distant deadline.
A too-distant deadline is one that leaves me too much slack, that causes me to lose my sense of urgency, my momentum. I know that my deadline is too distant if I find myself feeling like I have time to do extra tasks, like reorganizing my office, or I think, “I’ll start on the book next week.”
Over years of working with writers who are working on books, I've decided that when it comes to writing a book, many of us don’t set ambitious enough goals. Yes, you read that right.
But wait—writing a book is as ambitious as it gets!
Of course, and kudos for even daring to try! But when I hear from people that they’re floundering, unsure of where to go next, it feels relevant to me that, often: a) They haven’t set a goal date for finishing, or b) their goal date is too far away.
First, I can't stress enough the importance of a goal date. What if you didn't set a wedding date? How would you get married? No graduation date from college, no retirement date, no date for your vacation?
You have to set a goal date for finishing your book, because that's how you get it done—you plan your writing schedule based on your goal date.
It's also important not to set a date that's too far away. If my goal date for finishing my draft is a year from now, what pressure do I feel to decide whether a character is named Rita or Beth? I have the luxury of sitting around, debating the issue, maybe asking friends, doing some Googling: meaning of Rita. popularity of Rita in 2008. I’m in a creative cul de sac, circling while trying not to hit a kid on a tricycle.
But if I’ve set a goal for June, and it’s March, good grief, I don’t have time to get stuck on Rita versus Beth. I’m going to make a call.
And that’s good—making a call. Writing is just a series of making calls. Calls that you can change later.
For example, there is, for me, always a main character whose name I change 2-3 times. Sometimes I don’t even name a character until a later draft—I just write a blank line wherever their name will go: _______. (I don’t recommend this—it's pretty hard to feel empathy for someone named ______—but sometimes all names feel wrong and it’s what I’ve come up with that works at the moment, non-ideally.)
Stephen King says that a draft of a book should take a season—that’s 3-4 months.
I like that. I've always liked that. It feels right.
You know what they say about a good negotiation—everyone walks away feeling both good and bad?
A good goal date should feel both good and bad. Hard, but not overwhelming. The hard part is what I think a lot of writers skip. We all face fear, and in face of that fear, a natural reaction is to say, "I'll give myself a year." Paradoxically, we think this makes it more likely that we'll get it done...but that's not true.
We're more likely to get it done when we feel it pinching us in the arm.
The goal should make you think, “Oh, boy—is this even going to be possible?”
That’s a good question to be asking yourself. That means you’ve set a taut goal. And a taut goal is the kind that has the pull to move you forward. Any other will leave you dangling and limp, pondering the frequency of the name Bram in the Netherlands instead of just making calls.
Finally, want help setting good goals and making a plan to reach them? I'm teaching a 2-hour Vision Casting workshop next week. You can learn more about it and sign up here. Would love to see you there!
PS - Just a reminder that my DIY Get a Literary Agent kit sale ends today—tomorrow goes back to full-price. :)
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Photo by Diego Jimenez on Unsplash