Writing goals 2: Short-term targets, long-term goals

The first post in Write for Your Life's ongoing 'Writing goals' series encouraged you to aim high, but manage your expectations. Now, it's time to look at how you approach your writing once you've decided what you want to achieve. I'll use my own writing as an example. It took me a long time to write my novel, partly because I also had to hold down a full-time job, but also because it took me the best part of a year to work out how to set achievable goals.

The problem was, I never did set myself goals, as such. Instead, I had just one singular objective: write a novel. That's all I wanted to do. It's what I was working towards.

In 2005, with 10,000 words under my belt and some handsome feedback, I took two months sabbatical from work and moved to a friend's house in Bath. My goal was to complete my novel, in peace, while I was there.

On leaving Bath, I had just 24,000 words. I would go on to write another 35,000 over the next two years before finally achieving my 'goal'.

The reason I wrote so little in that time was a lack of planning and foresight. I had a goal, but no idea about how I was going to reach it.

What I needed, was short-term targets.

Writing targets and writing goals

Okay, so what's the difference between a target and a goal? Here are a couple of relevant definitions from dictionary.com.

Target: a goal to be reached.

Goal: the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.

So yes, I know what you're thinking, and you're right. A target and a goal is pretty much the same thing. Well, okay, they're definitely the same thing.

Actually, that doesn't matter, because it's what goes on in your brainbox that counts. It's you who defines what a target is and what a goal is.

This is how it works for me:

A goal is a long-term project with a definite ending or result to aim for, such as completing a novel. A short-term target is an event or milestone that seems achievable and has a clearer time-scale, such as completing a chapter.

A goal, therefore, is made up of a series of targets.

The dictionary might not recognise a difference between goals and targets, but you can. Truth is, the words themselves are irrelevant. You can call them what you want. If it's easier, or just more fun, you can call your targets bananas and your goal a fruit salad and no one's going to stop you.

The important thing is to think short-term to achieve your long-term objective.

Step by step by step by step

There are obvious advantages to working with short-term targets. When I was in Bath, without realising it, I put myself under enormous pressure to write.

I wanted to finish my novel so much, that I didn't think clearly and my creativity dried up. Instead of waking up each day and setting myself a target of, say, 1000 words, I simply got frustrated at my lack of progress towards 'the end'.

By setting short-term targets, you adjust your mental approach to your writing and gain more freedom by focusing your energy on what you're doing in the here and now.

And although my example is something very long-term, writing a novel, the theory works for shorter pieces of writing too.

For instance, I've just spent the best part of a month on a copywriting job that saw me and a team of writers craft around 200 case studies in pretty quick time.

It was a frantic process with tight deadlines. A case study was between 350 and 380 words. To make sure I got the work done, I forced myself to break each case study down in to paragraphs - physically and mentally.

I knew that if I started thinking, 'Arrrgghhh, I've got to research and write all this in an hour,' I wouldn't get it done. So I took each case study one paragraph at a time, working step-by-step towards a whole (or goal (or fruit salad!)).

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

So, short-term targets help you achieve long-term goals because they give you focus and help you adjust your mental approach to your writing. Lovely stuff.

However, I think there's also another benefit that's equally, if not more important.

To go back to my novel, once I started working short-term, I was able to better understand what my long-term goal actually was. I could appreciate the task more. I had respect for it.

When you approach any meaty writing project, you never exactly know what you're letting yourself in for. All manner of things can happen along the way: writer's block, lack of motivation, pregnancy. I had problems with at least two of these things.

In terms of time, long-term goals are often subject to change. If you don't have short-term targets, you can end up losing your way and find yourself forgetting what it is you're aiming for.

By approaching a project as a step-by-step process, you can manage it more effectively. You can recognise patterns in your writing and predict where you'll be at any given point in the project's timeline.

Essentially, short-term targets allow you to manage your writing, so that your writing doesn't manage you.

Share and share alike

So now you know how useless I used to be and how unrealistic my goals were, it's time to tell us your objective-setting experiences.

Can you work long-term without short-term targets? Do you gave an ingenious technique that allows you to structure your workflow? Are you a bit confused by the fruit salad bit?