While we’re day-dreaming about making it big, our most important ally is sawing his way into freedom one bar at a time. A killer focus doesn’t work with promises of glorious results, but with tangible little things he can use.
Setting clear and achievable goals is the first essential step in becoming a professional writer, but goals alone are just the expressions of dreams. Beautiful and desirable, but still only figments of our imagination. What transforms them into reality is our gradual investment in them, our focused work. You know, “focus”, one of those famous top habits of successful people. The one that comes in fancy combinations of words that send chills down your spine, like razor-sharp or even laser focus. Wow. It even sounds so darn good: “keep your eyes on the finish line”, “focus on the target”, “Aim with yer eye, then with yer shotgun, son!”
Focusing on the result works brilliantly with tasks. But with long projects, such as building a house or writing a novel and getting it published? Nuh, not so much. I’ve always wondered, how the freck am I supposed to know what I’m doing right now if my gaze is fixed on the horizon? How am I supposed to know if my efforts are worth a sweat if I’m not paying close attention to the here and now, but instead I’m drooling at my glorious goals far ahead?
One of the most important things I’ve learned in my little blip of an existence, while I was building a house with my own hands and practically living in a sleeping bag on the concrete floor, is this:
Focus is worthless if it’s directed at the wrong thing.
Just like we can’t get results if we invest energy randomly, our edifice won’t amount to anything if we stare at the layout while we throw bricks at the ground. Big projects must be broken down into manageable tasks, and the focus must shift to each individual task as it is being accomplished.
Focusing on the end result, on our goal, is easy. It’s our dream after all, we believe it’s going to make us happy and rich and famous for all eternity. Of course we’re keeping our eyes on the prize, that’s where our motivation is coming from. But it’s not what will help us turn our daily efforts into a functioning whole.
Now enough of that philosophical yakking. *takes a gulp of coffee* Here’s the battle plan for writing a novel.
Say the goal is to finish writing a 100K paranormal thriller by August 2013. We have 12 months to complete the project. Here’s how breaking down into manageable tasks works:
100,000 words in 12 months
December falls away because it’s Christmas and New Year and most of the month is spent gorging and toasting anyway, so any work done will probably be drunk stammering. So that leaves us with 11 months.
Take one month for preliminary worldbuilding and planning. Research will be an ongoing task along the way.
100,000 words in 10 months
makes 10,000 words a month
To stay sane, let’s say we write only 5 days a week and
play video games have a life on weekends. An average month has 4 weeks, which means it has 20 workdays, and we need to get 10K words done each month.
makes 500 words per day
Think about it.
How does “I must write 2 pages today” sound like, compared to “I’d love to write a novel by next summer”?
The dream of a finished novel feels kinda hazy, doesn’t it? Sounds too good to be true. It’s such a big project, there are so many things you need to take care of, so many aspects and things to learn, there’s planning and fidgeting and so many feelings… But how about getting two pages done by bedtime?
Bit by bit. Day by day. Forget the big goal at the end of the road, focus on your next step. Invest all your energy, every muscle and every breath into making just this one step. Plant your foot, shift your weight and stand. Task accomplished.
We all know how to break down a goal into manageable tasks. But it’s no good to focus on it while we work on the individual tasks. We start out with it, make a battle plan for it, and then switch to execution mode and focus on each task. We can’t invest half of our energy into working to achieve that goal, and half into sustaining The Dream. That second half is wasted. I believe we must invest all our energy into every task we perform, and the total amount of these tasks will create the reality of that goal we wanted to reach.
This is how I function. This is how a plotter functions.
What’s your strategy?