By Jordan Kantey
The joy of having finished a draft is one of writing’s great pleasures, yet to get there, you need to set – and find ways to keep – writing goals. Here are seven ideas to build accountability and ensure small wins keep rolling:
1. Build Small Habits for Replicable Wins
In the book, Atomic Habits (2018), James Clear writes about how easy it is to think about your goals in terms of major actions rather than the small improvements you can make on a daily basis. His thesis is that small habits established over time become big wins.
Romance novelist, RITA award nominee and Now Novel writing coach Romy Sommer often tells an anecdote in our writing webinars about small habits. When she wrote her first novel she would write snippets in stolen fifteen minutes and half hours while parked in her car, waiting on the school run.
Where in your day can you carve out time and attach writing to something you have to do anyway? How else can you build writing habits that start small but lead to big wins? Keep reading for ideas:
2. Attach Writing to Things You Do by Default
Small, replicable wins – such as writing 500 words daily, to begin – help writing become almost unconscious, like a pianist’s muscle memory. In time, you find the keys without thinking.
One way to make goal-keeping almost automatic is to ‘stack’ habits. This is something theorized by Stanford behavioral scientist BJ Fogg, who suggests using habitual behaviors as triggers for what you want to achieve.
Fogg gives the formula for building a habit you can keep. ‘After I do X, I will do easy-win-Y’. For example, ‘After I start my morning coffee, I will tidy one item in the living room’.
The small, attainable step also brings the higher-effort step closer. For example, as Romy Sommer says regarding ‘stretch goals’:
‘When you sit down to write, decide how many words you’ll be happy to write, and how many words you’ll be really happy to write. Maybe you’ll be okay with writing 300 words in an hour and ecstatic if you reach your stretch goal of 500 words. This way, when you achieve the lower goal, you’ll still feel that the session was a success – and more often than not, by reducing the pressure and performance anxiety from aiming for the higher goal, you’ll actually achieve that stretch goal!’
3. Find Accountability Partners
What is an accountability partner? Someone who shows up when you’re supposed to, checks in, and understands – or even better shares – your goals.
Writing sprints are one kind of accountability tool to ensure you keep showing up to write.
Members of Now Novel’s Group Coaching program often say our daily virtual writing sprints (where members meet in a LiveWebinar room on the hour and write without talking) are a helpful tool for sticking to writing goals and structuring writing time.
Accountability partners are also great because:
- Writing is often a lonely or isolating process
- You have people to talk to who understand your creative discipline/field and can make useful suggestions
- Knowing others are invested in your success nurtures your own motivation
4. Write Your Goals Down and Track Your Progress
In one writing webinar on process, Romy shared a simple yet effective tip for staying focused on your writing goals:
Write a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based) goal in a fun design and save it as your phone or desktop background (you could use a free graphic design tool such as Canva).
If you often check your devices, it’s an easy way to fill each day with small reminders of attainable (not massive) actions that support your writing goals.
5. Write And Rewrite to Learn Your Ideal Writing Process
Remember how ‘massive action’ isn’t necessary to reach your goals? Perspective comes with writing a lot and learning that a first draft is almost never the final draft.
Finishing the first run of a manuscript may feel like massive action qualitatively. Yet drafting plus rewrites (with beta reader or editorial input) can take you from something good (and attaining your first goal, completion) to something great – a well-developed story.
6. Stay Open to Revising Your Writing Goals
You only truly learn the actions your goals require by doing and finding out what works for you.
Sometimes you need to revise your timelines due to your preferred process, and that’s OK. Stanford did a study of 1.4 million weight loss app users and found that behaviors in the first week of forming new habits massively influence whether you will stay the course and reach your goals.
This is part of why we conduct an intake call in the first week of our Group Coaching author program – we get to understand each member’s goals better, and often spot any challenges that may necessitate small adjustments to process and expectations.
Revisiting your writing goals and adjusting your timeline expectations if necessary keeps writing from becoming a source of pressure more than pleasure.
7. Journal and Share Progress
Journaling is a powerful tool for self-reporting your feelings, process and progress. Touching base with your aspirations and any attendant fears.
Writing coaches and constructive, caring critique circles function similarly to journaling in helping you stay focused on your writing goals while touching base. They provide a mirror in which you may measure where you were then vs where you are now.
Sharing doubts, writing challenges and conundrums in a supportive environment is a lot like journaling because you have the feedback that helps you remember (and renew commitment to) your goals.
To sum up, writing goals are easier to reach when you build small habits and attach writing to habits you’ve built already. Finding accountability partners and joining writing sprints provides camaraderie and supports building good habits. Keep writing to learn what works for you, and rewrite ten times if you need to, journaling your process or sharing with a critique circle if you find this boosts your focus and motivation.
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