A Five Year Writing Project

Being a writer without goals is a bit like setting off on a car journey without a clear destination in mind. You might have an interesting journey, but when you get to your final destination, was this really where you wanted to be?

do you have goals

Should you have long-term writing goal?

Yes. Of course. When writing, as in any other task, it seems blindingly obvious that a long-term goal is a jolly good idea. One reason to have a goal is this: if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re unlikely to ever get there.

It’s a bit like setting off on a car journey without a clear destination in mind. Which way would you turn at the crossroads? Which lane would you move into? You might have an interesting journey, but when you get to your final destination, was this really where you wanted to be?

So, the assumption is that if you have a clear goal – with a clear end in sight –  you will know how to find the right path. And, once on the right path, you are more likely to stay on it.

spacer - Ruth Livingstone - writer

What is a clear goal?

When thinking about goal setting, the SMART mnemonic is a useful tool.

S – Specific  – What is it, precisely, that you want to achieve?
M – Measurable – How will you know, exactly, when you have achieved it?
A – Achievable  – Does your goal depend on others or is your goal within your own control?
R – Realistic  – Come on, double-check. Is your goal compatible with the laws of physics?
T – Time-bound – What are your timescales – not just for your ultimate goal, but your milestones on the way?

spacer - Ruth Livingstone - writer

What else can you do to help yourself achieve your goal?

Come on, you’re a writer aren’t you?  Write your writing goal down!

Seriously, writing down your goal will really, really help. Can you define your ambitions clearly and accurately – in a few words? (This is the specific part of the SMART model.) The very act of thinking what words to use will help you to turn your fuzzy mental picture into a precise vision. Fuzziness is OK for daydreaming or for brainstorming or for cooking up new ideas. But you can’t expect to hit your target until you have your sights focused.

Now, work your way through the rest of the SMART steps. Write the M and T parts down too.

So now you have exactly what you want to achieve, how you will know when you have achieved it, and a timescale for achieving it. Perfect. Now you have the beginnings of a plan.

Writing down your goal has an added benefit. Writing it down makes your goal real. When your subconscious mind – a fickle animal at the best of times – sees a definite statement in the form of words, then your subconscious mind will take that statement as an instruction. Unlike your conscious mind, your unconscious mind is extraordinarily powerful and, guess what, it is on your side. It just needs to know exactly what you are aiming for and it will do its best to get you there.

What else? Well, enlisting the help of others is also useful. As the NaNoWriMo and 15KinMay challenges have taught me, a group of like-minded Internet buddies can help propel you forwards, even when you would rather just stay standing still.

spacer - Ruth Livingstone - writer

What about MY goals?

Since I know all this theory, surely I will find it very easy to put into practice? Yes, of course, I must be really good at setting SMART goals for myself and achieving them? Yes?

Well, no.. actually no. I’m not very good at setting goals. I love fuzzy big pictures and I’m not very good at twiddling the focus knob.

For some years I have wanted to write a novel. But, instead of concentrating on this one thing, I have been distracted by all sorts of other secondary – albeit related – projects. I’ve written short stories, entered competitions, read books on writing, attended conferences, been chosen as an Olympic Storyteller, written some mini film scripts, done some flash fiction, enrolled on a number of courses. Oh yes, I’ve been terribly busy. Terribly busy, that is, doing anything other than writing my damn novel.

I read somewhere that 80% of adults believe they have a brilliant novel inside their heads and they are planning to write it, one day. But for most people, that is exactly where their novel stays – inside their heads. Was I going to be one of those people?

No! No! and NO again.

spacer - Ruth Livingstone - writer

What have I done about it?

I wrote out an action plan, using the SMART model. I might share that in a later post. (Although, sadly, the time scales have already slipped!)

And, a few weeks ago, I joined a Misha Gericke’s Five Year Project. The idea was simple.

  1. Ask yourself: what do you want to have achieved five years from now?
  2. Write down your goal and add it to the blog roll on the Five Year Project page.
  3. And, as you keep working towards achieving that goal, keep your blog updated with your progress.

Simple really. I’ll keep you posted.

Author: Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.

10 thoughts on “A Five Year Writing Project”

  1. Learning the discipline of writing can be tough. I started with small chunks… like, I can write half a page a day. From there, it grew. Now I can write a novel in times that befuddle me.


  2. I am managing about a thousand words a day on my novel. Long-length non-fiction takes me a lot longer if research is needed. During my freelance days I tried to write and sell a couple of articles a week. stravaigerjohn.wordpress.com


    1. Hi John, with non-fiction I find research definitely takes far longer than the actual writing. For me the problem with novel writing isn’t just about getting the word count down – it’s the discipline of keeping a very long story going while maintaining a coherent structure. I find myself wandering off….


  3. Another great blog, Ruth. It’s fascinating how much time we would-be novel writers waste while insisting we want to write that first novel! I know I’m the world’s worst… making cakes is my favourite stalling activity! I’ve been reading a great book – Time: A User’s Guide by Stefan Klein. This book, more than any other time-management or self-help book I’ve read, has made me realise why we get so little done in our lives despite our best intentions. Klein believes the key is giving the big project.your whole-hearted attention. That doesn’t mean you don’t do anything else (some hope!) but it does mean that when you’re writing your novel, you’re 100% writing your novel. Not checking emails, keeping an eye on Facebook or gazing out of the window at the sheep on the hill. Klein argues that our increasing inability to concentrate on one thing is the reason so many of us always feel pressed for time. I’m trying to put his ideas into practice so no homemade cake for Harri for a few weeks! ,


  4. I think it takes a lot of courage to take the plunge and really reach for your big dreams. I don’t feel that I’ve taken that plunge yet, but I fully intend to!

    My post for this month is here (scroll to the bottom). 😀


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