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This post originally appeared on Medium in December 2020.

I dislike New Year’s Resolutions. I think we have this misconception that a new year creates a blank slate where we can wake up one day and be someone we’ve never been before. Been there, done that. It never works.

But what does work is taking a realistic approach to goal setting, one that takes into account the things that are true about our schedules and our daily lives. I spend a lot of time working with writers on goal-setting, and I’ve learned what works when preparing to start working on a new book.

There are two parts to effective goal setting:

  1. clarifying the big picture, and

Today we’ll be talking about clarifying the big picture for your next writing project.

What do you want to write in 2021? What is the idea that you’ve been thinking about, dreaming about, wishing for time to write?

Let’s clarify it!

Step 1: Define It

The first step to clarifying the big picture is to define it. What is it? I’m not talking about the title, though you can certainly do that. I mean what is your book about? What is the plot summary? What is the elevator pitch you give when someone asks you what it’s about? What genre is it? Who is the protagonist? What do they want or need and what is standing in their way? How will it all resolve?

You might think that you can’t answer this question until you’ve finished it, that you need to wait and see how the story develops on the page. But consider this: how will you know when you’ve arrived if you don’t know what the destination is?

I cannot stress this enough: if you wait and see where the story takes you, the whole book-writing process will take you so much longer and involve so much more unstitching and re-stitching than is necessary. So this year, as you think about your 2021 project, give knowing the plot in advance a try. There is nothing that says it can’t change as you go.

Step 2: Identify Why You Must Write This Book

There are several ways to approach this question of why you are the person who must write this book. What life experiences do you bring to the events and characters of this story? In what ways are they telling YOUR story? Also, why is this book important NOW? And why does it need to be written in this way? (Read more on this topic here.)

Of course, there are no correct or incorrect answers to any of these questions. This is about exploring your own heart and your own desires to find out why you are connected to this book. And if you can’t answer these questions, if there is no deep personal connection, then that’s important information, too.

Step 3: Deeply Understand Your Audience

Of course, you never know who will pick up your book and why, but it is so valuable to have an ideal reader in mind as you write. In this way, writing your story becomes a conversation between you, the author who is deeply invested in telling this story, and the reader, who you know will be deeply invested in receiving it.

Now, you may immediately think of a person in your life who you know is your ideal reader. When I was writing my first book, Unspoken, my daughter was front of mind for the whole thing. In fact, I never really cared who else would read it! I just wanted to make it the best I could for her. But more often, we have to create an avatar, an image of a reader that is a little fuzzy around the edges but still three-dimensional.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself about your ideal reader: what books have they read and loved? what do they long for? What are their desires? How old are they? What other cultural or socioeconomic areas do they come from? What makes them happy? What breaks their heart?

Working through these steps will not only give you a solid foundation, but inject enthusiasm and motivation because you are clear on what to write. It will also generate a desire to create the best story you possibly can, because you know why you must write it and who it is for.

Does it eliminate the hard days, the days when no words will come or you’re on your tenth revision and you’re sick of it? No. But when you want to throw your hands up in the air and scream, WHY AM I DOING THIS??? … you will have the answer.

Let me help you with your goal-setting!
Book an Unstick Your Story consultation today. >>