When we set out to write a novel, we have one goal, which is to write a novel. But we also know that having the goal of writing a novel is not unlike standing at the foot of a mountain with the plan to climb it. We know it’s going to be amazing at the top but, man, that’s a long, hard path to climb. 

So today we’re going to talk about setting small goals along the way. Writing a novel is hard, and fear is part of the journey FOR EVERYONE. The way to accomplish it is to not focus only on the finish line, but on landmarks that are as close together as you need them to be.


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Stephanie: (00:04)
Hello writers. Let’s write your novel. I’m Stephanie Dethlefs, writer and book coach, and this is the place to be if you’ve got a story on your heart, but you need a bit of clarity, accountability, and support to finally write your novel. In each episode, I give you one skill or strategy to apply to your novel, and we’ll also take a peek into your mindset about the process. I’m here because your story matters. You deserve to write it, and you have a reader out there who needs it. I’m so glad you’re here, so let’s get to it.

Stephanie: (00:39)
What’s your relationship to goal setting? How do you feel when I say the words set a goal for yourself? Do you feel a jolt of energy? Like you can’t wait to get started, or do you feel a rising sense of dread, like it’s just one more thing to add to your plate? Do you predict success or failure? When you think about goal setting? The reason I’m asking you these questions is because today we’re gonna be talking about goal setting, but before we do, I want you to notice how the idea makes you feel. Here’s why. For some of us, goal setting is a really positive experience for others of us, for a variety of reasons. It’s not. Maybe we have a habit of setting ourselves up for failure by setting unattainable goals. Maybe we think that goals have to be really lofty or they’re not even worth setting.

Stephanie: (01:35)
Maybe our perfectionism prevents us from being able to celebrate meeting our goals, or maybe you tend to set goals that are impossible to achieve given your current circumstances. If any of this is resonating with you, I’m going to ask you to pause this episode and take a moment to reflect on that. What is it about goal setting that’s emotionally tricky for you? And once you’ve got a handle on the answer, come on back and listen to the rest of the episode. So when we set out to write a novel, we have one goal, which is to write a novel , and that’s amazing what a goal to set for yourself. But we also know that having the goal of writing a novel is not unlike standing at the foot of a mountain with the plan to climb. We know it’s gonna be amazing at the top, but man, that is a long hard path to climb.

Stephanie: (02:29)
So today we’re talking about setting small goals along the way. Writing a novel is hard and fear is part of the journey for everyone. The way to accomplish it is to not focus only on the finish line, but on landmarks that are as close together as you need them to be. I used to be a runner, actually, I should reframe that. When I was in my twenties and early thirties before I had my kids, I thought I should be a runner. I thought that running was the best way to stay physically fit. I’ve since realized that I actually hate running and have stopped doing it, but that’s neither here nor there, . The thing is that every time I ran, it was hard for me to want to keep going, like really hard. I’d set out to run three miles and three blocks in. I was done.

Stephanie: (03:20)
I think about this now when I’m writing a first draft. I’ve said before that writing a first draft is always the hardest part of the process for me. No matter how focused I am or excited I am about the project. So when I’m drafting, I remember how much I had to just force myself to put one foot in front of the other on the sidewalk during a jog, and then I remember the tricks I used to keep going. I would say things to myself like, I just need to get past that mailbox. I’ll keep going until this song is over. Just take 25 more steps. I was implying to myself, of course, that as soon as I’d met that goal, I could stop and walk if I needed to. Sometimes that’s exactly what I did. Other times, I’d make it those 25 steps and then decide to do 25 more. Ultimately, I had more runs where I went the entire distance than I did where I stopped altogether. So the question is, can we apply these same types of small goals to our writing, especially when we’re drafting? And the answer is absolutely.

Stephanie: (04:32)
What if you could know without a doubt what you should be working on right now in your novel? And I don’t mean just what scene should come next. I mean, what should you do right now in order to make your first draft come out more like a second or third or even fourth draft? Wouldn’t it be nice to have that focus and confidence? Well, I’d like to invite you to take the kickstart, your novel quiz. It takes you less than two minutes to complete, and not only will you instantly see what your best next step is, you’ll also receive a customized toolkit of resources based on that next step and to support you as you continue on your journey. You can find the quiz helloriders.net slash quiz. Again, that’s hello writers .net/quiz.

Stephanie: (05:22)
So in a minute I’ll offer some suggestions for small goals that you might set for yourself in a single writing session. But first, I wanna talk about how to know whether a goal is achievable. I mean, listen, I’m all for setting lofty goals that push us out of our comfort zones and make us do the hard things. And yes, we have to work hard if we wanna finish a novel. But if we consistently set goals that are actually unattainable or more likely set hard to reach goals and then struggle to meet them, we’re giving fodder to our insecurities and fears about our abilities, we’re then able to say I can’t and have evidence to point to. On the other hand, if we set smaller, easy to achieve goals, then we’re able to consistently meet them without too much struggle and we’re able to say I can and have evidence to point to, to prove it.

Stephanie: (06:18)
So if as we talk about simple, easy, small goals, if your perfectionist brain is saying, But that’s not enough writing, I need to do more than that, check in with yourself about why you think that’s true. Also, I wanna encourage setting a goal for each writing session, and I recommend setting it in advance. Why? Because when you sit down to write, all of your noisy inner critic thoughts are going to pop up. So that’s not the best time to make decisions about how far you wanna get that day. I like to figure out a weekly goal and then break it down into specific goals for each writing session I have on my calendar. And setting a goal for each session allows you to build every time on your feeling of accomplishment. There are really three types of goals that writers can set. Time goals, word count goals or sections of writing goals, like chapters or pages.

Stephanie: (07:16)
Let’s start with time goals. You could say, I’m going to write for 15 minutes and then take a break. That’s what the Pomodoro method is all about. Work for a set time, take a short break, get back to work for a short time, take another break. Another example of a time goal is saying, I’m going to write for five hours this week. That’s great. If you wanna use that kind of goal, I recommend putting whatever sessions we’ll make up that five hours on your calendar like an appointment. Now, time goals are great if you’re not struggling to actually get words on the page. For me, time goals don’t work because I could sit and stare at my work in progress for those 15 minutes and get nothing done. So if time goals work for you, great, but if not, you might try either word count goals or section goals.

Stephanie: (08:10)
I’ve kind of come to think that having a tangible result that you can see when you’re finished is more reinforcing than just saying, Oh, my time is up. Sometimes we’ll say things like, I’m going to finish this chapter and write the next one this week. But unless you’ve got your chapters completely planned out, that might not be a tangible enough goal. What if you try a word count or page count or even a sentence count goal instead? Something else I’d like to offer, If you set a goal for a writing session, let’s just say you say, I’m gonna write 500 words today, and it’s just not working. Kind of like when I would would set out for a three mile run and wanna quit after a quarter of a mile. That’s okay. You can have compassion for yourself, but don’t get up and walk away from it.

Stephanie: (09:05)
Try instead to set. Just set a smaller goal. Maybe you’ll just write 300 words. Maybe you’ll just write half a page. Maybe you’ll just write one sentence. All of that is okay because one sentence is one sentence closer to the end of the book. At the end of the day, what matters most is that we trust ourselves enough to believe that accomplishing small or even tiny goals will eventually add up to accomplishing the big ones writers this week. Practice setting small goals for yourself. More importantly, notice how they’re working. If you struggle to meet them or gave up without trying it doesn’t mean anything is going wrong. It’s just information that’s telling you your goals. Were a bit too big. Your next step, try bringing them down to goals that you know without a shadow of a doubt that you will meet. Practice that for a while. Give yourself a foundation of success and build your confidence. I’ll talk to you next week. Thank you for being here. If you like what you heard, would you please take a moment to review or rate or like this podcast so that it can reach more writers who could use a little support today? I would appreciate it so much. Happy writing.