Adapted from Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens
What you choose to write is up to you, but setting goals is the best way to make sure that you get the story written. Experience also tells me, that, even though I think I’m writing a short story, there’s a real good chance that it will turn out to be a novel. So, keep in mind that goals can change.
I do know that the first thing that needs to be written is the first draft, and setting the goal to write that is the first step. The first draft is the playground when you were 5 years old and the rules of the games changed whenever you wanted the game to work better—or to give yourself a better chance to win. Your characters and imagination can change the rules, they can even change the game—but the goal is the same—finish the first draft. Without it there is no story, no book, no series, no movie rights, no film premiere, no red carpet, no Oscar … wait, that’s my fantasy. It doesn’t count as a goal.
Here’s a sample of things that count as goals:
I will write for 20 minutes every day.
- I will write 2 pages every day.
- I will finish my draft by my birthday.
- I will buy 30 copies of Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens and give them to everyone in my class—oops—sorry. There goes my fantasy again.
Take a few minutes to think about your goals. Write them down. Put them on a calendar. Take a deep breath.
Now you’ve set your goals, what’s next? Here are a few hints about how to achieve the goal of writing your first draft.
1. Never make the deadline the deadline
If you’ve decided you will finish your draft in five weeks, move your deadline up a week and give yourself only four weeks to complete the work. Lots of things can go wrong (aside from your own procrastination) to interfere with getting the draft done on time—computer problems, catching the flu, a major sports playoff that you just have to watch, your director calling an extra rehearsal, a party invitation. So give yourself some breathing time and achieve success.
2. Set daily or weekly goals
If you’ve set a word count or page count goal, divide the total into manageable chunks and the entire project will look a whole lot more attainable. I like to give myself weekly word-count goals and log my achievements on my calendar. If I exceed my goals, I definitely take a congratulatory trip to the coffee shop, but I don’t use my success as an excuse to slack off on the next week’s quota—besides a café mocha is at stake!
3. Make sure to allow time for research
Even if you’re writing a children’s story, there’s bound to be some piece of information that needs looking up, for example: When exactly do kittens open their eyes? How tall is the average seven-year-old? And sometimes questions crop up as you write, or interesting tangents present themselves that need exploring. If it looks like extensive research is in order, leave lots of blanks, or highlight the bits you need to research further and move on. Unless it’s a critical detail necessary for the plot to work or to move forward, you can do the rest of the research when the draft is finished, or when you’re having a non-creative moment but want to keep working on your manuscript.
4. Turn off e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
You’re a writer and your job is to write. People can wait to hear from you for a few hours and, yes, even days. Saying ‘no’ to distractions honors both you and the work you are doing. For too short a time each day, writing is the most important job you have.
5. Forgive yourself
If you don’t make your quota, don’t get frantic. Take a good look at your upcoming week and find the extra time you need to do the work. Then give yourself credit for being tough enough to get the job done.
What tips have you learned to help you set and meet your writing goals?