Day 2: Establishing October Goals

In 2016, over 380,000 participants committed themselves to the audacious task of writing their novel in 30 days. Unfortunately, less than 35,000 achieved their goal. That’s less than 9%! I’m kind of saddened by that statistic. It suggests that challenge is hard, sure. But I sort of mourn for the unfulfilled longing of the 91%. They grasped at a dream, but it eluded them in the end.

Now, I don’t want to make too big a deal about winning Nano. I mean, say you write 35,000 words. That is not to be scoffed at. In fact, I encourage you to set your own standard of success in Nano. The inherent beauty of the challenge is that it gets people to write—in lots of cases these are people who hadn’t considered themselves writers before.

So, I’d like you to think about what success in November means for you. Now, let’s dig into ways to get you there.

Blog articles about goal achievement are generally replete with statistics touting the benefits of setting goals. I’m not going look up all those resources because I personally harbor a lot of resistance toward goal setting. I wrote about that here. What I can’t argue with is the fact that the Nano challenge, in the two times I have tried it, inspired me to write over 100,000 words. I think it’s because I found the goal to be HARD.

HARD goals are characterized as Heartfelt, Animated, Required, and Difficult. In his book HARD Goals, Mark Murphy set out to challenge the well-worn concept of SMART goals. I, for one, was thrilled to see that old stalwart torn down.

You know those pesky SMART goals. They’re supposed to be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. I don’t know about you, but I never thought that SMART goals were very inspiring or motivating. SMART goals smack of something that’s been handed to you. Something that your boss decided you need to do. But this is your life, you’re the one deciding on the goals here, so why not make them HARD?

Let’s breakdown what the acronym stands for:

Heartfelt relates to how you much you care about your goals. According to Mark Murphy, “A HARD goal has to be something which promises you more value than any other goal imaginable.” It must grab your heart and inspire commitment. That part about the value of the goal is key. If you have faith in the value of your writing, you’re going to choose it over all the countless other things you could be doing.

Animated speaks to a visceral quality of the goal. Murphy explains, “HARD goals are so vivid and alive in your mind that if you don’t reach them, you’d feel like something’s missing in your life.” I think this is one of the major appeals of Nano: it taps into the longing that many people have to write a book. One statistic suggests that 80% of the population hold this desire, so it is a nearly universal instinct. Nano makes achievement of a lifelong goal conceivable.

Required. This one will be up to you to decide for yourself, since no one is making you do this. For example, I tell myself that winning at Nano is ‘required’ because I’m a writing coach. I feel it would hurt my credibility if I didn’t do it. For you, winning Nano might be ‘required’ because of a deep-seated need to prove to yourself that you are, in fact, a writer.

Difficulty. This one has been baked right in to the challenge for you. Couldn’t they have at least picked a month with 31 days? What’s up with that?

HARD goals are so compelling and aligned with a person’s value system that they develop their own momentum. They also have a lot in common with the concept of flow as developed by Mihalyi Csikzsentmihalyi. I’ll be writing more about that later in the month, but very briefly, flow is the state we get into when we are so absorbed with a task that we lose track of time. Csikzsentmihalyi found that this happens when the task calls for an optimal mix of challenge and skill: you have the competence to do the task, but it is right near the edge of being too challenging. That’s when you achieve flow.

How can you prepare yourself to take on a HARD goal like Nano in November? One way is to set some HARD goals for yourself in October.

I recommend three flavors of goals. Set goals for:

  • A word-count based goal for daily writing productivity
  • A time-based goal for story development
  • Task completion goals for miscellaneous preparatory steps

A word-count based goal for daily writing productivity. If you don’t already have a daily writing practice, establishing one now in October will help ease you into November. I suggest shooting for at least 500 words. The writing could be anything—journaling, sketches for your novel, other fiction, word sprints. The point is to get you to engage your writing muscles and to start forming the writing habit. Please remember that nothing written in October can count toward your November productivity.

A time-based goal for story development. In addition to your daily writing goal, you might set a target of spending one hour a day on various story development tasks. These can include working on the plot or character development. We’ll cover ideas at length in subsequent postings.

Task completion goals for miscellaneous preparatory steps. As you work through the “Countdown to Nano,” you will receive plenty of suggestions for steps you can take to prepare. Add these to your to-do list and assign due dates.

As you set your goals, remember the characteristics of HARD goals. To the extent that you can weave these qualities into your goal setting strategy, you will provide yourself with motivating goals that will truly feel satisfying to accomplish. This approach will help prepare you for Nano on multiple levels: you’ll develop your goal fulfillment muscles, and you will complete valuable project readiness tasks to facilitate your writing process come November.

Visit the Countdown to Nano Program Site for a listing of all the articles in the series.

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I’m offering a free webinar to help you prepare for Nano! Check it out here.

Need someone to bounce your ideas off so that you're ready for Nano? I love to help Wrimos focus their writing efforts so I'm offering a free 30-minute consultation to help you structure your approach to Nano. You can sign up here.

Looking for additional support and accountability come November? I can help with that! Learn more.

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