Using the S.M.A.R.T. strategy to set your writing goals

Last week, I wrote about how long it takes to write a novel. (Short answer, it is different for everyone and for the different lengths of stories.) But something that helps many writers stay on task and get that novel written is to set goals. And not just any goal but realistic ones.

Now before I start in on writing goals, just know that this isn’t for everyone. Some people write sporadically and goals – ones they are likely won’t be able to meet – are only going to lead to frustration. And sometimes goals and the pressure to make them can stifle your creativity when the words just aren’t flowing.

But for others, setting writing goals helps keep you motivated and on track. For these goals to be helpful, they need to be clear and realistic. You can’t expect to write 10,000 words in a day when you only have an hour a day to write.

Looking online, many websites say your goal needs to be S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound.

Specific – You can’t just set a goal of writing a novel. This is too vague. You can easily become overwhelmed (and unmotivated) with this type of goal. Instead, make it a goal of writing an hour a day or a specific word or page count.

Measurable – You need to know when you have accomplished your goal and can cross it off your list. This is where the above-mentioned word or page count come into play. And since your results are measurable, you can easily adjust them. Say you set a goal of writing so many words or pages a day, but you’re not always meeting this goal, you can either work harder or adjust your goal to something more realistic.

Attainable – You need to set a realistic goal. If you set a goal of writing 20 pages a day but you work and are raising a family, chances are you won’t be able to maintain this goal. There is nothing wrong with adjusting your goal if you find yourself unable to meet your goal. There is no point in setting a goal that isn’t achievable. All that will do is discourage you even more.

To set a realistic goal, be honest with how much time you can devote to writing. Then look at the time and decide how many words or pages you can realistically get done. Don’t want a daily goal since your productivity fluctuates? Try a weekly goal. Take what you think you can do in a day and times that by how many days a week you plan to write. (Hint – it probably shouldn’t be seven days a week as a day away from writing can be a good thing.)

Relevant – Your goal needs to related to your overall goal. So, your goal to write so many pages is just a step in writing your novel and part of your overall goal of becoming a published author. Thus meeting your goal of 1,500 words a day, five days a week will ultimately help you complete your novel and move onto your next goal (editing and publishing).

Time-Bound – This simply means your goal needs to be done in a certain time period. This helps you to schedule it in your day/week.

All of these criteria can help you develop realistic goals that will help you complete your novel. To keep on task, it is helpful to review and adjust your goals on a regular basis. The point is not to feel bad if you are not meeting your goals but to make them attainable.

Dealing with bugs and other critters in the house

When you have cats and a pet door, you can expect your cats to bring you “gifts.” Yes, thank you. I see you caught a gecko, but kindly take it back outside. I don’t want it in my house! (The cat rarely obliges.)

Typically, I can deal with a lot of things they bring in. And no, I am not picking up any of these things with my hands! (More power to you if you can do that.)

Live birds – Close the blinds, open the front (or back) door and using a broom to get them to fly and hope they go out the open door. This is sometimes hard when they get to the second story of the house and always gravitate to the window that doesn’t have blinds.

Live Snakes – Usually not a problem as again, you open the door and guide them to the outside.

Live Geckos – These are a little harder as they don’t take direction well, so usually the broom is out unless they are already near the door. If I can get them to climb on the dustpan, I carry them outside.

Live Mice/Rat – We live near a greenbelt/wilderness area so occasionally they bring in a rodent. Again, chasing it out the door is a good option, but often it hides too well, and I am left hoping the cats catch and kill it. (Or occasionally my husband has had luck catching them under a plastic bin and then transporting them outside.)

As you see from above, most of my methods involve not killing the creatures my cats bring in. I simply release that creature out into the wild again. If I find one of the creatures above dead in the house, I usually can it onto the dustpan and can carry it to the outside trash can.

But one thing I don’t handle well is bugs. Sometimes they are brought in by the animals but sometimes they just sneak in the house as bugs do. I know there are people who say spiders are good as they feed on common indoor pests. I can ignore spiders if they are small or better yet out of sight, but if I find them in my sink, I am washing them down it. But if they are bigger…well, that is another story. I’d freak to find a tarantula inside. I don’t want to get close enough to squish them. Luckily, I don’t encounter too many spiders in my house.

Flies and mosquitoes are easy to kill. But the one insect that drives me crazy and creeps me out is the cockroach. I live in South Texas where these suckers are quite common no matter how clean you keep your house.

Typically, we spray some bug spray around the perimeter of the house, and it keeps the bugs away. But lately, I’ve seen some cockroaches on their backs. You would think they were dead, but these icky creatures are usually aren’t dead…yet. I’m not stepping on them or hitting them with something. That crunch sound drives me crazy and honestly, I don’t want to get that close to them. Typically, I make my husband deal with them.

Then there are the times when he is away, and I have to do something. If they are truly dead, the dustpan trick usually works. But when I notice them still moving slightly, I pull out the bug spray. This sometimes works in killing them or it could turn out like it did the other day. I sprayed the cockroach who was lying on his back in the kitchen. He freaked out, flipped over and scurried under the refrigerator (where I hope he succumbed to the poison.)

Ugh. I feel like such a wuss being scared about picking up these bugs and disposing of them. But I just can’t seem to bring myself to squish the live ones or carry the dead (or dying) ones away. I know many others out there have the same problem and have read their tips of dealing with these bugs, but I still think my best bet is to have my husband take care of the bugs. And I’ll agree to take care of the one thing he hates – snakes.

Looking at how long it takes to write a novel

Last week I wrote about the ups and downs of writing. Sometimes I am cranking out the words and other days I am struggling to find time to write.

As I read about the experiences of other authors, I hear about authors who write thousands of words a day. And while it is good to have a writing goal and to be actually writing, is it worth it to write a lot of not so good words or should you strive to write quality writing? Do you want to cut a lot of what you write?

Well, I guess that is right, but I do hate deleting a lot of what I write so my writing is slower as I strive for quality passages verses a high number of words. And of course, I do edit as I write so that takes longer to write. But I am getting off the topic here.

Today, I wanted to talk about how long it takes to write a novel, and how you should take it with a grain of salt when other authors say they crank out books every month, every other month or how ever often they say they write a book.

If you ask 10 authors how long it takes to write a book, you will probably get 10 different answers. For some it takes 10 years or 4 years or 1 year or 6 months. It can take a long time to write a novel if you have research, complex plots or if you spend a lot of time fine-tuning sentences. How often you write and for how long, your level of writing experience, the genre, and length of novel also play into how long it takes to write a novel.

This is that grain of salt thing I mentioned when listening to how long it takes authors to write a book. Here is a list of books and how long they took to write. Note the word count, some of these books are short. I could certainly crank out more books if my stories were 28,000 or even 53,000 words.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess – 3 weeks (67,000 words)

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – 6 weeks (28,000 words)

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer – 3 months (112,000 words)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – 9 months (53,000 words)

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling – 1 ½ years (19,500 words)

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien – 2 years (95,000 words)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – 2 ½ years (99,000 words)

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin – 5 years (293,000 words)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling – 6 ½ years (77,000 words)

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 10 years (418,000 words)

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – 12 years (655,000 words)

The argument for writing books faster is that your readership grows exponentially with each book. Fans of your first book will often read your second one. And readers who find you later on, if they like your writing, will go back and read your other books. If you take too long to publish your next book, there is a chance readers will forget about you. (Or so the thinking goes among some authors.)

But cranking out sub-standard books is also not a good thing which sometimes happens when authors rush their stories.

So, when aspiring or newbie authors ask how long it takes to write a novel, it really takes as long as you want or need it to take. And that is different for all of us.