Summer Writing: How to Stay on Track
How S.M.A.R.T. goals support a writer’s plan
Summer is here! (Well, given the gray skies and chilly air, perhaps that claim is a stretch.) But busy summer days are around the corner. That means picnics, parties, and family vacations. How does a writer stay on track?
Just as it’s difficult to stay on an exercise schedule during the warm months, it’s difficult to maintain a writing schedule. I spoke with an exercise instructor about how he stays on track. He establishes S.M.A.R.T. goals for himself and his clients to achieve success. His expert advice easily translates to a writer’s life. Whether goals are related to exercise or writing books, they should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. How does a writing plan fit into that methodology? In this blog post, I’ll offer tips about how to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for summer.
Narrow the scope of the goal to make it attainable
Rather than plan to write an entire novel during the summer, plan to create its outline. An outline is a more realistic, or attainable, goal given the hectic pace that defines summer. Even if you are a pantser, time spent in creative thought about novel structure is valuable. Set aside thirty minutes several days per week to play with the outline that serves as the backbone of your story. Or, to narrow the scope further, study the principles of outline. Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering is a fantastic resource for this practice. Thirty minutes per day of outline study develops a writer’s eye for structure.
Thirty minutes per day makes a goal specific and measurable
Thirty minutes per day (or at least several days per week) sounds easy. However, summer schedules can strain even that objective. I posed that observation to the exercise instructor whom I interviewed. His answer was straightforward: Plan for thirty minutes but accomplish it in ten- or fifteen-minute increments, if necessary. Short intervals of exercise still add up — and those bursts still are effective for better health and well-being. The same is true for writing. Two fifteen-minute stretches attains the daily goal. Grab those moments where they occur: Perhaps it’s in the early morning, on a break during lunch, or in the evening after everyone has nodded off. The key is to not worry about finding the chunk of time. Rather, accept that the day’s goal may come in small bites.
Realistic and relevant
There’s debate about whether the “R” in S.M.A.R.T. goals represents realistic or relevant. I claim that it’s both. Writing goals should be realistic. Thus, my advice to create an outline during summer rather than write an entire novel. However, the goal should be relevant, also. How important is the goal? If a writer can’t answer that, achieving the goal, whether it’s an outline or a novel, may be a struggle. If there is no relevancy, or urgency, toward completing the goal during a busy season, then it likely will not be achieved. It’s up to the writer to consider if the goal is a priority. If not, perhaps it’s best to take a break for a month or two during the warm months. (Then my question becomes how the break provides the energy to start anew. But that’s for a different blog post.)
Summer is measurable and timely
There’s a time for every season, especially summer. Boating, biking, horseback riding, tennis, swimming, festivals, and ball games are just a few of the welcome distractions that make up the warm months. In Wisconsin, those months are lovely but agonizingly short. Three months is all we get, so it’s wise to make the most of them. Even writers (who are notorious procrastinators) should get away from the keyboard and get outside. This spur-of-the-moment lifestyle is only three months long; that’s a timeframe that’s easily measurable. A writing plan can fit into it without being a burden or overwhelming. The optimum plan would be to enjoy summer while also staying on track with a realistic writing goal.
My exercise-instructor expert recommends establishing a S.M.A.R.T. goal strategy within the first week of the warm season. He says visualizing the plan, and then writing it in a calendar will serve as an excellent base from which to get started. He also recommends being flexible. Aim for five days per week rather than seven. And for goodness sakes, don’t stress if the goal was achieved in small intervals throughout the day. Short bursts still work to keep you on track!
Happy writing — and happy summer!