Monday, December 9, 2019

Goals For Beginning Writers

Last week, I wrote about the one-million-word theory, and how it takes a lot of writing to really hone the craft of the written word. I received a few IMs about how that seemed like a pretty huge goal to establish, and that most beginning writers can't even conceive of the day when they write their one-millionth word. It seems almost abstract for someone who is struggling to get their first work together to see that day when the word odometer rolls over to one-million. Is such a milestone even achievable?

Not with that attitude.

I will concede that the person just jumping into writing should probably not have such a huge task as their first goal. To start off with that as the next landmark asks too much of a person - any person. One of my friends made a commitment to prepare herself over the following year to run a marathon. Indeed, she did it. And yet, one-million words would take five times as long at a minimum. Fewer pulled hamstrings, but plenty of other obstacles can get in the way. So, with writing, maybe it's better to break things down into smaller goals that build toward that larger achievement.

When I wrote my first short story, it was five pages and about 1,200 words. Looking back, it was crap. However, it was my crap, and I was proud of it. It was the most I had ever written in one run, and this was an important accomplishment. I knew I could tell a story, and I could do it again if I wanted to. So I did. And I did it again. And again. And again...

Once I hit that milestone of writing a short story, the next goal was to stretch myself, and that's where I fell short for a while. I was not yet committed to being a writer, so I just kind of settled for writing 1,000-2,000-word stories and calling that a win. The stories got better, but my growth as a writer plateaued. I didn't press myself. I wouldn't be a writer if I didn't go further.

When I finally took that step forward, I set out to write a bigger story. I think it qualified as a novella, but that's not the point. I expanded my range, and wrote a fifty-page story. Once I did that, I felt that rush again. I accomplished something greater than before. At that point, I wanted to grow as a writer. An entire book was inevitable. Maybe two. Maybe more. I saw a list of goals in front of me, and I built on the momentum I had gained from this latest accomplishment.

With that, I now offer a list of smaller, bite-sized goals to check off as you pursue the ultimate goal of becoming a writer. Start ticking through this list, and see how the completion of each task makes you want to take on another one:

  • Write a character sketch - just describe a person, their details, and how they see the world
  • Write about that character in a situation - shopping, golfing, dealing with their friends or in-laws
  • Make a short story with that character - present them with a situation, have them address it, and how they respond to the results
  • Do those same three steps with a totally different character
  • Write a short story about those two characters meeting
  • Write a bigger story about those two people joining in pursuit of a common goal, then fighting to achieve their personal goals
  • Write about those characters being forced into a difficult situation, and how they would address it 
  • Give these character a road trip through the country of your choice

In case you haven't figured it out, this set of exercises provides any writer the opportunity to explore the little things about characters that flesh out any story. The interaction of character and situation is a mandatory element of any story, and these should provide ample practice in developing this. And once they are all complete, there should be a few new ideas forming in a story you really want to write.

(Oh - and at some point, join a local writing workshop. Feedback is priceless.)


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