How to Set and Reach Goals Like a Novelist

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When Max Hollingsworth was working on his National Science Foundation scholarship he emulated the work style of famed author John Cheever to help him reach his goal. Cheever would walk to the basement of his building each day and clock in to write. Like Cheever, Hollingsworth would make himself get dressed every day and go to a coffee shop to get his work done.

“I’d listened to a radio program about the habits of famous authors and I learned a lot of things I could actually use even though I’m in computer science and not writing,” Hollingsworth tells MiLLENNiAL.

For novelists, setting goals is a professional prerequisite and they develop tips and techniques to help push through to the last page. But these strategies aren’t specific to writers, people in any field can learn to approach tasks and deadlines the way novelists do. We spoke with five published authors to learn three things novelists do to stimulate their creativity and achieve their goal.

Here are some tips on things you can try next time you take on a big task.

Creativity on a Schedule

Novelists make the most of the writing time they have, regardless of how busy they may be.

“While I was working on my second novel I was teaching four classes and my daughter had just been born,” Samrat Upadhyay, author of “The City Son” and “Buddha’s Orphans” tells us.

According to Susan Crandall, author of eleven novels including “The Flying Circus”, a secret is to break it down into more reasonable pieces and develop a creative routine that works for you.

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“You have to experiment, there are processes out there but they have to breed your creativity,” Crandall says.

Crandall’s routine consists of grabbing a cup of tea and heading into her backyard to write because she feels more productive outdoors, while Upadhyay chooses to write early in the morning before anyone wakes up. Other novelists, like Capri Bard, rely on outlines rather than inspiration to get their work done.

“You have to sit down and flesh it out. Have different points to work towards and then connect the dots,” he explains.

Get into the Zone

Non-fiction author Jim Fraze stays focused by isolating himself in his office to work during what he calls his ‘writing days’. He doesn’t answer the phone unless it’s his children and even then he says, “They better have a really good reason.”

Bard has two simple tips for keeping focused: Earplugs and disconnecting from Wi-Fi.

“It all goes back to learning to know yourself and what you need in a good work environment. I didn’t know I needed silence but I figured it out through trial and error,” Bard says with affinity.

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A study at UC Irvine, found that people interrupted by e-mail reported significantly increased stress compared with those left to focus.

According to Fraze, to keep yourself focused day in and day out you should try to end on a high note. “I think I read somewhere that Hemmingway always advised people to make themselves stop once they gotten to a really exciting point, that way you’ll want to get to work the next day and when you start you’ll already be in the zone,” says Fraze.

Get through the Funk

When you’re stuck creatively, the best thing to do, according to Crandall, is to make yourself keep writing because “it’s easier to fix something than to deal with a blank page.” She also recommends switching mediums.

“If I get stuck I’ll write by hand. It unlocks a dam, I think because its slower,” she says.

According to Robert Bledsoe, director of the Indiana University creative writing program, getting stuck means you might need a second pair of eyes.

Bledsoe suggests, “You should pay attention to who you think is a good person to show your work to. Only chose generous people, if they make you feel bad then it’s not worth it. But on the other hand, if you’re nervous to show your work at all then you should wonder why that is.”

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At the end of the day the most important tip you can learn is to go for it. “They say each year 25,000 authors go unpublished because of fear. Whatever it takes to get your work done, just do it,” Fraze insists.

Pinpointing Your Goal

Over the summer Hollingsworth worked on his lengthy scholarship application for the NSF and was able to use some of the techniques of novelists.

“One of the things I remember hearing was that Truman Capote would drink different cocktails as he worked and I thought that seemed funny so I’d order different coffee drinks each time. It’s not like I was writing ‘In Cold Blood’ but the ritual of it was helpful,” he says.

To finish his application Hollingsworth secluded himself, leaving his phone at home, and when it came time to submit he sought advice from professors.

“I was definitely more productive. I won’t know for awhile if I got the scholarship or not but I think I was able to do better work this way,” Hollingsworth concludes.

What do you think?

Written by Taylor Ostrom

Taylor Ostrom is a graphic designer specializing in web design and illustration. She recently graduated from Indiana University’s Journalism School and has plans to move to Quito, Ecuador in February. She’ll spend the month of July traveling around South America, ending with the Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. As an avid cat lover she spends her free time fostering kittens for her local animal shelter.

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