Five Steps to Grabbing the Brass Ring | Girlfriend Advice from Tricia Ballad

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Setting and reaching goals, how to write a bookWe will open the book.  Its pages are blank.  We are going to put words on them ourselves.  The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.  ~Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Ok, the rush and pressure of writing new year’s resolutions is over. Now is the time to really think through what we want to accomplish and put plans in place to reach our goals.

Girlfriend TRICIA BALLAD helps us set out a plan to make the most of our year. What are your plans for 2013 girlfriend? We want to hear from you.

New Year’s Resolutions – we all make them, and most of us forget what they are by February. This year, you can break that cycle! All it takes is a little planning – and some help from your girlfriends. These five steps will help make sure you have plenty to celebrate in the next year:

#1. Define exactly what you hope to accomplish. “I want to write a novel” is a good start, but not specific enough. You can’t sit down and write a novel. “I want to write a novel about a star-crossed lovers in medieval Verona.” Now you’re getting somewhere!

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got several big goals for next year – at least one for each major area of your life. That’s okay as long as you think of them individually for now. If you try to think about everything you want to do next year all at once, you’ll end up overwhelmed. This is a great time to get together with a group of your girlfriends and commit to keeping each other accountable this year!

#2. Write down each goal on a separate sheet of paper. On that sheet, write down everything you’ll need to do to accomplish that goal. Don’t think about all the others for now. Just focus on this one big goal. For example, if you want to write that novel about star-crossed lovers, you might need to research medieval Verona, write character sketches, and outline your plot. You’ll definitely need to write a first draft, edit it, and revise. Brainstorm anything and everything you might need to do and write it all down.

Draw arrows between tasks that are dependent upon something else. You can’t write your first draft before you’ve done your research and written your outline, for example. Make notes when there are tasks that you might need a girlfriend’s help with. That’s what they’re there for. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

You might want to recopy or type the page at this point – it’s likely to be pretty messy! But that’s fine. You’re being wildly creative here, and that gets messy sometimes. When you’re confident that you’ve covered everything, put this sheet of paper away, and then repeat the process for your other goals. You might need to spread this out over a few days.

#3. Find or make time for your goals. Big accomplishments don’t just happen. They take work, and work takes time. That’s reality. What times do you have available to work on your goals? Will you write that novel between 5-7am before work? Or from 8-10pm after the kids go to bed?

I’m not going to tell you to quit watching TV or cancel your Facebook account (I haven’t!). Personally, I need those pockets of downtime. You know your schedule and your personality, and what times work best for you. Maybe you and a girlfriend can trade kids once a week to give each other an afternoon just to work on that special project, or you can get together once a month to share your progress. There’s nothing like knowing you’re going to show off your project to encourage you to get it done!

#4. Break down big tasks and figure out how long they take. I had a mentor once who told me “You can’t plan any task that takes longer than 15 minutes. If you do, you don’t know enough about the task.” I don’t go that far, but I do break tasks down into chunks that take an hour or less. I can write a good character sketch in about an hour, so if I have three main characters and six supporting characters in a novel, that’s nine character sketches that will take me about nine hours. I usually round up, to give myself a little wiggle room in the schedule. I have two hours every morning to work on my novels, so if I need 10 hours to do character sketches, that’s 5 days – a full week devoted to that one task.

Once you have a good idea of how long each of your tasks will take, it’s time to figure out when you’ll do each one. It might be tempting to quit here – after all, dreaming about writing a novel is fun. This is starting to feel a lot more like work. But stick with me – you’ll be glad you did when you’re doing book signings at this time next year!how to reach goals,how to write a book

#5. Calendarize the plan. For this step, you’ll need your goal sheets and a 12-month calendar. This is where the real work – and the real magic – happens. Lay out your goal sheets where you can see them. Starting with tomorrow’s date, write down the task you’ll work on during your allotted time. Start with the first task on your highest priority goal.

If you have areas on any of your goal sheets that involve waiting – in our novel example, that might be waiting for test readers to return chapters with comments, or waiting after you’ve sent a proposal to an agent – see what other goals you can shift your attention to during that time. The key here is to avoid blank squares. You don’t want to have days where you don’t know what to work on, because on those days you spend your whole time trying to figure out what to do and you’ll lose momentum.

Make sure you build in catch-up days. Maybe you’ll need one every week, or one every month. That’s up to you. But life is going to happen whether you account for it or not. If you build in time to adjust, you’ll be more likely to succeed in the long run. If you don’t need a scheduled make up day, you can get ahead or take a hard-earned day off!

Once you have your tasks on the calendar, you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish. Keep in mind that this schedule is just a tool – you’ll probably have to adjust it as you go. But even if you only get ¾ of your goals accomplished (because life does happen!), you’ll still be a lot closer to your goals than you would have been if you hadn’t done all of this planning. It is a lot of work, but it’s worth it when you look back at all you’ve been able to do.

TRICIA BALLAD is fascinated by the possibility of the extraordinary happening in the midst of ordinary days. She writes stories that explore the fantastic in the real lives of her characters, and she does it in the midst of managing and homeschooling a large, wildly creative family. She blogs at, and hangs out on Facebook when she should be doing another load of laundry. Send her a girlfriend request!

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