Irish Novel Fair Phase 1: Writing Your Novel

Posh pen.

I heard of the novel fair years before I entered, and had a ‘finished’ novel sitting around for most of those years, but somehow never quite got around to entering. Last year was different for 2 reasons:

  1. I figured out the answer to a question I’d never been able to answer in my own novel, which gave me the key to rewriting it – and the energy I needed to do this.
  2. I made entering the novel fair my writing goal for the year.

Most people I know have goals and most people understand the importance of setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound). Yet few people achieve their goals. Research has shown the best way for you to achieve your goals is to follow certain steps.

Step 1 – Write down your goal:

Writing down a SMART goal increases your chances of achieving it. Here’s my goal:

“I will spend 2 hours a day rewriting my novel so I have a polished manuscript of 100,000 words ready for submission to the novel fair on 5 September 2018”.

You can see my goal is

  • specific – it defines the who (me!), what (rewrite my novel), and why (submission to the novel fair).
  • measurable – I have a target word count and a set routine for achieving that target.
  • attainable and realistic – I divided my word count by took the number of days I had available to me before the novel fair. I factored in holidays and the inevitable sick days to make sure I had a goal I could reach.
  •  timeframe – I have a deadline (the novel fair submission date)

But even after writing down a SMART goal, many people don’t manage to achieve what they want. That’s because writing down a goal is only the start. Research shows that people who are successful at achieving goals go deeper.

Step 2 – define activities, required resources and identify support

You must define the activities, resources and support you need to reach your goal. To do this, answer these key questions:

  • What activities do I need to complete to achieve my goal and in what timeframe?
  • What resources do I need?
  • Who can help me achieve my goal?

Here’s how I worked out my plan for entering the novel fair:

Activities and Timeframe

Although my SMART goal had a timeframe – a deadline – I broke my goal down into daily targets. I created a spreadsheet that had my final target word count (100,000 words), and daily target word count. The spreadsheet allowed me to see where I was ahead of myself, and when I was falling behind.  This was a great way to keep on track and stay motivated. I can share that sheet if anyone’s interested – ping me on Twitter or in the comments here.

Resources needed

Luckily, I have a laptop with a word processor. But the real ‘resource’ I needed was time. I work 40 hours a week, and travel for another 10 hours (my commute, creche and school runs). I have 2 little kids, so time is always tight. I am a morning person, and struggle to write at night. So together with my husband, I worked out a schedule to give me my most precious resource – time. I tried to write 6-8am every morning before heading out on the school run and to work. To be clear – this did not always work. It didn’t work at all when my husband was travelling abroad for his work. It didn’t work when my kids were sick. It worked beautifully the 3 weeks my kids were in France without me, and my only commitments were work and feeding myself.

Who helped me?

For this goal, I relied on my husband’s support. He reminded me to my commitment, asked about my progress and supported me by ensuring I had time to write. His support wasn’t formal – we didn’t have a ‘check in’ or ‘official progress update’. That’s something I didn’t need for this goal as I was incredibly motivated and my progress was solid.

I managed to reach my goal using this structure. But there is another step that is proven to help you stay on track and achieve your goal. It’s also got the added bonus of reducing some of the loneliness writers experience.

Step 3: Send your action commitments and goals to a supportive friend and UPDATE THEM ON YOUR PROGRESS ON A WEEKLY BASIS.

I’m using this step this year, to help me finish my second novel. It works well for me because I work hard when being held accountable to someone else, I respond well to deadlines, and I flourish with even light-touch support or encouragement. The weekly check in doesn’t have to be a 5 hour face-to-face meeting. It can be an email using the set format e.g. state your SMART goal, note your progress that week and overall, celebrate any successes – or add a quick appeal for advice/support/gin.

To summarise, here’s some evidence-based strategies that can help you reach your goal of entering – and ‘winning’ the novel fair:

  • Step 1 – Write down a SMART goal.
  • Step 2 – define the required activities and resources, and identify support.
  • Step 3: Send your action commitments and goals to a supportive friend and update them weekly on progress.

Of course this process isn’t just useful for entering the novel fair – it’s a great way to commit to and achieve a specific writing goal. Give it a lash and see how it works for you.

Next in the series – Entering the Novel Fair.

2 Replies to “Irish Novel Fair Phase 1: Writing Your Novel”

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