Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

How Tiny Goals Changed My Life And Made Me a Real Writer

Note: This is a guest post from Shaunta Grimes. Shaunta is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation. She blogs about writing at What is a Plot? You can sign up for her free class on how to develop and test a story idea here.

Hi. My name is Shaunta, and I’m a “tiny goal” addict. Also: Hi. I’m a writer, and I have never had writer’s block. Like, ever. It’s true. And guess what. Those two admissions are closely tied together.

How Ridiculously Tiny Goals Changed My Life And Made Me a Real Writer

I’ve never had writer’s block because I am addicted to tiny goals.

It wasn’t always that way. I used to make big goals for myself. I’d get a notebook and write out an elaborate plan for writing three hours a night after my kids were in bed (even though I’m totally a morning person.) Or writing 2,000 words a day, because that’s what Stephen King does. He said so in On Writing.

And I might make it through a day or two. Maybe a week. But inevitably, something would happen. Some family thing. Some work thing. And when I was faced with not having a three-hour block for writing, I’d skip the whole day. And without fail, that day turned into a week or a month or even a year.

And then the whole thing would start over again.

I was writing, sometimes, but I didn’t feel like a writer. I didn’t feel like it was my job, because I was making such sporadic progress. Sometimes I wrote like a fiend. Sometimes I’d go weeks or months without writing a word, because I felt so behind that it was hard to even think about writing without feeling guilty.

How I started using tiny goals

When my daughter Ruby was five, she had pneumonia. We lived in a tiny rural Nevada town, so I had to travel with her to Las Vegas where she was in the hospital for three weeks. I wrote a lot during those days, and I thought a lot about being a writer.

I didn’t have much else to do, and writing kept me sane. Writing has always kept me sane, so pulling out a notebook every day was a no-brainer.

I realized, during those weeks, sitting with my little girl in the hospital, that I really did want to be a writer, and I wasn’t going to get there by writing in short-lived (but heroic) bursts. I needed a daily writing habit. I made a promise to myself to write a page a day for a month after we got home.

Six weeks later, that page a day goal turned into the first draft of my first published novel.

How tiny goals work

Think of either an amount of time or a number of words that you are absolutely certain that, no matter what else happened in a day, you could meet.

Now cut that in half.

Maybe, cut it in half again.

Keep going until you have a goal so small that it would be psychologically more difficult for you to break it than it would be for you to just give in and get it done.

Now, small is relative. After years of working really hard to get here, I was finally able to quit my day job this year. I’m a full-time writer. So writing 500 words or working for thirty minutes a day on my fiction writing is my current tiny goal.

You might be thinking, Jeez, lazy. Thirty minutes a day, and you don’t even have a day job? That’s ridiculous. I get that. Just stick with me, though.

You’ll see.

A few months ago, I was still working full-time, and I was building an online business, and I still had the regular family obligations. (I’m a soccer mom, I have an adult son with autism, and my parents-in-law with dementia live with me.) Back then, 500 words a day wasn’t a tiny goal. It was a pipe dream.

My tiny goal then was ten minutes a day.

I can do anything for ten minutes a day. I can write for ten minutes a day—even on my busiest, craziest day. Sure, sometimes I might be scribbling at red lights or in a notebook balanced on my knees when I’m in the bathroom, but I can do ten minutes every single day.

I’ve never personally had to go less than that for a tiny goal, but I see absolutely nothing wrong with having a thirty-second goal if that’s where you are. A one-sentence goal. Honestly, whatever hits that sweet spot for you where it would be harder to skip it than to just get it over with.

Tiny goals are (mostly) just a trick

I mean, sure. Technically, if you want to set your timer for thirty seconds, write one sentence, and quit until tomorrow, go for it. At that rate, you’ll probably write one book in your lifetime, and that’s all Margaret Mitchell knocked out, right?

But if you can do ten minutes, here’s what that might look like in practice:

You sit down at your desk. You open your manuscript file. You maybe re-read your last paragraph. You put your fingers on the keyboard. You start typing.

Here’s what the transformation from ten minutes of writing to twenty or thirty or an hour or more looks like:

You keep typing.

See?

The whole purpose of a tiny goal is to get you started. The stuff that happens before you start writing can be monumental. You have to talk yourself into choosing writing over all the other things you could be doing with those ten minutes. And if you are anything like me, every minute of your day, you’re making a choice between at least three things you could be doing.

Write or start a load of laundry?

Write or check your kid’s math homework?

Write or talk to your partner about that bill you forgot to pay?

And those are just things you could do instead of writing for ten minutes. If you have a goal of, say, writing three hours a day, now you’ve entered a whole other ball game.

Write or have a part-time job?

Write or take a college course or two?

Write or take your kid to the park?

Whew. Pressure! No wonder it’s so easy to just skip it, sometimes for days or weeks on end.

Tiny goals to the rescue!

What a tiny goal does is help you get past the initial hurdle of starting to write. It gets your butt in a chair. It gets that manuscript file opened. It gets your fingers moving.

Once you get going, momentum takes over. I would estimate that at least 90 percent of the time, I far exceed my tiny goal. Right now, I generally write fiction at least two hours a day. When I was still working my day job, I usually managed twenty to thirty minutes a day.

Having a daily tiny writing goal does something else, too. It keeps the idea that you really are a writer front and center in your brain. And you want to be a writer, so keeping that little bitty commitment becomes something that feels really good on more than one level.

Tiny goals aren’t only a mind trick, though. It’s not like I give mouth service to writing 500 words a day but secretly expect myself to write 2,000 instead. I truly give myself permission to write 500 words a day (or, when things are super hectic, 10 minutes a day.) There are days where I stop mid-sentence and put it away until tomorrow. There are days when I feel like I’m fishing each word out of my gray matter with a toothpick.

On those days, I get my little bit of forward motion in, and then I don’t think about it again until the next day. The key is to make that forward progress every single day.

If you commit to making a tiny bit of progress every day, you’ll find that momentum carries you right through writer’s block like it doesn’t even exist. If you’re really stuck, go ahead and give that thirty-second goal a try.

What ridiculously tiny goal can you set today? Share in the comments.

About Shaunta Grimes

Shaunta Grimes is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation. She blogs about writing at What is a Plot?. You can find her hanging out with the Ninja Writers on Facebook and she'd love to have you join her there.

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  • Rhonda Flack

    Thank you for this, this is exactly my problem and I thought I was alone. I’m so inconsistent and its out of my control. It is so frustrating, and then I don’t feel like a writer I feel like a failure and then I’m not my own best friend, and nightly barrage myself to sleep. So even though the dishes need done I’m going to write for 10 mins and feel happier going to bed tonight xxx

    • You are not alone! I’m not a big fan of barraging oneself, but I do think that consistent little goals that are met can change everything. 🙂

  • This is awesome. =) I’m a huge fan of taking small steps towards the things you want. One of my favourite sayings is that “confidence comes through small victories” – and these small goals are a great way of getting those victories.

    • What a great motto. I love it!

  • Russell Kukla

    Hi Shaunta, Yesterday I posted my first blog which I greatly enjoyed doing except for the Writing! :~) I hope it’s OK to share https://createk12change.org/how-many-photos-on-your-phone/ Trying my best to follow in Jeff’s foot-steps which are HUGE.

  • Kate Jeffries

    This is brilliant, Shaunta. I kept skipping my goals as they were too large, but this, I can do! Thank you! It so odd that something so obvious needs to be reiterated by someone else, but I’ll take wisdom from wherever it comes.

  • anna

    Great recommendations! Thank you Shaunta!

  • Scott

    Hi Shaunta I liked your article. I wanted to ask about your class. To see if it’s right for me. I have an usual situation that may or may not prevent me from participating in your class. I wanted to get more details on it. If that is okay

  • Love, love, love this Shaunta,
    You have helped me get back to daily writing.
    xo
    Pamela

  • Great stuff Shaunta. Even writers like me who hit the page running need tiny goals on days that have massive To-Do lists! Love it. Keep creating 🙂

  • I guess today was the day I needed to ready this – Bravo! My massive never-ending task list bows to the tiny goal.

    • Nom Johnson

      Wonderful! Tiny goals, here we come. Move over super abundant achievers. The tortoise’s are about to step forward, plod, and perhaps win the race in time. Happy thought 🙂

  • Catrina Cerise-Arana

    This was definitely a good day for me to see this. I’m an overachiever. Most of the time, that works for me. I’m a successful business owner with three children who are already making successes of themselves. I expect a lot of myself and generally am able to accomplish it. Part of having an overachieving personality, however, is feeling huge failures when you aren’t able to meet your goals. I’ve been incredibly overwhelmed this week and have had a lot of things fall through the cracks. It’s depressing. I see the writing software on my computer and my stacks of notebooks and research. With things falling apart around me, I can’t justify 1500 words a day or carve an hour out of my schedule. I can do 15 minutes. I know I can do 15 minutes. I just needed to be able to hear that it’s okay to give myself permission to only do 15 minutes – that it’s enough. <3

    • Nom Johnson

      Way to go Catrina! Good decision:-)

  • Nom Johnson

    Thanks for this Jeff and Shaunta. Loved it Shaunta!!
    I’m hovering between tiny goal-setting — 1 paragraph /day on my memoir (if I told you how many years I’ve been working on it you wouldn’t begin to believe me) — and Christine Nile’s “How to Write a Book or Finish Any Writing Project in 90 Days” approach. Thank you Jeff and Sandy K for pointing me in that direction: “How I Finished Writing My Book in 90 Days” via a recent guest post here.
    I’m not sure which side, or blend of both I’ll end up using. I’ll let you know what works…providing I discover that myself first!
    Meanwhile, I’m encouraged and I thank you all for sharing your hard-earned battle stories with us. We need them! 🙂 nj

  • Colleen Valles

    This is really awesome, Shaunta, and I’m going to actually give 10 minutes a day a try. You’re right, fitting in 10 minutes is easier than skipping it altogether.

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  • Jennifer Rice

    Thank you! I’m so undisciplined, but I can do a tiny goal, I’m sure! Going to start with 7 minutes after my devotions each morning. Thanks for the blog, Shaunta, and the videos with Tim, Jeff. Extremely helpful!

  • Chad Godoy

    Now I know how should I do with my time. I can finish a blog worth of 500 words right now but I don’t know how much of time I’m giving. Some it took me 2 hours. I need to break my work to construct a routine.

  • Goalify

    Great article! Really love your approach: Success is not one giant leap. Success is the continuous realization of many smaller successful steps. Break your goal down. Start exercising by the yard and not the mile. Don’t be fooled into thinking these steps are too easy and too small. That’s the whole point of the story. Your steps have to be achievable and be infused with success. Be proud of those steps, and use each step as motivation for the next one! Read more here: https://goalifyapp.com/en/why-success-is-not-one-giant-leap/

  • Big Shirl

    I cheat when I write. I dictate a long e-mail to myself and open it in Word. Dictating allows me to get most of my thoughts out of my head and onto a screen that I can see and manipulate. I can dictate for about five minutes and take about an hour to edit and finalize 400 words. Works for me. I had participated in some women’s support groups in the late 1990’s and most women did not do the homework because it was overwhelming. Since 2009 I developed a small series called Bible Bites. Read just one verse and respond to just one verse. The Bible is the best selling book of all time and God loves each sinner ever born to His wonderful creation. It takes just 2-3 minutes a day to (1) read the Bible (2) respond to God’s Word and (3) Pray! It works for me!

  • Sarojini Pattayat

    During writing my mind plays differently. It put different arguments. Among so many arguments following are the worst.
    ‘ already so many people wrote all these thing… you are worthless…no one will publish your work… your language is poor…’
    My goal to write suffers a lot and I just feel the pain of loneliness.
    Thanks for sharing such a great post…I think it will help…

    • Chrystyan Collier

      This is thinking. When you are trapped in a loop of thinking, you are not writing. Learn to rest in the space before thought, and let thoughts flow without getting attached to an individual thought. The thought only becomes real if you give it attention. Meditation can help with training the mind in this way (see ‘Headspace’ in AppStore).

      • Sarojini Pattayat

        thanks

  • Yes, I started with small goals and now I find myself writing much more. I even began blogging again. Small goals grow into bigger goals.

  • Great advice. Tiny goals not only apply to writing. I believe It also works for many areas such as health, business, study, etc.

  • Danielle Bernock

    Thank you for the new term “tiny goals”. I’ve learned how to break down goals into successive goals (building to the bigger) but this tiny thing is awesome. It is encouraging and empowering.

  • Great spin on goal setting. It’s tiny goals like these that have helped me finally achieve bigger goals, like writing my first series of books entitled “SMART FOCUS” (actually on the topic of goal setting).

    I’ve always seen bigger tasks as simply smaller tasks hiding within, waiting to be broken down into more manageable chunks and actions. When viewed with this paradigm, you can tackle anything! Thanks for sharing.

  • Great advice. I think tiny goals can help you in generating a ladder for your big goals. So If we are capable of solving tiny problem can easily handle big problem by time.