Have you ever gone to a meeting that had no agenda?
Unless you’ve never been to any meeting, then the answer is almost surely, “Yes.”
How productive was that meeting? How inspiring was it?
“Not very” is likely being generous in answering these questions, right?
The problem with meetings that don’t have an agenda is they also usually don’t have an explicit purpose.
You have staff meetings on Friday mornings because … well, because you’ve always had staff meetings on Friday mornings.
The tradition may have started for a good reason, but whatever that is has been lost to the ravages of time. Now, you just all show up — most of you late — and slog through lifeless updates and the same old questions about the same old projects with the same old answers as the week before.
No wonder meetings have such a bad reputation. In fact, terrible meetings are a driving force in major changes that could be coming to the workplace, according to a CBCNews report.
But you’re a writer, so the plague of bad meetings doesn’t affect you, right?
Well, maybe. Certainly, some writers have at least occasional meetings related to their craft, and I would venture that most writers have outside jobs that do involve regular meetings.
Even if you never go to a meeting, though, you run the same risks that your hapless corporate counterparts shoulder every time they step into a conference room without an agenda in hand.
As a writer, your equivalent of meetings are your writing sessions. Each and every time you sit down to your keyboard, you have the opportunity to produce something amazing and move you closer to your writing goals … or to waste time and become discouraged.
Do you have a clear understanding of what you’re writing and why you’re writing it every time you open up your word processor or spiral notebook? If not, or if you’re not sure, then you have some work to do.
Recognizing the Problem
If you’re not confident that you’re writing is in line with your goals and has a purpose, try this simple test.
Look at the page in front of you and ask yourself why you’re working on it.
If you can’t answer that question quickly and easily, you might have a murky purpose. If the answer is forthcoming, then ask yourself why that goal is important.
Let’s say that you’re writing a blog post about the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl victories, for example. Why is that important?
Maybe it’s because you’re trying to outline the entire history of the ‘Boys in a series of posts.
But why is that important?
Perhaps you’re trying to build an authority site about America’s Team. Great, then you’re on the right track.
But if the Cowboys are just interesting to you and you’re writing for your personal journal-type blog … meh … you’re just spinning your wheels.
Drill down on the “whys” until you’re stumped, come up with an answer you don’t like, or come up with a big-picture answer that supports your overall vision as a writer.
If you hit the third kind, you’re golden. Otherwise, you don’t have a clear purpose for your writing.
Defining your purpose as a writer is akin to developing an overarching vision and mission. It can take years to emerge with utter clarity. But you should have big goals in front of you at any given moment, along the lines of …
- Write my first novel
- Write my first novel series
- Build an authority website about mid-century comic books
- Write a book about project management for non-profit organizations
Each of your writing sessions should derive from these larger goals, informed also by the time you have available and your overall progress as you sit down to write.
To get there, first break down your big, honking targets into smaller milestones — chapters, blog posts, sidebars.
Then prioritize the pieces.
Then, when you get ready to write, pick the remaining task with the highest priority that also fits most snugly into the time you have available.
It’s a simple formula, but it’s also your agenda for each writing session. Don’t start typing without it.