Faith without works is dead, and so is inspiration without follow-through. 

Successful writers focus on both the writing and its goals from the moment inspiration strikes. Your goals, like your writing, will undergo many revisions before reaching a final state, but identifying your objectives early in the process often makes the difference between a successful author and an orphaned inspiration.

What are the goals of writing?

They are as many and as diverse as a writer’s imagination.

Some people write for professional goals: publication, awards, and sales. Others want to share their stories with friends and family. School projects are writing too, with unique criteria and goals.

Regardless of whether you write for personal enjoyment or public consumption, setting clear objectives early on will help you and your writing achieve maximum success.

Journalists know that a well-written article must answer six questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? Successful authors use the same questions to identify their goals.

When inspiration strikes, use the following questions to help you organize your thoughts:

What am I writing? “Big ideas” come in many creative forms, and sometimes more than one. A story about a little girl who visits her grandma, only to discover a wolf dressed up in Grandma’s clothes, can inspire a novel, a play, a feature film, or even a narrative poem—as Little Red Riding Hood, in its various forms, has proven. When inspiration strikes, your first goal is deciding what path your creativity will take. This is even true in the educational field. There is always more than one way to complete an assignment, even while obeying all of the rules.

Who is my audience? A junior high essay often contains less than 700 words. This article has 934. A middle-grade novel runs 20,000–40,000, and while adult fiction varies with genre a novel rarely has fewer than 65,000 words.  Your intended audience controls everything from word count to structure, word choice and theme. Every aspect of your work is impacted in some way by the people you want to read it. You should know your audience—and know them well—before your first word hits the page.

Where will this project find its home? A creative work intended for “traditional” publication requires a different level of writing than a high school essay intended to prove that the author read and understood To Kill a Mockingbird. Works written for competitions must meet the contest rules without deviation. Your goals control the way your work is written, and also the way you polish and edit the finished piece. But beware! You should never accept any less than your very best effort, regardless of your goals. Excellence is never optional.

When is my deadline? Some projects have clear timelines. Homework must be delivered in timely fashion. Magazine articles have due dates, and novelists have manuscript deadlines in their contracts. But even if your work has no required completion date, you and your inspiration can benefit from scheduling. Many talented writers fail because they never complete their projects. Self-imposed deadlines and due dates will help you stay motivated and on track. Don’t forget to build in time for the editing phase as well. In most cases, you will need at least as much time for revision as it took you to write the initial draft.

Why am I the right person to write this work? With school assignments, the answer is simple: your teacher told you to. With novels and other creative works your response is no less important, and sometimes more so. Authors of nonfiction books need a “platform,” which consists of practical experience and public recognition in their fields. Platforms are less important for fiction works, but you still need a reason for what you write. What inspired you to put these words on the page? Have you done your research? Do you know the topic well? If you can’t convince yourself that you’re the right person for the job, don’t give up right away. Perhaps more research is required.  Perhaps you need practice writing, or a critique group to build your confidence and skills. Sometimes the only difference between the “wrong” author and the proper one is sufficient determination to develop the knowledge and skills to do the job.

How will I get my finished work into a reader’s hands? With homework and other assignments, the answer may seem as simple as “turn it in,” but even here the inspired writer has pitfalls to avoid. Print your work on clean paper and staple or bind it neatly. Double-check the instructions, comply with the rules, and make absolutely certain your work is free from typographical errors and other avoidable flaws.

If you want to write for traditional publication, your completed project will need an agent, a publisher, or both. If you want to self-publish electronically, you will need to decide on a format and a retailer, like Lulu.com or Amazon.com.

Regardless of your goals, you must do your homework, know the submission guidelines and follow the rules exactly. If the assignment calls for electronic delivery, use a format that’s easy to read. Avoid unnecessary graphics, funky fonts, and other distractions. Every writer wants to be original and distinctive, but it should be your writing that sets you apart. Gimmicks are not the way to writing success.

And if you don’t know how to achieve this final goal, don’t panic! Upcoming articles in The Inspired Homeschooler will help you find your way through the writing and publication maze. In the meantime, listen for your inspiration, organize your goals, and above all...keep on writing.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com  or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Susan Spann is a partner in the law firm Llewellyn Spann, where she specializes in copyright, trademark, and corporate law.  Formerly a professor at Trinity Law School in Santa Ana, California, she currently teaches business law at William Jessup University.

Publication date: December 17, 2012