Writing Goals: Planning for 2017

The new year is on the horizon, and at this point many people start to draft their new year’s resolutions. If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know I’m not really a fan of the idea of resolutions. The concept brings to mind vague promises to get thin or save more money, usually broken by sometime in February. What I am a huge fan of, however, is goal setting.

What’s the difference between a resolution and a goal, you ask? For me, making goals is all about setting concrete, measurable achievements to aim for in a specific amount of time, complete with a list of tasks needed to hit them as planned. While I don’t always manage to make all my goals, I find this approach to be much more successful overall than the resolution route.

Begin by aiming high. I like to dream up one or two big things I’d like to accomplish over the course of the year. Things that will take all the way until December. These can often be broken down into smaller, mid-point goals that keep me on track. For instance, if the goal is to sign six new clients, I’d aim for one every 6-8 weeks.

Next, outline some smaller goals. Everyone loves a sense of achievement. It encourages you to keep striving. So think of goals that won’t take anywhere near an entire year to accomplish. Maybe you have a few 30-day goals, and three or four that might take 4-6 months.

Determine what each goal will require of you. For each goal, you need a game plan — a list of tasks you need to perform in order to achieve your end result. These might include doing something entirely new, stepping up your productivity in a certain area, etc. If I go back to my hypothetical goal of six new clients, I might dedicate more time to reading submissions, spend time seeking out likely sounding authors by reading shared work on various online forums, agree to judge some writing contests, etc. Some of the tasks on your list might end up small goals you can check off — like researching a topic for a book, purchasing the domain name for a new author website, or making a list of agents to submit to.

Design your Goal Calendar for 2017. Take a look at your schedule and figure out when you want to tackle the short-term goals from your list. Keep in mind that some small goals should get pushed until later in the year. Don’t try to tackle everything at once on January 1st; that just leads to frustration and fatigue. Consider any travel plans you might have or big work projects that you anticipate keeping you especially busy, and work around them. And remember that your long-term goals will also be taking place across the span of the entire year. If you’ve broken them down into smaller chunks, place those goal due dates on your calendar as well.

There you go! You’ve got your plan for the year and a road map for how to achieve your goals. Of course, it’s not quite as easy as that. You’re going to want to put a little time into planning what your goals are. Consider what you’ve achieved this year, where you’ve hit your targets and where you’ve fallen short, and how that might reflect on your choices for 2017. Plus, remember that all of this is yours to design and to alter as you go. The best plans are flexible. Sure, you should strive to achieve the things you’re aiming for, but be honest with yourself and allow those goals to shift and develop as the year progresses, if circumstances call for it. Life happens, and that means what you want to achieve right now might not be what you want to work toward come September.

Whatever your goals — for writing, for improving your health, for spending more time with your family — this approach will allow you to create a concrete plan for achieving them without becoming overwhelmed or losing sight of your targets. Happy planning, and best of luck for a wonderfully productive 2017.

 

Finalizing Your Writing Goals for 2016

A couple of weeks back I suggested you start thinking about your writing goals, both your progress on those set for this year and what you might like to accomplish in the year ahead. Now that 2016 is only a few days away, it’s a great time to get out a notebook or open up a file on your computer and start really shaping and finalizing those goals for the new year.

Whether you’ve got mental notes or written ones regarding your wishes for your writing career, start jotting them down now. Make a list of every goal you have for your writing, from the small things to the truly out-there, oversized dreams. Don’t worry if they’re attainable in the next year. This exercise is just to get an idea of the scope of your ambitions, keeping in mind that some things will likely change in the years ahead.

Once you have a list, go through and note a reasonable time frame to complete each item. Is it something you can manage in a month? Will it take several months of concerted effort? Perhaps an entire year, plugging away a bit each day? Or is it something you’d like to tackle eventually but you know is a bit out of reach for the time being, whether because your skills haven’t quite reached the stage where you’re ready or because there are many things you need to accomplish to prepare for the goal?

Now it’s time to decide what goals you’d actually like to work on in 2016. You probably have a fair idea, if you’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of weeks. There are also going to be things that are prerequisites for others — such as finishing a book before you can submit it, or publishing something before you can achieve any sales goals. But you want to find a balance in your goals; some should be a true challenge that take a good part, if not all of the year, while others should be achievable in one-to-three-month blocks of time.

Once you’ve chosen one or two large goals and a handful of smaller ones, consider any factors that affect when you’ll be able to work on them and when you should work on them. Pencil in a potential time frame for each, such as all year, February/March, June — September, etc. Again, try to balance your schedule. Obviously year-long goals will be a constant, but try not to overlap too many small goals unless they tie together in some way that makes it necessary or you feel like you’ll have extra free time to work on them for some reason. And if a goal is large enough that it will carry into the following year, be sure to space out your efforts so that you make appropriate progress by the end of 2016.

Now that you have a rough idea of when you’ll be working on each goal, you want to come up with a couple of brief bullet points regarding the how. What do you need to do in order to achieve each goal? What steps must you take? What actions? Think about things that might distract you from your goals, and how you can avoid them. For example, if your goal is to write daily all year, but you know you get distracted by interruptions, think of ways to limit them, such as turning your phone off or activating the privacy setting, setting up an internet blocker during your writing time, or hanging a note on your door so your kids know not to interrupt unless there’s an emergency. If self-sabotage is an issue for you, come up with a little pep talk to give yourself when that devil on your shoulder is tempting you to play hooky. You want to determine both the route to your goal and how to dodge the common obstacles along the way.

Finally, break down any larger goals that have multiple steps so you have an idea of what sort of progress you’d like to make. Tackle one part of the goal each month or each quarter — whatever feels logical to you based on how intricate and challenging your project is to complete.

Use whatever system you like to organize your goals for the year. Some people simplify and just hang a list on their cork board or refrigerator, others keep detailed notes in a journal or a spread sheet. Goal deadlines and any projected completion dates should be put on your planner or calendar, including due dates for those smaller components that you’ve broken down from your larger goals, and you can set reminders in your phone if you’d like a periodic nudge to keep yourself on track. The important thing is to keep your goals accessible and to check in on them periodically in order to lessen the chance of veering off course. I recommend reviewing your progress at least at the end of each quarter of the year, at which point you can make small adjustments as necessary depending on how things are going.

Be sure to keep your original list of goals — the one that included your big, crazy dreams. It will give you a head start this time next year when you sit down to determine your goals for 2017. Good luck with setting your goals for the year ahead, and happy writing!

Review, Reflect, and Ramp Up

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Just two weeks remain to 2014, which makes now an excellent time to pause and think about the year coming to an end. How was your year? Did you meet the goals you set for yourself? Are you pleased with your writing progress? Where did you exceed your plans and where did you fall short?

I’m not big on resolutions because all too often they seem like vague wishes for things with very little planning behind them. Oh, not always. People who want to lose weight know they should watch their intake and exercise. Writers who want to publish understand it’s important to finish a manuscript, revise, submit. But there’s often a disconnect between the daydream and the planning part of achieving those resolutions. It’s easy to lose track of the plan unless you actually determine what you will do, how your actions will change in order to make your ultimate goal come to pass.

So as I said, now is a great time to look back, just for a moment, to see what went well and what didn’t go so well in the last twelve months. And then think about why. What steps did you take that allowed you to meet your goals, and what distractions or problems cropped up that railroaded those you failed to achieve. What could you have done better? Understanding the hows and whys, your motivations behind your actions, will help you to set new goals for the year ahead, and also determine how best to approach them.

Keep the successes and the goofs in mind as you figure out where you go next.

A few tips for goal setting for 2015:

1. Set goals outside your comfort zone, that force you to reach. They should be achievable, but not so easy that they fail to challenge you or allow you to slack off because you can handle them in a rush at the end of the year.

2. Make sure you set goals that you really want to achieve, not just things you think you should do, or that sound good if someone asks about your resolutions. Tackle things that matter, because your emotional investment will serve to motivate you.

3. Break your goals down into measurable components and/or actions. What steps do you need to achieve to meet your goal? How much time will each step or action require? Schedule regular check-ins for yourself over the course of the year (or however long your goal will take) to make sure you’re on track.

4. Determine what’s at stake. What do you stand to gain if you meet your goal? What will you lose if you don’t? Know the value of your actions long term, because that will help you resist the temptation to procrastinate in the short term. Post the stakes somewhere you will see them often enough to keep your focus.

5. Try setting some shorter-term goals and some big picture goals. Having a few goals of the year that you can finish by March or May will bolster you over the course of the year, and encourage you as you work on the longer term projects.

No matter what stage you are at in your writing career, there are always new goals to set, new hurdles to tackle. A writer can always improve their craft, hone their story-telling skills, or master a new facet of self-promotion. Other goals can include publishing a short story, getting an agent, signing a book deal, hitting a certain mile-marker for sales figures. Or you might approach tasks that are more straightforward, such as redesigning an author site or starting a newsletter. Think about what you’ve been doing, then consider how you can improve upon it. Mix and match your goals to meet your current needs. Don’t beat yourself up over things that haven’t gone well; instead allow yourself to plan out a new strategy for the year to come, and get excited about putting it into action. Good luck!