The Home Stretch: Setting End-of-Year Goals

I doubt I’m the only one feeling a bit shocked when I glance at the calendar, but like it or not, we’re in the last week of September. Kids are back in school and maybe even back in the swing of things, pumpkin-flavored items have returned to the Starbucks menu, and I’ve heard rumors of Christmas decorations cropping up in the stores right next to the Halloween departments. The end of 2012 is barreling straight at us, so what better time to reassess your writing goals for the year?

Oh. Those, you say. Yeah, those. Remember them? The things you wanted to accomplish this year, the ways you hoped to advance your craft and/or your career? Maybe you set yourself the goal of finishing your first novel. Or a certain word count for the year. Perhaps you decided to step up your effort to find an agent or to get published, or planned to branch out into writing another genre. Whatever your goals, you made them, even if they were just in the back of your head somewhere.

October 1st marks the start of the fourth quarter of the year. If we were looking at a financial statement, you’d have numbers in black on white (or maybe red on white, though I hope not) to show you how far you’d come over the last three quarters, but for writers, measuring achievements can be a bit less concrete. So here are a few ideas:

~ If you set a goal of finishing a specific project, where are you with that effort? Finished? Fabulous! But if not, don’t panic. You still have three months to go. See where you are in the process, how much you’ve written (and rewritten) since the start of the year. How much is left to do? Did you have a revelation that required reworking a huge part of the story? Are you off on a tangent? What do you need to do to get or stay on track and achieve your goal by year’s end?

~ A word-count goal is easier to define, and also easier to track, though editing can make it difficult to be precise, given the tendency to eliminate words you’ve previously added. If you kept track of your daily output, you have a fair idea of where you stand in relationship to your goal. If not, estimate by taking a word count of your ongoing projects and subtracting the portion you wrote (if any) prior to January 1. Don’t forget to add in any blog posts you’ve written over the year, as well. If your total is around 70-75% of your goal, you’re in great shape. If not, there’s still time to catch up.

~ Many goals writers set depend, in part, on other people. Getting an agent, getting published — all you can do is make the effort. If you set this sort of goal, did you pursue it steadily? Did you keep submissions going  out the door? Work toward  revisions that would improve your chance of acceptance? Keep showing up at your desk and writing new work even while submitting completed projects?

If you’re on track with your goals, whatever they may be, congratulations! If not, don’t despair. Now is a great time to look seriously at how you’ve been doing and make plans for the next few months. Were your original goals too ambitious? Did something happen during the year to derail you? Or were you simply not as committed as you needed to be in order to achieve those goals? Be honest with yourself.

Now take a look at the next three months, and determine what you can realistically expect to do between now and the end of the year. Remember that holidays can eat a chunk of time, so take any traveling, preparations, and family activities into consideration. Reassess the goals you had for the year and make mini goals for the next three months that help push those original goals forward, whether to completion or just to the next logical level.

Need to up your word count? Try joining Nanowrimo come November for inspiration and some structure. Looking for fresh ideas? Write a few scenes based on holiday memories, good or bad, and see if they spark your imagination. Ready to go pro? Give yourself an afternoon to research agencies that represent the type of book you’ve written, or literary magazines that publish the kinds of stories you write, and the goal of submitting to a certain number of them.

And if you’ve been a whirlwind of activity this year and actually met your goals early, come up with something new and fun to work toward! Keep challenging yourself to be the best writer you can be.