Checking in on Your Goals

Who made writing goals for the month of January? Who fell short of those goals? While it can be far easier to keep to task when you set yourself small goals each month of the year (instead of those major year-long resolutions), that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily accomplish everything on your list. So here we are in February, with a new month’s worth of goals to strive toward, and the added burden of a few items lingering from January. What to do?

Cut yourself a break. No one’s perfect, and life has a habit of getting in the way. I had a huge list of things I aspired to accomplish in January, wanting to ride the wave of that post-new year enthusiasm. Unfortunately, I calculated without the nasty cold that ate a good half of the month, sending me into coughing fits that left me needing a nap, and cutting back severely on how much energy I had to tackle my to-do list. Not everything is within your control, and while you may have procrastinated here and there on some of your goals, the chances are good that other obligations also popped up and required your attention. That’s always going to be the case, and it’s best to just adapt your plan and move on.

So how do you get back on track? Reassess, and try to be realistic while you do so. It’s no good to simply shoe-horn your leftover goals for January in with your February goals and try to catch up that way. February is already a short month, and the chances are good you’ll get frustrated and further behind. Instead, look at what you failed to finish in January and determine if any of February’s goals hinged on those. For instance, if you intended to submit queries in February but never quite finished honing your query letter like you planned in January, it’s pretty clear which of those tasks need to be accomplished first. You might hate the idea of waiting to submit your magnus opus, but without a strong query letter, your efforts will be for nothing, so accept that those queries might go out in March instead, and put your attention back on the letter itself.

Prioritize. Which of your February goals are most important to you? Can some, or some part of one, get delayed more easily than others? If you have a contest deadline looming, polishing that project might take priority over starting something new. Look at the big picture and not just the month ahead. If you owe a manuscript to your editor in May and you’ve got three months of work in order to complete it, that’s not where you want to steal your time.

Focus on what you can control. It’s wonderful to plan to finish a novel and revise it this month, but you won’t truly know the extent of the revisions necessary until after you’ve written that final chapter. Maybe you’ll end up with a clean manuscript that needs minor tweaking, and maybe you’ll decide to rework the entire center of the book. With goals that are dependent on outside factors, it sometimes helps to approach the task differently; plan to spend two hours each day on your book revisions until they’re complete, rather than setting a deadline for the revisions themselves. On the other hand, if the book is contracted, you will have a deadline for those revisions, and you’ll need to rework other areas of your schedule to adapt.

Remember that you set the goals to begin with, and only you can determine how and when they are met. If new opportunities arise, if you’re sick and can’t focus to write, if surprise house guests descend and throw your schedule out of whack… it’s all right. It’s important to be committed to those things you wish to achieve, but the balance between goals and everyday life is entirely up to you. Good luck with all of your aspirations, and happy writing!