On Episode 34 of the #AmWriting podcast, Jessica Lahey and I talked writerly goals: specifically, what makes a good goal, and how to set some in honor of this traditionally goal-setting time of the year.
We started off by defining a goal by what it’s not—it’s not a resolution. Or maybe it kind of is, but resolutions are often big and amorphous, hard to measure and somewhat doomed. (“I will be kinder. I will be a better daughter. I will get healthier.”) A goal, on the other hand, at least as we’ve planned it, may be big—but it’s also clearly defined and achievable, with measurable markers along the way.
Here’s our plan for the Writer’s Goals we’ll be setting for 2017–well, my plan, anyway, and I’ve roped Jess in. Goals! We must have goals! I love goals.
Achievement Goals. These are things you’d like to have done by year’s end. One challenge of achievement goals is that you can’t always control the outcome, so here’s our advice: set both goals you can control, and goals you can’t—and then give each goal three steps that you yourself can do. Your goal may be to get an essay into Modern Love. You can’t control that—but if you don’t submit at least one essay, you guarantee failure. And if you don’t write that essay, you’re really sunk. And if you never start it? Yep. Doomed.
Try setting two goals you wholly control (finish a novel, a book proposal, an essay) and two you don’t (get an agent, break into a dream publication). Write down three steps you can take, just you, towards making all four of those goals happen.
Time Horizons Next question: when? If step one is start an essay, when will you type that first word? How long does an essay take you? How much work time do you typically have? You can make like a business and set your goals quarterly. Q1 ends March 31, my friends. What will you have done by then? Or plan backwards—if you want to be querying agents in May, what do you have to have done in March? Alternatively, especially if you’re a parent, you may want to go with this three-New-Years-approach from organizer and host of the podcast Organize 365 Lisa Woodruff: one now, one in May and one in September, and set your goals with a May deadline in mind. Remember that August is a publishing world dead zone, whereas September marks a time for yet another set of fresh starts.
Strategies I like to use this opportunity to reassess my work strategies. Working on my hardest piece of writing first thing in the morning—before I look at anything else—really works for me, but too often, I don’t get there. Now’s the time to re-commit to making that happen, and set some other strategies as well. I used to go to bed at nine and write for an hour before turning off the light (I called that my “do you want to have read a book, or do you want to have written one” strategy). Maybe that’s what would work for you.
I’m also biting the bullet and laying out a realistic weekly plot that includes all the non-book-writing things I do typically and how long it really takes to do them (I didn’t talk about this on the podcast). Sending out an email is, for me, at least a half day prospect. Ditto a good blog post, and since those things are often linked, that’s a workday–not something I can do weekly. Promoting the podcast, when it goes live, takes about an hour. Writing a piece for the Times is 3 days work, give or take (mostly give) a little. I need to be able to really see where my time can go in order to decide how best to use it.
Word of the year Finally, give your writing goals an overarching theme—one word that will encompass what you want your professional life to be like this coming year. Do you want to expand? Roar? Persevere? Grow? Last year, I chose one word for both my personal and professional lives: Connect. I lived it, too—I made much more of a point of deepening and expanding my network of other writers, sharing, and helping and just connecting in every way I could, and I made a real effort to spend time with my close local friends as well, setting up walks and coffees and other opportunities almost weekly (as an introvert, I tend to forget how happy spending time with my friends makes me).
I recommend taking some real time to set these goals–set aside two hours. Go to a cafe without your laptop, if that’s what it takes for you. Think and doodle and draw calendar time blocks and do whatever it takes.
And if you’d like some help, click here and we’ll send you our downloadable worksheet: #WriterGoals2017, with places to fill in Goals You Can Control and Goals You Can’t, steps, time horizons, fresh strategies and a word of the year. On our next podcast, we’ll share our goals–and our ideas for how we an all get where we want to go in 2017.