While you’re contemplating your New Year’s resolutions of losing weight, paying off the credit card, finally completing that 10,000 piece Alf puzzle, and teaching the cat to paint, don’t forget to plan your writing goals for the upcoming year.
Almost every self-help or motivational text explains the importance of setting goals. But you shouldn’t just set broad, poorly-defined goals of “to get in better shape.” Instead, your goals should be specific, concrete, aggressive while remaining realistic, and measureable. Many experts use the acronym SMART when teaching how to set proper goals. In This Year I Will…: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True, M.J. Ryan defines SMART (there are admittedly plenty of other variations on this) as follows:
For most of us, a specific goal might be to complete that novel, to write five short stories, or to pitch ten agents. However, “becoming a better writer” isn’t very specific so you are actually setting yourself up for failure with such a vague goal.
A measureable goal is fairly easy to establish. Maybe you want to define a specific number of pages you’re going to write each day. Maybe you can measure a certain time period so your goal might be to write for two hours five days a week. I’ve never been successful with these study hall periods of writing because I find that I just write pointless drivel just to kill the time. But many people love to set goals for writing a certain amount of time each day.
As a side-note to the measureable component of goals, it’s also important to track your progress as you strive to meet your end point. Create a spreadsheet to track your submissions (you should probably already be doing this for record keeping anyway) so you can see if you hit your goal for the month. Complete a checklist for each story if your goal is to review and spellcheck your piece a minimum of three times. Write down book titles as you finish if your goal is to read 10 books a month. Tracking results helps you savor your accomplishment and also identify problem areas if they exist.
An achievable goal is simply one that is realistic. If my goal is to write the number one bestselling book of the year, then I am doomed to failure. And with the vagueries of the writing business (and editorial selection), it’s probably unrealistic to set a goal for a certain number of publications. But you could set an achievable goal of pitching more story ideas. Or mailing out a certain number of short story submissions.
For a goal to be relevant, it must be something that matters to you. Personal habits are so difficult to change, if you don’t have a damn good reason for doing something, you probably won’t do it. If you want to write dense, intricate, and challenging historical fiction, it isn’t relevant that chick lit or thinly veiled assistant-and-notorious-boss novels may be hot right now. Your relevant goal should be about the writing you want to do.
For your goal to be time-bound, just define the amount of time you’re going to work on it. “Even if this is something you’re planning on doing forever, it often helps to put a time boundary around it so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming,” writes Ryan. So even though writing is probably going to be a lifelong passion for all of us, we can still dedicate blocks of time to it. Maybe for the next six months, you want to work on improving the humor in your work. Maybe you want to get a jumpstart on your novel, so you’re going to write a certain amount of time each day for the next six weeks. And so forth.
Much of the discussion around setting writing goals seems simplistic enough. Some people may say, “Big deal, just write, this goal thing is silly.” And for them, it might be unneccessary. But for many, many people in all walks of life, setting goals is a crucial step for any kind of success.
Here’s hoping that you reach, and exceed, your writing goals for 2007!
And if all of this talk is too sappy for you cynical naysayers, then here’s a more humorous version of the discussion: