The winter solstice has passed, Christmas has come and gone, and the new year is upon us. January is a time of beginnings, fresh starts, and mended resolutions to improve. It is also notorious for being a time where people build grand ideas of who they will become, which all come crashing down by February 1st. It is easy to have a bleak outlook on goal-setting after years of broken resolutions, believing that nothing will ever change. Even so, I’d like to encourage you to set writing goals for the coming year. It is possible to stay on track if you go about it the right way.
So much of keeping writing goals is setting the right goals. You probably won’t write two thousand words a day, especially not if you’re not already in the habit of writing daily. Similarly, “write a best-selling novel” is vague and unhelpful. The best goals are S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Specific goals are detailed objectives that use action words. Is your aim to write a novel, a short story, poetry, or something else? Know your intention when setting a goal.
Measurable goals include a way for progress to be evaluated. Will you base your success on word count, number of poems written, number of stories submitted, or another means of assessment?
Attainable goals are realistic considering your lifestyle and commitments. What is reasonable for you to accomplish? Goals that are attainable for one person may be unrealistic for another. Know what your schedule, energy, and capacity allows, and keep those limitations in mind while crafting your goals.
Relevant goals get you closer to where you want to be in life. Goal-setting can be a good time to consider why it is you write. What do you want out of the writing experience: catharsis, entertainment, acclaim? Take this desire into account when crafting your goals.
Time-bound goals have a deadline to keep you motivated. When you plan to accomplish your goal “by the end of the year,” you leave room for procrastination. Such goals are easy to neglect until the end of the year or to forget entirely. Year-long goals are easier to keep when broken down into smaller chunks with daily, weekly, or monthly milestones.
So what does a S.M.A.R.T. goal look like? Some examples are: write 500 words a day; write a short story a month; submit a poem every week. Taking your lifestyle and wants into account will allow you to craft similar goals that you can accomplish during the year.
Succeeding in Your Goals
You’ve made your goals: now what? How do you keep this year’s goals from being like the resolutions of New Years Past? There are several methods that can help you stay on track to meet your writing goals.
Make them visible.
Don’t let yourself forget what your goals are! Find ways to remind yourself what you’ve decided to do. Reminders can take several forms: conveniently-placed post-it-notes, dry-erase marker notes on the mirror, or reminders in your day planner/electronic calendar/other date-keeping method. Whatever method you choose, make sure that your reminders are visible and clearly communicative.
Sporadic behaviors rarely lead to success. Examine your schedule and determine when you can fit in writing. For some, the morning before work is the best time. Others work best when they get home for the day, or just before bed. Some people can write daily, while others write a few days a week or mostly on the weekends. Some writers can work in short snatches of time every day, while others work best when they’ve blocked out an entire day. Find what works for you and commit to it, make it a habit that you don’t have to think about. That way, when the time comes, you don’t have to decide whether you’re going to write: you’ve already made the decision that this will be your writing time.
Some writers also find it helpful to make a ritual out of the activity of writing: making a cup of coffee or a particular type of tea, burning a certain candle, sitting in a certain chair. These small habits help your subconscious associate those sensory details with the activity of writing, making it easier to “get in the zone.”
Have an accountability partner.
Whether it is a friend you see regularly, an online forum, or something in between, find another writer and agree to be accountability partners. Share your goals with one another and check in regularly to encourage one another to stay on track throughout the year.
Remember your “why.”
Perhaps the most important thing of all, it is important to remember why you set these writing goals for yourself. What about your life will improve if you succeed in your goal? Is this year’s goal an end in itself, or a smaller part of a life-long journey? Keep the end in mind as you work to reach your milestones (though be careful not to get so caught-up in fantasizing about the result that you neglect the work).
There are a few ways that writers can keep their why at the forefront of their minds. Some writers make vision boards–cork boards or magnetic boards with inspirational quotes and pictures reminding them of how good it will feel to accomplish the project. Others spend time in writers’ groups, associating with other writers with a range of experiences. This allows writers to bolster one another and share their successes. Often, celebrating with a friend who has accomplished a goal can be a great motivator to work on your own goals!
Writing is sometimes a long and lonely venture, and it is easy to not write–to begin projects that are never finished and make resolutions that never come to fruition. But with a plan and perseverance, it is possible to keep your writing goals for the new year.
What are your writing goals for the upcoming year? Let us know in the comments!