I’m going a bit off theme with this article, but when I saw Gabriela’s on Why You Should Review Your Writing Year, I figured I was on the write track. You see, I’m not a fan of resolutions, at the beginning of the New Year, or at any time.
There’s something too final about the word, if you ask me. Also, we’re never more than a few days into the New Year when I see social media post after post on how people have already abandoned their resolutions. It seems to be the thing to do with resolutions: make them and then break them.
I prefer goals to resolutions and I’m aware of the SMART acronym as applied to goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. This acronym works for a lot of people, and I’m not here to disparage it, but I find that when I set SMART goals and it comes time to measure up, I’m the one who comes up short.
What I’m going to talk about here, are flexible, intuitive, and tailored-to-you goals—hey! I just made up a new acronym—FIT goals—use them and your writerly imagination to speculate your future.
- Flexible – because … “stuff” happens and we must be ready to adjust in response.
- Intuitive – because if the goal is true to you, you’re more likely to follow through.
- Tailored-to-you – because every writer’s life is going to be different and what works for someone else may not work for you.
Let’s get started.
Step One: Blue-sky the Long-term
Last summer, I attended a presentation by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, author of Hex, on planning your creative life. The first thing he recommended was to think of an ultimate goal, or dream, to pursue. He recommended that you not censor yourself about the goal’s realism. We’re writers, after all; we should use our imagination to benefit ourselves, too.
I say, blue-sky your goal, but try to keep it to something that you can work towards, something that’s within your sphere of control.
My blue-sky goal is to be able to quit my day job and write full time. It may not be an original goal, but it’s something I can work toward, and see the steps along the way: polish a novel, query, get an agent, get a deal, etc. When I thought of the goal, I could see the path before me like a golden thread. My intuition spoke to me and said, this is possible. It may not be quick or easy, but I can visualize myself getting there.
Your goal might be more audacious. Go for it, but listen for that inner voice that says, “this is the blue-sky goal for me.”
You can put a time limit on your goal if you like. Thomas suggested five years. I’m not so keen on pinning things down. Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans, after all. It has a way of intervening. This is why I recommend goals be flexible.
Step Two: Brainstorm Possibilities
Gabriela has written and spoken about how she plans out her annual goals. She begins the process early, and brainstorms possibilities.
With your blue-sky goal in mind, write down everything you can think of to help you get there. And I mean everything. Dump it all out on the page. Gabriela recommends mind-mapping. Try not to censor yourself. Culling the list is the next step.
Step Three: Evaluate Your Possibilities
Once you’ve written down your master list of possible goals, evaluate them.
Some items on your list may not be things you can immediately accomplish. For example, for my blue-sky goal of being able to quit my day job, I might list get a publishing contract. I can’t get one of those until I get an agent. I can’t get an agent until I query. I can’t query until I have a project polished enough to begin the querying process.
In this way, you’ll organize your goals in steps, and have future goals lined up. Think of it as informal project management. Once you have a list of goals to immediately work on, you may have to further winnow the possibilities, given your specific circumstances.
Step Four: Create Your Plan
Creating your plan is all about taking your specific circumstances into account. I’ll illustrate with my own.
I still have that day job. It’s great because it pays the bills and gives me some discretionary money to attend writing conferences and conventions, which are important professional development opportunities. But it also takes up a good 40 hours of my week and I’m occasionally asked to travel to deliver or receive training. I also have a spouse and a new pup to care for. I must realistically look at how much I can do with the time that I have.
For this year, my goals are to continue to write new novels, to attend one conference and one convention, to work with a critique group to get one of my novels up to snuff for querying, and to write, revise, and submit a piece or two of short fiction.
I take advantage of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, to produce new work, but I often complete NaNo projects in December and the first few months of the next year. Fifty thousand words isn’t a marketable length for a novel, unless it’s middle grade. I find that after the creative blow-out that NaNoWriMo can be, I must set a more reasonable pace. 500 words a day is doable, and I set my goals accordingly.
Because I spent a lot of money on professional development last year, I’m limiting myself to two events in my area this year. I’ll be able to drive to them and the expense won’t be prohibitive.
I connected with an online critique group last year and will be working with them to get one of my drafts into query-ready shape. If the group works out, we’ll continue, and I’ll prepare another of my drafts for next year’s critique cycle later in the year.
I look for open anthology calls, and other short fiction publication opportunities on several sites and social networks. I usually submit to a couple of these a year. Short fiction isn’t my priority, but I like to keep my hand in.
These are all reasonable goals that I should be able to accomplish, even with my other obligations. If something comes up, though, I may have to change my plan while still holding true to my blue-sky goal.
Use the system of your choice to document your plan, a calendar or bullet journal (paper or electronic) are great options. I’m fond of Excel spreadsheets.
Step Five: Review Your Progress
This is where FIT goals diverge from resolutions. If you break a resolution, it feels difficult to keep trying. It’s broken, and you may not have the tools to fix it. If you assess your progress toward your goals—without judgement—on a regular basis, you can see what barriers there may be to your success and adjust your goals before they feel impossible to reach.
Thomas Olde Heuvelt recommended that you review your progress daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. I find that monthly and annually is good enough for me. Your mileage may vary. Daily, I can only see what may not have worked for me on that day. A month gives me more data to work with and I can see patterns emerge.
An evening meeting, dinner out, or special project means that I might not meet my modest 500-word writing goal. I’ve made a choice, though. I take responsibility and accept the outcome. Progress is progress. NaNoWriMo taught me is that every word is a victory. Similarly, every action brings you one step closer to your goals. You don’t have to be perfect in pursuit of your goals, just diligent.
Keep your goals flexible, intuitive, and tailored-to-you, and see how it changes the way you see, and achieve, your goals. You can use this simple system at any time of the year, even if you’ve already fallen of the resolution wagon.
If you do try it out, I’d love to know how it works for you!
Melanie Marttila creates worlds from whole cloth. She’s a dreamsinger, an ink alchemist, and an unabashed learning mutt. Her speculative short fiction has appeared in Bastion Science Fiction Magazine, On Spec Magazine, and Sudbury Ink. She lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, where she spends her days working as a corporate trainer. She blogs at http://www.melaniemarttila.ca and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.