Every so often, it’s important to pause for a moment and take stock of where you’ve been and where you’re going. I like to do this around holiday time, particularly around Thanksgiving, because it reminds me of all the things I have to be thankful for… things I’ve overcome in my writing journey as well as opportunities still to come. Today we’ll be focusing on why it’s important to review your writing year so you have a clear path to your goals.
It’s very easy to accidentally get off track and not even realize it’s happened. Like, when I first started developing DIY MFA, I was all mixed up about the brand and the tone of the project. It took a savvy group of critique partners to help me focus and find my true DIY MFA voice. These critique partners, aside from giving great advice, were also caring enough to give me “tough love” when I needed it. After all, critiques that are only glowing and positive can only take you so far. A true friend is not afraid to tell you when your project is not working. They just know enough to say it in a kind and constructive way.
What about you? Where has your writing journey taken you this year and what have you learned from it?
I encourage you to do a short free-write to think on this subject. Use the questions below to prompt your writing.
Where Have You Been?
• What obstacles have you faced over the past year? How did you deal with them? Who was there for you to help you on your way?
• What about your victories? What were they (be specific)? Did you celebrate them (even the small ones) in some meaningful way? Who was there to help you be your best self?
• Did you face any disappointments in the past year? Any people you thought were in your corner but they let you down? Can you think of ways to salvage these relationships? And more importantly, what will you do to nurture yourself and help yourself heal?
• Finally, what is the most important thing you learned from your writing experiences this past year? How will you use this knowledge to fuel your writing next year?
Where are You Going?
Now that you’ve taken stock of where your writing journey has taken you, it’s a good idea to make a plan of where you want to go next. Every few months, I do an exercise called a Goal Search where I look at my long-term goals and try to develop a series of steps to get me there. This is an exercise I learned from Julia Cameron’s Supplies, a must-read for any artist facing creative difficulties.
The first thing you need to do in a Goal Search is figure out your destination (I call it my “Holy Grail.”) Julia Cameron calls this same concept her True North. Whatever name you give it, the idea is the same. Goals can be vague like “I want to write a book” or “I want to be a writer” so you need to narrow it down to a specific goal. A True North. A Holy Grail. A Destination.
Going back to that journey metaphor, overall goals are like saying “I want to take a road trip out west.” But what is “west” exactly? It could be Santa Fe, San Francisco or Seattle. You need to specify exactly where you want to go. The difference between overall goals and a specific destination is exactly that: the first is a vague sense of direction while the latter is a specific thing you want to achieve. Once you know your destination, you can plot out a series of milestones and a specific route that will get you there.
- Where are you going (in general terms)?
- What’s your specific destination?
- Now map out your route: Take out a piece of paper. On the far right, write your destination. On the far left, write down where you are right now. Starting from your destination, work backwards, step-by-step, mapping out each landmark you’ll have to hit to get you to that destination.
- Baby steps: Take the landmark immediately following your starting point and focus just on those two steps. Break those steps down into baby steps.
General goal: “I want to be a writer.”
Destination: “I want to publish my book.”
Mapping the route: (Major landmarks working backwards)
- Launch book 1
- Get contract for book 1
- Sign with agent
- Send queries and pitch at conferences
- Edit manuscript, implementing suggestions from Betas
- Get comments from Beta Readers
- Etc. (continue working backwards until you get to the starting point)
- Starting Point (Finished rough draft of manuscript)
Baby steps: For the purpose of this example, let’s suppose the writer has a finished first draft but has not started editing. The next big milestone is to send it out to Beta Readers, but there are plenty of baby steps in between. These steps might include:
- A first read-through
- Editing for character consistency
- Editing for plot and structure
- Polishing and fixing nitty-gritty details
Note: Each of the above steps can be broken down further: chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene.
I often find looking at all the steps between me and my destination to be overwhelming. Instead, I like to focus on the baby steps between me and that first landmark. It makes the process seem much more manageable.