Previously published on Aspen Mountain Press’s blog, January 2, 2009
If you’re reading this, you’re one of those people who, like me, make goals every year. Did you make goals last year? I did and they were based on a total word count for the year. This was the first time I’d ever set out to do something like that, and I didn’t reach my goals. It wasn’t a complete catastrophe, but I realized a few things. So I’d love to share those with you if you’re feeling the need to arm yourself with new goals for the year.
1. Goals must be attainable. I’m a last minute gal when it comes to most things. It’s something I struggle with constantly, but when I give myself an annual goal I’ll happily shoot for the moon and figure I’ve got plenty of time to get it done. Real life and burn out are factors most of us don’t include in our race to the stars. So make sure your goals are within reach.
For instance, if you can comfortably write 500 words a day, don’t make 1K a day your goal for the year. Why not set the goal for 500-650 words a day, every day for the year? That’s more realistic. Besides, the end results are fabulous. 182.5K-237.3K total words. Break that down in novellas, novels and short stories and you’ve had a heckuva year!
Also, you can reach for the stars, but focus on what you can achieve. Having a goal of “Agent X accepts my work and all my future works” is not something you [can] control. Sending two submissions to Agent X by July 2009, however, is.
On a side note, if you’re going in for surgery, or planning a big move, or looking for a new job, don’t count on your “down time” as writing time. Stress is a very real vice on creativity. Remember, real life is going to interfere. It’s how you adjust that makes all the difference.
2. Goals must be measurable. Have you ever ran/walked a race? I ran a 10K (6.2 mile) once in my life and do you know what the best part of that race was? The mile markers that told me I was getting somewhere…gave me a point of reference (especially when I had one or two miles to go!). One of the reasons I didn’t meet my goals for 2008 was a lack of reference. My goal last year was 390K words! I could have done that, had I been smart about it.
Now, you learned in the first step that I’m a procrastinator. So guess what happened in September when I realized I’d only written 160K of that goal? I lost my mind in a race with myself to get to 390K by December 31st. By the time December rolled around I’d reached 300K of my goal. In less than three months I’d written almost the same amount from the previous eight months. Guess what happened in December? Burn out and illness. The body can only take so much stress and I’d heaped a ton of it on myself. So what is a writer to do then?
Set mile markers.
I’ve set this year up with quarterly goals and word count focus. I can comfortably write 1200-1400 words a day. So that’s my daily goal. I’m a weekend catch-up writer when I wake up before the rest of the household. So that will sit nicely with me for the year. I’ve also set up a goal of submitting to one publisher a month. Incidentally, the word count goal has given me wiggle room to write outside my current publishing obligations on a project of my heart so I don’t suffer from burn out again.
And, if I miss out on a goal for the quarter, I’ll be able to begin again the next quarter. Accountability will come at the end of the year, where I’ll re-evaluate my goals for next year.
3. Goals must mean something to YOU. My goals are not yours. Yours are not mine. That may seem obvious, but think about it. I can’t tell you how many times my girlfriends and I went on diets together. We were all going to lose 10 pounds, whether we needed it or not. And together we struggled and cried and got frustrated when the pounds melted off one person and accumulated on another (We called that the fat transference theory).
Over the years I’ve tried several goal road maps and none of them did it for me. I’d get frustrated and angry, ready to throw in the towel without another thought. When my Irish temper cooled, I’d re-evaluate and realize that goal set just wasn’t a good fit for me.
Goals that mean something to me: Submitting one book a quarter to each of my publishers, submitting one novel this year, reminding myself why I wrote in the first place (because it’s fun and keeps me SANE!). Those goals work for me. What goals work for you?
And one last tip: Write your goals down and put them in front of you. Post them on the wall in front of you, or on your fridge or some other place within your line of sight.
I hope this helps you in your goal quest of 2009. Let us know, in comments, what your goals are this coming year.
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