I long ago stopped making “New Year’s Resolutions,” because as we all know they only last about a week, right? Go on a diet, exercise more, write more, be happier, etc.
I wonder, why does that happen? Perhaps it’s because these resolutions are just too broad, too sweeping—“write more”—what does that mean? It could mean writing one page more than you wrote last year. Or perhaps you set goals that you can't possibly give yourself, that aren't within your control. Goals like, “I’m going to become a published author this year,” or “I’m going to win a writing contest this year.” These goals are beyond your control and you are setting yourself up for failure.
Be specific. There’s a difference between your dreams (being published, winning awards) and your achievable goals. For example, as a goal, you may write down “I will write for ten minutes a day” or “I will write 500 words a day.” Those are specific and they are attainable. (Not: write for 12 hours a day or write 10,000 words a day. Unrealistic.)
A goal that can help you on your path to publication may be “I will submit one short story (or article) per month (or every 3 months, or whatever achievable time frame you set).” Or “I will make a list of ten agents (or publishers)” and “I will submit one query per month (or whatever time frame).”
A goal to put you closer to winning a contest may be similar: “I will submit an entry to one contest every month (or other time frame).”
Others might be: “I will join a critique group.”
“I will take a class in memoir (fiction, creative non-fiction).”
“I will finish the first draft of my book by July 1.”
“I will complete the second rewrite of my book by December 1.”
Divide your larger goals into mini goals you can work on each day.
“I'll write three pages before I go to bed today.”
“I'll finish that outline today.”
“I'll research that information I need today.”
My immediate goal is to put the final polish on a non-fiction book by my deadline of January 31. My next goal is to begin the rewrite on what will become the fourth novel in my series. Perhaps I want to give myself a deadline to finish that novel and submit it to my publisher by November 1. To help me along with that, I plan to revive the critique group I got started last fall. If I want to refine that, I could say that I will have five (or ten) pages per week ready for my critique partners.
How do you set goals and what are some of yours?
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of the Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and her next book Dare to Dream Will be published next May.