Writing Goals for the New Year

To Do List CorkboardJanuary 1. That magical time of year when we’re suddenly overcome with the desire to start new projects and set goals or resolutions.

I think it’s a perfect time as well to look back on the previous year, examine your accomplishments (no matter how small) and remind yourself that you didn’t sit idle the past twelve months. Maybe you didn’t get everything done you wanted to, but you did something. Celebrate that. Then look to the new year and make a plan to continue succeeding. Having clear and specific goals can help you to do this. And what better time to set goal than January?

But writing goals are a little different than the typical New Year’s resolution to exercise more or eat less chocolate. Writing goals need to have more focus, more specifics.  I don’t think having a a single year-long writing goal on January 1 works very well (and probably why we often fail at our New Year’s resolutions). I might say my goal for 2013 is to write a new book, which sounds great, but just wanting to do it doesn’t make it happen.

That’s why I think monthly goals, weekly goals and daily goals are equally important (if not more important) to the year-long goal.

The year-long goal gives you a star to shoot for, maybe helps you see the “Big Picture”, the finish line of what you want to achieve, but it’s the small goals that get you there. I tend to think of the big goal as the “wanting” and the smaller goals as the “doing,” because the smaller goals tend to be the active tasks that bring you closer to achieving your year-long goal. These small goals are where the wanting ends and the work begins.

Saying you want to write a book is just too big a task to complete in one step, so breaking it down into more manageable pieces gives you something finite to focus on, something you can accomplish in a short period of time and feel good about, which I find is so important in achieving a long-term goal. If you never feel like you’re moving forward and getting something done, you tend to give up much too easily. If all you do is look at the big picture, it’s too easy to flounder around, wanting to get something done without really doing anything productive to get there.

So my advice for 2013 goals or resolutions is to aim big, but then go small. Take that lofty goal you have for the whole year and break it down into things that can be accomplished in a month. Then look at that month and break it down further into tasks to do each week.

And finally, take one week at a time and give yourself daily goals. The good ol’ “To Do List.” Daily goals is where you accomplish things, where you get it done. And I don’t know about you, but I always get a little rush when I’m able to scratch something off my daily list. 🙂

Daily tasks should be small enough that you can get them done in a day and have no excuses why you didn’t. But if something unexpected comes up (and you know it always does), these are the types of goals that are small enough to carry over to the next day and not screw up your entire week. Because who wants to face constant failure for one little interruption? Don’t punish yourself, help yourself to achieve instead.

So don’t say you’re going to write a book in a day, pick instead a scene, or maybe even half a scene, or decide to just do the dialogue for a scene and leave it at that. It’s a small goal, but it’s doable and that’s the key. You set yourself up for failure if you try to impose large tasks that are impossible do in the time available. If you stick to small daily goals you often have the chance to exceed your goals (maybe do today and tomorrow’s tasks at the same time!) and feel that elation of success rather than the crush of failure for not meeting a larger goal.

For me, it’s those little feelings of accomplishment that prompt me to return to work the next day and the day after and the day after, and keep going. It’s okay to push yourself with bigger goals, but not if all it does it make you feel useless because you don’t meet them. If you’re struggling with a goal of 1000 words a day, lower it to 500 until you’re consistently exceeding that, then raise if you want. Why beat yourself up? What does that accomplish?

What goals you set for yourself is a personal choice. You’ll notice I didn’t list any goals here, because what I choose isn’t relevant to what  you choose. Some writers like to go with word counts, others with page counts or scenes. Go with whatever works for you. It’s your goal, your project. Only you know what your work habits are and your time constraints. Customize your goal list to fit your personal schedule so you have a fighting chance to meet your goals.

Bottom line: dream big, but start small and you’ll always have the chance to surprise yourself at how much you can achieve over the course of a week, a month and even a year.

Happy New Year!