It’s the last day of 2014. Like everyone else, you’re probably sitting down to write out your 2015 resolutions (if you do that sort of thing), or at least scratching out a few goals for the next twelve months on a scrap of paper. We have another year stretching out in front of us; a blank canvas to fill with ideas, successes, and ambitions. It’s a heady (and somewhat anxiety-inducing) sensation.
I have a small list of resolutions, and have started working towards making them a reality. I want to get healthier, so I picked up a Nutribullet for Christmas, created a weight loss binder, and grabbed a few discounted sports bras at the local mall (I have a small problem with buying fitness clothes– I have more workout clothes than real clothes). I want to get back to NYC; I haven’t been since before I married my husband. I want to take on more clients as a freelancer.
On the writing side of things, I want to publish Grisamore. I want to finish Flowers for a Ghost, and have it nearly ready to publish by the end of the year. And then, I want to get started on my next project after that. It’s a lot to accomplish in twelve months.
Any time I create a goal list, I think about an assembly I attended at my daughter’s school. The principal discussed the importance of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. We had goal setting methods when I was in school, too, but none so well defined.
- Specific– State exactly what you want to do. It’s not “finish a book”, it’s “self-publish Grisamore by July 2015”. “Lose twenty pounds” rather than “Lose weight”. The more specific you are, the less room their is for altering your interpretation later in the year. I’m guilty of that one, and I doubt I’m the only one. “Lose weight? Sure! I lost five pounds in January, so I’m good for the year!” (Not quite.)
- Measurable– Set a measurement for success. How do you know when you are done? As a writer, this might be when you type in the last few words of a project, or when you officially start sending letters to agents and publishers, or when your self-publish book is finally available for purchase. Just remember to be specific. Sending out inquiries? Great. How many? To whom?
- Achievable– I’d love to outsell Judy Garland or Stephen King. And I would take my boatload of money, buy a beautiful home in the mountains, and host annual writing retreats. With a hot tub. Awesome goal, right? Completely not going to happen. At least, not this year. It’s great to dream big, but I think it’s also important to set achievable goals. Don’t sell yourself short; if you want to be a bestseller, make it part of a five year plan. What can you do in the next twelve months to reach that goal?
- Relevant– How does your goal tie in to your current objectives as a writer? Is it helping to further your overall career objectives? Maybe you’d love to make a resolution to blog five times a week, but you aren’t sure if you’re going to have time to do that and work on your novel. Regular blogging is still a great goal, though, so maybe you decide to post something bi-weekly instead, so you still have the time and energy available for the tasks that really matter.
- Time-bound– How long will it take to complete your goal? If you don’t set a deadline, it’s easy to put off making any progress until it is too late to achieve your resolutions. If your goal is to finally write a novel, but you put it off until the end of next November, you’re going to struggle to make it happen. Set a deadline that is both realistic and close enough to demand immediate action. Do you want to write a novel? Finish it by July. Do you want to take a few marketing classes? Sign up in January. What goals should you try to avoid? Open-ended ones, like “I want to write 1,000 words a day in 2015”, aren’t as useful as they look. Break it down a bit. The goal of x-words a day challenges is to establish a daily habit, so a better goal might be to say that you want to get into the habit of writing 1,000 words a day by April 15th.
That’s a lot more work than just setting a resolution to write a book in 2015. And the thing is, if you want to write a book next year, do that! Just do it the SMART way. Statistically, you’re more likely to achieve a well-defined goals, and when you’re approaching a huge project (writing and publishing a novel, for example), your approach is everything.
Break down your goal into manageable chunks. If you’re like me, setting a huge goal is exciting! You’re ready to take on any challenge to make it a reality. But… then the sparkle and newness rubs off, and you’re left with a slightly less appealing pile of responsibility. It’s gone from an exciting challenge to a chore, and a really intimidating one at that. But, by breaking that goal down, you don’t have to worry as much about the end result. You’re not worried about your goal to write a novel. You’re just worried about your next step. Write the first three chapters by the end of January. That’s a lot less scary than trying to tackle the whole thing all at once.
As you start to break down your goals, develop a timeline. Every step has to have a deadline. Every few steps (or once a month), stop and take the time to evaluate your progress. Are you moving towards where you want to end up? Have you gone off track somewhere? Are your current goals no longer helping you to achieve your overall writing objectives? If you need to make changes, that’s fine. Just don’t spend so much time evaluating that you lose momentum. Take an hour or two to evaluate, and then get back to work.
I have more work to do with applying the SMART method to my own goals, and I’ll share them in a few days. Tonight, I am turning off of the computer, starting the dough for homemade pretzels and getting ready to ring in 2015 with a bang (and a lot of really good food!)
Happy New Year, everyone!