Setting goals. You either love it or hate it. But most likely, if you’re a writer, you’ve done it at least a time or two.
“I’m going to publish a novel.”
Even if you’re not a goal-setter, it’s likely you’ve made decisions like this that have moved your career forward, such as when you decided that you wanted to write in the first place, send that story out to agents or editors, or self-publish your book.
If you’re a die-hard goal setter, you may have been more deliberate about it. “I’m going to send my novel to 10 editors by the end of the year.” These types of detailed goals are great, as they increase your chances of success.
No matter what type of writer you are—goal-setter or not—it’s easy to run into some difficulties. Maybe this year, you’re not sure of what comes next. It often happens when we achieve some of our big goals, such as getting published.
Where do we go from here?
It can also happen after we’ve experienced a discouraging year, with perhaps a lot of rejections or writer’s block. We may start to lose hope that we’ll ever achieve our goals.
Writers often face other issues, too, that dance around the perimeter of our creative careers, like how to find the time to write, how to stoke creativity, how to stay motivated, and how to avoid becoming overwhelmed and exhausted with all we have to do.
To help you determine what your goals are for this year, I’ve got a little quiz for you. Grab your notebook or gadget and answer the following 7 questions. I hope when you’re done, you’ll have a better idea of the changes you’d like to make this year.
7 Questions to Help You Set New Goals
1. What did you enjoy most about your writing life last year?
Be as specific as you can. Was it starting a new story, or finishing your novel? Finding time to write every day? Writing your blogs, essays, or short stories? Writing up character sketches?
Maybe it was researching your novel? Attending a writer’s conference or event? Studying books and online sites to learn more about writing? Getting together with writing friends?
Whatever it was that you most enjoyed, set a goal to do more of that in the coming year. The more you do what you enjoy doing the most, the more motivated you will be in your writing activities as a whole.
So for example, “I will attend at least one writer’s conference this year,” or “I will start one new novel this year.”
2. What did you most dislike about your writing life last year?
Again, be as specific as you can. Was it working on a project that’s going nowhere? Submitting to agents and editors? Marketing activities like running giveaways or trying to find public speaking opportunities?
Maybe it was editing your work, attending a writer’s group, or submitting your stories to contests. Or maybe it was something a little different, like feeling guilty because you weren’t getting as much time to write as you wanted, or feeling lost because you knew something was missing in your writing, yet you weren’t able to get the help you needed.
Focus in on what it really was that made you feel badly, or hopeless, or less than excited about writing. Then use that to set a goal that will help you avoid feeling that way again.
For example, “I’m going to spend only two hours a week on marketing, and let the rest go,” or “I’m committed to working with a writing mentor at least once this year,” through either a workshop or one-on-one hired editor arrangement.
It’s up to you to do what you need to do to feel good about your writing again. Your answers to this question should help you map out a way to do that.
3. What goal have you not yet reached that you’ve always wanted to reach?
We all have them. Maybe you wanted to publish a novel, see your byline in a well-known magazine, be a bestselling author, or take your blog to a professional level.
Whatever that goal is, if you haven’t reached it yet, write it down. For example, if becoming a bestselling author is your goal, write down all the ways you can increase your odds of achieving it. Maybe you need to write another novel, step up your marketing, or get involved in some workshops that will help improve your writing.
Sometimes we can begin to think that there’s “no way” we’ll ever achieve these goals. If they still motivate you, though, they’re helpful. Even if you think this goal is quite out of your reach, if it motivates you to try harder, write it down.
4. Where do you want to be in your career at this time next year?
Imagine you’re sitting here a year from now. What’s changed, in your ideal vision of your writing life? What are you doing, and what do you no longer have to do?
Are you spending more time each day writing? Have you completed more projects? Do you have clients regularly paying you to write? Are you working with your editor to get your novel ready for publication? Are you getting ready to speak at a public event? Have you cut back your “day job” work hours because you no longer need to work as many?
Have fun with your answers. Let your imagination run wild. Then choose one thing that you really want to achieve by this time next year, and write it down.
5. How did you feel going after your writing goals last year?
Were you energized and motivated, or were you tired and worn out? This is an important one, because if you felt anything but inspired, that’s bad news for your career.
Spend too long feeling overwhelmed, and your brain will start to associate writing with something negative, something that’s “not fun.” Spend too much time in this state, and you can bet that writer’s block won’t be far behind.
To give yourself the best odds of succeeding, you need to do everything you can to keep the shine on. You started writing in the first place because you enjoyed it, right?
If you’re writing wasn’t fun last year, ask yourself why not? Maybe you were requiring too much of yourself. Maybe you were working hard, but not working smart. Maybe you were spending all your time marketing and not enough time writing.
Or maybe your writing itself got boring because you felt locked into one genre, or style of writing. Delve into your experiences and find out what you were doing that made writing a struggle.
Then, commit to stop doing that, and to trying something new. You may feel you have no choice. “I have to market.” But realize there’s always a choice. Maybe you can market less? Hire out some help? Delegate some tasks? There’s always a solution if you look hard enough.
If it’s the writing itself that’s failing to excite you, maybe your goal is to try writing in a new genre, to work with a writing partner, or to pursue your MFA. Or maybe you need to shake up your writing routine, by writing in a new location, sprucing up your office, or trying a new way of getting your words down, such as through writing by hand, or using speech recognition software.
Just remember that your writing and your response to it must be kept sacred if you are to make a go of this career for a lifetime.
6. Did you end the year feeling older or younger than you were the year before?
Silly question, right? We all get older every year. But I’m not asking you about your chronological age. I’m asking you, did you feel older or younger?
Some of this depends on your physical condition, which is part of the reason I’ve included this question. This is Writing and Wellness after all! I hope if you feel older this year, you’ll set goals to improve your physical wellness. A healthier diet, daily exercise, and at least 7 hours of sleep at night can go a long way toward helping you to feel younger than your age.
There may be an emotional source of your feelings too, though. If you’re feeling older, maybe it’s because you’ve fallen into a rut. Have you done anything new lately? Stretched yourself beyond your comfort zone? Writers rely on their creativity, and creativity comes from novelty. Maybe you need something new in your life!
Of course there may be other issues that have happened that made you feel older. Life has a way of putting us through a roller coaster sometimes. Whatever your situation, set a goal that when you achieve it, will help you feel younger.
Maybe you want to be able to walk a couple miles a day without getting winded, or lose 5-10 pounds, or update your wardrobe. Don’t worry about being self-indulgent. It’s important that you give yourself what you need to feel younger, as that will give you the energy and motivation to keep going after your writing goals.
7. What do you want to add to your writing life, and what do you want to release?
This can make it very simple to figure out what you want do more of, and what you want to do less of.
Maybe you want to add more writing time, and release the pressure of feeling like you have to market so much. Or maybe you want to add your own personal office, and release the guilt you feel when your writing takes you away from family.
It may help to divide your paper into two columns, and label one “add” and the other “release.” Then just list those things that come to mind. They may surprise you!
Once you have your two lists, you can then set goals for how to accomplish these additions and releases.
Good luck, and remember that goal-setting is important for achieving the writing life you desire. As author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn said:
“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
Did these questions help you set goals for the coming year? Please share your thoughts, or any tips you may have.