Did you know January 1st hasn’t always been the first of the year? Although Caesar introduced January 1st as the first day of the year, during the Middle Ages throughout Europe it was replaced, for Easter, by March 25th. I’m taking this as a reminder that goals and intentions can be laid out at any time of year.
After all, New Year’s Day is universally overwhelming. Whichever way you look at it, whether it’s as just another day or as a transformative period of time, there’s no escape from the fact that it means something. Literally; the calendar year is changed, a new diary is started, your iPhone switches to a new set of monthly views. It’s inescapable.
One week in to 2019 and I’m sure we’ve all seen daily big proclamations, or rejections, of resolve and opportunity. They’ve been making appearances in personal conversations, on social media feeds and in many letters that have arrived in my inbox. Even when you’re not one for making resolutions, the New Year is a good time for writers to look at what they want to achieve in 2019, what they want to carry on from 2018 and where they hope to do better. Because this is the start of twelve new months of possibility, and every story must start somewhere – even when it’s the sequel.
The steps below outline why and how to make achievable writing goals that don’t leave you wallowing in procrastination, self-doubt or the total abandonment of words. Goal setting is personal and should be intentional. If you think about all the things that you think you should be doing as a writer, you’re likely to fall short. But if you can get to the bones of what you should be doing as you the writer, you will find meaningful, poignant and reachable aspirations.
First, Look Back
This doesn’t need to be a year in review or an in-depth letter to 2018, although they both make a good writing exercise if nothing else. But, by getting retrospective, even when it feels uncomfortable, it provides the clearest view of precisely what your writing life looks like right now. By considering what you have and haven’t achieved over the past year, or even month, you give your instincts a chance to kick in. How do you feel about the half-finished manuscript saved on your laptop? What have you done with that list of ideas to pitch to magazines? What are you going to do with all those poems?
This is your starting point for goal setting.
Ask yourself if you want to finish these things? Or, if you do have a finished piece of work, what do you want, if anything, to do with it?
If you’ve run out of steam with a project, it’s okay to file it away for a while. It will still be there. Creating it hasn’t been wasted time.
If yes, when do you want them finished by or who do you want to submit your manuscript to? Start a ‘goal list’ and write these projects down with deadlines. Start a list of potential publishers, magazines, agents and whoever else you might want to send a pitch to.
Think about what you want to do and what you want to achieve
Following on from your retrospective is the switcheroo – looking forward. For writers, there are two clear sides to goals; what you’re writing and what you want to do with it. If you’ve followed step one then you’ve already made decisions about last year’s work. That might be enough for now. But if you feel that there’s more to manifest for 2019 ask yourself:
What projects do you want to do this year?
Do you want to make money?
What problems will you face?
Make the list realistic but don’t be afraid of ambitions. This could even be a good exercise in free writing where you get it all out of your system in a big flurry before fine tuning the details.
Now, whether you’re a hardened resolution setter or someone who wants to hide under a rock from them, this is the time to not look at 2019 as a whole. Instead, divide the list into two. Your first list should cover goals for January to March. Order your projects for this quarter in order of priority. Take a goal per page, write it out and set a deadline. Now, where possible go through and separate each goal into separate steps or intentions, e.g. how many words/how much time you want to spend writing each day, or how many festivals you want to pitch to and where you’re going to find them. If you want, set deadlines for each step, plan out the day you’re going to spend on it. When it comes to finances, what do you want to make each month and what do you plan to do to get there? Keep your figures clear, don’t be afraid to dream and consider what else you could do to help you get there. Maybe there’s a book you could read or a course you could go on?
By looking at each goal as a whole and then as the little chapters that make it so, you begin to unpick what you’re expecting your writing year to look like. It doesn’t have to be huge, maybe you just want to finish one damn book in the next six months. That’s great – just decide on what it is you want to have done by the end of March.
Now, in a separate list or notebook, jot down your for the future goals. You can refer to these again in April and redo the process for April – June, or earlier if you’re a badass and get ahead of yourself. This list will also serve as a place to preserve new writing goals and ideas in a way that cements them but does not place a mental burden on you until you’re ready.
So, what about those problems?
Quite simply, address them.
Has anything held you back in 2018? Are some of your projects supposed to be done and dusted. Be honest with yourself about what stopped you completing them and then look at why. Take away the catastrophising and ask yourself what you can do to change things.
Common writing problems and excuses include:
Not enough time Were you expecting too much of yourself. If you were to look at a bird’s eye view of your week, where can your writing time fit in?
Lack of accountability Writers work, usually thought not exclusively, alone. That private world is great for working, as long as you’re actually doing it.
Easy Options You feel like you’re winging it, like you’re a fraud or, maybe something doesn’t quite feel right with your work or work ethic. Take a moment to read it through and make notes about how you feel about your work when you do. You’ll probably realise that a lot of first draft problems are just that – you’ll fix these on the second go through. If you’re on what you think is a final draft but are suffering doubt, it’s probably time to get another perspective from readers or an editor.
Just take One Thing at a Time. There’s no point tying yourself in knots trying to do everything on your list at once. Being perpetually busy is not a sign of good productivity. Focus on each separate goal and give every piece of work the attention it deserves.
A Short Note on Non-Writing Writing Goals
Alongside your actual work ambitions, you might also want to consider the more abstract intentions you have for your life as a writer. Maybe you’d like to write in your writing journal every day, do a writing course, or grow your social media presence – don’t forget to check out our Writer’s Guide to Instagram if this is something on your list. Quantify these goals in the same way as above and the steps you need to take to get there.
The beauty of the quarterly process is that really, as neat and tidy January is as a beginning, you can assess, start and work through your writing goals at any time, without that looming crescendo of a whole damn year ahead of you.
Have you set yourself any goals this year? Are you worried about achieving them? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll see what we can do to help.