Each January, I think about what I want to achieve for the new year. I’m a very goal-oriented person. Setting goals at the beginning of the year helps me focus my energy in the right area. Otherwise, I’d wander aimlessly about, not accomplishing much in the way of writing.
Setting goals is important at all levels of a writig career, but I think it’s especially important when you are pre-published. Speaking from my own experience, this time in a career can be frustrating. You work hard to complete a manuscript and often the publishing success of that manuscript depends on other people taking a chance on an unknown entity. Very often, the answer is no and you are faced with rejection. Perseverance is an important quality to have when you’re a writer. It’s that thing that keeps you writing.
Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie was rejected 30 times. He even threw the manuscript in the trash. His wife apparently found it and persuaded him to keep trying. Carrie went onto be a best seller — selling over one million copies in the first year in paperback.
The producer of The Queen’s Gambit worked for thirty years to see that script make it to the screen. No one in the industry would touch it. Apparently, people thought chess was boring. Have you tried to find a chess set this holiday season? They were wrong. Nine revisions later. 62 million people have streamed the series on Netflix.
Perseverance matters. Setting goals can also help you along the way.
For fifteen years I swam competitively, and setting goals was a big part of my training. I‘ve applied the same steps I used when I was swimming to my writing goals and you can too.
1. Set goals that are specific
Figure out what you want to achieve and be specific. Do you want to write a novel? That’s great. Maybe you’ve already written one and now you’re ready to submit it to literary agents. That’s also great. But those are two completely different goals. The steps you need to take to achieve each one will be different. It’s important to set goals that are specific and focused. Writing more isn’t a good goal. Writing a page a day, every day is a better goal. It’s specific.
2. Set a deadline to achieve your goal
Set a date for when you want to achieve your goal. Do you want to enter a writing contest? If so, figure what the entry date is so you can figure out an end date. Do you want to write a novel in one year? Think about how much time you have to devote to writing that magnum opus and commit to it. Incidentally, if you write one page a day, every day at the end of the year you will have a book.
3. Write down your goals
Write down your goals and post them where you will see them every day. Coming face to face with that goal every single day will keep you motivated to achieve it. I post my goals next to the mirror in my bathroom. That’s a holdover from my swimming days when I did the same thing. Seeing that goal every day staring at me keeps me on track.
4. Get the tools you need
Think about the tools you’ll need to achieve your goals. Is your goal to write a full-length novel but you have no idea how to plot it? Buy a book on plotting and study it. Or, listen to one of the many podcasts devoted to writing.
Due to the pandemic, many writing workshops have moved their conferences online. That means attending a writing conference can be done from the comfort of your sofa. They are more affordable than ever. Find one that has some workshops that focus on the plot. If you plan to submit your novel, then look for workshops on writing a query letter and/or researching agents. Those are two things you will need to master in order to find representation.
5. List the steps you need to take to get there
Once you have a goal in mind, and you’ve set the date you want to achieve it, think about the steps you need to take in order to achieve your goal. Set a writing schedule for yourself and stick to it. If you want to write a novel in 2021, does that mean a rough draft? Or do you want to have a polished manuscript you can submit to agents or editors? That’s something you should think about. If you want to have a polished manuscript, then you will need to allow for revisions on your timeline. If you want to get feedback from beta readers or critique partners (and trust me, you do) then you should allow for that as well.
Setting goals at the beginning of the year can help you determine which projects to focus on throughout the year. You can also determine the tools you need to reach your goals. For instance, adding a writing conference or craft workshop will be easier at the beginning of the year. Taking the time to write down your goals, helps you commit to achieving them. But most importantly, you will need to put your butt in the chair and do the work.