Did you get swept up in the end-of-the-year excitement about New Year's resolutions? Did one or more of your resolutions include something about writing? It's February—and my question is: How's it working for you? If you've kept to your resolution for the first 31 days of the year, congratulations!|
Didn't make any resolutions? Perhaps it's just as well. Instead, consider making some 2008 writing goals. After all, it shouldn't take a national holiday to make and set goals—and although the beginning of the year is a fine time to set them, goals can be formulated at any time of the year. We tend to make resolutions and then put them away until next year (if we don't completely dismiss them before that). However, if you're using goals correctly, they should be periodically evaluated and revised. So if you've made New Year's resolutions, reevaluate them now, turning them into goals—and plan to examine them at least two or three times during the year. Here are some tips for setting those writing goals:
Be Realistic: If you have a full-time job, a house full of kids, and a menagerie of animals, perhaps four hours of writing every day is a bit impractical. Would it be more reasonable to write for four hours each weekend? Or can you write for 15 minutes every day on your lunch hour? Set a goal that fits your life—but be ready to commit to it and stick to it.
Now that you've got that overall writing goal, what else do you want to accomplish—say, in the next three or six months? Write a short story? Submit to an anthology? Write the first 20,000 words of your novel? What is your timeline to do these things? Finish a short story within the next three months? Submit to an anthology within six months? Get that first part of your novel written in four months?
Commit to Paper (or e-File): Write your goals down somewhere—whether on paper or in a computer file. Contract to Write Monday through Friday, during lunch hour, for 15 minutes, for the entire year, excluding holidays and vacation (or if your boss asks you to work through lunch on a special project). Otherwise, do not deviate.
Now write your second goal. Maybe you would like to Finish a short story by May 1, 2008. You might write your goal as I will submit to an anthology (if you have a specific one in mind, include the details) by August 1, 2008. If you don't know which anthology you'll submit to, then perhaps you need another goal, one that is geared toward finding the right anthology for you. Have a follow-up goal to meet the deadline for submission. The dates are important. If you don't set specific timelines to meet goals, it's easy to let them languish with a thought of doing them tomorrow. Post your completed goals somewhere so that you'll see them often to help motivate you to complete them.
A word of caution: Keep your goals simple. Be very specific and don't have so many that you'll set yourself up for failure.
Just Do It: You'll never get published if you don't write. Procrastination is not your friend. Put butt to chair and fingers to keyboard—or pen to paper, depending on your style. If you dream of having your own writing space, make the creation of this space one of your first goals, and include a date by which you will complete the task. Then use that space for achieving your writing goals.
Do you have an unfinished piece languishing on your hard drive? Pull it out. Ask What if… Finish it. When it's done, write an alternate ending.
Do you need some writing inspiration? Look for online writing prompts. You can find a new one every day at http://www.writersdigest.com/writingprompts.asp. (You can also post your writing at their forum.) Or try http://figmeant.com/section/writing-prompts. For adult-themed prompts, check out http://wetwednesday.blogspot.com. An especially fun one is the writing prompt generator at http://www.writingfix.com. (Press three buttons to generate a setting, a character, and a conflict. The possibilities are endless.) Finally, try the Imagination Prompt Generator: http://www.creativity-portal.com/prompts/imagination.prompt.html. (More philosophical in nature, but interesting themes nevertheless.)
Fire your Inner Critic: Make this the year that you tell your inner censor to take a hike. If that little voice in your head whispers that you're no good at writing, that no one will be interested in what you have to write, that you're squandering your time, visualize yourself handing your critic a pink slip. (Sorry, no severance package!) Watch her walking away, head down, shoulders slumped, closing the door behind her as she goes. Now, sit down and write without anyone to critique your work. (Later, when you've got your story down on paper, you can always invite your inner critic back to polish up that writing, but I'd highly recommend that you contract only for positive feedback from her—no negativity allowed—and hire her on a project-by-project basis only.)
Learn / Do Something New: Enter a contest. Take a class: grammar, memoir writing, web page authoring, book promotion—whatever interests you related to writing in some way. If you don't have classes in your area, look on the web. There are lots of them available. Google "writing classes" then search away. (Finding a class can also be a goal. Don't forget to set a deadline to find the class and another to finish it.)
Honor your Process: Do you write linearly? Do you write random scenes in a story and then look for ways to string them together with transitions, like a strand of pearls? Whatever your process is, it's okay. With two published books and a third one in process, I've discovered a pattern to my writing. I write linearly until I've got about half the story. Then, I find I need to jump ahead in the story. Once I write this new section, I can then continue on from point A to point C. It has happened whether or not I have an outline. It just seems to be part of my process.
If you have a pattern to your writing that is unique to you, just go with it. Don't let trying to conform to what you think your writing process should be stop you from writing.
Find Support: Find an online group. Find a local writer's group. Connect with a writing buddy. Find a beta reader that will give you insightful critique and encourage you to continue. Commit to something that will keep you producing on whatever schedule is best for you.
Stay Focused and Organized: Set up a writer's e-mail account separate from friends and family e-mail. This will keep you from using valuable writing time forwarding all those jokes. It will help you keep on track if you only deal with e-mails that pertain to your writing endeavors during time dedicated to writing-related activities. Use the e-mail to correspond with your writing support group, communicate with others about research questions, do electronic submissions. Don't use the account for non-writing-related activities. Also, set up a spreadsheet to keep track of submissions (who, what, when, where information).
Aim High: What's the worst thing that can happen if you don't make your total word count in three months? Instead of 20,000 words you have 15,000? Even if you only have 5000, that's 5000 more than if you had never begun. Some people need to aim high to stay motivated. Know your personality type.
On the other hand, if aiming too high will only leave you depressed and unmotivated, take a different approach. Aim low and be really jazzed when you exceed your goal. Set a word count of 10,000 words in three months. If you've got 12,000 words at the end of that time, it may be the impetus you need to continue on to the next 10,000.
Take a Deep Breath and Have Fun: It's writing, not rocket science. The only world that might end if you don't meet your goal is the one in your head. And although you may not be happy about it, lives (real ones) are not at stake. Don't stress out if you hit a bump in the road with that serious romance novel of yours. Instead, stop and write something crazy and completely out of character. Use one of the random writing prompt generators mentioned above, or open the dictionary and point to a word. Write the word down. Do it three times. Then start writing, incorporating those three words into your first paragraph. Keep going. Write whatever comes into your mind. Don't stop. You may find yourself writing something you can use in that serious novel. If not, at least you've written something. Who knows, you may use it later. (See "Just Do It" above).
Read: In your genre…out of your genre. Challenge yourself. When a phrase catches your eye (like the ones that evoke an I wish I had written that), savor it. Let it roll around in your mind. File it away in your memory banks. You may find yourself writing similar ones as you integrate them.
Reevaluate: Goals shouldn't be static. Assess your goals every few months. Forgive yourself if you haven't accomplished what you set out to do within your timeline. As part of the reevaluation process, ask yourself if the goal was too ambitious, was not a high enough priority, or was something that should have been put off for another year (especially if other goals should precede it). If it becomes clear that the goal doesn't even belong on your list, delete it and move on.
Once your evaluation is completed, update your goals and your target dates. Now that some goals have been accomplished, are there any new goals you need to generate from the ones you've completed?
Reward Yourself: Did you write down five goals and only accomplished one? Good for you! At least you accomplished that one. Maybe one really significant goal was all you should have had in the first place. Maybe you just didn't realize it at the time. Next time, you may complete two. Or four. Maybe your timelines weren't practical. Learn from your experiences, revise, and move on—and reward yourself for completing a goal. Finished those 1000 words in a weekend? Go to a movie. Buy yourself a cappuccino. Watch a favorite TV show.
In Summary: Don't make New Year's resolutions—especially if you will only leave them languishing because they're too vague, or too difficult, or you just don't care about them after a few months. Instead, design writing goals that will serve as a constant guide. Review them every few months to make sure you are on track and that the goals are still important to you. If you need to tweak them, do it. Finally, I wish you all the writing best for 2008!
Anna Furtado is the author of The Heart's Desire—Book One of The Briarcrest Chronicles (a Golden Crown Literary Society Award finalist) and The Heart's Strength—Book Two of the Briarcrest Chronicles. Anna is also a featured columnist at Just About Write and contributes book reviews to JAW, as well as at the L-Word fan site in the literature section.