What the bloody hell happened to 2020? It’s been mind-boggling and mind-bending and mind-blowing! My goal posts took off in all that turbulence. There isn’t a lot any of us mere mortals can do to fix 2020, which is, of course, a worry in itself … There are a hell of a lot of reasons why we writers may not have been as productive as we would have liked to have been. As an editor, I had more than one writer unable to deliver their manuscript on time, and honestly, I think the circumstances have been so extraordinary, their excuses were warranted.
But it’s now mid-year-annus-horibbilis and it would be nice to get life back on track, don’t you think? Let’s put our pandemic shitstorm aside for a moment.
I’m a goal-oriented person. Goals help me to be more focused in my work, they help me to identify what it is I want to achieve, and I’m a much more settled and happy person if I know I am working with a sense of purpose. I know not everyone likes to set goals, but hear me out - I honestly think if you want to enjoy a sense of achievement, especially if you have a Herculean task in mind – like writing a book – goals can help. Why? Because they are like road lights. Goals help to illuminate the road to success and keep you on the right track. Without goals, its all too easy to meander.
But what if the goalposts have moved and it wasn't your fault, I hear you shout. My answer? Adapt. Whether the goalposts have moved of their own accord, or whether you decide to move them, its important to have a flexible mindset. I think the reason people dislike goals is because sometimes they are so tied to them that they see anything short of a touchdown (or whatever goal-scoring metaphor you feel appropriate here), they chalk up as failure. I disagree - strongly. Flexibility is important to a writer's resilience. Your goals should be like having a GPS system for a destination, but if you decide you want to take the scenic route, or if there is a massive great log across the road blocking your path, there is nothing wrong with taking a diversion. The journey may be all the more pleasurable. Don't be a martyr to your goals. Be adaptable and kind to yourself, but also be honest for your reasons for straying from the path if you do.
SMART is an acronym that is often bandied around when it comes to goal setting in management and coaching, and it is also useful when setting writing goals. You want them to be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-limited.
It’s no good just saying your goal is to be a better writer. Don’t we all! That is way too vague. Try to make your goals personal and SPECIFIC to you. Sit down and identify what is important to you and also what will keep you engaged and motivated. Specific goals for the rest of 2020 might be one short story a month, or it could be writing the first draft of your novel manuscript. Pick one or two meaningful and specific goals for the next six months.
Whatever your goals, make them SPECIFIC and MEASURABLE. Having decided on the year-end goal, break it down into six months, three months, monthly and weekly. If you give your goals a numeric value and a deadline so they are MEASURABLE, it is easier then to track your progress, which can be an enormous motivator in itself. You give yourself markers such as 1000 words a day/week, 10 pages a week, or one scene a day, or one chapter a week.
It’s essential that you don’t set yourself up for failure. Whatever your goals, make them SPECIFIC and MEASURABLE and ACHIEVABLE. What is realistic given your own personal circumstances? If you have a full-time job and three kids, it may not be realistic to set yourself a goal of writing 5,000 words a day! But do stretch a little. Be ambitious. I love the quote I was reminded of recently by a writing friend:
‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’ Norman Vincent Peale
Whatever your goals, make them SPECIFIC and MEASURABLE and ACHIEVABLE and RELEVANT for you. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, but please consider your writing mojo. If you choose to write about something you're not particularly interested in, or a genre you know nothing about, or you are not seriously fascinated by you chosen project, it is quite likely that your motivation to finish will flag.
Whatever your goals, make them SPECIFIC and MEASURABLE and ACHIEVABLE and RELEVANT and TIME-LIMITED. Again, I like to break down goals into more palatable chunks: three months, monthly, weekly. Of course, sometimes a goal is not about word counts. It could be to commit a certain amount of time to research which can mean no words on the page at all, and yes, it is just as essential to the writing process, especially if you are a historical fiction writer like me. Likewise planning and plotting your novel, or working on your author platform – these are also essential elements of being an author and should be part of any goal setting. However, it is all too easy to be sucked into the vortex of research or social media, so establish time limits for these things. Make sure you include time for some actual writing! And if you are writing a short story, a novella, or a novel, you should also give these realistic timeframes for completion – first draft, second draft, third draft, whatever.
I might add another mnemonic to these SMART goals and that is PANTS.
Personal – keep your goals personal rather than comparative. Look to yourself not others when setting goals and reflecting on your success.
Adaptable – be adaptable not rigid in your goals. Adaptability is key to your resilience as a writer. Opportunities arise, priorities change. There is nothing wrong with moving the goalposts.
Nurturing – don’t for goodness sake forget to look after yourself. Stretch, take exercise, eat well, have fun, socialise and reward yourself. Also nurture fellow writers, out of both common decency and you know - what goes around comes around.
Time out – make sure you schedule time out with family and friends, and to replenish the creative well. The best inspiration often comes away from the desk/laptop etc. I'm at my most creative when I'm half asleep - no joke.
Step-by-step – Okay I've stolen this from Anne Lamott’s wonderful writing advice in ‘Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing Your novel is not going to be accomplished overnight, the same as Everest cannot be conquered in one step. Just keep putting one step in front of another. Even if you need a rest, don't give up. If it's important to you, set your sights again and keep moving - word by word, day by day, until you reach your destination.
Now, go set some goals!