By Brian Kaufman
It’s January. Snow, bitter cold, a false spring for seven days somewhere in the middle, crowded gyms, and empty restaurants. (Of course, who knows what the rest of January holds for us with climate change at the helm.) A time for resolutions.
Unfortunately, statistics show that less than half of New Year’s resolutions last into the sixth month. Nearly a quarter of goals are abandoned in the same January that spawned them. I suspect writers have better stats than most because they are stubborn by nature (obstinacy being required to pin oneself to a chair and laptop when there’s so much else to do). But whether the goals do any good is a separate question.
The act of writing, which is a solitary endeavor, requires occasional resets. The start of a new year is the traditional moment for reflecting, remotivating, and goal-setting.
Here’s how not to state a goal:
- I’ll try to write more.
- I’ll publish my novel with a traditional publishing house.
- My book will be made into a movie.
- I’ll lose some weight.
(I threw in that last one to emphasize a general sense of futility.) These are not randomly chosen goals—these are goals I’ve considered for myself over the years.
Let’s take a moment to analyze why these goals don’t work. Consider the culprit phrase “try to write more.” There is no trying. There is only doing. (You’re welcome to hear that in Yoda’s voice if that helps.) The wording is wrong. As in fiction writing, the language of your goals should be written a certain way. The following guideline is called the SMART model for crafting intentions:
- Specific—a defined ideal.
- Measurable—so that you know whether you met the goal.
- Attainable—a realistic goal.
- Relevant—it will achieve something.
- Timeframe—”someday” is not helpful.
That first poorly stated goal (I’ll try to write more) can be rewritten as:
I’ll write 3,000 words a week in 2023.
Let’s analyze this revised goal using the SMART model. The new version is specific and measurable. There are, of course, different possible units of measurement to consider. You can use word counts, page counts, hours spent with your butt in a chair, or evenings devoted to the cause.
Attainable? That depends on you. Set a goal that will stretch what you’ve done before without breaking you. And don’t set one that’s too easily achieved. You need to push, or you won’t get where you want to go.
Relevant? A writer must, above all else, write, so a measure of effort of one kind or another seems appropriate. As for the timeframe, resolutions are meant to be goals for the year, so “in 2023” will work.
Avoid striving for overly generalized things (I’ve already dismissed the weight goal). Publishing traditionally depends on a second party—the publishing house—as does the hope of getting a movie contract. You can control a word count. You can’t control the decisions of a New York editor or Hollywood movie producer.
So, what kind of goals are appropriate for a writer? I’ve set most of these goals at one time or another, depending on where I was in my writer’s journey. Not all will work for you, and I’ve undoubtedly missed several.
Before I published my first novel, I needed to know more about the craft. I took a step down from my day job and went back to school at Colorado State. I made a similar commitment to study craft last year (on a smaller scale) because this old dog needed new tricks. At one point in between, I gave myself a word count goal because two jobs, a wife, three kids, and a dog had slowed the headway of my work in progress. The plan helped me stay on track.
This means that before you write goals, you need to know where you want to go and where you’re at with respect to the destination. Honest self-assessment is vital. If you aren’t sure, ask your writer friends or your significant other, and beg them to be brutally honest.
Then, armed with your newfound insight, grab a shopping basket and go down the writer’s goal aisle:
- Attend a writer’s conference in 2023. Conferences are lovely places to improve your craft, network and motivate, and make pitches to those publishers you’d like to impress.
- Find a beta reader in 2023. Writing being that aforementioned solitary endeavor, finding others to help your stories stay on track is essential.
- Join a critique group in 2023. This one can be constructive. Think of it as finding five or six beta readers.
- Write (insert number) days a week in 2023. If you write more often, your writing will improve. Stephen King once said that he wrote every day of the year except for his birthday and Christmas. Then he paused, blushed, and admitted the lie—”I write those days, too.”
- Submit (insert number) items for publication in 2023. In baseball terms, it’s hard to get hits when you never go to bat. Get used to rejection. My first novel was rejected 103 times before it found a home. Be stubborn.
- Build your social media presence to (insert number) of followers in 2023. If you publish your work, you’ll need to promote your work. If you don’t like one particular digital platform, choose another. I’m currently on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.
- Start a blog. A blog is a good change of pace for your writing, and it’s one more portal to steer readers to your work.
- Read (insert number) books on the craft of writing in 2023. I had a goal like this last year, and I have one this year. After thirty years of writing with purpose, I am figuring out how much I still must learn.
- Read (insert a LARGE number) books, in and out of your chosen genre, in 2023. If you don’t read, you’re not a real writer.
- Take a course in grammar in 2023. Mr. Google can help you here. Get rid of those nagging technical distractions that bother your readers. Pick a few goals that will help your writing immediately and at least one other long-term goal. Type them out and put them on your desktop, or print them off and tape them to your mirror. Read them every day and get to work. Why? Because the clock is already ticking.