A few months ago, I wrote an opinion piece about the need for reasonable goals for yourself as a writer (which you can read here).
It occurred to me that I didn’t provide any tips for setting those goals. So, with my annual June check-in post having gone up last week, I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to talk about how to set realistic goals for yourself.
Factor in the Facts of Life
I’ll start off what I think is the most important thing to keep in mind when setting goals, and that’s knowing what you can feasibly do.
Speaking from experience, you might have the impulse to set bigger goals only for them to fall flat.
When this happens to me, it’s usually because I’m not setting goals for myself in a way that I can manage with everything else going on in my life like my day job or family obligations.
It’s important to consider everything you already have going on in your life because that will impact the trajectory of your goals.
If you’re in school, have a day job, family commitments, and other activities, you can’t drop all of them at the snap or a finger. These are things you need to keep in mind when setting goals so you can adjust your routine to accommodate these changes.
Life is a balancing act, and you don’t want to add another spinning plate to the stack so abruptly you knock them all to the floor.
Focus on the Micro
Back in high school, my desktop wallpaper for a time was a photo of Aaron Tveit poorly slapped onto some pixilated galaxy wallpaper I copy-pasted from Google Images into MS Paint.
The reason I bring this up is because I also squeezed in a quote from him, “I find that with anything, you have to focus on the micro. If I look at the whole thing, I’ll get overwhelmed.”
Focus on the Micro became a sort of mantra for me, especially in my senior year while I was dealing with the end of so many things and trying to find my place in the world at the precipice of a new beginning. It was my way of reminding myself to take things one day at a time and to break down the bigger things into smaller, more manageable steps.
Focusing on the micro can also help in setting goals for yourself.
For example, my saying I want to begin querying literary agents can feel pretty daunting at times and vague, but creating a list of the things I need to do in order to get there gives me a better sense of where I’m headed.
- Finish the current round of edits for BttH
- Beta readers round one
- Adjust manuscript with beta feedback
- Beta readers round two
- Adjust manuscript with beta feedback
- Professional edit(?)
- Prepare query letter and other necessary materials
- Research prospective agents
- Dive into the trenches
Even if the plan isn’t too specific or in order at first, listing out these baby steps can put you on the right path.
Remember, don’t focus so much on the micro that you fall into perfectionist territory and get stuck on one step for too long.
Out in the Open
If there’s one thing almost everyone knows about me, it’s that I am a writer. Well before I started this blog, even earlier than when I started looking into colleges I might want to attend, being a writer is part of my identity.
While I don’t reveal too much about the stories themselves, I do post on social media as well as on this blog to update friends, family, and followers about where I’m at with the process. These reports are designed to hold me accountable.
I want to share the progress I’m making and that I am getting closer to the day I can call myself a published author, but it also gives me an opportunity to share what things don’t work out or when my plans change.
Plus, knowing that there are people coming along for the journey and watching my progress helps keep me on track.
It’s worth noting that you don’t have to blast your goals out on social media for all to see; even telling a friend or two is enough.
It Starts with an End Date
Another thing that works for me is giving myself a deadline. If my goals are not contained within a set period of time, I might feel the urge to put things off because I can always do it tomorrow.
Setting a deadline gives me more reason to get things done because it creates more of a success/fail situation.
These might be broad or arbitrary.
You might say you want to finish a step in the plan within three months, or by this time next year, or pick a significant date like an event.
Last year, for example, I told myself I wanted to finish the first draft of Against His Vows by the date of a concert I was going to, which would also be about a year since starting the project.
This brings me to my next point.
Treat Yo Self
With the aforementioned deadline of a concert, achieving my goal of finishing the first draft of a project meant I could celebrate by rocking out with 5 Seconds of Summer at what I refer to as “The Annual Cathartic Screaming of Jet Black Heart.”
While the tickets for this show were a birthday present that year and I turned it into a motivation for me to finish up a project, I do make a point to reward myself in small doses when I have accomplished one of the things on my checklist.
I might give myself a day off from writing-related work to play The Sims or buy myself an expansion pack for the game if there’s a sale at the time, or I might follow up a more tedious round of edits with a blog post on a topic that is more fun to write about.
The point is, you need to reward yourself for all your hard work. It doesn’t have to be a major shopping spree or anything crazy, but it can helpful to have incentives beyond the prize at the end of the tunnel.
Life happens. Things go wrong. Plans change.
It’s essential to be flexible in your goals and be able to alter depending on the situation.
Let’s say you’re saving up to buy something big like a car and you’re putting $50 a week aside for it. Things are going according to plan, until they’re not, and all of a sudden you need to sacrifice a portion of those savings and buy a new refrigerator and replace all of the fool that spoiled, setting you back a few weeks.
There’s no way to predict the future, and as such no way to make a foolproof plan. What you can do is be able to adapt when things go awry.
It helps to step back and evaluate your goals along the way, which was one of the inspirations behind my annual June Check-In post. Reflecting on my progress so far not only holds me accountable but also sheds some light on what has worked and what hasn’t so I can change my routine so my plans are within better reach.
Whether it’s because of a miscalculation on your part or because of something completely out of your control, there is the chance that things fall through.
And when that happens, you cannot be so hard on yourself.
I am my harshest critic and have been ever since I can remember, so when I mess something up or don’t get the outcome I was expecting or counting on, it’s not an easy thing for me to accept.
One of the things I’m trying to teach myself as a writer is to be more forgiving towards myself in general, but especially when it comes to my main goals. If I don’t manage to get through edits on a chapter by the time I had hoped or find that I’m not making as much progress as I thought I would, I’m learning to let myself be okay with that.
Even Dr. Seuss said success is only 98 and 3/4 Percent guaranteed!
Check back next week to see how I’m doing with my 2020 writing goals in my annual June Check-In!