I gave up on making New Year’s resolutions around the same time I quit writing my adolescent fantasies in pink diaries that came with tiny metal keys. I’d learned that both things had about the same odds of success. But that doesn’t mean I gave up on either one completely. The fantasies improved with age, and if I wrote them down, they were channeled into fiction writing. And the resolutions gave way to goals.
Resolutions are often so vague or so big, they’re impossible to keep. Goals, on the other hand, are specific. They can be broken down into smaller steps. And most importantly, they’re within my control.
At my local RWA chapter’s Christmas party, everyone jots down their writing goals for the following year. One member keeps the goals and brings them to the party the following year. We share what we did or didn’t accomplish, and then write our goals for the upcoming year. Sometimes we celebrate achievements. Sometimes we just stick the same paper back in the container and vow to do better. It’s a fun part of our celebration, and it’s helped me focus on what I want from my writing each year.
I know that having my book traditionally published can’t be my goal. I can’t control whether or not an editor buys my book. But my goal can be to submit my book to editors. To do that, I have to finish the book. To do that, I have to write a certain number of words, pages or chapters within a certain amount of time. I need to research editors. Learn how to write a query letter. Learn how to write a synopsis. (Gack!) Each of these is a measurable step in reaching the goal of submitting my book.
There’s a popular method of goal-setting called the SMART plan: Your goals need to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. A Specific goal is more likely to be reached than a general one. Measuring your progress helps you stay on track and motivates you with what you’ve already accomplished. A goal is Attainable if it’s something you want and are willing to put in the effort to achieve. Your goal is Realistic if it’s important to you and isn’t at odds with other goals you have. And a Timely goal is one with target dates for each step of the way. This is a great template for setting goals.
But keep in mind, setting attainable and realistic goals doesn’t mean not stretching yourself. As Robert Browning wrote, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” That doesn’t mean you’re setting yourself up for sure failure if you dream big. You only fail if you don’t set goals and start taking steps. I can reach for the moon, knowing I’ll still be successful if I simply grasp a star.
Happy New Year. And may your reach always exceed your grasp