It’s 2018. A new year. A new beginning. The perfect time for setting new writing goals, right? Yes, it is, but it’s also the perfect time to be evaluating last year’s goals.
Many people say they’re going to do something in the new year, be that finish that book they’ve been working on for years, start writing that idea that has been on their mind for years, start that blog or YouTube channel or podcast they’ve always dreamed of, release a blog or podcast or video every week, write every day, the list is endless. But more often than not, things get in the way and that goal is not achieved.
Maybe when they start, they write the first few chapters of that book, get a bit further with last year’s project or make a few videos or articles or podcasts. But one of the biggest problems with life is that things get in the way.
It turns out we as a species are highly talented in the field of procrastination.
We can be as determined as we like, tell ourselves that this is the year. On the other hand, we can be extremely harsh on ourselves for failing last year. But I would advise neither of the above. Instead, I’d advise asking a question. And that question is: why?
Why didn’t it happen last year? What went wrong?
But it’s not even just about when it goes wrong. Sometimes if you’ve tried various different goals and last year was the year you completed a goal, it’s arguably more important you ask yourself: why? What did you do right? How can you replicate that? Why did it work?
If you can work out why you’re doing or not doing anything, then you can either make note of something that’s helping you or find a way to solve a problem, which will help you to better achieve goals this year.
So, with that in mind, here are five tips for evaluating writing goals.
1. Consider Your Success
Along with procrastination, another field in which we humans are talented is negativity.
So maybe you didn’t do quite as well as you’d hoped last year, or things went wrong. But things also went right.
Maybe you wrote more than you did the year before. Maybe you actually finished a novel or a script or an article. Whatever you’ve achieved –big or small– you should be proud of yourself for what you’ve achieved.
Life is a very long journey full of much success and just as much failure. We tend to be very hard on ourselves, which is why we should try to be proud of what we do achieve. This is very hard to do, but something we should at least aspire to.
Secondly, you need to think about why you achieved it. You need to think really carefully about it and don’t rule out any possibilities.
If you wrote more than you did the year before, what did you do differently? Did you establish a regular routine? Did you talk to people about your writing? Did you attend a writing group or writing workshop or other similar events? Did you reward yourself when you did a certain amount?
If you finished a project, how did that happen? Was it word goals, page goals, chapter or section goals, time goals or something else that was most effective? Did you break the project down into sections and give yourself deadlines for each section? Did you have a regular routine? Were you accountable to people?
Once you work out what you’ve done and what could help you, make an effort to implement it again this year.
2. Don’t Judge Yourself for What You Didn’t Achieve
I don’t think I can stress enough how pessimistic we are as a species. What you’ve done cannot be undone and being hard on yourself is not going to change that.
In fact, if you are judgmental and hard on yourself about it, you may find it difficult to sit down to write and get work done. This is because if you’re spending time feeling like you’re a failure because of what you couldn’t do, then you’re lowering your chances of succeeding — you will likely start feeling that you aren’t capable of doing things which may very well slow you down or lead you to give up.
Self-doubt is a harmful thing to be feeling when you’re trying to be creative, because if your brain’s telling you that you’re not very good because you haven’t been writing, then it’s not going to be devoting energy or as much energy as it should be, to coming up with new ideas. So what I’m saying is this: try not to judge yourself. I know it’s hard, but try.
This doesn’t mean that you should be overly optimistic and expect yourself to do things that are unrealistic. It doesn’t even mean that you should not acknowledge the things you’ve not been able to do. It just means that you should try not to judge yourself for your failures.
This is a very hard thing to do, but hopefully it’s a thing that you’ll get better at with practice. Maybe it’s something you can improve on this year.
3. Ask Yourself Why the Things that Went Wrong, Went Wrong
When you think about what you didn’t do well at last year, rather than judging yourself, which as we’ve just discussed is not a great idea, you need to in an honest and non-judgmental way think about what went wrong. If you work out why you didn’t do a thing, you can find ways to make it better.
For example: if you didn’t have enough time to write, how can you make more time?
Do you need to read less or watch less TV? Do you need to get together with other writers at a regular time and sit and write, so that you’ve got a regular commitments?
Do you need to somehow take on less? For example: if you’re not getting your novel written, but you’re blogging every week, can you blog every other week and use the time you were using to blog to work on the novel? To keep the same example, if you’re used to the accountability of the blog, perhaps the accountability of a writing group or critique partner may help?
4. Are you using the right Type of Goal?
Let’s imagine you’re writing a novel and because you wanted to get it done in a year, you set yourself a monthly goal of 10000 words. A novel needs to be at least 50000 words to be a novel, but novels can more often than not be in the region of 70000 words to 90000 words, with stuff like science fiction and fantasy being even longer.
Bearing that in mind, you thought 10000 words a month was a good goal for you to actually get this first draft written before the year was over. But by the end of the year you actually had 120000 words, but you hadn’t finished the novel, because what you’d actually ended up doing was writing really long scenes and making things as wordy as possible when you wanted to reach your word count goals but didn’t have any more ideas.
If you’re having this problem, then you need to re-evaluate what type of goal you’re setting. In the case of this writer, they may need to try a different type of goal, such as setting how many hours a week or month they will write for or how many chapters they will write, each of which can have their own problems.
The point is: sometimes getting stuff done is different from getting what you want done, which is why when you’re building a plan of how to achieve a goal, you should take in to consideration what strategies work well.
To give you an example from my own life, while I’ve never done the “write 10000 words a month for a year” goal, I am the sort of person that will be really wordy generally, so sometimes if I do an exercise that involves writing as many words as possible or writing a certain amount of words within a certain timeframe, I generally end up having to edit out a lot after, which can be counterproductive.
Therefore, when I’m setting goals I will quite often use time foals and when I measure time, I disqualify any time that wasn’t spent actually getting work done.
But what I’m saying is: look at what you’ve done and think about what goal types work for you.
5. Do What’s Best for You
There is no right way to write. It’s something you’ll hear people repeat over and over, especially in writing advice articles, but I almost feel like we should repeat it more.
Often times, our society tries to apply science and right/wrong arguments to absolutely everything. Creativity shouldn’t be like that. There is no right way to write.
I think there’s a very thin line to be walked between giving people advice and suggestions and saying you must do this like this.
As writers, one of the best things we can do for each other is share things that have helped us or that we think may be useful, with a view to helping others. But one of the worst things we can do is try to force our processes and ideas on others.
So I’ll leave you with this final tip: do what’s right for you.
Hopefully, you will have found some of this advice useful, but if you’ve already got a process that works, great. If you want to try other things, great. If 2017 was really that bad a writing year and you desperately need a clean slate then take it. Or whatever else it might be, do what’s right for you.
I will end by saying happy new year, everyone. May 2018 be a good creative year for you.