As I shared “Happy Holiday” greetings with people this season, I saw the glimmer in their eyes as they spoke of the coming year. So much hope, that somehow, as if by magic, this year would be different than any other. The game changer. The one that would somehow propel them into success… whatever “success” means to them.
But a few months ago, those same people’s eyes were dull with exhaustion and disappointment from goals set, yet not achieved. Hopelessness filled the air.
That shiny clean slate of the New Year dulls as each day passes without making progress on our writing goals. But creating stories isn’t something you can always do on demand. Creativity is a fickle beast. I’m right there, struggling alongside you. My goals often get derailed, too.
Not meeting our goals can easily lead to frustration, or worse, depression. Nothing kills an artist’s chance of creating more than when they beat themselves up for not putting words on the page. We get stuck in a circle of doubt, writer’s block, and fear. Nothing good ever comes from self-loathing.
Maybe before we make our resolutions, we should slow down and examine our goal-setting strategies. How do we make this year different? How do we keep that skip in our step and positive mojo going so we can finally achieve those New Year’s goals?
Buckle up and get ready to create a solid plan for success!
1. Set realistic goals.
I’m a very practical person. Just ask my writing partner. I don’t like to look through rose-colored glasses and be a rah-rah cheerleader. I like to set realistic goals to limit disappointment and increase my chances of success. Writing 20 novels or screenplays in one year would be one hell of a goal. Are there people who can do it? Absolutely, but I’m not one of them.
The first step to setting realistic goals is being completely honest about how many hours a day you can devote to writing. Within that number of hours, how many words or script pages can you realistically write? Now multiply that number by the number of days each week you have time to write—and don’t tell me you can write seven days a week. You’re lying to yourself. A day of rest is just as important as a day of writing. "Realistic" is the key word here.
Using the guideline of the average novel being 75,000 words and a screenplay being 110 pages, you’ve now got the start of a solid plan of how many scripts or novels you can complete in a year.
I told you I was practical.
2. Take baby steps.
You’re better off taking smaller, consistent steps than blowing off writing for days and then doing a massive word vomit to keep on track with your goals. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady really does win the race.
Writing is like training for any sport. You need to use those muscles consistently for them to strengthen. Stepping away from your work for too long is dangerous, not just for your productivity, but also for your mindset. Writing every day, even if only for 15 minutes, will keep your mind and spirit healthy. I promise.
3. Keep a journal.
Keeping track of your progress can be eye opening. Make a chart of the days of the week, the time of day/night you write, and your word count. When you analyze the data, you might find patterns of behavior. Perhaps on Mondays you’re consistently more energetic than Fridays. Maybe you want to up the word count goal on those days, or try writing at a different time of day on your less productive days to see if that makes a difference.
Every piece of data can teach you something, so put a column for the lessons learned from that day’s writing… or not writing. Just like when you’re on a diet, you can eat that cookie one day, but just don’t eat a dozen of them every day. Know when to stop the madness.
It’s important to re-examine the past so I don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over. Taking an honest look at your behaviors will help you get back on track faster.
4. Make your goals as important as your character’s goals.
We expect growth from our characters, and we need to demand it from ourselves, too. Every time you write a new scene for your story, you push your character to change. They won’t achieve their goals if they aren’t willing to go through the hard knocks of character evolution. To do that, they need to try new things, adjust their paths, and make the changes necessary to push through the conflict and obstacles in front of them.
What are the conflicts and/or antagonists keeping you from achieving your goals? Make a list, and then ask yourself how you can overcome those conflicts, or thwart off the antagonist that is either sucking up your time or damaging your mental focus.
It’s hard to juggle a day job and find balance with your family and writing time. You must draw boundaries and protect your writing time. Period. Don’t get sucked into other people’s drama or needs—or use them as a way of procrastinating. You have a right to put your needs first sometimes. Stand up for yourself and crush those conflicts and naysayers!
5. Keep a positive attitude.
If you think you can’t succeed, you become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Find a positive mantra to draw from, or Google a list of inspirational writing quotes from successful writers. Staying focused and positive is the best path for a goal-winning New Year!
6. Find a buddy to be accountable to.
My writing partner and I often ask each other, “What can I do to make your life easier today?” The answer often doesn’t matter as much as having someone care enough to ask that question in the first place. Surround yourself with people who genuinely want to see you succeed.
That support system doesn’t have to be other writers. However, it certainly helps to have people who understand a writer’s struggles to offer advice or give you that tough-love push to get your ass in the chair.
7. Do it for you.
When you don’t have people asking what they can do to make your life easier, ask it of yourself. What can you do to make your own life easier and clear time to write? Consider your writing time as important as carving time to have a healthy dinner, or exercise, or help your kids with their homework.
Your needs are as important as anyone else’s.
Writers write. We need that outlet to survive. It literally can make the difference between the life and death of our mental health. We are happier people when we’re writing. If we’re happy, that spills over into every area of our life.
Making yourself a priority is no different than when the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first, even before your own child’s.
It’s okay to put yourself first. The world won’t crash and burn if you spend 30 minutes writing. But your spirit will definitely hit a low if you consistently avoid writing by putting everyone else’s needs first.
So let’s do this!
The number one reason most writers do not succeed is they don’t produce enough quality content. I’m not suggesting you need to write 20 screenplays or novels every year, but it’s definitely not enough to write one story in a lifetime and expect to live off of your writing.
There’s no magic trick to productivity. The New Year merely presents an opportunity to reevaluate your life. The game changer happens when you spend the time to create a realistic plan to support your writing career needs. You need to make the decision to commit to altering your schedule. You are the only one who can make that choice.
Let’s spend some time today to chart out our writing goals. We deserve it, and so do our future readers and fans. So, wipe that slate clean of all self-doubt and fear. If you keep taking baby steps every day, you will succeed!
Share your goals in the comments, and let's help each other be accountable.
Happy New Year... and new outlook!
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