Welcome to the New Year! What an excellent opportunity for us as writers and creative professionals to recharge, reboot, reflect, and resolve. Indeed, even as you wrap up the holiday season, it’s a great time to think about your writing resolutions and what’s ahead in your writing life.
Well-worded goal statements might be the key to achieving the objectives you seek in 2020. Once you have identified the areas of your writing in which you want improvement, it’s time to figure out strategically how to get there. With a little work, you can tailor your list of goal statements into a kind of personalized self-help guidebook that is user-friendly, adjustable, and most important, filled with achievable objectives. Here are some suggestions for how to construct great goal statements for your writing resolutions.
Strong goal statements, as most teachers and others in education will tell you, share several common traits:
- They are specific: Resolving “to write more” is a good start; now get specific: how much more? In terms of time, page count, or both? New genres, new point of view, new style?
- They are realistic: You might want “to make writing the #1 priority,” but realistically, the requirements of your day job, family, and other responsibilities probably preclude the notion of putting everything else on hold for your writing. Use more realistic language: “To spend twice as much time on revisions in the week as on social media.” “To balance an hour of chores/errands with an hour of writing time.”
- They are measurable: Think numbers, values, dates, percentages. However…
- They are flexible in range: Consider how uncomfortable it is to work out in jeans; stretchy waistbands are a thing for a reason. Instead of one set number for your weekly word count, include a range that allows for the unexpected machinations of daily life (“to reach between 500 and 800 new words every two days”). You’re still working on the goal, with a little “give” when necessary.
- They are modifiable: Also, remember that what you are resolving to do is make an improvement; the ways in which you accomplish improvement can change mid-game if something isn’t working. So compose goal statements knowing that they can be both flexible and changeable.
Additionally, writers can take a cue from folks in acting and directing who formulate moment-to-moment, scene-to-scene objectives for theatrical character development. Character objectives should be
- Written with the use of an action verb. Avoid “To feel satisfied with….” and “To be better at…” Think instead of actions you can visualize yourself carrying out physically: to add, to read, to list, to plot, to brainstorm, to attend, to interview, to speak, to revise.
- Written in terms of a concrete “something,” not an abstract idea: an event, a person, yourself, your books, a place.
Taking into account these suggestions, a resolution like “to become more skilled at writing endings” transforms into a completable action with a concrete product : “To draft 2-3 possible endings for my WIP’s first chapter by the end of January.”
The more carefully and thoughtfully you construct your writer’s resolutions, the more effectively they will work for you as motivators.
Speaking of motivators, the new year is the perfect time to try a new mini-reward for yourself when you meet a goal. Take a walk, try a new herbal tea, clean a drawer, listen to music or a podcast.
Another fresh-slate motivator: change up your surroundings, even just a little. Some writers swear by “settling in” to their writing zone (hot tea, check; fingerless gloves, check; clean desk, semi-check)—but how might you modify your surroundings for a fun difference, increased comfort, and more efficiency? Rearrange your desk bins; add a new pillow or throw to your writing chair; remove distracting clutter from your line of sight and replace with a photo or message.
Finally, if all this talk about resolutions and motivation seems overwhelming, you are not alone—it’s often that way for many writers. Consider treating yourself to a new craft book on writing, in that case, and set a goal to read just one chapter a week (or whatever works for you). Sometimes another writer’s instruction can both calm and inspire our writer-brains, and help us to define our own goals over time. Here are a few titles I hope to try myself this year:
The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman
Behind the Book: Eleven Authors on Their Path to Publication by Chris Mackenzie Jones
The Elements of Style Workbook, a writing workbook based on the original The Elements of Style by Strunk and White
Making Readers Care with Psychology and Structure: The Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Totally Gripping Novels, Film and TV Scripts by David Thorpe
Good luck in 2020, no matter what path your writing resolutions take. Happy New Year!