2017 is almost over, and while I’ve had some major accomplishments—including publishing The Writer’s Habit book and starting this blog, the launch of my eighth novel, completing and submitting a manuscript to my agent, and being interviewed for the Winter issue of the Montana Quarterly magazine—I also look back with some writing regrets. In many ways I felt as if my attentions were scattered. I felt as if I spent too much time procrastinating, allowing myself to be consumed by distractions, and I’m still chasing the ritual of setting and committing to a time-block in which I do nothing else but write.
But every day is an opportunity to do things better and/or differently. And with a new year ahead of us, the possibilities are endless.
Like so many people, I’d set some goals for 2017, and some fizzled out before March. Last week I sat in on Michael Hyatt’s webinar for “Navigating Your Way to Success in 2018,” and his tips for setting and achieving goals were realistic and completely doable, while also challenging and motivating. I want to share them with you, and add my own spin to customize them for writing.
1. Begin with the end in mind.
This never gets old. I first learned this trick from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People (whose definition of habit I applied to The Writer’s Habit: Knowledge + Skill + Desire), and I’ve applied it in so many different scenarios. When you begin with the end in mind, you visualize yourself attaining what it is you want, such as planning a course curriculum, buying a house or meeting Duran Duran, or publishing a book. See and feel every aspect of it. Once you’ve done that, begin to work your way back to the present moment. What do you need to do to attain it? How long will it take? What resources do you need? And so on.
In this case, imagine it’s December 31, 2018. Where are you on that day? What are you doing? What have you accomplished? How does it feel? Maybe you’re celebrating your book that hit the Kindle Top Ten. Maybe you redesigned your author website and actively built your mailing list to 10,000 subscribers. Maybe you completed the memoir you’ve been wanting to write for years, or attended Bouchercon for the first time. Don’t be afraid to think big. Just think clearly.
Here’s the advantage you have as a writer—you can write the story of what December 31, 2018 looks like! You can use vivid descriptions, a strong narrative voice, even dialogue! And the hero of your story is you. The most important aspect of the exercise is capturing the feeling and retaining that as you begin to manifest your goals one by one.
2. Be specific with your goals and visualizations.
Many people, myself included, make the mistake of not being specific enough when they set goals. For example, “write more” or “get healthy” or “sleep better” are goals, but they’re so generalized that it’s easy to put them off or give up on them. Even setting a goal like write 2,000 words a day sounds specific, but what are those 2,000 words applied to? I can write 2,000 words every day in my diary, for example. This is one of the reasons why thinking from the end is so beneficial—it encourages you to think specifically. How much more do you want to write—enough to produce three new novels by the end of the year? Two blog posts per week for 52 weeks? A collection of 15 short stories?
Being specific also helps you form an action plan. If you want to write and/or publish three novels by the end of 2018, for example, and each novel is approximately 75,000 words, how much time and/or word count do you need to put in to accomplish that? Are you self-publishing or submitting to an agent and/or traditional publisher? If so, how do you make time in your schedule for that? Will you need editors? Beta readers? A cover designer? How will you pay for them?
Hyatt also recommends you limit the number of goals to 7-10 for one year, so that you’re not overwhelmed and wind up achieving none. With a reasonable number of goals, you can still think big and manage them by dividing the year into quarters, and making action plans for each quarter.
Oh, and keep your goals where you can see them! Post-its on bathroom mirrors and car dashboards, vision boards with affirmations in your office or cubicle, an app on your phone—anywhere you can see them on a regular basis. I’ve been guilty of not following through on this one. I write them in a journal, and then never look at the journal. Or I look for one week and then never again. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a saying for a reason. Don’t let that be the case with your goals.
3. Get support.
Writing is mostly a solitary act; but depending on your goals, you can enlist emotional, financial, or physical support. For example, maybe you want to crowd-fund the science fiction trilogy you plan to write and self-publish. Maybe you need to take an additional part-time job to pay for a good copyeditor or cover designer. Maybe you’ve got all the resources you need and just need someone to cheerlead on the sidelines, or you want an accountability partner (something I initiated this year, and it was very encouraging). Maybe you need a babysitter for the kids twice a week for an hour while you write. Whatever you need in the form of support, seek it out. It’s there. Seek it out. Welcome it.
That said… you want to limit sharing your goals to that inner circle of support. I’ve said this from day one, and I was happy to see Hyatt supported it (and there’s even research to support it too!). So while you can still post your word counts on social media (I do!), sharing your outlines or your goal list will, in the end, sap your motivation and productivity.
4. Go out of your comfort zone.
This may be the most crucial component of achieving your goals. Big goals require big risks. Writing a novel can sometimes require you to leave your comfort zone. So can a new workout routine, or changing a job. When Hyatt discussed the need to leave your comfort zone, I found myself nodding in agreement. Much of what I didn’t accomplish this year was the result of my being afraid to leave my comfort zone. So for 2018, gaining the courage to leave my comfort zone is going to be built into every goal.
5. Know your “why”
Finally, you need to have an understanding of why you’re setting these particular goals in the first place. Do you want to challenge yourself to go beyond your limits? Do you want fame and fortune? Do you want to make a certain amount of money so that you can, in turn, give it to others? There are no right or wrong reasons for your wanting to achieve or attain what you want. However, in a recent post about energy management, I discussed the importance of “putting values into action.” For example, if you value education, then maybe you’re setting a goal of writing a book to teach teenagers how to write fantasy novels. Maybe you want to foster a love of reading and writing for kids, so you’re writing your own YA fantasy novels in addition to wanting to teach them how to write their own. You can choose from a list of values, see which ones you most align with (select three), and then shape your goals based on how you want to put those values into action.
For example, earlier this year I stopped making conscious efforts to lose weight because the goal of “being thin” didn’t seem to align with the value I place on self-love and acceptance. Thus, I changed the goal to “love and accept my body at any size, shape, and weight.” And when walking the track at the Y stopped being in service of trying to lose weight loss and instead became about the benefits to my emotional and mental well being, it stopped being something to dread and instantly became something I look forward to on the mornings I know I’m going to be there.
Many thanks for Michael Hyatt for his webinar and tips. I hope you’re looking forward to 2018 as much as I am. Write yourself a fabulous year!
For Reflection: What are some writing or life goals you want to set for 2018?
I’ll be on holiday break next week. Happy holidays–see you in 2018!