December 1, 2020
The title of a popular self-help book warns readers If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere Else. In the book, author Donald P. Campbell, an expert in the field of career exploration, discusses ways to find a suitable, satisfying career and achieve life goals. As Dr. Campbell writes, “Unless you know what you want from life, you are unlikely to stumble across it.” This same principle applies to those of us who want to excel in the career we have already chosen. To get where we want to go as writers, we can set goals and work to achieve them.
The new year is traditionally a time to reflect on the past twelve months and make plans for the months ahead. Taking time to think about goals—whether it’s a new year or not—can help us open new pathways in our writing life.
To start: What progress did you make this past year with different areas of your writing? What activities served you well, and what do you want to change? Did you achieve certain goals but not others? Have your writing goals changed since last year, and, if so, how?
Goals for Your Writing Life
Chances are, your goals fall into certain categories that include the following:
- Skills development
- Business of writing (e.g. sales and marketing)
- Personal satisfaction
Productivity. Were you as productive as you wanted to be last year? Maybe you finished certain projects, revised works-in-progress, and/or got off to a good start with new writings. If you are satisfied with your rate of production, you might skip over this area. If not, you can join the many writers who decide that this year, they will spend more hours writing and make sure those hours count. Some of us might be able to write daily, while others aim for a certain weekly or monthly output. In any case, we’ll want a plan to finish our projects, step by step.
Work habits make a difference here. How does organization (or the lack of it) affect your productivity? Do you have a writing space and the materials you need to get right to work? Does your current system enable you to keep track of your writing ideas, research materials, clippings, and other items you need for each project? Have you prioritized your projects? When you sit down to write, can you focus quickly on the project at hand? Think about these aspects of writing, too, as you set goals.
Skills development. Improving our skills can help us reach our longer-term goals of publication and positive reviews. We have many opportunities to become better writers. This might be the year we finally read those “how-to” books and articles that have been piling up for months or longer. We can learn from blogs, podcasts, and websites that offer information for writers. We might join writers’ organizations, subscribe to writers’ magazines, take courses, enroll in a workshop, join a critique group, and/or attend conferences. Maybe you will make a reading list of well-written books, stories, or articles so you can analyze the authors’ techniques? As we assess our writing strengths and weak areas, we might set goals to study plot development, characterization, conflict, viewpoint, style, voice, creative nonfiction elements, interview techniques, etc.
Business of writing. Where do you want to head this year in terms of marketing, selling, and promoting your work/yourself as a writer? Many goals fall into this area—e.g. learn about various publishers, study submission guidelines, develop relationships with editors and/or agents, list suitable places to submit each project, explore self-publishing. You might decide to target better paying markets. Do you want to make better use of the latest technology? You can develop your online presence, including building a website or improving the one you have.
Here again, organization can help. Design a system that lets you keep track of potential publishers, communications with editors/agents, and records of your submissions, as well as records for tax purposes. Set goals that make your business life run smoothly so you can focus on your craft.
Personal satisfaction. Are you writing the things you want to write? Are you pleased with your work? Do you enjoy your working relationships, or is it time for a change? Maybe one of your goals is to connect more with other writers. Some of the ideas under “skills development” can help with that. Many writers’ organizations hold online or in-person gatherings as well as conferences. And how about collaborating with one or more “writing buddies”? You can agree to write at certain times each week and then check in afterwards, by phone or email, to share your progress. Some groups have Zoom writing sessions where everyone logs in and then instead of chatting, everyone writes for a designated period of time. Maybe you would enjoy doing readings and presentations for libraries, schools, or community groups, or mentoring young writers. Another goal might be more personal—to write a special poem for each family member’s birthday.
Satisfaction can also come from reaching goals in productivity and skills enhancement. Sticking with a writing schedule, finishing projects, meeting deadlines, organizing our materials, learning a new technique—all can bring positive feelings of accomplishment.
So which paths will you take this year with your writing? Take stock of where you have been and where you want to be. Then, design goals that can take you there. The next four blogs will delve deeper into this topic, with practical suggestions for setting and reaching your writing goals as the new year brings new possibilities.
Victoria Sherrow has published short stories, articles and books (fiction and nonfiction) for readers aged preschool through adult. Her books have received starred reviews and been honored by the American Library Association, Parents Choice Gold Award, National Association for the Advancement of Science, and NYPL Best Books for the Teenage, among others. Victoria has taught at The Institute of Children’s Literature for more than 25 years and has also been an assistant editor and writing contest judge. Recently, she revised—and cut—a 230,000-word book for adults.
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