December 29, 2020
Have you ever begun a new year bursting with energy and motivation to achieve your goals, only to lose momentum after a month or two? Maybe you found yourself skipping your scheduled writing times and not doing the reading or market research you planned. How do we get off track, and how can we keep our writing resolutions this year?
Change doesn’t happen just because we want to change. It rarely happens overnight, either. To stay on track with our goals, we must build habits over time and strengthen those new behaviors so they become part of our lives.
Put it in writing.
Research shows that people are more likely to follow through on a goal when they write it down. Writing gives us a visual reference and helps us to store and remember information. So, write down your goals and consider keeping them where you can see them. And remember the SMART approach discussed in the second blog this month: Keep goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant (sometimes listed as Realistic), and Time-bound. Examples might be:
- “I will write every weeknight from 9-10:30 PM.”
- “I will attend the conference for mystery writers this July.”
- “I will spend one hour each Friday morning writing query letters.”
Share your goals and gain support from other writers.
Communicating our goals, especially to people who understand them, can help us stay on track. Maybe you have a “writing partner” or participate in a critique group, Facebook writers group, or writing workshop? You can support and encourage each other’s efforts to reach goals and keep each other accountable. Taking a course or being part of a group that meets regularly also gives you deadlines for completing your work.
Form positive writing habits.
According to some researchers, we need to do an activity for an average of 66 days to form a habit. If we stick with a goal that long, it can become part of our routine. We’ll expect to “just do it” rather than ponder whether or not we feel like doing it. Many successful writers learn to carry on even if they don’t feel particularly “inspired.” The act of writing itself can produce creative energy. One author says, “I find that the more I write, the more I feel like writing. I’ve learned to trust the process.”
Start your day with a plan.
A few minutes of planning can go a long way. In the October 8, 2020 issue of Forbes, Mark Murphy cited a study showing that 68 percent of people who started their workday by developing a plan were more likely to feel that their day was “really successful.” People who started the day by checking email or making phone calls were less likely to feel that way. Murphy suggests a “morning reflection exercise” during which we write down the answer to this question: “What are the one or two things that I need to achieve today in order for this to be a successful day?” Then, says Murphy, ask yourself: “What could prevent me from accomplishing those things and how can I overcome those potential roadblocks before they occur?” We can apply these ideas to our daily writing routine.
Sometimes we just can’t write a certain number of words a week or submit X number of manuscripts that month. Don’t wallow in guilt or give up in frustration. You can get back on track. Be flexible, and adjust your goals to fit your life. If you set a goal that involves a big change, try working toward it gradually. Maybe you need to start with 30 minutes of daily writing, not three hours? After a few weeks, add another 10 minutes, and so on….
Chart your progress.
Keep a weekly log of your efforts. Did you finish another chapter? Complete a chunk of research? Did you generate some good ideas, revise an article, learn new skills, or check submission guidelines for publishers that might like your writing? Writing even one really great sentence during a work session is a success. Write down these concrete signs of progress. You can also spend a few minutes each evening reflecting on how well you met your goals that day. Did you accomplish your priority items? If not, what got in your way? Don’t fret about setbacks. Learn from them.
Take pride in each step, each paragraph, each page completed. Maybe you can’t write for hours every day, but if you manage to write more than you did last year, that’s something to celebrate. Back in elementary school, we might have looked forward to a colorful sticker or “gold star” for completing our work. We can devise our own “gold stars” for reaching goals. Give yourself small rewards during the writing day and larger ones when you complete larger tasks, such as a chapter, article, short story, or poem. Rewards might include:
- “When I finish two more pages, I’ll relax with my favorite tea or write an email to a friend.”
- “After I write for 45 minutes while ignoring distractions, I’ll walk in the park.”
- “When this book is done, I’ll take a fun weekend trip.”
Remind yourself why you are a writer.
What motivates you? What helps you keep writing despite the challenges, setbacks, and disappointments? Think about why you have writing goals. Do you see yourself building a new career, holding your published book in your hands, reading at a bookstore, being interviewed, signing autographs, speaking at conferences, winning a writing award, or receiving messages from appreciative readers? Keep those images in mind as you stick with your writing plans and make your goals a reality. Most of all, enjoy your writing and the satisfaction that comes from expressing your own special voice.
Other posts in this goal-setting series:
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.
Are you ready to start writing your book? Let us help! Show the Institute for Writers a sample of your work here.