Cast your mind back to this time last year. Did you have a long list of writing aims and goals for 2017? Mine, written in a frenzy of optimism and energy, is pinned up on my noticeboard above my desk. The idea was that it would inspire me every time I sat down to write; that I would always have my goals in sight, and therefore in the forefront of my mind. What actually happened was that they became another thing to beat myself up about when I hadn’t achieved them. And now they are partially hidden by a postcard and a post-it note. I’d not looked at them for ages until today.
So, why didn’t these aims work as motivators? Here are some of the reasons:
- Aims you want to have achieved, not to achieve: some of the things on the list were those I knew I would feel good about once they were completed, but I didn’t have the drive to start off the process – they just seemed too daunting.
- Other People’s Aims: things I felt I ought to want to do (e.g. ‘complete a full length novel’ is on the list – but I’m primarily a short story writer, with several partially written rough draft of novels stuffed in my files. I didn’t actually want to write a novel in 2017, and really didn’t have the headspace for such a big project).
- Aims which don’t take into account the way you work: e.g. I write lots of short stories, but few of are suitable for the UK women’s magazine market. If I tried to sit down and write something specifically for say, The People’s Friend, the writing would feel contrived, and Shirley would reject it. The stories which get accepted are those you write from the heart because they need to be written. Yes, you need to have an awareness of market if you want to sell anything, but (for me, at least) the writing needs to come first.
- Aims which don’t take into account outside influences: achievement can be taken out of your hands by external issues. For instance, this year has seen some major editorial upheavals at Woman’s Weekly which has changed the relationship between writers and staff, caused uncertainty, and (in the short term at least) prevented submissions from anyone who hasn’t previously been published by them. No-one can predict the kinds of outside pressures which will affect your writing, but you need to be able to build in a sort of “assuming everything remains equal” clause into your aims if you aren’t going to get disheartened.
- A list which doesn’t allow for new aims: your aims list can become a negative if you stay focused on the original aims at the expense of new opportunities and new ideas. You need to be prepared to re-evaluate, and to allow some goals to fall by the wayside (without beating yourself up about it) because something new is of importance instead (e.g. this year I became involved in judging for the Hysteria UK writing competition, which was extremely rewarding – but this was a focus I’d not anticipated at the outset of the year).
- Leftover aims from previous years: you may recognise many of your aims as recurring ones! You didn’t complete them last year, so you’re going to stick them down on this year’s list too. That’s great, but you need to understand why you didn’t achieve them last year, and why things are going to be different this year. If nothing has changed, be prepared to put the same item on your 2019 list too!
- Aims which are too ambitious: it’s great to have aims which test you, and push you just a little out of your comfort zone, but if they are too difficult, they become demotivating. If writing is your one and only passion and you throw yourself into it 100% at the expense of all else in your life, that’s great. Your achievements will be commensurate with that level of dedication. On the other hand, if you have more than one interest, if you want to have meaningful and rewarding relationships with family and friends, then you need to be self-aware enough to know that this is the case and stop expecting yourself to have that ‘Olympic athlete’ level of dedication. It’s ok to be ‘not bad ‘at more than one thing!
- Aims which depend on completion of another aim: e.g. you can’t publish something you haven’t written. So now you’ve failed to complete two things!
- Aims which are outside of your control: we’ve all heard about making our goals “SMART” (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely – or some other similar definition – let’s not argue!). You need to set yourself a goal over which you can have some control (e.g. “Win a short story competition” might not be a great goal since you can’t control the other entries, but “Enter at least 10 short story competitions in 2018, ensuring I follow all the great advice in Jenny’s Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide” might be a better one!).
- Aims which show no self-awareness: if you’ve decided you’re going to write 1,000 words a day in 2018, but you haven’t written more than a few hundred in the whole of 2017, then maybe you need to be more realistic in what you can expect from yourself, otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. If you know your demanding job/family commitments/love of soaps will leave you little time or energy for writing, then start small and build the writing habit.
I’ve not finalised my list for 2018 yet, but I’ve written lots of notes, and I know I’ll be putting considerably more thought into this year’s goals. I’ll let you know how this goes in my final blog for this year on New Year’s Eve. Until then, happy writing and happy goal-setting!