I have a love/hate relationship with the month of December. You probably do too. And I’m not just talking about the cold weather or the effect of all those baked goods on your waistline. On the one hand, it’s the time of year we celebrate our connection to friends and family through lavish gifts, rich food, and terrifying family traditions. On the other hand, the end of the year can also be pretty painful — you don’t have to look any farther than your calendar for a reminder of all the goals you failed to meet in the past year.
Think of all those ambitious writing goals you made back in January. Finishing that first novel. Selling a short story to a pro, paying market. Getting your chapbook published. Writing a hit screenplay. Now ask yourself: how many of those goals did you actually achieve? Maybe you crashed and burned during NaNoWriMo. Maybe you just didn’t get around to submitting to those poetry contests that looked so promising a few months back. Maybe you started that new blog, but never posted after the first week. The big question you need to ask yourself is this… WHY? What kept you from meeting your writing goals this year? Was it bad health, a failing relationship, financial misfortune, depression? Did you let self-doubt get the best of you? Or did you just have trouble finding the time to sit down and write regularly?
Redefining How We Set Goals
Once you hit adulthood, New Year’s resolutions are basically a joke. We decide on our goals for the year with the best of intentions, but then life gets in the way. There’s never enough free time. We’re always too stressed out. We’re always dealing with one crisis or another at work or at home. There’s always something more important that seems to get in the way — even if it’s something as simple as doing the dishes or taking out the trash. Think about it: do you know anyone who treats their resolutions as a serious commitment? Anyone who actually manages to stick to their year-long goals after the first month? I don’t.
So why do so many people fail? The problem isn’t with defining your goals. Being able to define specific goals you’d like to meet is an essential step in achieving any kind of success. The problem is the kind of goals most people make — obsessing over the steps along the road instead of looking at the big picture. This year, I’ve radically changed how I define my goals, and I’m seeing a lot of success. I can’t take complete credit for this… The people around me have helped in enormous ways. What really changed the way I look at goal-setting was a little exercise I did during a work retreat back in July. Now I can’t replicate the full experience for you, but I can share a video version of the exercise:
In case you can’t watch the video, the main idea is this: most people don’t focus on the end result they want to achieve. They focus instead on how to get where they want to go, to the point where all the little steps along the way become overwhelming. So instead of focusing on these intermediate “means goals,” Vishen advises looking at the big picture. Setting goals that include all the little goals along the way. So instead of listing all the magazines you want to submit a story to…just set a goal to get that story published. When you focus on the part of the goal that’s actually important to you, you’re far more likely to meet your goal. Surprisingly simple, right? If you want to print out the worksheet that goes along with this exercise, you can find it here.
Choosing Your Writing Resolutions
So now that you’ve had your concept of goal-setting completely turned upside down, now what? Keith Cronin has some really great suggestions for 2013 resolutions over at Writer Unboxed. They’re pretty simple goals, but also very powerful, like “read more,” “complain less,” and “learn a new skill.” Quite a few of them can be easily adapted to the 3 Most Important Questions exercise above.
You can also put some of the tips we’ve shared on the blog into practice. Try committing to a consistent writing schedule. Read a book every month – read about the art and craft of writing or just work your way through the classics. Try weekly writing prompts. Keep a journal. And, of course, there’s always something to be said for trying out an interesting day job or treating yourself to a little travel. (Any of my other 7 tips for beating writer’s block could work, too.) What goals are you setting for yourself in 2013? Share your writing resolutions in the comments below! :)