Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Goals (Not Resolutions)

Happy New Year! For many, this is a day of sleeping late and making New Year's resolutions. In my house, it's a day for singing Happy Birthday (to my father-in-law), taking down Christmas decorations, and New Year's goal-setting.

Yep, I differentiate between resolutions and goals.

A resolution, in my mind, is an aspiration. Something you'd like to accomplish, but that isn't within your control. For me, aspirations include being a contestant on The Amazing Race, having a movie made of one of my books, and watching a no-hitter at Fenway Park. I can make progress toward accomplishing those things, but ultimate success lies in someone else's hands.

On the other hand, accomplishing a goal is entirely within your control. As nice as it is to make a list of your aspirations, regularly setting goals is better. I sit down with one of my writing buddies at least once a year (and sometimes more frequently) to set goals. Not only is it fun to talk over our goals on a regular basis, it's paid off for us both.

Over the years, we've come to the conclusion that proper goal-setting has a few requirements:

1) Accomplishing the goal must be entirely within your control;
2) You must think through the steps necessary to reach your goal and write them down (be specific!);
3) You must set deadlines for accomplishing each step and for the ultimate goal;
4) You must re-read your goals frequently, and as things in your life/career change, update your goals accordingly; and
5) When you do accomplish your goal(s), celebrate!

For instance, though "have a movie made of one of my books" isn't within my control (as I do not control Hollywood), other aspects of my writing career are within my control. I can determine what kind of books I want to write, when I want to finish them, when I want to submit to publishers, etc. When setting my goals, I might write down something like this:

• Write two books this year (Write proposal for book #1 by February 15, finish book #1 by June 15. Submit by June 30. Write proposal for book #2 by August 15, finish book #2 by December 15, submit by December 31.)

It's within my control, it's specific, it has reasonable deadlines for both the ultimate goal (December 31) and for the steps needed to accomplish the goal.

I give a copy of my goals to Elizabeth, and she gives me a copy of hers. I keep the list on my computer desktop where I can see it as I work.

As the year progresses, we'll call or e-mail each other to say, "Hey, it's February 1. Where are you on that first proposal?" As things change--say, I get a contract that says I need to write a third proposal during the year--I'll revisit the goals, change them as needed, and give the updated goals to Elizabeth. She does the same. When one of us accomplishes a goal, we both celebrate. (By the way...this week is also a celebration week, because Elizabeth's newest book, How I Met My Countess, hits the shelves. Book releases are always cause for celebration!)

Goals don't have to be limited to finishing projects. Mine aren't! My writing goals also include improving my writing (by reading certain books or taking specific writing classes and workshops), communicating with readers (through my message board/Facebook/Twitter), and getting notes/outlines started for future projects.

If you're a writer, you can move forward by leaps and bounds if you set proper goals, and what better day to get started than January 1st?


LizTot said...

Hi Nikki,
I've been writing for years and never ever thought I should write down goals--until I read your New Year's Goals. I'm looking at things quite differently this year and hope to meet some of my goals! I am still working with the teens here at the Canastota Public Library but also working with a group of writers. There are eight of us and we meet twice a month. I'm hoping to have the group set some goals this year at our first meeting! Happy Writing!
Beth Totten
Canastota Library

Nicole Burnham said...

Hey Beth!

Hope everyone's goal-setting goes well. Having a set of goals posted somewhere (on the fridge, near the computer, etc.) helps keep you in the "What can I accomplish today?" mindset. Works that way for me, at least!

Good luck!