By Liesa Malik
New Year's Resolutions. Bah, humbug, right? The whole practice of writing down what amount to goals that seem firmer just by calling them "resolutions" can be intimidating and defeatist.
Me? I've always liked this clean-slate time of year. At least for a week or so I haven't goofed up my brand new year. I really will lose those ten pounds, leap tall buildings in a single bound, write that best-selling novel that gets turned into an Academy Award Winning motion picture, earn millions, and go live in the Bahamas when Colorado winters get to me.
A resolution is a goal, a plan, a firm decision--not a wish and a dream. And here's where the conflict begins. As writers, our job is to live in a semi-dream state for a good deal of our time. Without our imaginations we couldn't conjure up the stories we do. Without a wish, our heroes and heroines would be, well, just like us. We need that skewed perspective on life.
But as professional writers, we also need a foot firmly planted on the ground. We need to take our literary vision and make it a reality. So how can we blend the two?
In my work as a marketing professional for twenty years, I've had this conflict a lot (both with my own goals and those of my clients). Over time, I've learned to embrace it, and one of the best tools I know to do so is the S.M.A.R.T. goal. Here's how it might work for a writer.
One: Dream Big
Think of all the writing projects, awards, accomplishments, and kudos that could happen this New Year. Go ahead. Shoot for the stars. Say things like, "I will finish that novel I've been working on and write a complete second novel to boot!" or "I will write twelve short stories that will make it into the finals of the Writer's Digest annual competition." You can even go so far as to jot down, "My mother will be so proud of me!" Whatever your heart truly desires. Take time to enjoy a great vision of yourself (hey, we're all entitled to a holiday gift from ourselves, right?)
Two: S is for Specific
Now take your dreams and turn them into a list of goals. But be specific. Writing a novel is a good goal, but a novel can be a romance, a murder, a sci-fi piece, and a novel can be 80,000 words or 120,000 or anything you determine is right for your project. The point here is to choose what specifically is right for you. Go ahead. Look through your dreams and write down a few specific goals.
Three: M is for Measurable
Eew! As writers, measurable sounds an awful lot like math--hex, gag, whatever! But being measurable doesn't have to be intimidating. Let's say you've chosen to write a novel in the mystery genre. That's nice and specific. But let's make that goal measurable by putting a word count to it.
"I will write a mystery novel with a goofy protagonist who likes romance but keeps stumbling across dead bodies in 85,000 words."
Wow. That is both specific and measurable. Cool. What's next?
Four: A is for Actionable
Now is where we start to deep dive on a goal. What actions can we take to get that novel written? In other words, what smaller goals do we need to put into place to make that new novel appear in electronic form instead of in dreamworld hopes? Here are some things I would consider as good actions:
- Make a character list
- Write character biographies or backgrounds
- Develop a theme or life question that really challenges me
- Write a list of obstacles or challenges that might appear by putting two or more of my characters in a life-defining situation
- Write a short outline of "what happened" from each character's point of view
- Make a master outline (sorry pants-ers, us plotters need this sometimes)
- Write 1,000 words a day in my first draft
Five: R is for Realistic
Ouch! Who wants real in a creative writing project? Well, to be honest, I do. I have a hard time thinking that maybe one day I'll have a novel published when I don't have a plan to get that novel written. For a goal to be realistic you need to be in control of the outcome. You can't say "I'll get a contract for six new novel sales this year" because you don't control the editors and agents who might offer that contract. However, you can say "I'll pitch to twenty agents and editors each month this year," and then you can have realistic hopes of landing a contract.
Six: T is for Time-Bound
Again, this may sound restrictive at first, but in reality a project with a beginning, middle and END is very satisfying. Let's say you've been working on a novel for oh, six or seven years. Will this be the year you finish it? YES! If you tell yourself you'll have goals X,Y, and Z done by June 15th and that date comes, you have the power to say, "Know what? I've put enough time into this project. Do I still want to invest more in it, or do I want to go on to something new?" That isn't being a quitter. That is being realistic. Some projects work, and others don't. If you're into your new novel and the deadline (decision time) looms, you can sit back and say, "Okay, I'm behind schedule, but I can get back on track by doing . . . " It's your decision.
Yes. I like resolutions. But I love SMART goals. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a New Year that's filled with SMART writing success.