This is a post From the Editor’s Desk
The New Year is a hopeful time. There’s something about the world seemingly exploding at 12 o’clock on New Year’s Eve, and wiping the slate clean, that fills me with a sense of possibility. It’s easy to understand the allure of New Year’s resolutions.
I’ve already seen people over-commit, while others keep the bar at a more comfortable height – one friend’s (noble, mainly achievable) resolution message included ‘fall over less’ and ‘minimal party voms’. While New Year’s resolutions never quite seem to pan out for most people, I’m a big believer in setting goals periodically in order to remind myself where I’d like to be headed.
You could go ahead and plan out all of 2014 right now, or you could (like me) work in quarters. Three months is long enough to achieve something, but also short enough that you can allow for necessary and useful reflection – you can revise where you’re going, and your methods of getting there. Of course, there will be goals that go all year, or for even longer than that. These bigger goals (Dreams) can be factored in to your short-term goals in ways that make them real, rather than distant possibilities.
There are many articles out there about goal-setting, and how to make it work. There are whole theories about it. Here are the rules that I work from, which are an amalgamation of the many things that already exist.
What goals don’t work?
Let’s unpack what does work when setting goals, and we’ll see why the “Get Published” goal above isn’t so useful.
The “Get Published” goal is a great one to have, and it’s probably one you’ll stick with even after your current project goes out into the world. However, “Get Published” in itself means nothing.
Be specific: draw as clear as possible a picture of what you want to achieve. There might be gaps in your goals, and that’s alright. In fact, it’s part of the joy of being a writer: opportunities present themselves unexpectedly, and they’re impossible to plan 3 months ahead of time (see: “Oh hell that’s due tomorrow?!” *all-nighter*). However, by being specific about your goals where possible, the opportunities available to you will become more obvious – you’ll know what you’re looking for, and how to make it work for you.
Something more useful:
“Publish my work regularly on my blog”
“Submit my novel to a major competition”
“Send my work to 3 lit journals.”
Being specific about your goals also makes them…
By breaking your goal down into small, actionable parts, you’re more likely to get it done. “Bake a beautiful cake” is hard, maybe even overwhelming. But “Add a cup of flour” is doable. “Beat an egg.”
“Get Published” … What does a person do to get to that point? Maybe the actions you’re looking to commit to are, “Write for an hour every day,” or “Finish a short story each month.” Break what you want into its smallest parts.
And lastly, make your goals…
You’ll notice that in the examples above, I haven’t used the “Get Published” wording as the base for ‘specific’ and ‘actionable’ goals. Instead, I’ve changed the goal’s focus to you.
“Send my work to 3 lit journals” is both specific and actionable, and it also recognizes the fact that whether or not that work is then published is another person’s choice. What you can control is getting your work on the right desks and in the right hands. What happens next is some mighty strange alchemy…
It’s unreasonable to beat yourself up if you don’t get published in X publication – it could come down to a number of variables that have nothing to do with you. Maybe other work fit a theme better, or filled a certain-length gap in the publication, or was timely. Focus on what you can control: show up, write, action feedback when you get it.
Now that you’ve got an idea of what (I think) makes useful goal-setting, I’d love to know what’s on your list. And if you have your own guidelines for setting good goals, I’d love to hear those too.
(Some great comments from the original blog)