Each year around this time (it's New Year's Eve as I write this), I think about the different areas of my life and set goals following 3 guidelines:
- Aim High
- Be Flexible
- Life Is About More Than Writing
Whether or not you're a list-maker or goal-setter, I hope my thoughts on goals will help you get excited about the coming year.
The 3 Guidelines
High goals are great because most of us rarely exceed our goals, so setting them high ensures the best results.
Also, as the above graphic (a modified quote from Robert Browning) suggests, higher goals are more inspiring and exciting. “Outline my first novel” is a lot less motivating than “Finish and publish my first novel.”
One caveat: setting all your goals too high can lead to feeling discouraged if none of them are met.
That's where flexibility comes in. I set a few goals that will be tough to reach and others that I’m confident I can achieve if I work hard.
I also set ranges.
So my goal might be writing 3-6 short stories in a year. That leaves me room to write fewer of them if I take on other unplanned projects or more if I get very focused on producing short pieces.
As to (3) on my list above, there's more to life than writing, I love writing so much, it’d be easy for me to focus on nothing but.
Adding other goals reminds me that the point is not be a successful but unhappy writer, it’s to be a happy person who spends the bulk of my work time writing.
Areas Of Life
Below are the areas of life I focus on when setting goals. Feel free to borrow these or to choose your own.
Here I decide on my writing projects, not sales or publication goals. I’ll share my 2017 goals as an example, but I won’t do that with each category as everyone’s goals will differ.
For 2017, I aimed to:
- Revise and finalize the fourth and last book in my Awakening series, The Illumination
- Build this website as a resource for other writers
- Write, revise, and finalize the first book in my new mystery series
I reached (1) and (2).
As to (3), I’m on page 110 of 389 in my revisions to The Worried Man and once I’m done I’ll send it to beta readers.
I didn’t finish on schedule because I took a detour, or several, by writing nonfiction books that weren’t on my goal list. But I’m happy with those, so overall I feel pretty good about this set of goals.
If you’re writing while still working significant hours at another job, you may want to choose one major writing project, such as a first draft of novel or a non-fiction book, for the year rather than three. Or you may want to choose three smaller projects–three short stories, blog posts, or articles.
- Writing Business
In this category, I set goals for publications, royalties, sales, and related items.
If you’re starting out, you might aim to publish your first book. If you’ve released one or two already, your goal may be to try out new advertising platforms, figure out ways to get publicity, or create or update your marketing plan.
Your goal also could be to learn as much as you can about self-publishing or about following the traditional route of seeking an agent or publisher.
- Your Non-Writing Profession Or Job
The goals for my day-to-day job or career evolved over time and usually dovetailed with writing. At some points in life, my job goals were to work as little as possible so I could have time to write.
When I became a lawyer, though, I focused on developing skills and achieving “firsts” (such as first appellate argument). Later I focused on building client relationships and then building my own law firm. Still later I aimed to slow down my law practice to write more.
Your annual goals will depend on your long-term plan.
If you hope to write full time eventually or you want more time to write as you continue your current job, you might look at how you can work less and earn more at your non-writing career. If you want to keep doing both, your goals might be more focused on advancing your career and you might build more flexibility into your writing goals.
- Other Income/Investments
Whatever your overall professional goals, having other sources of income or investments can make your life better and less stressful.
The economy, business, and the political world all change rapidly. The more ways you earn your living, the easier it will be to adjust to whatever comes next.
If you're not sure how to do this, your goal for the year could be to read one or two books on the topic (the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series is a great start) or to read articles or talk to people who have multiple streams of income.
Also, it’s okay to start small.
Joanna Penn tells a great story about how her first affiliate income check (income from recommending a product or service) was something like $5. Now, though, she says affiliate income is a significant percentage of what she makes every year. This is a great example of starting small.
There is something about setting relationship goals that seems a little too analytical. After all, relationships are about feelings and what’s in your heart, not your head.
But for most of us it can be easy to take the people around us for granted, and making a point to have better relationships helps ensure that doesn't happen.
I find it especially helpful to set specific goals here. “Have better relationships” doesn't give you a plan for what to do to achieve that.
Everyone will have different goals on this front, but a few examples are visiting family or friends who are out of state several times a year, talking on the phone (rather than using only texting or social media) with a good friend regularly, or meeting someone you don't see often enough for dinner once a month.
Yes, I include this on my goal list!
I started adding this category when I was working full-time and going to law school at night because for the first semester or two there was almost no time for anything else. I realized that I couldn’t continue another three years that way. Even if “Interests/Fun” only got an hour every couple weeks, it was important to make space for it.
You might include setting aside time for hobbies or sports, vacations, taking walks, seeing plays, reading, or whatever else you love that does not involve working.
For me, contributing to the community helps me feel better about life, myself, and the world. It’s also a great way to meet positive people and to get perspective on my own challenges.
Goals here can include donating, volunteering, attending or planning fundraisers or other events, or simply learning more about different organizations you want to support in the future.
- Health And Fitness
It’s hard to enjoy life and do our best if we’re not feeling well. Also, if you write a lot, you may start experiencing strain injuries or aches and pains associated with being at the keyboard.
That's why I set big picture goals as well as day-to-day ones.
One of mine last year was to eat about 10% more vegetables. That goal pushed me to find a few more vegetables I could tolerate eating (asparagus and raw spinach—still can’t eat cooked spinach, no offense to Popeye). I also make a point to include some vegetables in at least two meals a day.
If you’re a vegetable-lover (I've heard there are such people), that may not sound like much, but it’s a big step forward for me.
Unless you're by nature into health and exercise, it's probably best in this category in particular to pick just a couple goals and really focus on them rather than creating a long list that quickly feels overwhelming.
What are your goals or aspirations for the coming year?
Feel free to share them in the comments or email me ([email protected]) with thoughts or questions.
Best wishes for a happy, peaceful, and productive new year!
L. M. Lilly
P.S. If one of your goals this coming year is to write a novel, you might find The One-Year Novelist helpful. You can download the free template for it here if you'd like to explore before buying the book.