Questions to answer honestly so you can fix those patterns before the next year rolls around.
At the start of this new year, like at the start of every new year, I came across dozens of articles about setting achievable writing goals, challenging myself to do new things, fixing measurable standards, and working towards them.
But what happens when you mess up the goals from last year? Where’s the real advice about missed deadlines and lost goals that all but kill the inspiration to come up with new ones?
I didn’t achieve three of the ten goals I’d set for myself this year, even though I was obsessive about looking at them each day and measuring my performance regularly. I’m tempted to say that life got in the way or blame the shift in priorities that happened mid-year. But these are things that can and will happen each year. Instead of putting your life on hold when the strains and stresses get too much, plan your goals accordingly right at the beginning.
If you didn’t meet some of your writing goals last year, here are some questions you need to answer honestly so you fix the pattern before the next year rolls around.
1. Are you actively pursuing your targets?
It doesn’t work just to look at your goals each morning and then do nothing about them. Sure, that’s a good start, and it means you’re conscious of where you are in your career. But if you want to move further, you need to create an action plan. Instead of just making annual goals, make monthly, weekly, even daily ones, and keep hitting them regularly.
2. Are you being honest with yourself?
In my first year of freelancing, I earned over a hundred published credits. That’s because my aim was to reach this number without caring about the money that came in. That meant that I wrote for low-paying publications, publications that paid in kind instead of cash, and on topics I had zero interest in.
The next year, I shifted my focus to the nationals and making a decent income from my work. But here’s where I went wrong: I assumed that since I had already proven that I could write 100 articles in a year, I’d be able to do a repeat performance. I wanted to earn more money in addition to writing 100 articles again. But national magazines require much more research, very specialized pitches, and a great deal more effort per article.
So while my goals of getting into the nationals and increasing my income were met, my goal of getting another 100 credits wasn’t. Which, if you think about it, worked out even better. More money for less work? Yes, please! (Read this post on chalking out a three-year freelancing plan.)
3. Are the goals really yours?
Almost all of us will get sucked into charting our goals based on someone we admire at one point. The thought process works something like this: If she could write two children’s books, pen twenty greeting cards, finish three non-fiction titles and syndicate a humor column in her third year of freelancing, why can’t I? Never mind that I’m not really that into children’s writing and I haven’t said anything remotely funny since I was 10.
I’ve been guilty of this (of course). It’s easy to look at the goals of other writers and think, “She’s got so many goals for this year and I’ve only got five. I don’t want to be a slacker, so I’m going to increase mine, too.” But she doesn’t have your life and you don’t have hers. So set goals that are appropriate for your career and your ambitions, not hers.
4. What’s your life like?
If you’re a new mom, don’t expect to work 80-hour weeks like you did before you had a child. If you work a full-time job, don’t take on same-day deadline assignments. Aim high, but be realistic.
You need to set goals that are suitable for your life, your writing speed, and your talent, no matter what anyone else may do or say. It’s also important to incorporate life changes into your goal setting. If you’re going through the loss of a loved one, for instance, don’t expect yourself to be as productive as when everything’s going well. Cut down a bit on work and go easy on yourself.
Making yourself work hard when you’re not physically or emotionally ready will only detract you from your goals.
5. Are you confusing your long-term and short-term goals?
Publishing a novel is one of my long-term goals. A “someday.” But I’m not there yet. I know I won’t sell my manuscript this year. If I do, I’ll be taking time away from the non-fiction work that pays the bills, and as I get ready to write and publish a non-fiction book, I can’t really afford to do that.
(Note: The book is available! Find it here: The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Making $1,000 More This Month)
Putting “sell my novel” on my list of goals for the year will not make me feel good about myself, especially as this goal gets carried forward month after month. Instead, I’m putting it on my five-year plan. That way, it’s not too near, and it’s not so far away that it becomes a distant dream instead of reality.
6. Are you keeping track?
The biggest problem I face right now is keeping track of where all my time went. While to an outsider it may seem like I’m working all the time, the truth is, I waste a lot of time on email, reading newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and, well, checking email. A while ago, I started keeping a daily journal to keep track of where all my writing time was going and it was an eye-opener.
Keeping a daily tab of what I’d achieved kept me accountable and ready to tackle the next important task on my list, rather than checking email one more time.
7. Are your priorities straight?
Which brings me to this: Set your priorities right and work from top to bottom. A technique that works for many people is to make a daily list of things that need to be done. Then, in the order of priority, tackle them one by one, striking them off the list.
Even if you have some work unattended to, you can easily transfer it to the next day’s list since it’s of the lowest priority.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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