When it comes to setting writing goals, the tricky part is figuring out where to set the bar.
You want to set it high enough to be aspirational and challenging, but not so high that it will be impossible to reach, leading to a year of constantly beating yourself up because you’re not accomplishing enough.
I am a goal-oriented person. If I don’t have a concrete goal on my horizon, I feel adrift and aimless. A little of that can be a good thing, like taking a weekend off to just do nothing; but I’m happiest when I have several achievable projects underway, and I can see that I’m making steady progress, even if it’s slow.
So at this time of year, I always make two “writing life” lists: a list of what I’ve accomplished over the past year, and a list of what I intend to accomplish in the coming year.
For me, just thinking about writing a “year-past” list gets my internal critic roaring into gear. But I try to respond by amping up the “glass half-full” aspect of my personality. The point is to give myself a little pep talk, after all.
Here’s a snippet of my internal dialogue: “No, I didn’t get Worldwrights in draft last summer. But I did do a ton of background reading, on which I took copious notes that will be at my fingertips when I start writing the first draft. And I did succeed in creating a chapter outline that I like, with a good body of notes for each chapter that can serve as my ignition spark when I’m finally ready to start writing. So back off, you critic! I’m doing all right, thank you very much!”
For the setting intentions list, I try to keep my plan realistic. It’s not likely that I can actually make progress on bothmy novel and my non-fiction book while teaching two college classes, facilitating two monthly memoir circles, producing a steady stream of Green Fire Press books, coaching several authors and editing their manuscripts—and doing a few other things besides working, besides!
What I can commit to is simply to show up for myself just about every morning for an hour, and take that hour as sacrosanct time for my own writing process. It may be that I will be too distracted to sink into the writing of my books. I may use that hour for stream-of-consciousness “morning pages,” for free-writing and process writing about whatever is on my mind. I may use the hour to take notes on the book I was reading the night before. I may use the hour to write a single scene from the novel, or do some thinking-in-writing about a character or a situation that I want to develop.
I don’t want to insist that every morning I’m going to show up refreshed and ready to write my novel. But I can set the intention—and create the necessary discipline—to block out the first hour of the day as mine. If necessary, I can get up an hour earlier to make sure I have the time.
Everyone works differently. Maybe nighttime is the best time for you to give yourself a precious hour of writing time. For me it flows best in the morning, straight from the dream world, as the sun rises on a new day.
My point is this: If you want to make progress on your project this year, the best way is to set up a regular writing practice, a routine that works for you.
If writing every day is out of the question for you, what about blocking out one weekend hour a week for your writing? Would that work?
It’s best to make your initial goals modest and achievable. For example: I want to freewrite about my book every week, building up a stash of notes about the project. You may be delighted to find that as you work steadily on that supposed “free-writing,” it actually starts to take shape into a chapter!
The more we can loosen up and get our egos out of the way—the internal critic, the perfectionist, the taskmaster—the better the writing will flow.
If you don’t already have a supportive writing buddy, writers’ circle or coach, I suggest you add finding that kind of nurturance to your 2019 list.
Knowing that someone is looking forward to hearing what you’ve accomplished in the past week or month can be a huge motivating force, especially when you can count on getting positive, productive feedback.
Every book you’ve ever read started with a writer—an ordinary, busy, flawed person just like you—staking out the time and making the mental space to put some words on paper. The greatest novel ever written started out with a messy, imperfect draft. Virginia Woolf, for example, wrote longhand on yellow lined pads, and went through sometimes dozens of drafts of single scenes before she was satisfied. That gorgeous prose didn’t flow out of her fully-formed—it took time, dedication and effort.
Writing is not an instant-gratification kind of endeavor. But the potential gratification is huge, not only for you as the writer, but for all the people your writing will touch and move.
This dark Solstice time of new beginnings is a great time to think deeply about what you want to accomplish in the coming year, and what you can realistically commit to. You can start by valuing your creative expression enough to give it the commitment and time it requires. If you truly want to write, there is nothing standing in your way…it just takes the discipline to make writing a necessary part of your daily routine.
I look forward to cheering you on in the New Year! Let’s create the kind of nurturing writing community we need to make our writing blossom this year.
Coming up in 2019:
While my Berkshire memoir circle is full, there are four places available in my new monthly online writer’s circle for women memoirists.
We’ll be meeting by video-conference from 3 – 6 pm on a series of Sunday afternoons: Feb. 3, March 3, April 7 and May 5.
If you’re looking for positive, productive feedback on your memoir project, this circle is for you!
If you’re in the Berkshires….
The Elemental Journey of Purposeful Memoir: A talk and workshop at the Lenox Library, January 27, 4 – 5:30 pm.