I don't like resolutions. Resolutions tend to start out bright and shiny, and then become dull when something gets in the way or it just becomes too hard. Whether we're talking about losing weight, being more organized, or improving the quality of our lives or our writing, resolutions are make-or-break: an all or nothing mindset. Most resolutions fail because we aim too high or are unrealistic when we set our goals.
Instead, I love setting goals and making plans to accomplish those goals. January is the perfect time to create new goals. It is the blank slate, the fresh page on the calendar, the promise of beginnings; the perfect do-over. Forget your past mistakes and start again. Make this the year you become a better writer by setting realistic goals and making a workable plan.
Writing is a career, but it is also a way of life. In order to be successful, we have to incorporate it into our schedule, instead of always waiting for the perfect moment. How many times have you thought, 'I'll wait until the kids are older,' 'I'll really be a writer if I win that award for a month at a writer's retreat,' or 'I'll write when I have more time?'
If you really think you are too busy to write, sit down and make a list of everything you do in a day. Now really study it. If you are at work from 8am to 5pm, maybe you could write during your two coffee breaks or at lunchtime. Stay at home parents can sneak in some writing when the kids are napping or enjoying a video.
Take control of your schedule by creating a yearly plan for your writing career. If time is a struggle, check your schedule and look for snippets that you could use for writing. Get up one hour earlier than usual or go to bed a little later. If you want to write more, see if there are activities that you could eliminate.
Stop making excuses and just begin. Every novel starts with one word. Even if you can only write for ten minutes a day, make it a goal to do it every day. Gradually, you will want to extend those ten minutes to twenty minutes, a half hour or an hour.
There is never going to be a better time than right now, today. Start writing that novel you've been dreaming about. Jot down three article ideas and start researching markets. Pen your memories about the holiday season before they become as stale as the unopened fruitcake and the drooping tree. Just write.
You might be thinking, 'Easy for her to say.' And I would agree. After eight years, I finally have the schedule I've been dreaming of: I can write at least a little each day. If I have a deadline, I can dedicate larger amounts of time to it and produce a quality manuscript. With a growing list of published articles and books, I bring some credibility and experience for each new query or submission.
Yet I had to work writing into my busy life. I am also taking care of my disabled husband and two active teenagers. Household chores and responsibilities seem to take up an inordinate amount of time. Most days I have to consciously decide to sit down at the computer and write.
I used to push myself to churn out tons of articles, stories, essays and poems. I don't regret my drive, but now I am enjoying a more focused pace. It is not about writing more, but about writing better. Now my goals concentrate not only on writing, but also submitting every week.
Decide on a realistic goal for your writing. Don't let yourself check your emails until you get a rough draft written. Make a goal to keep ten submissions in play at all times. Finish a new chapter every three days. Choose whatever mini-goals get you closer to your prize.
Set a monetary goal. Choose an actual figure. Write down how you plan to reach it. List the markets you will have to write for and make monthly goals. Make it as realistic as possible. If you don't know what you are aiming for, how are you ever going to achieve it?
Although some writers may say that money is not important, I disagree. Money is a tool that can be used to better our lives and also to reward us for our hard work. A plumber is not going to say, "Oh, you don't need to pay me. I just do it for fun."
Using monetary goals as a guideline, you can see how far you have come in your career. It can also prod you to keep reaching for higher paying assignments or a market that once was out of reach, or to try something new that you had never considered.
If you want to spruce up your writing, look for classes, books and online courses. Check out Writing World's impressive lineup of articles to improve every area of writing. No matter what genre you write in, you can always learn more.
Another common goal is to be more organized. This is very important in the business side of writing. You need to track your submissions, payments, publications and even taxes. Creating a system that is workable can be challenging.
I use a simple, very inexpensive system of file folders, notebooks and backup disks. When I write a new article, I write the title on a piece of paper. I also write the word count, the day I wrote it, and where it is saved. I save it on floppy disks and a backup CD. After letting it rest for awhile, I go back and revise it.
Every time I submit the article, I write the date, place I sent it to and any pertinent information like payment, response times, column titles or editor's names. I also write the same information down in my master notebook. That way, I keep a record of where the article has been. When I receive an acceptance or a rejection, I mark it on the paper and in the notebook.
Another way to organize is to group types of writing into folders. If you write in many different genres or subjects, this is an easy way to keep track of your submissions. You can also create folders on your computer and keep everything online. Remember to always back up your work.
It's great to make goals, but in order to accomplish them you have to have a plan in place to reach them. Once you've decided on your main goal, write it down. Make it as specific as possible. Just saying you want to write a book someday is too vague. Planning to have a book completed, revised and submitted to a publishing company by December 31st is a specific goal.
Now break that goal down into monthly and even weekly goals. In order to finish a book in a year, how many chapters or pages do you have to write each week? Set a time-table that works for you and fits into your schedule. The more realistic you make your plan, the easier it will be to accomplish each step along the way.
Plans are great, but sometimes things happen to throw them off track. List some of the things that might derail your plans and how to overcome them. If you've made goals and plans in the past that failed, look for the specific reasons. Maybe you gave up after a few months because you didn't see any results. Perhaps a goal was too hard to reach or the steps weren't working. Figure out ways to revise your new plan.
If you are prepared ahead of time for setbacks, you can still accomplish your goals. Now when the computer breaks down for a week or the whole family is sick, you will be ready with Plan B.
When you start to accomplish your mini-goals, reward your hard work. Plan a night out with a friend or give in to a decadent dessert at your favorite coffee shop. Really reward yourself when you land that coveted assignment, or one of your short stories is accepted.
Pat yourself on the back; tell your story on the many "Brag Boards" for writers, and share your good news with your friends and families. With all the rejections, disappointments and hardships of writing, a little good news can be an excellent motivator for weeks or even months.
Support for your goals is another important tool in creating a workable plan. Whether you have a writing buddy, an online chat room for writers or a monthly writer's group, connecting with other writers is key. They can cheer you up when you get a rejection, celebrate when your book proposal is accepted or offer helpful critiques when you're working on your latest assignment.
Writing is a privilege, a joy and a way to connect with others. It can also be a fulfilling and financially rewarding career. Meld the two together into a doable plan that will make 2010 your most successful year yet. Begin today!
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