SavvyBlog

It’s New Year’s Resolution time! by Hollie Smurthwaite

Forget exercising, eating healthy, or becoming a kinder individual. Let’s be better writers!
Good goal setting means being SMART:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Realistic
  • T – Tracking it

So, a goal of “I want to be a better writer,” though awesome, isn’t a proper New Year’s resolution, because there’s no way to measure it, know when it’s attained, and it’s vague. However, we can each decide what “a better writer” means. Take a few minutes to think about your writing and your writing practice.
If you could change one thing, what would it be?

Think outside the box. There are more to writing goals than words a day and time spent writing. Do you want to write more consistently, improve your grammar, complete a work, create more works, learn more craft skills, discover a writing community, or procure an agent? I know, I know…yes to it all! But trying to do too much will end in failure.

Focus.

Meet yourself where you are, and honor who you are. If you are the kind of writer that agonizes an hour over a sentence, you probably aren’t going to miraculously become the kind of writer who churns out a chapter a day, no matter how earnestly you want to be that writer. Litmus test: ask a friend who knows you and your writing and tell them your new goal. If they double over laughing for five minutes then straighten and say, “Wait. You were serious?” then you’re probably over-stretching. You need to push yourself without falling over.

Decide on the areas you want to improve or change, and pick a goal or two. Too many goals? Consider mapping out a rotation of goals, a new one each month. Make it work for you.

Once you have your goal ready, go through the checklist.

  • Specific and Measurable: What exactly do you want to accomplish? (Examples: 500 words a day five days a week, writing two hours a day three days a week, editing a chapter a week, take one craft lesson a week, attend one writing-related event a month, finish your first draft by the end of the year). Be sure you have a time parameter and a unit of measurement.
  • Attainable and Realistic: Gut check. If you are a single mom of four, you might not be able to devote three hours a day to your writing. Know thyself. There is no shame in giving yourself a laughably low bar to clear. Want to become a consistent writer? You can choose a goal of daily writing, letting even one sentence count. Though you might have a few one-sentence days, most days you’ll exceed that. I’ll bet after a month or two of consistently sitting in the chair, you’ll find yourself writing more and more. Be realistic but optimistic too.
  • Track it: Decide how you’re going to monitor your progress, because if you aren’t keeping track, it’s easy to let that goal slip away. You can make it simple, or you can get hardcore about this. Use an Excel spreadsheet to track daily word goals or time goals, or a notebook or daily planner, email a friend, find a goal-tracking app. Don’t think you can figure this out later! Though you can, you won’t.

A few more things you can do to set yourself up for success:

Join a writing community.

They. Are. Everywhere. If you live somewhere without live meetings, groups, and events, there are a host of online sources—Savvy Authors, for example! If you want some support, hit the Community link and find an accountability partner, blow off some steam, or reach out for help. Only you can complete your goal, but you don’t have to do it alone.

Reassess.

Check in with yourself regularly.

Set it up now—every four weeks or every month until December 31, 2020. Seriously, do it now…
Put that reminder in your phone or day planner or app, and if you don’t have time to deal with it when the reminder pops up, don’t just blow it off. Hit snooze, move the reminder to the next day, but don’t give up.
When you hit each mark, take a look at your goal and what you’ve accomplished so far. How are you doing? If you’ve slipped, that doesn’t mean you should give up entirely. Get back on track! Because eleven months of success is almost as good as twelve, and even one month of success is better than none. Maybe you’ve chosen a goal that isn’t netting the results you want. If your goal is making you miserable, adjust it. *Caveat – give yourself at least four weeks before deciding you just can’t do it. You need a chance to adjust.

Resolutions aren’t binding contracts, but tools.

Brainstorm.

You can do this now (my recommendation) or space it out—weekly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annually. Prepare for stumbling blocks. Anticipate problems.

Say your goal is one craft lesson a week. There are some weeks that will be craaaazy, and some that are loose. If you have a list available of short, sweet lessons, you won’t have to panic when life takes a sharp left. There are Youtube videos, live classes, online classes (hello, Savvy Authors), podcasts, essays, craft books, and blog posts. Accumulate sources and then you’re ready for anything!

What if you have a daily writing goal and you’re burned out on your project? Having a list of contingency plans can help. You could write a short story, start a daily diary entry, morning pages, writing exercises, write an essay about how horrible it is to write every day, a funny story from your childhood, a profanity-laden rant about your pet peeves, or handwrite a thank you card to someone you appreciate. Opening up possibilities and granting yourself flexibility can keep you from feeling overwhelmed or trapped (hello, my pantser friends).

Make it fun. Goals don’t have to be work. They don’t need to be painful to be beneficial. Find a goal that inspires you, that makes the world crack open when you imagine it. Then tell everyone. Seriously, the checkout clerk at Target might be interested to know that you’re going to write a short story every month for a year.

Okay, you might want to stick with your “people.” Post your goal on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or in the Savvy Authors Community section. Knowing people are watching you can be very motivating. Apply the pressure. Accountability is a heavy component to successful goal-setting.

Give your goals some stakes. The stick and/or the carrot.

Stick:

Devise some punishment or delayed gratification if you don’t hit your goal. What can you deprive yourself that will motivate you? No sugar for a week? No social media until you’re back on track? If you’re an introvert, maybe you make yourself go to a party and require yourself to talk to three people you don’t know.

Consider outside help.

For example, there’s a goal-setting website called StickK (https://www.stickk.com/). You can self-report, or recruit someone else to verify you’re hitting your goal. Motivate yourself with checking off your successes or put money on the line. If you miss your goal, you can have money donated to a person or an organization. The ultimate stakes is to have your money given to an organization you detest (they have a few). Imagine your money going to the NRA or, conversely, the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. Find the organization that makes you queasy and then let them motivate you with your hate. It’s free (unless you put money on the line and don’t come through).

If those kinds of stakes immobilize you, the money component is unnecessary. Again, know thyself.

Carrot:

What can you treat yourself with that will motivate you? For example, there are these shiny gold shoes I keep seeing advertised on Facebook. I want these shoes. It doesn’t matter that I am a jeans, T-shirt, and sweatshirt kind of woman who has no business buying gold shoes. Where would I even wear them? They are, seriously, over $500. For one pair of shoes! But it doesn’t stop me from wanting them. Not that you need something as expensive and ridiculous as gold shoes. Maybe you treat yourself to a bubble bath, a new book, a walk around a botanical garden, a movie in the theater, a full-fat latte. Find what makes you grin and then decide what you would do to have it guilt-free. Earn it.

Whatever you decide to do this year, don’t forget to let go of whatever you didn’t accomplish last year. Give yourself a fresh start. I hope you architect a fantastic year and all of us become better writers in 2020, no matter how we define it!


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Unsticking Your Story with Hollie Smurthwaite

Hollie lives in Chicago with a husband, son, and too few pets (though more than the husband would like). She's a member of Sisters in Crime, OCWW (Off...