Set realistic writing goals for 2021
What’s this episode about?
Welcome to Episode 4 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.
Happy New Year! Let’s start 2021 with a bang and talk about setting achievable writing goals. Some of you may call them writing resolutions and may well be setting some pretty ambitious ones as we speak. But hold off for the next ten-fifteen minutes and listen to the following tips, tricks and ideas. This episode will help you evaluate your practice and set up your yearly writing objectives with your personal situation in mind, and hopefully prevent you from burning out or feeling like you’ve failed in the coming year.
Begin with a vision
Many people set unrealistic goals because they pull them out of the hat of their wishful thinking. It would be great if I could publish a novel every month in 2021 but it only takes a second to remember I work two jobs, have this podcast and love to engage in the occasional Netflix show or computer game. Sometimes I even spend time with friends, global pandemic allowing. So this mix of activities doesn’t lend itself to a realistic novel-a-month timeline. But let’s say I did have the time for it, why do I want to produce so much? Am I chasing money? Am I trying to work hard this year so next year is easier? Will this churning out of novels make me happy? Basically, if I don’t know what my vision for my writing practice is for this year, goals are pretty much meaningless. So, to set a realistic objective, one needs to start at the beginning.
What writer do you aspire to be? Where would you like to see yourself as a writer in five or ten years? Boil down the answers to those questions in one sentence and you have your vision. It should encapsulate your writing dream and excite you for the future. If it doesn’t, think some more and tweak it.
Some examples are: “to earn a living by being a full-time copywriter, well-established in the business and consulting industries” or “to supplement my existing income by publishing a fantasy trilogy” or even “to consistently find magazines and anthologies to publish my poetry and bring joy to others through my witty sentences”.
Whatever it is, it needs to reflect your aspirations. And after you have your vision, you can more confidently set your goals and targets for 2021. Keep your vision sentence close by throughout the year and read it often. If you find your dream has changed, don’t be afraid to alter it and revisit your writing goals.
New Year’s writing resolutions – at your own risk
I’ve been really careful not to use resolutions and goals as the same thing, because they aren’t. A resolution is a “firm decision to do or not to do something” while a goal is an “object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result”. I don’t do resolutions because I believe they often come from a place of self-judgment, of negativity.
If we move away from writing for a bit, lots of people want to get fitter in the New Year, to drop eating sugar, to stop smoking, etc, etc. And by themselves these are not harmful aspirations. But they come with the expectations that from January 1st, one will change suddenly, find their lost motivation, and let their old self which they dislike stay in the past year. But this kind of thinking does a disservice to everyone who struggles with addiction, body image issues, mental health and many other problems which require ongoing effort to keep at bay. And for many people, it’s simply a promise to themselves which they will not keep, betraying their trust in their own motivation and abilities.
So there’s no need to make a resolution. Set achievable goals and objectives instead. I want to leave you with something you can start using straight away, so here is a tool which is used a lot in business but writers and anyone doing personal development can benefit from it too. It’s called SMART. SMART is an acronym which helps you be realistic in your planning.
So when setting this year’s writing goals, try to make them SMART – Specific (or simple), Measurable (or meaningful), Achievable, Relevant (or reasonable) and Timely (or time bound). Here is how to use the SMART tool as a whole. Making sure your goals meet all SMART criteria means you will be properly evaluating all aspects of your writing and personal life which could affect your writing practice. As a starting point, don’t forget to think about how your health, your social bubbles and your knowledge of previous barriers like procrastination, may impact on any of your writing aspirations for the year.
The book to which you owe listening to this podcast. The Lavender Phantom, my upcoming romance thriller, is now available for presale at a special price for all the early birds. It’s 25% off and if you preorder now, you can join me in my preorder giveaway and win some gift cards, books and tea.
All details can be found on my website www.laineydelaroque.com/books. The creation of that book has informed a lot of the content I’ve discussed in this podcast, so I’m excited to share it with you all. It’s not been an easy journey but I’ve learned a lot along the way about writing, mental health and productivity.
Cultivate a ‘growth mindset’
A year is a long time. Lots can happen in these 52 weeks and even if you set the best, most personalized objectives, things will throw you off balance. I know most of us have learned this hard lesson already, 2020 after all had curve-ball after curve-ball for everyone. The only way to be prepared about these inevitable difficulties is to train ourselves to grow from every experience, positive or negative.
In the book ‘Mindset – The Psychology of Success’, Dr Carol Dweck discusses the power of one’s mindset when reaching for success and achievement. She makes a clear distinction of two ways we can approach thinking about our skills and results – with a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. “Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. […] It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.” In contrast, the “growth mindset” is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.” This idea fosters a passion for learning and a more resilient mind, allowing you to spring back up from things that others can view as failures.
If you want to explore the science and strategies behind the growth mindset further, make sure you take a look at Dr Dweck’s book. There is also some further reading which I found really thought-provoking: it lists the 10 habits resilient people have and how to adopt them in our own lives.
Try the life of a stoic
And while on the topic of introducing habits, we need to look no further than the philosophy of Stoicism to see the benefits of living a life of purposeful routine. Epictetus said that “Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.” It leaves a lot less to chance – meaning less unpleasant surprises and less chances to feel like you’ve failed in your practice, provided you’ve set SMART goals for yourself.
“The Stoic life centred around habits and routines — practices in which they engaged daily, from their waking moments until going to sleep, that provided the structure necessary for a day lived well.” These practices can be incorporated in your writing life and add structure, purpose and a feeling of well-earned achievement.
The Stoics’ idea was to live life to the fullest, and there is much we can learn from them, particularly in our anxious, stressed, constantly turned-on society. I recommend you read the article which inspired this point – How to Structure Your Day Like a Stoic – and maybe give some of their ideas a try. They promote self-reflection and growth, as well as useful practices which will enrich your writing life and open the door to more creative inspiration.
sO, TO SUMMARIZE…
Beginning a new year leaves a lot of us buzzing with excitement and eagerness to write more, write better, be altogether better creative people. But before you make any grand promises for the state of your creative practice, take a step back, evaluate, look at how you did last year. Set realistic goals for your personal situation and try to adopt a ‘growth mindset’ to build resilience. Use psychology to harness your renewed energy and maybe try out a new routine or revamp your old one with new elements.
And I’m no different, I will be doing exactly the same thing. My first book is coming out in February so I’m trying not to get swept up in unrealistic dreaming and goal-setting. I’ve also looked at how the Pen Garden can be improved, expanded, so the hinted changes to the format from last episode are indeed happening. The Pen Garden is growing, and I’m happy to announce that there is new beta reading service offer. It is free and open for applications. So if you are about to finish a draft and you’re looking for a beta reader, go check it out for details and access the application form. Applications close on the 15th of January.
Next week, for the final episode of the Success & Failure season, I will look into how to manage unreasonable outside and personal expectations when it comes to your writing practice. Being a member of our society and a writer means that people have reactions to us writers that are not always helpful. So I will discuss that and leave you with some practical advice on how to handle such remarks while still being happy and proud you’re a writer true to your aspirations and situation.
If you haven’t joined my newsletter yet, you’re missing out. I’ve now sent my first few ones and I’m really enjoying the process. Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. They all feature a cute animal and a book recommendation which can improve either your mental health or your productivity as a writer. Feedback about the newsletters has been really positive so far, so after you finish this episode, go sign up. And if you think they can be improved, email me and I promise that I will do my best.
If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.
- SMART Goals – How to Make Your Goals Achievable (website toolkit)
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck (book)
- 10 Habits of Highly Resilient People (website article)
- How to Structure Your Day Like a Stoic (website article)
Listen and subscribe
Listen to all Available episodes of season 4:
Or the episodes from seasonS 1,2&3: