Here’s a basic fact about the universe that has taken me 26 years to learn:
Days are short, but years are long.
What I mean by this is that while we generally overestimate how much we can get done in a day, we also generally underestimate how much we can get done in a year.
And left to our own devices, we’re not usually that great at organizing our time in ways that get the big, important, multi-month projects completed (*cough* like writing a book *cough*).
As a writer, it’s in my best interest to organize my year in such a way that I get as much done as possible. I’ve documented the process this year, in the hope that you find it useful. So begins the three part series: How Does A Writer Organize A Year? Part 1: Goals.
Goals are universal.
I’ve got them. You’ve got them. The barista at your favorite cafe has goals (make it through the day without killing anyone). Your boss has goals (get someone to take on that project that nobody wants). My neighbor’s dog has goals (mostly involving rolling in foul-smelling substances).
And when it comes to goals, you can separate humanity into two distinct groups:
- People who are moving toward them, and
- People who are moving away from them.
Naturally you want to be in the first group–and a big part of that depends on your skill at goal setting. Good goals are:
- Easily measurable
- Within your sphere of control
If your goals aren’t measurable, then you have no way to tell if you’ve achieved them or not. Also (as I’ve found out the hard way) it’s much easier to procrastinate on a vague goal than a specific one. Saying “I’m going to write 500 words of this manuscript every day,” is much harder to weasel out of than “I’m going to write a book . . . of some length . . . at some point . . . about something.”
If your goals don’t lie within your sphere of control, it’s essentially up to chance whether or not you’ll achieve them. That’s no way to live (unless you enjoy heartburn). Better to focus on the things we can control than the things we can’t. You can’t change whether or not that editor decides to pick up your article or not, but you can control how many query letters you send out.
And if your goals aren’t realistic, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Writing a 13-book fantasy epic by June is probably going to be beyond the reach of all but the most prolific of writers (unless you’re going to hire some ghostwriting talent).
Here’s how I’m organizing my goals this year.
You’ll notice that each one of them is (1) easily measurable, (2) something that I can reasonably expect to control through my own actions, and (3) realistic. I had the most problems with the third requirement last year–most of my goals were not achieved–and so I’ve tried to scale it back a bit this year.
You’ll notice that my writing goals do not include “sell a book to a big publisher” or anything similar (although that would definitely fulfill the “publish two manuscripts” goal). That’s because selling a book to a publisher is not anything that I can directly control–I can influence the process, but in the end it’s their decision whether or not to buy. However, if I don’t find a publisher, I can publish myself on Amazon–a process that I do have control over. In the same vein, I don’t have “make $x from my books” on the list, because the buying decision ultimately remains in the hands of the reader. I’m going to focus on the things I can control–writing and publishing the best damn book that I can–rather than worry about the things that I can’t control. If I do those things as well as I can, hopefully the money will follow.
These goals give us direction, but we’re not talking about how to achieve them yet. That’s for next week: “Tasks.”