As the old year draws to an end, I thought I'd offer some thoughts about the next one. It's not that easy with a brain full of Christmas pud, but I'll do my best. It seems sensible to talk about something people do at New Year: make resolutions. And then break them. This item in the Guardian yesterday tells us that scientists have discovered that most resolutions will be broken, for a number of reasons that we really don't need scientists to tell us. Like the fact that they were silly resolutions.
So, let's ignore that depressing message and focus on what we can do. Resolutions should be seen as goals and should be neither too easy nor too difficult. If they are too easy, there's not much point in them. If they're too difficult, ditto, because they will just demoralise you. Vague resolutions are most likely to be broken - "I will do more exercise and drink more water and less wine" is my standard failure.
But failure need not be bad. Blog-reader and hard task-master, Dan Holloway, said on Twitter today that "in the arts it's dangerous to set yourself goals you can achieve" because it's the first step to complacency. That's a tough message; if it works for you, that's great. But maybe I need to define what I mean by goals. I certainly have dreams and aspirations that are way above anything I've achieved so far, and I don't actually expect ever to reach them. That feels fine, keeps me hungry, and breeds the painful dissatisfaction that is part of being a "Type A" personality. It's part of me that I don't want to change, though I wouldn't wish it on everyone.
But dreams and aspirations are not goals and they're not resolutions. I believe the best way to look at goals is to follow the well-known "SMART" doctrine. This states that goals should be "specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic and time-based". [For an excellent description of how to set and work towards goals like this, do go to the Project Smart website at www.projectsmart.co.uk and click on the link on the right, for 8 Strategies for Achieving Smart Goals.] These are the sort of goals that we do need to achieve, otherwise we may spiral into powerlessness.
Based on that, I have a resolution / goal and I'll tell you what it is in a minute. Hold yourselves back.
First, because it's relevant, I want to remind you of a recent post I did about a book called Booklife. That book is partly about setting realistic goals for writers, and how to achieve them while maintaining a life. It's being published later this year in the UK, but if you go to the booklifenow website you'll find extracts. For a taster, and because it's also relevant to what I've been wittering about, try this page here.
Having been someone who always juggled several projects / ideas / crazinesses without planning or stopping to breathe and re-evaluate my life, and therefore someone who regularly panicked about lack of direction or achievement or having too much to do and not knowing what to do first, I have become much better at stopping regularly to re-set goals and evaluate progress. And it feels good. So, I look back at goals I've set for myself [and some do include dreams and aspirations as well, and are therefore sometimes not achieved] and re-set them. Each time, I find that I have achieved some, which feels good, [sorry, Dan - first step to complacency!]; that I have changed ny mind about some, which feels sensible and controlled; and that some are still waiting for me to achieve them, which feels motivating. But those that are SMART will mostly be ticked off by the appointed deadline.
I had one SMART goal which I failed to achieve: I should have written 20,000 words of my WIP by Christmas, and I'd only done 10,000, a significant failure. Was there a good reason? Yes and no. The rather scarily spectacular success of Pen2Publication was the reason, and it was a good one. But I also know that, to be honest, I could have written that extra 10,000 words easily and still spent the same time on Pen2Publication. This is where my new goal / resolution comes in...
On the basis that an important motivation to stick to a goal is to tell other people about it, I will now go public with my new resolution [and then invite you to go public with yours]:
GOAL: I will write my word target each day before writing anything else, including emails. My word target will be a very modest 1,500 words on every weekday unless I am travelling to or doing a talk. I will do this until the first draft of the WIP is finished.How is it SMART? It's:
Specific - it's not vague, such as "I will put writing higher up my list of priorities", even though that was my initial thinking and aim behind it.
Measurable - my success or failure will be objective.
Agreed-upon - because I've told you and I insist that you agree that this is a good goal for me!
Realistic - because I have not said I can't read my emails, which would be an unrealistic rule for me, judging by past attempts, just that I can't write any / reply to any. I could have said I couldn't put the internet on, but I might need the internet for research while writing [my normal method] so I know I'd be likely to disobey. Besides, reading my emails is my drug and I am not trying to give up!
Time-based - because this is for a set amount of time, not the rest of my life. However, I do hope that it will kick me into a new and life-long habit - but that hope is not part of the goal. It's an aspiration.
You may wonder why I'll still have the same amount of time left for other work if I've written 1,500 words first. The thing is that I fritter time on emails etc early in the day, and don't get going till I have the deadline of tea-time approaching. If I can use the frittering time for writing, by putting writing first with its own specific deadline, everything else, the easier and mechanical stuff, will still get done.
I have some other goals that I won't bore you with - income targets, other writing tasks, development of certain areas, but this is the one I am most in control of. If I can't do this one thing, the most important part of my writing life, then I will despise myself and you are welcome to despise me, too - though the occasional failure through exceptional circs, such as illness, will be acceptable. Please! If I have to miss a day or two, I will just make up the missing word count the next day.
I'll blog again on Jan 1st, with a post requested by blog-reader Catherine Suttle, who wants to hear how it felt when I got an agent / publisher the first time, as an inspirational start to the year. A kind of "how was it for you?" And how it happened, how I cracked it. Agh - I may have to admit that I broke several of my own rules. On the other hand, "Do as I do, not as I say"... And I didn't send any toffees to unsuspecting agents, thank goodness. [By the way, an agent friend just received a tea-bag with a submission. NOOOOOOO.]
And on Jan 1st I will also ask you for topics you'd like me to blog about in the coming year. Please don't add them to the comments here - wait till Jan 1st.
Meanwhile, let's spend the last two days of 2009 preparing to acheive our SMART goals in 2010. Happy end of 2009, everyone!