I’ve talked about it before, but it’s a useful topic and since my post is due on New Year’s Eve, I figured it was a pertinent topic well-worth repeating: responsible goalsetting for creative types (or, anyone, really).
Obviously setting goals will help you along with your creative career, or with anything else you hope to do. It’s hard to move forward when you don’t have a direction to run in, or an idea of how to get there. Setting a responsible goal comes down to two things: selecting a goal that is entirely within your control, and breaking that goal down into paceable, achievable steps.
Selecting a goal that’s entirely within your control may seem straightforward, but that’s when you’re consciously thinking about your goals. How many times have we said something like “I’m going to sell [the thing] this year?” or “I’ll get my book talked about on [the blog]” or some variation therein? Those goals, while great things to get, are not entirely within your control. What is in your control is how often you write, edit, and submit, and how you manage your own publicity and outreach. So, instead of saying “I’m going to write a story that sells this year” try something more like “I’m going to write one short story every month and submit those stories to the appropriate markets.” Achievable, and completely within your control.
Breaking a goal down into paceable, achievable steps may seem hard and tedious (for me it’s a sick and twisted little pleasure to do this, I love agendas, don’t judge me) but it’s well worth your time. Say your goal for 2014 is to become the kind of writer who writes 2K every day. But say you haven’t written anything in the last month (she types, guiltily). And say you’ve never been the type of writer who writes 2K every day. Say the most you’ve ever done in the past is maybe 500 words a day, with an occasional burst here and there. It’s going to be hard to jump right into 2K a day if you’re not used to it, and eventually you will burn out and drop the goal entirely. It’s like running a marathon or learning a new skill: you have to build your way up to it. Set challenging-but-achievable goals, and when you can, push yourself a little harder. Build every day until you’re at the place you want to be. And work on one big goal at a time — if you’re working on too many things at once, something will give, and it’s likely going to be your stamina.
There’s one method that’s quite useful for producing good creative work: the “Seinfeld method” aka “Don’t Break the Chain.” The theory here is that excellence is built on habit: keep working at something every day, and eventually something good will fall out. My personal writing-related goal is to work on writing every single day, regardless of what’s going on. This may be anything from wordcount to editing to re-reading to outlining to character development to writing exercises. As long as I’m doing something for writing, it counts. I’m using this free printable PDF of the Don’t Break the Chain calendar for 2014.
An important note about the “Don’t Break the Chain” method: you’re probably going to break the chain at some point. It’ll just happen. Maybe you got too sick to brain one day, or you’re simply in a situation where you absolutely cannot get time away to do the thing you set out to do. An additional rule I have seen, for those of us just starting our Chains, is “miss no more than one day.” If you miss a day for some reason, it’s your responsibility to get back on the Chain the very next day. Otherwise you’re going to start making a new chain of not-doing the thing.
I hope everybody reading this has a fun (and safe!) New Year’s Eve, and a productive New Year’s Day! I’m kicking off my personal JanNoWriMo tomorrow, with a few of my friends on twitter, and my goal is to finish my First Draft by the end of January. What’re your New Year goals?