by Rochelle Melander
For the past month, I’ve been writing about how to set New Year’s goals. Today’s tip shares five practices that help you achieve your goals.
Question 1: What practices will help me achieve my goals?
When it comes to setting new goals, it’s natural to focus on what we want—a book contract, an agent, a full-time writing gig. But it’s more helpful to focus on doing the practices that help us achieve our goals. Reverse engineer your goal and list the steps you’ll need to take to achieve it. Let’s say you’d like to get an agent this year. Great! What steps do you need to take to do that? Make yourself a whole big list that will take you from beginning to end. Be as specific as possible. “Submit” is a good start. But it will be even more helpful if you have specific goals like, “Research agents who represent my type of work,” “Review my manuscript for plot,” “Review my manuscript for word choice,” and “Write new query letter.”
Pro Tip: Whenever a step feels difficult, it’s probably too big. Make it smaller.
Question Two: When will I work towards my goal?
When we want to do a new thing, we need to set aside time to get it done. If you want to achieve a big goal like writing a book or getting fit, you need time to do the work. Whether you write for twenty minutes or four hours a day, schedule it in the calendar.
Pro Tip: Don’t let others’ ideas of the right way get in your way. When someone attacked John Scalzi for writing only four hours a day, Neil Gaiman shared that he wrote Coraline 50 words a night! (See the Twitter post!)
Question Three: How can I make this practice a habit?
We’re the most successful at doing the things we’re in the habit of doing: brushing our teeth, going to work, or taking the dog for a walk. Most of us fail to achieve our New Year’s resolutions because we’re trying to rely on our willpower to do something new, like eat healthier or carve out time to write. When we turn our goal practices into daily habits, we increase our chances of achieving our goals. I wrote about how to do this in my tip a few weeks ago, “The Key to Achieving Your Goals.”
Question Four: What could get in my way and how can I overcome it?
In the “New Year, New You” world of dreaming, it’s hard to imagine that the “new us” will ever face challenges. But, as it turns out, the new us is a lot like the old us, and we face the same obstacles. We’re too tired to get out of bed to write before work. When we try to write at lunch, we get interrupted by our colleagues. When we get time to write, we don’t know what to say. Obstacles happen. Make sure you achieve your goals by brainstorming all of the things that could go wrong and then figuring out how you might solve every single problem. It can help to use an if-then statement:
- If I am too tired to get out of bed to write before work, then I will write at lunch time.
- If I get interrupted by my colleagues at lunchtime, I will write at the local café.
- If I experience writer’s block, I will brainstorm ideas.
Question Five: Why do I want to achieve this goal?
Making changes can be scary. When we get scared, we tend to cling to our old habits. We can increase our chances of sticking to our new practices by reminding ourselves WHY we want to achieve this goal. When I was trying to sell my book Mightier Than the Sword, I got through the difficult parts by reminding myself that I was writing this for the young people who needed someone to tell them that their voice matters. Write down your why and post it where you can see it.
Bonus Question: Who can help me stick to my plan?
You need someone who cares about you and wants you to succeed. You need someone who will hold you accountable and celebrate your steps toward the finish line. Find an accountability partner to meet with regularly.
If you need a little help, think about joining one of my accountability groups for the spring
The Writing Goddesses Group gives you the opportunity to have your work read and commented on every other week by me and your colleagues. Our meetings give you the opportunity to stay accountable to your goals and get help when you get off track.
The Writing Accountability Group will focus on helping you overcome distraction and procrastination, sustain focus, and finish work. This is ideal for writers who want to complete projects, but it can be helpful for anyone who struggles with distraction or focus.