One of my terrible tendencies is that I’m a relapsing/remitting Perfectionist.
So, writing about planning for the new year, in the New Year, instead of December 2023, makes me itchy and uncomfortable. Because planning now, my perfectionist brain argues, ruins the year. The year has already started, and now it’s already a mess because the new plans didn’t kick in on January 1st.
That might be a trap you also fall into. If the day/week/month/year has been ruined, then why bother trying to get anything done now? Might as well goof off and start fresh tomorrow/ Monday/the 1st/January 1st, when the slate will be clean.
So I fought my tendencies and deliberately scheduled a post about planning for the new year now, instead of last month.
There is a point in all this, and that is that planning can start at any time. What is behind you has gone. What is ahead is unknown. You only have this moment you’re living through, in which you can lay down plans for what you think might and should happen.
[Actually, this approach to time always reminds me of the saying about planting a tree: The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is today.]
You can also review and reset at any time throughout the year. You might like formal quarterly or annual reviews. Or you might be looking at sliding sales and diminishing engagement on your email list and think “I need to DO something. Time to change things around.”
That is also a perfectly good time to review and reset.
But many people like to review and plan around the new year, because, well, fresh starts, clean slates, etc., etc. Culturally, this idea is calcified into us from childhood, when we are first introduced to the idea of New Year resolutions.
Just remember that you can clear the slate any time you need to. Don’t immobilize yourself because the New Year has passed (or Labor Day, or June 30, or whatever “end” period you focus on). Life is messy and never ressembles the concept in your head.
How to Review & Plan
As writers, we can daydream with the best of them. Use that ability to review your business.
Sit back in a comfortable chair, with a notebook and pen (or tablet and stylus) beside you, and let your mind drift through the year that has past, and the performance of your business.
How did the year go? Did it live up to expectations? Did you have expectations?
What went right? What went wrong? What disappointed you? What thrilled you?
What can you do more of? What should you stop doing?
Don’t limit yourself to dry practicalities, either. If you were thrilled by an editorial review, and would like more of them, that’s a legitimate goal. We need to love, or at least like, our work.
Write down in quick notes any ideas that will impact the coming year.
Then, settled back into another reverie. How would you like this year [quarter, month] to go?
What would be a big win for the period? What builds upon the work you’ve already done and where might that go in the next year?
Take more notes.
You’re building the foundation for goal setting, here.
Once you have a vision in your head for what you would like the next year to look like, you can turn to the practicalities of making that vision a reality.
Figure Out Your Goals
There is an entire industry built around teaching entrepreneurs and creatives how to set goals and achieve them.
If that sort of formal planning appeals to you, then here is the point where you go off and utilize your favourite planning tool — Balanced Scorecard, SWOT Analysis, GAP Planning, Blue Ocean Strategy, Ansoff Matrix….there are dozens of different approaches, models, philosophes and strategies.
As a solo creative, you don’t have to be anywhere as formal and complicated as some of these models call for. And many of them don’t allow for the ephemeral aspects of a writers’ business. Such things as day-dreaming, reading for pleasure, etc., which are essential to fuel the building of the business’ products: Your books.
But you might know and use a model that works very well for you, and this is the time to use it to plan out your year along the formal lines of the model.
If you don’t have a preferred tool, then goal setting is simply writing a list of end-points you’d like to reach by the end of period you’re planning for (and in this post, we’re assuming it’s the year ahead).
Use the SMART criteria to make your goals realistic. You might dream of writing 20 books this year, but is it really do-able? SMART goals will help you scale your ambitions to something you can actually achieve.
SMART = Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
Your day-dreaming mind might have thought, “It would be really cool to write a lot of books this year!”
But how much is “a lot”? That’s where being specific helps. You might decide that it means “More than last year.”
But you can be even more specific and say “I will write 15 novels of at least 50K words, this year.”
“More than last year” is measureable in a way. “15 novels of at least 50K words, this year” is definitely measureable. You’ll know exactly when you’ve acheived the goal.
This is where reality barges in. Can you actually, really write 15 books this year? If you only wrote 3 book last year and it was a struggle from beginning to end, 15 books might be unrealistic for this year (but it’s a nice long term goal to aim for).
If you wrote 12 books last year, then 15 books this year isn’t out of contention.
Your unique circumstances will also impact the achievability of your goal. For example, you might have only written 3 books last year, but you had a full time, demanding job, you were caring for a sick relative, and commuting two hours per day, six days a week.
This year, though, all those factors have gone, as you’ve moved cities, quit the job, or any other life-altering events that change the scale of possibilities. Now, writing 15 books this year might actually be realistic.
Only you can decide if the goal is achievable. The more aware you are of your capabilities and weaknesses, the more effective you will be at figuring out this aspect of your goal.
Does this goal actually help improve or accerate your writing business?
For example, deciding that you will finally, this year, organize all your ebooks inside Calibre eBook Manager might sound relevant, but is it, really? What does it do to improve your business?
On the other hand, a goal of hitting the gym six days out of every seven sounds irrelevant, but actually has a massive impact on your business; you’ll be healthier, be able to concentrate better, and your creativity will improve. Plus you’ll better withstand the long hours in the chair.
Can you achieve this goal in the period that you’re planning for? Or is it a multi-year goal? In which case, reduce the goal to match this year only. “I want to be an author with more than 100 novels published” can become “I want to publish 10 books this year.”
There must be a time limit attached to your goal. A period within which you will achieve it. Otherwise, you could kid yourself that you’re working toward your goal, year after year, and never get close to actually achieving it.
Reduce your Goals to Habits
This is where a lot of planning tools veer off into the unachievable. They exhort you to break your goals down into acheivable chunks, remind yourself of your goals daily in order to motivate yourself, and become a stellar success.
Life, especially the creative life, doesn’t work that way. We are all creatures of habit.
So instead of trying to constantly motivate yourself to work on your goals, you instead build habits that will automatically drive you to achieving your goals.
Want to write 15 books of 50K each, this year? A daily habit of writing xxx words will achieve that. Do the math: 15 x 50,000 = 750,000 words this year. Break that down to writing six days a week to get: 750,000/312 days = 2,403 words a day.
Your new daily habit is to write 2,403 words every day except Sundays.
The process of turning your ambitions into SMART goals will often tell you what the daily or weekly habit should be. Other goals might not have obvious habits and require a bit of creative thought. Sometimes you might have to guess: “I think doing this every day will get me to my goal.”
Sometimes, your goal will require several habits.
For example; “I want to sell a story to my favourite pro market by the end of the year.”
A great many goal-setting gurus say you can’t make goals of this sort, because they’re outside your locus of control. You can’t make a sale happen.
But this is a factor of the creative life. There are a great many goals we can aim for that are partially or fully outside our control; Winning awards, national recognition, selling to bucket-list markets and more.
But you can and should set goals for these ambitions. They are what bring joy and motivation to your work.
And for all of these lofty ambitions, there are daily habits that will make it more likely that you will achieve them.
Back to my example: “”I want to sell a story to my favourite pro market by the end of the year.”
There are many things you can do to make this ambition happen, including writing lots of short stories, consistently submiting them to the market, reading that market’s published stories, improving your story-telling (writing). You could network your way to getting to know one or more of the acquiring editors and developing relationships with them.
All these strategies can be reduced to daily habits:
- Spending an hour a day writing short stories (secondary to your main writing)
- Submitting a new story to the market every two weeks.
- Spend 15 minutes a day chatting on the Discord server where the market’s writers and editors hang out.
- …and so on.
None of the habits will guarantee you’ll achieve your goal, but they will massively increase your chances, and improve your luck. You could very well succeed. And if you don’t, you can try again next year. Plus, you’ll have had fun writing all those stories (which can be sold or published somewhere else) and dreaming about knocking the market off your bucket list.
This is the stuff that fuels a creative career.
Do this for all your goals that you want to achieve this year. What daily habit(s) will drive you toward achieving each goal?
Now, Ignore Your Goals.
There’s no need to motivate yourself with affirmations about your goals, or keep storyboards on your wall to inspire you to keep working.
You don’t even have to remember what your goals are from day to day.
Instead, work upon creating the habits that will make achieving your goals automatic. Focus on your daily routine.
This will be challenging to begin, but if you establish your daily habits properly, they will do all the heavy lifting that keeps you progressing.
This is a highly simplified type of planning, but it works.
Try it and see.