It's all well and good to make New Year's resolutions as you nibble on holiday leftovers and clink champagne glasses at New Year's Eve parties. But when you wake up in the cold gray light of January, keeping those resolutions is an entirely different matter. Don't despair, though: if you want to write more this year, you still have plenty of time to make that dream a reality. All it takes is a pen, some paper, and a set of realistic writing goals.
As the writer Mary Heaton Vorse once put it, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” I mean yes, sometimes you might find yourself inspired to write. Sometimes you might even wake up in the middle of the night with a perfectly crafted scene in your head, ready to pour forth onto the page, and you'll feel grand and powerful, like you are being watched over by one of the ancient Greek muses.
But the vast majority of the time, you're going to have to force yourself into that desk chair. You're going to have to fight against the siren song of Candy Crush, sleep, having a social life, and so forth if you ever want to get any writing done. Setting goals and giving yourself deadlines isn't boring or unromantic. It's just realistic.
The key, of course, is setting achievable goals.
We'd all like to write a bestseller in the next month, get a movie deal, and be hanging out in Stephen King's guest house by 2019. If you give yourself an impossibly ambitious goal, though, you'll just be stressed, disappointed, and tempted to give up entirely before the year is out.
Achievable writing goals look different for everyone. For some, finishing a first draft of a novel in one year might be a feasible task. For others, cranking out 500 words a week is going to be a tight squeeze. Your writing goal doesn't have to sound particularly impressive, or push your schedule beyond the breaking point. The important thing is that your goal holds you accountable in some way. Your writing goal is a weekly, or monthly, or yearly reminder that you believe in yourself, even when you feel like you've been staring at that blank page for hours on end.
Writing, after all, can be a very lonely endeavor. You might have a writing group to help you meet your deadlines, or you might have a co-author to bug you about word counts, but you'll probably find yourself writing alone quite a bit. You're going to need a set goal to stay motivated when it's just you and that blinking cursor all night long.
You're also going to need a set goal to help you defend your writing time to the death. Because if you're not actively getting paid for each and every word that you type, it can be hard to prioritize your writing over all the other things demanding your time. It will be especially hard to explain to your non-writer friends that you're staying in to write tonight, even though no one is forcing you to.
You don't have to take yourself so seriously as a writer that you start wearing all black and smoking clove cigarettes and sighing loudly whenever non-writers try to speak to you. That won't be fun for anyone. But if you set a sane, reasonable writing goal for yourself this year, you're giving yourself permission to treat writing like an important part of your life. Whether you just want to write more for fun, or you're trying to start a lifelong career, there's nothing wrong with making writing a priority.
A writing goal helps you to make your writing time sacred. It gives you a clear objective in a career that has no set path. And, perhaps most important of all, it gives you an opportunity to celebrate when you've achieved something. Remember, writing is basically impossible, and even the roughest of rough drafts are precious miracles. Even if your goal was simple or small, reaching that goal is a chance to stop and thank yourself for your hard work.
So this year, think about how you write best. Do you need a daily goal to cut back on procrastinating? Do you need a weekly goal, because your schedule varies wildly from day to day? Do you need a yearly goal, because you work better without quite so much restriction? You can set your goal by project, or by pages or by words or even by time spent at the keyboard. You can change your goal when you start to flounder, or when you realize that you need a bigger challenge.
All that matters is that you give yourself something to aspire to this year. Remind yourself that your writing matters, whether it's a novel or a play or a journal of everything you like to eat. And have fun with it, because you're the only person who you need to impress.