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Where do you want to take your writing in 2021?

Advanced tips for writers

A different way to make goals

Do you realise that you are perfect just the way you are? I truly believe that. I also believe that making goals isn’t a way of berating yourself or giving yourself a report card that says ‘could do better.’ And, in a nutshell, that’s what this post is about.

Looking for my other posts on Your 2021 Writing Plan? Go here. 

I said in a previous post that books by Jinny Ditzler’s and Michael Hyatt have helped me to make writing goals, but those books aren’t specifically for writers. If you (like me) are hoping to plan your writing for next year, what we really need is a set of questions designed for writers to help us to make goals for 2021. Not ‘could do better’ resolutions and definitely not sticks to beat ourselves with, but measurable and specific writing goals. I say specific and measurable because that way we’ll know if we’ve achieved the goal by the end of the year or not.

Big goal, small steps

Starting out on these goals needs to feel easy, comfortable and safe. Why? Because our brains like easy, comfortable and safe – we’re much more likely to accomplish a writing goal if the small steps we take towards it are at least in some respects easy, comfortable and safe. A cosy writing space, a ‘getting set up’ ritual with your favourite cuppa, a writing habit so you know when and where to turn up are all ways of establishing this.

Anyway, because I was trying to solve this problem for me – what questions do I ask as I plan my writing in 2021? – I had a think about the kinds of questions I’ve found genuinely useful. This whole series of blog posts is the result.

First a quick word about ‘should’

It’s easy to get caught up in ‘should’, especially at this time of year. Three of my ‘shoulds’ are: I should eat more healthily, I should do more yoga, I should some lose weight. Personally I think it’s no coincidence that ‘should’ looks and sounds – at least to my dyslexic eyes and ears – a bit like ‘shove’ and ‘shout’. Am I likely to do what someone wants me to do if they shout at me and shove me? Possibly once if I know the thing is good for me, but I’m extremely unlikely to keep it up.

The ‘want’ / ‘because’ test

Far better to look at the ‘why’ behind the ‘should’, if you see what I mean, and to see if it makes sense to change the ‘should’ to ‘want’ and to add ‘because.’ I want to eat more healthily because I’ll feel better. I want to do more yoga because it’s making me stronger. I want to lose weight because my hip pain will improve. (At this stage, if you can’t easily change the ‘should’ to ‘want’ and / or you find it hard to add ‘because’ then choose a different goal.)

If you have any writing-related ‘shoulds’ of your own flying round your head at the moment, do the ‘want’ / ‘because’ test and see if the result works for you as a writing goal. If it doesn’t, give yourself permission to bin the ‘should’ entirely. If it does, decide whether you want to work on it in 2021.

Let’s look at some writing-related ‘shoulds’

  • I should write a novel
  • I should self-publish a memoir
  • I should submit my poetry pamphlet
  • I should find an agent
  • I should enter more writing competitions
  • I should read more literary fiction

None of these is intrinsically bad, but what happens when you change the ‘should’ to want and add because? Try finishing any or all of these sentences, and you’ll see what I mean:

  • I want to write a novel because
  • I want to self-publish a memoir because
  • I want to submit my poetry pamphlet because
  • I want to find an agent because
  • I want to enter more writing competitions because
  • I want to read more literary fiction because

‘Want’ / ‘because’ part two

The second part of the ‘want’ / ‘because’ test is good fun because you get to make things up.

  1. Write down your goal using the ‘want / because’ sentence construction again.
  2. Come up with reasons that simply aren’t true. So when you ask yourself ‘is this true?’ the answer will be a firm no.

The reason will only be untrue for you. It may well be a perfectly good reason to do the thing in theory, or for someone else, it’s just not your reason.

Non-reasons v. genuine motivation

Why make up untruths? Because you get to see your non-reasons, or the reasons for achieving the goal that you don’t need, that don’t inspire you, that you can let go. For instance, I want to do more yoga, because it will help me make friends (in normal times) is a perfectly valid reason for going to a yoga class, but it’s not my reason. I want to eat more healthily because the doctor thinks I should might motivate others, but it’s not my motivation. I want to lose weight because I’d look good in little black dress is a reason, but it’s not my reason.

Try working out some non-reasons for your writing goals. If it helps, write out the real motivation behind the goal too. Here are a couple of fictitious examples but this is only really useful if you make up your own:

  • I want to self-publish a memoir because it will make me lots of money. Is it true? No, actually I want to self-publish a memoir because I can share it with my family and friends.
  • I want to write a novel because I need to prove my English teacher wrong. Is it true? No, actually I want to write a novel because it’s something I’ve always fancied doing.

How do I quantify my writing over the coming year?

So armed with knowledge of our ‘want’ / ‘because’ goals, what other kinds of genuinely useful questions can writers ask themselves at this time of the year? I think one we often over look is ‘how do I quantify my writing?’ You know a writing goal needs to be about something you want, and have a ‘why’ behind it, well, it also needs to be measurable. So when I say ‘how do you want to quantify your writing?’ I mean ‘how do I want to measure it?’

To my mind there are several ways to make your writing goals measurable or quantifiable. You can measure by: time spent, word count, publications, money earned – and there’s one more crucial one that I hardly ever hear people talking about – more on that in a minute.

Subconscious quantifying

The ways in which you’ve been quantifying your writing in the past may not be serving you, which is why I’m being this up. The idea of quantifying your writing might make you feel uncomfortable – but the thing is we all do it even if it’s subconscious. Every time you berate yourself for not turning up to write, for instance, you’re quantifying by time spent. Each time you wish you could finish your novel rather than editing the beginning over and over, you’re quantifying by words or chapters written. When you decide to target one publication opportunity over another, you’re quantifying by publications gained or money earned – or the possibility of publication and / or payment.

How are you quantifying your writing at the moment?

Here’s how to work out how you are quantifying your writing at the moment:

  1. Look back over your results from the want / because exercises (or stop reading and have a go now).
  2. Consider your default way of quantifying your writing goals. Time spent, word count, publications, money earned.
  3. Ask yourself: Are you assuming that meeting your goals is all about turning up, writing a certain number of words, publishing a certain number of pieces or submitting to a certain number of opportunities, or earning a certain amount?
  4. Would you prefer to use a different way of measuring your progress? For example, (generally) a target number of writing sessions works much better for me than a target number of words written. It could be the other way round for you.

Quantifying different kinds of writing

You may well have different ways of quantifying different kinds of writing. With fiction, I’m better with a ‘number of writing sessions’ target, but with non-fiction feature articles it’s crucial I write to a word limit, so I have to find a way of reining myself in. Therefore I monitor the number of words I’m writing every 25 mins or so. With poetry, I don’t quantify at all – although I am thinking of taking part in National Poetry Writing Month next year, when I will have to reconsider!

The fifth way of quantifying your writing

I said there was a fifth way of quantifying your writing (drum roll) and it’s a combination of all four – time, words, publications, money – plus an added bit of strategy. (Another drum roll.) It’s return on investment, or ROI, bearing in mind that both time and money are types of investment. If you’ve never thought about quantifying by ROI before, it’s eye-opening to think about, even if you hate the idea!

A Planning Masterclass

I’ve created a masterclass that goes into much more detail about planning your writing, enabling you to create your very own 2021 writing plan. It shows you how to make quantifying your writing genuinely useful. I’m releasing it for sale on 1st January. Sign up to my author mailing list if you’d like a discount. (The link is at the very top of the page in blue.)

More soon. Until then, happy writing,




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