This blogpost was originally published as a guest post about the third volume of the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner on J. Lynn Rowan.
Disclaimer: I wrote the original post in December 2021. During December 2022, I couldn’t get myself to write down goals beyond the next six months. This is a first for me, and I’m attributing it to having flirted with burnout too often over 2022 and finding my way back to myself after being forced to finally work through some deep-rooted personal issues.
I’m positive I’ll get my groove back eventually and I’ll just write down my long-term goals when I do. Because I’m sticking with the advice given in this post: it’s a really good habit to have.
Starting your writing year on the right foot
It may seem obvious, but I start every year filling in my own author journal and planner. Each volume of 52 Weeks of Writing is undated, so you can start whenever you want, but even before I published it, I was used to plan out the year ahead somewhere during December. That’s why I crack open a copy for personal use at the end of each year.
I’m not saying everyone should buy a copy of 52 Weeks of Writing, that that’s the best way to start your writing year on the right foot. I do want to talk about a planning habit of mine that made it into the journal/planner because I’d been doing it for years already, and with great success.
In 52 Weeks of Writing, during Week 1, I ask you to write down your long-term goals. Where do you see yourself in ten years? Five years? Three years? Two? Where do you see yourself in a year from now? In nine months? Six? Three?
Over the past two years, I’ve often been asked why I ask after long-term goals backwards. Wouldn’t it make more sense to start small and then expand? Well. No. Not in my experience. And that’s because I don’t just believe in setting goals. I believe in setting realistic goals.
I’m very much in favour of dreaming big dreams, but the more unrealistic your goals, the more you’re setting yourself up for failure. And consistent failure is not a great motivator. Consistently achieving your goals, that’s a great motivator. That’s what causes those dopamine hits that’ll keep you moving forwards.
So plan for success, that’s how you start your writing year on the right foot. Planning backwards is helpful here because it makes you ask over and over: ‘So if I want to be there in ten years, where do I need to be in five years’ time? If I want to be there in five years, where do I need to be in three years’ time? And if I want to have achieved that in the next three years, what does that mean for my two-year goals, my one-year goals, etc.?’
Backtracking like this gives you a great sense of whether you’re expecting too much, too little, or exactly the right amount of yourself. Perhaps you see yourself having published ten novels in ten years. As you figure out what your other goals have to be in order to achieve that big ten-year goal by then, you might realise there’s no way you can possibly pull that off, not while, let’s say, working fulltime and are thinking of having another baby.
Maybe you set out to have been published in ten literary magazines over the next ten years. But, as you spell out for yourself what that means for your five-year, three-year, and so on goals, you might come to the conclusion that you could be doing much more with the time you have for writing.
Of course, having ten novels published or having been published in ten literary magazines in the next ten years might be utterly realistic for you. We’re all different, we all want different things from our writing, and we all find ourselves in different circumstances. That’s why this exercise is so useful, because it will demonstrate quickly what can and cannot be realistically done within your specific situation.
As you do the exercise, don’t forget that goals aren’t set in stone. I use goals as guidelines, as something to keep me focused, but I revisit them at least annually to see if anything needs to go or needs to be added.
And whatever goals you set for yourself, don’t forget to celebrate each and every milestone. In 52 Weeks of Writing, I explicitly ask you to write down how you’re going to celebrate each of your goals as you achieve them, because it’s all too easy to ignore the small steps and just keep going. But we wouldn’t reach our big goals without those small steps, and they should be honoured as such.