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.
This blogpost was originally published as a guest post about the third volume of the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner on Lisa’s Reading.
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. There was a time, when I was very young, when I wasn’t afraid to say so when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I think it was my mother who said: ‘Good luck earning any money with that.’ Then there were others, telling me writing doesn’t bring home the bacon.
Of course, none of these people knew I’d become a vegan eventually. And neither, I think, were they aware of the impact their words had on me. How their casual comments made me lie about what I wanted to become and embarrassed about all those words I kept writing, in secret, afraid of being found out and told I was wasting my time pursuing something I really shouldn’t.
And then one of my uncles brought home a girlfriend. He didn’t just ‘bring her home’; she was from the United States, where he had worked for a couple of years, and she was moving to the Netherlands to be with him.
This girlfriend wasn’t only terribly smart—she was a lawyer who had just won a big case—and kind and funny and pretty and cool because she was from the United States, she loved books the way I did and let me borrow anything I wanted. I had never let anyone read my writing—it was all done in secret, after all—but she was the one I eventually trusted with a couple of pages, the start of a novel.
I remember the scene so vividly. We were out together, having a drink in a little bakery after visiting a fair, when I told her about this story I was writing. I had printed the pages when no one was looking and had put them in my bag in case I would somehow find the courage to show them to her.
I still have those pages and they were bad. Not just in terms of craft—I was fourteen or so—but the start of that story was so clearly based on the last series we’d been reading together… It was painful. Reading those words now, it was so very painful.
Now, over twenty years later, I can’t remember whether she said anything about those pages. The only thing I remember is that she didn’t say anything bad about them. In fact, she asked me about the rest of the story and I spent the entire afternoon telling her about all the ideas I had.
In that little bakery, I gave her the power to wreck me and she didn’t. I was steeling myself to hear about all the bacon I wouldn’t be bringing home, the harsh, penniless life I wanted to willingly sign up for, but she gave me none of that. And it has made all the difference.
Writing still wasn’t something I talked about with anyone else and it took me another fourteen years to tell another soul that I wrote stories and let them read my work, but that terrible fear of anyone finding out lost its hold on me. I no longer hid it from my direct family—I even bought myself a typewriter because the thought of having one alone made me feel more like a writer—and soon it was just something I spent a lot of time doing. If any more discouraging comments were made, I must have been too high on the support I’d received to not register them.
I might have never stopped writing, no matter what my uncle’s then girlfriend had said on that faithful day, but her treating it as something that was OK to be spending my time on, as a dream I was allowed to have and an interest worth pursuing? It did make a difference. She eventually moved back to the United States when I was seventeen, but I will never forget that day and I will never stop being grateful for all the things she didn’t say, all the hurt she didn’t inflict, and all the hope and joy and love for writing she handed back to me in that little bakery.