Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy New Year!

It's the first day of the new year, a day when most people are looking ahead with hope and big plans. This is the year they plan to lose 50 pounds, stop eating cheesecake, get happily published, and take over the world. And every year by February or March most people have forgotten their resolutions or considered themselves failures and have gone back to Ben and Jerry or watching reruns of "Three's Company."

Like me, many of your resolutions are probably writing related, whether it's to finish a novel or screenplay, get an agent, get published, or beat your previous sales record. I've successfully achieved and kept resolutions in the past because of a slight shift in mentality. So if you want to make your goals for this year read on:

Whether your resolutions are all writing related or whether you have other goals like losing weight or going to the gym more often, there are a few things that will make you more likely to reach your goals.

1. Be very specific. And then write it down. Don't just say: I want to write more often. How often? Set up a schedule, deadlines, a rewards system. Anything to make the goals clear. If you want to lose weight, how many pounds? In what time frame? If your resolutions are very vague you are less likely to achieve them, because how would you know that you did? You have an idea of what would mean success to you so be very specific and then write it down.

You haven't made a solid goal until you write it down somewhere. As long as it's just fuzzy in your head, it's not likely to go very far. Write it down in specifics and put some power behind it.

2. Ditch the "all or nothing" approach. Most people who consider themselves resolution failures have one thing in common, they are so strict that the second they falter it's all over with. Say your resolution is to write a thousand words every day. An "all or nothing" goal setter would fail one day and then just figure "well, I failed" and either quit working toward the goal or slacking off. If you fail one what?

Look at the goal behind the goal. Is your goal REALLY ultimately to write 1,000 words a day? Or is that only a vessel to get you where you ultimately want to go? What possible purpose could 1,000 words a day just for the sake of it serve? If this is the point where you start arguing with me, I'd say you've found your root reason. Are you going for publication? Or improving your writing? Do you see how if you miss one day you haven't lost?

If you have a goal that is framed in this way, if you fail one day, forget it and pick back up the next day. Call it a vacation and aim to do better. You do bad one day, you haven't "lost." And you don't need to wait for Monday to start all over again. I have no idea why this is, but many people who make goals think if they mess up one day they have to wait for the start of the week to "start all over." You don't have to start all over, just keep going.

One of my resolutions last year was to lose weight and go to the gym more often (I was more specific of course at the time) Did I have days where I ate like a pig? Yes. Did I have days where I didn't go to the gym? Yes. I lost 27 pounds. Because all of your actions are cummulative.

In January of last year, the gym was jam packed with new year's resolution makers. By February only the strongest were left. By March I had the gym to myself again.

Get over your perfectionism and be more flexible with yourself. I highly doubt that your goal in life is to be perfect. You're looking for a compounded effect here. If you fall off the horse get back on.

3. INSTEAD of "all or nothing" resolutions, make deadline oriented goals: "By the end of this year I would like to..." This isn't to be confused with vagueness. This is giving yourself a reasonable time to accomplish something. Instead of focusing all your goals on being perfect Focus them on the end result and when you would like to have it by.

Also all of your goals and resolutions don't have to be in the framework of an entire year. If you have some big goals, you'll likely need some smaller goals and deadlines to get you there. Which brings me to point 4:

4. Make smaller goals to get you to the larger ones. Let's say your goal is to write and polish a novel in 2007. That's a noble goal and you should go for it. But without any firmer deadlines for smaller portions you are likely to flounder. Set a deadline for all aspects of the process. When do you want to finish research/outlining? This is assuming you do research at this stage. I do most of my research after the rough draft. I find that I know more the direction I need to research if I just wait and wing it with the rough draft. Yes, you're allowed to "make it up" with the rough draft and fix it later. I promise, no one will hunt you down.

When do you want the rough draft done? When do you want various revisions and critiques in? When do you want to get all your agent/editor research done? etc. Make firm smaller goals to get you to the larger ones.

5. Revise your goals as you go. I'm a big "outline reviser." I don't write well without an outline, I need to see where I'm going. But I don't slavishly follow it either. During the course of writing a novel I tend to revise my outline about five times. As the characters surprise me and go in new and better directions than I had originally planned, I redo the rest of my outline to see that I'm still heading ultimately where I want to go.

Resolutions and goals are like this too. If you make a goal, don't be afraid to change course a little bit. If something isn't working for you in the exact form you set it, don't feel compelled to keep going just so you won't be a failure. That's insane. Do what you have to do to make the goal workable. Maybe you set the bar too high and you're only frustrating yourself and you need to take smaller steps. Do that. As long as you are moving toward some goal you aren't a failure in any definition of the word. If you set the bar too low and you aren't challenging yourself, don't be afraid to make it a little more challenging.

Follow these steps and you are well on your way to meeting your goals in 2007. Have a great year!

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