Here we are again - a New Year! Maybe it's the brand new date book in my computer bag, or the brand new 365 Dogs calendar in the kitchen, but starting a new year always feels hopeful to me, and the tiniest bit intimidating. It's not unlike the brand new spiral-bound notebook on the first day of class - a clean start full of possibilities, and I don't want to mess it up. But here's the thing: to live creatively, whether through writing or painting or travel or volunteerism or, well, any pursuit, we have to make a mess. We have to make false starts. We have to make booboos.
We have to come to terms with the notion that the path to our goals is paved with failures, set-backs, disappointments. I won't throw a bunch of platitutes at you -- you've heard them all. And I agree: failures suck. Rejections suck. If you can get your breath back and stick it out, though, you can use all that crappy feedback to make your work, your play, and yourself stronger. Granted, you'll have a few scars, and some of the buises won't completely disappear. Hey, I'm still smarting from a comment my seventh-grade English teacher made about an image in a poem I wrote. (He was right, but did he have to laugh so hard?)
Enough of that. The real question when we open this lovely new notebook is this: what now? Where do I want to go, and how will I know when I'm getting close? Goal setting and tracking work for me (and, according to many studies, for a lot of people). I'm actually a bit of a "goal addict." I have lists of goals for all sorts of things, so I will stick to writing goals -- that still leaves me with several lists. Every year for the past mumble mumble years, I have written down my goals for the year, for the next few years. When I start a new project, I create goals for getting it done. Trust me, I'm obsessive about this. Having my goals where I can open a file and look at them gives structure to what can become open-ended work.
Do I reach all my goals? Bahahaha. No. Do I revise my goals along the way? You betcha. Do I re-evaluate the importance of some of my goals as I go? Of course. Occasionally I ditch a goal. But the bones, as they say, are still there, and they support the body of my work, both the act of working and the result. Does goal-setting work? Since 1998, I have written 22 books of non-fiction; 19 of them are published (three were in series that were cancelled by the publisher). I've also written two and a half novels (one published, one in production, one coming along), several short-stories, several essays, a few poems. Goals work for me.
As I thought about this post and the goals I plan to write down for the coming year, I wondered how goals from past years have played out. I picked a year at random and pulled up the general writing goals I had written down. Here's my list:
Writing Goals 2006
complete Terra Nova Training Book (try for June 1, due Aug 1)
complete plan for The Communicator
complete draft of Jackknife
write short story Indy 500
Due April 30
- It took another two years and many rejections, but I signed with my agent, Josh Getzler, in 2008.
- I finished Training Your Dog for Life, the Terra Nova book from T.F.H. Publications, on June 5
- Rattlesnake Mountain (formerly The Communicator) is half written (one of my goals for 2013!)
- Jackknife morphed from potential novel to short story, and is written - revision in on my list!
- I didn't write the Crime Bake story - oh well!
- I started writing The Money Bird (the second Janet MacPhail/Animals in Focus mystery), although barely....I wrote the book in 2012. Watch for it September 2013!
So I have started assembling my goals for 2013. I still use my trusty spreadsheets and lists and calendars (I like the redundancy!), but I may also play around with some of the nifty on-line tools for obsessive goal setters like me. If you'd like to try one or two, here's an interesting list from "Where Writers Win" - give it a shot!
I would love to hear about your goals for the coming year (or years!) - writing, travel, reading, whatever! Let's inspire one another - and report back next January 1.
Wishing you a happy, creative new year!