Last year, I wrote about how I don’t really like writing goals. Mostly, this is because they focus on the results and too often bypasses the importance of the journey. But this January, perhaps more than any other January, I find myself brimming with intentional and actionable ideas about where I want this year to take me, as both a writer and a person.
This post is a little late—scraping into the official goal-setting month by a bare week—since most of my January so far as been taken up with recovering from Christmas (literally) and launching my latest novel Wayfarer. But I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking and processing. I feel like last year was the close of a significant chapter in my life, culminating with a move to be nearer my sister and her growing family. As I look out on this brand-new chapter, I find there is so much I want to do.
Because my writing ultimately influences or is influenced by everything else in my life, it’s hard for me to separate writing goals from life goals. They all blur together. So today I thought I’d share my top nine goals/intentions for this year, with a specific focus on how they will impact my journey as a writer.
Although these goals are obviously very specific to me and my current chapter in life, I’m sharing them today because I think all of them are potential value-adders for any writer at any time. If nothing else, I hope you find them interesting!
My Top 9 Suggestions for Writing Goals This Year
1. Find the Balance Between Art and Business
More than any other question in my writing life, this remains the big one, always looming, never quite finding an answer.
I’ve talked before about reframing marketing and business mindsets into a more giving- or sharing-focused approach, which is something I continue to work on. However, in reality, many of the same challenges remain. As is true for the vast majority of full-time authors, I make my living less off my writing (that is, my art) and more off my writing business.
As such, the business naturally likes to try to suck up my attention and energy. Gotta eat after all, right? For me, part of the problem is that I’m such a crazy all-or-nothing person. If I’m focusing on the business, it’s hard to keep that from being all I’m focusing on. And vice versa. When I’m writing, I don’t want to think about scheduling social media messages or reminding a partner company that I really need an invoice now.
Even after eleven years of juggling the art of writing fiction with the business of teaching writing, I find I don’t yet have what I would call an intentional solution to this challenge. But it remains my top goal.
The past few years have already helped me make huge strides, just in realizing how out of whack my focus was getting in favoring the business side. But I’m still doing my best (largely, via the goals listed below) to find an optimal balance that helps me enjoy every minute of both my work and my art.
2. Hack My Brain for the Hard Stuff
There are parts of writing—and the writing business—that come naturally to me. There are other parts I’ve mastered through dedication and learning. And then… there are parts that make me feel like a five-year-old kicking and screaming and howling at the thought of getting her picture taken with the creepy clown.
It’s stuff that’s not easy, not intuitive, not interesting, and not fun. And I. don’t. wanna.
But the more I learn about how my brain and my personality work, the better I’m getting and reframing my approach to the hard stuff. I talked last week about how you can hack your brain to create a writing process that lets your natural strengths carry the bulk of the hardest parts. I’ve gotten pretty good at doing that with my writing.
But on the business side, I’m wanting to be more intentional about how I approach the stuff I really don’t like—and am therefore much more likely to procrastinate on.
For example, I hate ads. I just… hate them. The whole researching keywords and A/B testing and analyzing which approach is actually working? Totally not my thing. Every part of my brain rebels. For eleven years, I’ve pretty much avoided having to deal with them. But as Amazon now shifts into a “pay-to-play” model where advertising seems to be becoming a necessity, I find myself reluctantly moving into this dreaded playground.
My advantage is that I know how my brain works. I know my weaknesses (studying, analyzing, and integrating technical information on the spot), and I know my strengths (holistically absorbing information and implementing organized plans of attack). This realization takes off a lot of the pressure, reframes the problem into a shape I can take a bite out of, and gives me a plan for moving forward.
Guess that means no more excuses for procrastination.
3. Trust Myself More
This is primarily a life goal, but it has obvious implications in both my writing and my business.
Something I realized this winter is that I constantly second-guess myself, in response to other people’s opinions, only to, more often than not, circle back around months (or even years) later and realize I wasn’t so wrong in the first place.
Part of this is just how my brain works—taking in massive chunks of information, slowly observing patterns as they emerge, and sorting and resorting conclusions into appropriate “boxes.” But part of it, I’m realizing, is just me undervaluing my own observations and understanding.
In many instances, the odds aren’t any greater that someone else is right (in their presentation of themselves, in their world view, in their knowledge of a specific subject) than you are. If you’re going to trust one person over the other, why shouldn’t you just trust yourself?
Granted, there’s a fine line here between confidence and hubris. But as long as that line is always being rigorously examined, with a continuous focus on refining the purity and honesty of emotional and logical judgments, I believe it’s important for each of us to learn to trust our gut instincts.
This is something I’ve long believed when it comes to writing: each writer must find the balance between the humility necessary to learn and the confidence to stand on their own artistic understanding and vision. It’s just as true in life.
4. Live (and Write) Greener
This year, I’ve made a commitment to trying to make more sustainable life choices. I’ve cut out pretty much all single-use products (such as napkins, tissues, straws, grocery bags). I’m trying to choose non-plastic alternatives for household items (my dish brush is wooden, pot scrapers and dish drainer are bamboo, refillable shampoo and conditioner bottles are stainless steel, etc.). I buy almost exclusively second-hand clothing (mostly through ThredUp and garage sales). And I’m trying to grow more of my food (via a kitchen garden from Aggressively Organic—we’ll see how that goes, since I have something of a black thumb).
Although a minimal-waste lifestyle sounds daunting at first glance, I can’t believe how much fun I’m having with it. Seriously. Not only is it way easier than I thought it would be (once you get the basics in place, it’s no less work and little to no less expense than “normal”), and not only does it contribute to a beautiful home (seriously—wood, glass, and stainless steel products create a much nicer aesthetic than do neon plastics), it’s also a delightful and genuinely enjoyable challenge to figure out new ways to live greener. My life is about 75% “green-hacked” at this point, and I’m honestly a little bummed there are no longer any major changes I can work on.
This actually hasn’t created too many changes in my writing life, since I was already pretty green there. I’m going to do a post (and maybe even a video) on the specifics sometime this year, including such things as printing manuscripts less, buying more e-books instead of print, switching to a fountain pen, switching to a stapleless stapler, switching to highlighter pencils, etc.
5. Make Time to Rest, Listen, Think
January is always a bit of a “funk” month for me. It’s hard for my productivity-oriented personality to be okay with this. But beyond just recognizing the inevitability of the hibernation pattern, I’m also trying to focus more on the importance of intentional downtime.
The other night, I was whining on the phone to my mom about how lazy I feel because, ever since Christmas, it seems like it’s taking me longer and longer to get going in the mornings. She immediately turned on the mom voice: “You’re thinking, and that’s incredibly important for a writer.”
She’s right. I never sit around doing nothing. But sometimes—more often than I realize, I think—I need to sit around and intensely process. This, too, is how my brain works. The more intentional I am at taking my gut instincts and observations and actively and logically talking myself through them, the more insightful and productive I ultimately am.
Fortuitously, the same night my mom got after me, I also read Madeleine L’Engle’s similar reminder in Walking on Water:
Sitting or, better, lying on one of my favourite sun-warmed rocks, I try to take time to let go, to listen, in much the same way that I listen when I am writing.
In our go-go world, it can be so easy to feel guilty for taking the time to mentally rest. But I grow more and more adamant in my belief that stepping back from busyness is important, not least for personal health, but also for artistic inspiration. The well must be filled before the bucket can be lowered.
6. Read More Consciously
I talked about this in my recent compilation of my favorite reads from last year: I don’t read like I used to. To some extent this was affected by other aspects of my life, but it’s also just part of the continuing evolution of my mindset from being focused on productivity to being more focused on being present and enjoying the journey.
This year, I find myself with a renewed excitement about reading, in no small part because I’ve changed up my reading “schedule” to prevent any one book from feeling formidable.
I’ve started reading the “harder” books just a little tiny bit at a time (I’m currently working through Emmy E. Werner’s painful WWII account Through the Eyes of Innocents).
Instead of being (ridiculously) rigid in what I read when, I’m giving myself the freedom to focus on whatever reading feels most urgent and interesting at any given time. Occasionally, I’ll find a novel I just can’t put down, but these days, my page-turners seem to be mostly non-fiction (my current goal is to try to read at least one book of history about every major country). But I still make sure to get my fiction fix with one chapter sometime during the day (usually right after lunch).
This undoubtedly sounds insane to most people, but the realization, last summer, that I didn’t have to read my TBR pile in order was incredibly liberating. Now I read what I want when I want. It works much better. (Don’t laugh.)
7. Find and Utilize the Best Times to Write
Another area of my life in which I’m trying to be more receptively spontaneously and less rigidly scheduled is in my actual writing. I want to optimize every part of my day, so I’m at my best for each task. Writing, of course, is always at the top of the to-do list.
There are periods in my life when writing first thing in the morning is the best thing. I wake up excited by the thought that I get to start my day with writing!
But other periods (usually in the winter), I do better when I get everything else out of the way first, then write in the waning twilight of the afternoon’s last few hours.
Again, for me, this is part of learning about being more aware of and receptive to myself. Instead of boxing myself into a schedule and demanding I keep it, I want to get better at listening to and understanding the ebbs and flows of my inner (and outer) life. This is nowhere more important than in my art.
8. Stretch My Comfort Zones in the Real World
If you were to ask me to name one thing I don’t feel I’m very good at, my immediate answer would be driving. Blame it on being the absent-minded-writer-in-her-ivory-tower stereotype, but all my insecurities come out when I have to drive in unfamiliar areas or circumstances. I’m actually not a bad driver; but I am a stressed-out driver.
One of my main goals this year is to give myself more driving experience. Since I’m living in a new town, there are lots of opportunities for driving in unfamiliar areas. I’ve made it a commitment to drive someplace new at least once a week.
So how does this tie into writing?
Not at all. Or not directly, at any rate. But writers must live, must have experiences, must push their comfort zones in order to better understand themselves and their lives. It’s all grist for the mill. This is something I grow more aware of with every year. I spent so much of my twenties in front of a computer screen; I want my thirties to be spent stockpiling experiences and skills other than those inherent to being a writer.
9. Approach the Page With Wonder
I feel I have come so far as a writer. I have learned so much. I know how to write a novel now. The process doesn’t scare me or frustrate me anymore. And that’s wonderful.
But as I begin writing what will be my twelfth novel (not all of them were published, naturally), I am hyper-aware that I don’t ever want the glory of this journey to become dusty and rote. I want every story I write to be an adventure, full of mystery.
I admit it: sometimes I have to remind myself to approach the page with wonder. And that is perhaps my most important goal this year. I want every minute I spend with my stories to be minutes that, underneath all the workmanship, are minutes founded in reverence and awe. At the end of the day, I am not a teacher of stories; the story is the teacher of me. And I want never to forget the magnificent humility of that.
I’m sure there are some more subconscious ideas and intentions also rattling around in my brain, but these nine goals are my top focus for this year (and, I’m sure, quite a few years to come). More specifically, my goals also include finishing the outline for the third book in the Dreamlander trilogy, finishing second-round edits on Dreambreaker (after my alpha readers report back), and probably starting work on a new writing-craft book. I’m also toying with the idea of returning to a weekly video series, probably in an informal Q&A format. I’d also like to see my fiction start migrating into audio editions, and my podcast get settled on a better platform that will make it more easily accessible to non-iTunes users.
In short, I have big plans for this year. Unlike some past years, I think most of these are doable—mostly because they’re focused primarily on intentional living rather than just on productivity. I hope this peek into my thoughts for the new year will give you some thoughts for your own writing goals. Let’s make this year our best year yet!
Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What are your biggest writing goals for this year? Tell me in the comments!
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