Why Writers Don't Need a New Year's Resolution
Every year people set New Year's resolutions. Maybe it's to eat healthier, to be a better person, or even more specifically, to drink eight glasses of water a day. And if you're a writer, you've more than likely made the "write more" resolution before, or even the more seemingly specific resolution to finish your novel or screenplay. You might have even made a similar resolution four days ago.
But what if I told you should never make a resolution? That making a resolution yields more disappointment and shame than anything else, and that in some ways you're better off not making any resolutions at all?
Such a claim is admittedly an inflammatory one. It's great for people to become conscience about how they want to improve in the new year. How could resolving to be better, even if you fail, ever be a negative thing?
The truth is, these types of goals and the reliance on one day of the year - January 1st - to improve one aspect of your life, make it really easy to fail. Think about it - you have one day at the beginning of the year, in which you resolve to do x, and if you slip up one day and miss out or even a week, you're suddenly a failure and there's no chance to redo until January 1st again the next year.
While it's technically still possible to complete your resolution, the way a New Year's resolution is set up makes it way harder on you to achieve your dreams. And as writers and storytellers, it's already really hard to muster up the willpower and discipline to achieve your dreams, whatever they may be.
And because I want you to set up achievable, realistic goals, I'm proposing that this year you ditch your New Year's resolution in favor of something else - creating a S.M.A.R.T. goal.
What is a S.M.A.R.T goal?
Unlike resolutions and other general goals people make, S.M.A.R.T. goals are things that are actually achievable. You might be reading that and thinking to yourself, "Hey! My goal to become a novelist or a screenwriter or storyteller in general is achievable! How dare you say that?" And then you might go on to accuse me of always speaking about writers as storytellers "in general," which you would be right about. However, in order to achieve our big dreams, we have to create action plans, albeit smaller, more tangible goals. And that's where S.M.A.R.T. goals come in to play.
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Though what each letter in the acronym of S.M.A.R.T. means varies person-to-person and goal-to-goal, the five attributes of a S.M.A.R.T goal used in businesses and other enterprises are as such:
When it comes to creating goals instead of general, unachievable resolutions, the more specific the better. I mean it. You can't get too-specific. A goal like "I want to outline 15 scenes for my feature film by June 15th" is a great, specific goal. It includes everything a S.M.A.R.T goal should - a deadline, a way to measure it, but most importantly, an incredibly specific task. Less specific might be "I want to write Act One of my TV show by January 17th," yet it still can work if you worry a page count might constrain your style as a writer.
Be sure to stay away from goals like "I want to write a novel" if you can. It might seem specific, and it might seem like a goal you can achieve, but you're better off creating several S.M.A.R.T. goals that add up to creating a novel. For instance, goals like, "write an in-depth outline by January 10th," "create three main character profiles," and "have 30,000 words written by February 15th" are all goals that contribute to the same idea - writing a novel - but they make the goal more tangible and increase your likelihood of success.
This attribute of the S.M.A.R.T. goal system is what really distinguishes general goals from the specific kind you should be looking to set this year. A measurable goal means there is some aspect of your goal that can be quantified or calculated. Resolutions like "write more" or even "improve writing" are not measurable. There's no way a year from now to be able to look back on your year and measure whether you improved your writing or determine how much writing "more" entails. However, what you can measure is something like a page count, a certain number of words, an amount of time working, etc. As a storyteller creating your goal, measurability is essential to progress.
The big word here when discussing S.M.A.R.T. goals versus resolutions is that S.M.A.R.T. goals are achievable. But what exactly does that mean? Working in conjunction with the other aspects of the acronym, achievable means that your goal does not depend on anyone else or outside sources for it to happen. It means, should you put in the work, you know you will accomplish this goal.
Take for example someone who has a goal to "be published in one magazine by May 1st." You might think that is a good goal. It has is measurable - one magazine - and has a deadline - May. However, getting published in a magazine is a goal that relies on someone else deciding if your work is worthy of being published in addition to other factors like whether the magazine will even publish your work by your deadline. A better goal, and an achievable one at that, would be to "submit my story to fifteen magazines by May 1st." This goal relies on no one but yourself, yet can potentially yield the same results as the previous goal.
A relevant goal is one that relates to your big picture resolution or dream, but also refers to a realistic goal, meaning, do you have the skill set now to achieve this goal? Or do you need to learn more, do more research, etc? For instance, if you want to be a screenwriter and you create a goal like "meet three people in the industry by May 1st," that goal might be relevant at some point in your career, but it's not relevant right now if you are just learning how to format a script.
If you're wondering whether your goal is relevant or realistic, ask yourself if you have the skills or resources to achieve this goal right now. If you don't, set that goal aside and create S.M.A.R.T. goals that make it possible for you to eventually achieve the one you set aside.
A time bound goal is exactly what it sounds like. You give yourself a deadline to help yourself prioritize and schedule yourself appropriately. You don't give yourself a broad timespan of "a year" but a hard date. That date could still be December 31st, or it could be several dates sprinkled throughout the year.
However, no matter what date or series of dates you choose, I urge you to be realistic with yourself. If you think you can write a feature film in two weeks, add in two extra days to your goal, even if you don't think you'll need them. You never know how life might get in the way, so to avoid disappointment it's always good to pad your goals with a few extra days or even weeks.
Creating Smart Storytelling Goals
The method for setting S.M.A.R.T. storytelling goals is no different than setting other goals using the same acronym. In fact, given many storytellers proclivity to keep track of progress via word count or page count, S.M.A.R.T. goals are seemingly made for us writers. The best way to handle these goals as a writer is to make TONS of them.
The reason for this is because then you are creating small, achievable (and therefore rewardable!) goals, and you won't get overwhelmed with all that "writing a novel" for instance entails. Instead you'll have specific goals like "write 50,000 words of my novel in two months" or "create five different characters with backstories by the end of March," things that add up to your final resolution or dream, but that are actually things you can measure your progress with.
And your goals as a storyteller don't just have to be about writing more, by the way. Using my syllabus, you can also make goals revolving around consuming more stories, like "watch ten foreign films by June 1st" or "finish The Witcher video game by May 1st." These types of goals are great for when you feel you're forgetting to engage with work that's not your own, a common trap most writers fall into that can lead to faltering inspiration and enthusiasm with your own work.
Main Goal: Write a Play
- Read five plays to gain more knowledge - January 31st
- Write one paragraph explaining my story for the play - January 5th
- Write a rough draft or "zero draft" of play (writing five pages per day) - February 5th
- Reread play twice, at least once aloud - March 10th
- Edit play and make notes - March 17th
- Write five character backstories to better understand them - March 29th[/su_note]
As you can see, this list could go on and on, especially depending on how broad my main goal is. My main goal could have been to just write the rough draft mentioned and I would have stopped after step three, determining later when to come back to the draft. Or, I could have continued on all the way through till I've decided the draft is perfect. It really depends on your style as a storyteller as to how many S.M.A.R.T. goals you want to create, but remember to be realistic.
I usually don't like to plan too far ahead because I never know how satisfied I'll feel about the work with a reread, so I usually create my new S.M.A.R.T. goals after I've read every additional draft. But for some people, they may like the discipline of planning ahead for the next six months. It varies person to person, and you can't know unless you put the method into practice!
However, no matter what your goals are - big or small - always look for ways to make them smarter. If you are someone who has always wanted to write something but never seem to get around to it, consider breaking your goals up into a list of S.M.A.R.T. ones that will one day add up to your main goal! You'll be making more progress than ever before and be steps closer to achieving your dream!
Make sure you're meeting your writing goals with my free worksheet!
Did you create a S.M.A.R.T. goal? What is it? Tell me below what you want to achieve this year!