Thursday, January 15, 2015

Don't Make Resolutions. Set Goals

Every year at this time, people resolve all kinds of things. I notice this at the exercise classes I attend. The first week in January, the rooms are packed. By March, things are pretty much back to the way they were the previous October. Most of these people have probably (I haven't surveyed them, so I can't be positive) decided they want to "lose weight" or "get in shape" and figure a workout at the gym, or a yoga class, or whatever they've chosen, is the way to go.

Some may drop out because they're not a good fit for the exercise routine, which is certainly acceptable. The others probably drop out because they're not seeing the results they expected. But what were those expected results?

Resolutions are lofty dreams. "I will make the NYT Best-Seller List." Or "I will make enough money writing to quit my day job." Or even, "I will finish three books this year." What people need to do is set goals. Around my house, resolutions are things I make for my husband.

The difference between a dream and a goal is that you can measure the latter. You can control it. You have absolutely no control over most dreams. They're nice, and they make a great starting point. But you have to break them down into measurable bits. The key word here is measurable.

Let's look at that last one. "I will finish three books this year." How? Let's look at the very basics. How much do you have to write to produce three books? First, based on the genre you write, you need to know about how long each book will be. My mysteries run about 85,000 words; my romantic suspense books come in at a little over 100,000. My romantic suspense books sell better than my mysteries, so assuming I'm still thinking I can crank out 3 good books, it makes sense to write 2 romantic suspenses and 1 mystery. That's 285,000 words.

There are 365 days in the year. There are 12 months in a year. Fifty-two weeks. Each week has 7 days. Each day has 24 hours. Everything that you have to do in your life has to fit in there. Family, day job, household routines—everything. Writing is one part of that day.

I'm no math whiz, but 285,000 divided by 365 comes out to about 781 words a day. That's every day. If you want one day a week off, then it's more like 910 words. If you're writing 5 days a week—well, you get the drill. Is that reasonable for you? Because you CAN measure it. You can look at how many words you write each day and see whether you're meeting your goal.

And goals need to be flexible. If you can't handle 800-900 words a day, then you decide whether you can find another hour in your day, maybe by getting up an hour earlier or staying up an hour later, or working through your lunch hour, or (gasp!) not playing on Facebook or watching television! If you can't handle that, then you can change your goal to something you can manage. And it can go the other way, too.

The important thing is to look at your goals regularly. Daily, once a week, once a month, three times a year. Get a 'goal buddy' and egg each other on. It doesn't have to be for writing. I now have a FitBit and I've found the "My Fitness Pal" website which sync together. They track exercise and food. They make those dreams of losing 10 pounds into goals because you can measure them. It's not measuring what the scale says, it's measuring how many steps, how many flights of stairs, and what food actually goes into your mouth. Stick to those goals, and the scale will follow.

What kind of goals do you set for yourself? How do you track them?

Don't make resolutions. Set goals. Click to tweet.


Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

12 comments :

  1. We all have some "leisure time" and there are ever-increasing demands upon it. My advice has always been write because you'd rather be doing it than playing World of Warcraft, knitting, or watching HGTV. And don't quit your day job until you are consistently making enough to replace your income and can continue to crank out books to keep the money flowing. You don't have to be an organized planner to achieve a goal. You just have to want it enough.

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    1. Exactly, Diana -- you have to WANT it. I've seen people asking for advice to finishing a book because they get halfway through, it gets hard, and they start another one. So they have half a dozen unfinished books. If they'd hunkered down and finished one of them, they'd be writers.

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    2. And I'll add that one of the authors in this category DID hunker down after having countless started books. Allison Brennan, and she's doing just fine!

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  2. I have two books I plan on finishing in 2015! I did complete a special goal I had in 2014 to complete my Christmas book. Last year, I began writing it late, and didn't have time to finish it. This time, I did complete Christmas Carol, though once again I had started writing it late. This year, I will finish Always Young, the third in my Always Young trilogy, which I should have finished a long time ago!

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    1. Forgot to mention, I also have a good twin/bad twin book I started a while ago. I plan to get that one written as well!

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    2. And you'll succeed if you can break it down to measurable steps. "Finish the Book" is a dream. Write XXX words/day is a goal. You'll do it, I know, because you've got the motivation.

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  3. I was with you until you got to the math thing, Terry ... the only thing more foreign to me than resolutions or goals!

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    1. Chris, I'm not even sure the math was right! Just set a word count goal and see what happens.

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  4. debby turner harrisJanuary 15, 2015 at 9:57 AM

    You draw a wonderfully practical distinction between "resolutions" and "goals". This article offers excellent advice for writers - especially novice writers. (And I got a good laugh from your passing remark that resolutions are what you make for your husband!)

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    1. Debby - Hubster gets a good laugh out of those, too!

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  5. Resolutions? Never! Goals? That's another story. For me, goals have too long held hands with distractions because those good intentions get pulled down scenic side roads without regard for destination. Recent limitations have forced me to address those pesky stumbling blocks that trip me up on the way to my WIP. Now the plan is to put writing goals at the top of the to-do list. Agreed, flexibility is a must. To that I add the following: flexibility cannot be allowed to disintegrate into an excuse for setting aside the goals.

    Great post, Terry!

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    1. Sounds like a plan, Linda. I know some writer friends who have "goal buddies" and they make sure they're all sticking to them. Accountability can help. If you can't hit your target daily/weekly word count, then you have to look at why. Did you set your goal too high, in which case, adjust down. Or did you play Words With Friends for 3 hours?

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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