Writing Life: Reassessing Goals For the Year


The other day my 12 year-old made a remark that brought me up short. We were talking about plans for the fall, and she said something along the lines of, “Well, you know, the year is basically over.”

Whoa! Hold on there, Sweetie!

I suppose she’s to be forgiven. School starts for her today, and so as far as she is concerned, summer is gone and the rest of the year promises to be a slog until Christmas break. But those of us who are old don’t like our lives being trimmed that way. And, more to the point for the purposes of this post, those of us who have work to do and goals to meet don’t like giving up a full four months out of the year.

So, rather than take her comment to heart and spend the rest of the year eating Oreos and watching Buffy reruns, I used the conversation as an opportunity to reassess my writing agenda for the remainder of the year. First, I went back to a post I wrote early in January about my professional and personal ambitions for the year. At the time, I mentioned several projects that I wanted to complete in 2011. There was a short story I intended to write with Stuart. It’s done; Stuart has been shopping it around. I needed to create a website for D.B. Jackson. See it here: http://www.dbjackson-author.com. There was a middle-reader book I wanted to finish and revise. It’s done and has been through one set of revisions. I’m about to send it to a friend for her opinion (Hi, Misty!). There was a contemporary fantasy I wanted to write. It’s finished, too, and I have some revisions to do on it.

Then there were other things I haven’t gotten to yet: A second contemporary fantasy that I need to revise, a proposal for two more Thieftaker books, and several short stories set in the Thieftaker universe. On the personal side, I have been exercising, as I said I wanted to, I’ve done a bit of photography and been to several conventions, and I’ve been balancing work and family fairly effectively. On the other hand, my guitar is covered with a disturbingly thick layer of dust, and I’ve neglected my personal blogs for much of the year.

If I was giving myself a report card for the year so far, I’d say I have a solid B+.

But the point is, this is still a midterm grade. Summer is almost over, but we have the entire fall and the early days of winter left.

How are your goals coming along? Many of you commented on that January post with agendas of your own. Maybe you’ve gotten all of it done already, or are well on your way to doing so. If that’s the case, good for you! Well done! On the other hand, some of you may be looking at that old list thinking “Holy crap! What have I done with the last several months?” That’s okay. It is way too early in the year to say “I’ve failed; I’ve gotten nothing done.” On the other hand, it’s the perfect time to make adjustments, to figure out a realistic writing schedule for the remainder of the year. It may be that some of those ambitions have to be put off until 2012. But you can still do some of what you had hoped.

Maybe that novel isn’t going to get done, but you can outline the final chapters and get to work on them. That way you’ll have a clear agenda for the rest of 2011 and the early part of 2012. Maybe you didn’t get to start the novel you were hoping to, and you don’t see how you’ll be able to in the months remaining. That doesn’t mean that can’t write a couple of short stories using the same characters and setting. That will help you refine the voice for the book when you do begin, and it will give you work to market in the meantime.

It is all too easy to allow work and family and the daily demands of our routines pull us away from goals, from ambition, from dreams. And once that process begins, it is much easier to give in to “the inevitable” rather than fight against the current and change those patterns. In other words, it’s all too easy to say, “The year is basically over. I didn’t get that stuff done. Maybe next year.”

Don’t do it. September. October. November. December. Four months. Seventeen weeks. A full third of the year. That is plenty of time to accomplish all sorts of things. Get back to that novel. Start writing that short story you’ve been kicking around in your head. Work on a book outline. Write those query letters. Take those character sketches out again and rediscover your passion for the project you’ve been neglecting.

It’s not too late. There is plenty of time left. What are you waiting for? And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do. Should I revise that novel or start on the short fiction . . . ?

David B. Coe

17 comments to Writing Life: Reassessing Goals For the Year

  • Well, the only major goal I have at this point that is within my control is my 2000/10000 goal, in which I work to pull an average of 2000 words a day and 10000 a week on the WIP. 10k a week will have a first draft finished in around 10 weeks, give or take, which is fine by me. I have a higher expectation, of course, where I do try to get 12500 for the week, which would drop the time needed to finish by 2 weeks, but if I get at least 10k I’m happy. Once that’s finished, I’ll have to decide whether I want to go ahead and write book two or go through revisions first. I can see possible problems in that method if I need to change things in book one that will have repercussions in book two, but it would also have a duology hammered out in first draft by the end of the year, barring outside issues.

    The goal that I can’t control, of course, is getting my work picked up soon…

  • ::grin::

    You took the words right off my keyboard – I was planning on doing a follow-up to my business plan post, next month!

    With my writing goals, I’m on track; I would also give myself a B+. More specifically, I have:
    – Signed contracts for two new books (the DARKBEAST series, as written by Morgan Keyes); I want to have one more book under contract by the end of the year, and I have two proposals currently outstanding, waiting for summer break to end.
    – Launched FRIGHT COURT as a reader-supported online serial
    – Explored alternative sources of funding (my local library system was unable to pay for a writer-in-residence position, and I learned that I am not eligible for a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, because I’m not a corporation; I need to track down other possible sources.)
    – Grown my non-fiction freelance work (I have increased by 50% the work that I do for my main client, and I have a number of projects in that pipeline – approximately 10 hours a week for the next four months)
    – Maximize efficiency at the keyboard. (I continue to fight the battle against distraction, but I’m not as good at this as I would like to be.)

    I won’t bore you with the personal-life strategic plan, but suffice to say, I am back on track after some slippage, and some applying the “fail-safe” strategies in the plan.

    Thanks, David, for the reminder that there’s still one third of the year to go – time to bring all the goals up to the A+ level!

  • Nothing like the mid-year kick in the pants….. 😛

    Let’s see, my goals were…

    1) Finish a novel to the point of being able to submit to agents/editors.

    2) Get at least one short story published for pay.

    #1 – still leering at me with glowing red eyes, daring me to approach.

    #2 – ACCOMPLISHED!!!

    So I’m batting .500. Not bad I guess.

    As for your delimma, David, I say write the short story. But that could be my bias.

  • Excellent timing on this post, David, as I was having a case of “Oh no! I’ve got so much left to do and the year is practically over!” I needed your blast of perspective. As for how I’ve done this year, it’s been strange. I hadn’t begun the year considering ebook publishing but as our readers know, I took that plunge this summer. As a result of that experience, my goals took a left turn. Now, I’m prepping my post-apocalyptic fantasy, The Way of the Black Beast, for a Sept release (just got the copy-edits back last week, cover art rough should be delivered this week) while having my paranormal mystery novel under consideration through a small press. I’ve got two other books in the works — one a sequel to the paranormal mystery and one a fantasy that might be considered YA because the main character is a 16-yr-old girl. Plus, I have a project or two simmering along. So, it’s all been very busy, very exciting, but not at all what I had planned. Don’t know how to grade this one!

  • This, sadly, is a weakness of mine. I do set big goals, but I don’t break them down into smaller, bite-sized pieces, so it’s something of an all or nothing proposition with me. Thanks (seriously) for forcing me to reassess this. Glad to hear your are progressing reasonably well.

  • Peculiarly, this is posted the same day I posted the rest of my this-year goals at my own blog. They look like this:

    – Book Race through ~50K on Walker Papers #8
    – write 3 more Old Races short stories
    – write 1 Walker Papers short story
    – go to New York Comic Con
    – Nanowrimo a book for little boys
    – finish “Easy Pickings” with Faith
    – re-revise ANGLES to agently commentary

    …which frankly looks a little intimidating. Perhaps I should also list what I’ve *done* this year, so I’m not so alarmed by the to-do list…

  • Well, I only really had the one goal, but it had a set of steps attached.

    I finished the rewrites and am now in what I hope is the final set of revisions before I start querying agents. I have an appointment/pitch session set up with an agent in October at my local writer’s conference and I think I can be done by then. I feel that I’ve gotten better at balancing real life vs. work. Unexpected things have crossed my path. Who knew I’d be swinging swords like I am? (Future research. And excellent exercise!)

    I would have liked to accomplish more than I have, but the year is far from over.

  • Daniel, it sounds as though you have your main writing goal under control for the remainder of the year. Best of luck hitting the weekly word count. Keep at it!

    Mindy, it seems you and I weren’t the only ones; check out Catie’s comment. I’m very impressed with your accomplishments for the year. Part of my goal was to have five books contracted by early 2012, but while I’m getting the writing done, I doubt very much that I’ll have those contracts in hand. Oh, well. Hope the rest of your year continues to be productive. You’re an inspiration!

    Mark, congrats again on the sale. Now go and slay that novel-dragon!!

    Stuart, I think that your year has taken an incredibly exciting turn, and I look forward to hearing about how the various e-projects do in the months ahead. Best of luck with the new writing projects. Can’t wait to hear more about them.

    Ed, prior to this year I was not very good about breaking my goals down into discreet tasks. I did it this year because I knew it would be a tough year from a motivational standpoint. It’s worked out well for me thus far, and I think I’ll try to do it again next year.

    Catie, I guess this was just the day for it. That’s a pretty impressive to-do list. More than I could take on, I think, but then again, I’ve always been blown away by your efficiency and discipline. Good luck with it all. Will be eagerly awaiting the new releases.

    Laura, it sounds like you’re doing great, and I think it’s way cool that you’ve become a swordswoman along the way. Keep up the great work!

  • David … Aiy, yai, yai, yai. (was sorta the sound my mind was making…) Thanks for this. Goals. Okay. First — you did a great job on your goals. And you can get back to the guitar on cooler fall nights!

    I made a plan when Mindy did her first *goals for the year* post, so I guess it is time to re-evaluate. Hmmm. I think I’ll take a break from the Agents Series I was doing and post my own goal-plan and year-efforts on Wednesday. I need to think about this! (Today I am going paddling for the first time in quite a while!) And paddling was one of my goals.

  • I think I’d give myself an A-. On the one hand, I haven’t accomplished a lot of things I’d meant to, such as getting in shape and working on music. I have, however, revised a fantasy novel and sent out queries, done a large amount of pre-rewrite revision on my contemporary fantasy, and outlined about 60% of the project I had planned to start during NaNoWriMo this year. Several things have gotten in my way, such as changing jobs (interviewing for the third job this year some time this week), earthquakes (had to bring my best friend home from Japan briefly), and moving.

    In addition, I’m still suffering from reverse-culture shock after coming home from Japan, and when the earthquake happened, I wanted nothing more than to hop on a plane and go back to take care of the place that had been my home for three years. Reverse Culture Shock is no joke.

    But the reason I give myself an A- despite not getting everything I’d hoped for done, is because I’ve made some significant and unexpected steps toward my goal. 🙂

  • Hmm. I didn’t set any real goals in the beginning of the year…
    Perhaps I can set some now.

    1) Finish revision 1 of my little 80k word project. That’s a chapter a week. eeep
    2) Nanowrimo – I’m not gonna require that I finish, as 1 takes precedence and time is short.
    3) Put the word ‘shenanigans’ into 2

  • So, let’s see…

    1. Get an agent/place KnychtSpelle (Pea’s and my co-written book) with a publishing house. – We don’t have an agent, but we did work like mad on this one and we have some open doors still.

    2. Finish my own urban fantasy WIP – draft one done, draft two progressing slowly. If I get my butt in gear, I could have it ready to send out by December.

    3. Finish and place another academic article. – so far behind on this one.

    4. Successfully revise the article I just had accepted. (Yay! That’s one goal from last year.) – DONE!

    5. Eat in a healthy, non-compulsive way without becoming a self-righteous bore about it. – Pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. (And I mean that in the humblest way possible, of course. 😉

    6. Keep my short stories in circulation rather than letting them sit unsubmitted on my hard drive. – Dropped this ball. Need to get back on track.

    7. Keep up with MW Beta Crit much better than last year. – Better, but need to improve.

    8. Get a 3 year contract from my university (we have no tenure) and parlay that into a better financial situation. – DONE! Got the contract and the promotion!

    Thanks, David. I think this re-assessment is really going to be useful.

  • Razziecat

    Great article! And very timely for me. The other day I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I realized that I’ve been kinda afraid of this book I wanted to write, afraid it was too big for me, and it wasn’t getting done. Suddenly, I have a deadline, and I work well with deadlines (I’m under them every day on the job). There are 10 weeks until Nov. 1, and I’ve picked 10 things I need to get comfortable with. I’m going to focus on one each week until NaNo starts, writing scenes for backstory, working out my magic system, exploring the characters a little more. When Nov. 1 comes I’ll put all that aside and begin anew, and Make. This. Book. Happen.

  • Thanks, Faith. I’m ooking forward to your post on the subject. Given how hard I know you’ve been working this year, I have no doubt that it’s going to be an impressive assessment of where you’re at. Hope you had a good day on the river.

    Lauren, good for you! Sounds like it’s been a great year for you. Hope your progress on the various goals continues.

    Sounds good, Roxanne. If it helps, there’s a restaurant here in town called Shenanigans….

    Sarah, congrats on the contract and promotion! That’s fantastic and trumps everything else! Glad you found this useful. Good luck with the agent search and other projects.

    Razz, thank you, and glad the timing worked well. I like the approach you’re taking to NaNo. Hope it’s a great success for you.

  • Hmmm…goals – some good work, some bad.

    Writing Goals – Publish a novel per quarter – pretty close. Got one out in 1st Quarter, missed 2nd Quarter, but have one out in 3rd Quarter and might squeak out two in 4th Quarter. One is in revision, one needs to be written.

    1,000 words/day – Hit this pretty well when I’m actually writing, but editing/promo/revising/business management is taking a bunch more time than I expected. Easier to write when I wasn’t actually selling any books – then there was no business side to tend to. But if THAT’s the worst problem I have, I’ll take it! 🙂

    Personal goals – terrible – total F so far, but can start exercising soon. After I have a donut and a nap :).

    Networking – pretty well, have met some fabulous new people this year and made a bunch of new friends in the writing world, so that’s been fun!

    I think I’m at about a C, but I also think I may have set some unreasonable goals. I’m happy with my progress over the year, and that’s really all that matters, I guess.

  • I agree, John — in the end your visceral reaction to what you’ve accomplished is all that truly matters. IF I had “Write 5 books” on my ToDo list, and only wrote one that would be disappointing, right? Well, not if that one is absolutely the best thing I’ve ever done and marks a new milestone in my career. In the end, goals are what we make of them. And “My goal is to be pleased with my progress,” seems like a fine thing to which to aspire. Thanks for the comment.

  • […] at Magical Words, there’s been a bit of talk lately about revisiting writing goals which were set at the start of the year. When I read those posts, it […]