It’s that infamous time of year: the end of January and, for many, the well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions. Those of you who work out may notice that your gym is starting to empty out again as resolutioners lose their resolve, for example. Those who promised themselves a break from a bad habit like smoking may be falling back into their old routines. And, where writers like ourselves are involved, the countless resolutions made to write, edit, and/or publish our words are beginning to feel a bit ambitious.
But, thankfully, there’s one solid way to fix that lack of motivation and get you back on track (besides, of course, partaking in regular word sprints)! By making what are called “S.M.A.R.T. Goals”—or goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely—all of us can make those resolutions a habit and not only achieve our goals, but feel productive and successful in the process.
So how does a goal qualify as a S.M.A.R.T. Goal? Take your resolutions and hold them up to this standard to see if they’re up to par.
S.M.A.R.T. Goals are…
Any resolution that’s too broad or vague is sure to fall short of your expectations—often because you aren’t entirely sure what your expectations are. In order to achieve the next step, which is to make the goal measurable, you first have to have a goal in place that’s able to be measured. Here are some examples.
Vague goal: “Write more in 2015”
Specific goal: “Write a minimum of 200,000 words in 2015”
This is where it’s helpful to create goals that can be broken down into smaller progressive segments, such as monthly or weekly tasks. For a goal to be measurable, we have to be able to pop in at a checkpoint and assess our progress without great effort or backtracking. If you’re trying to write more, for example, the above 200k goal can easily be broken down into a monthly word count target of approximately 16,667.
Here are two more examples:
Unmeasurable goal: Get a short story published (a vague and unmeasurable goal I made the mistake of making, myself, last year!)
Measurable goal: Dedicate 1/3 of the year each to writing, editing, and submitting a short story
Attainable & Realistic
The lines are blurred between these two, but essentially, your goals should be fathomable. It’s easy to look at a promisingly full 12 months an entire year in advance and make wild promises to ourselves—and there are unattainable and unrealistic goals that come much more disguised as the opposite than, say, determining that you’re going to be the next J.K. Rowling by 2016.
Unrealistic/unattainable goal: Write, edit, and (traditionally) publish your debut novel in one year
(Author’s Note: It can and has happened, I’m sure, but my guess is very rarely. This is not to dissuade anyone from achieving their goal of publication, but just to encourage you to take a step back and understand that traditional publication can often be a long and unpredictable process that you don’t always have complete control over).
Realistic/Attainable goal: Finish draft 1 of your novel by X date/month, send to beta readers by X date/month, and pursue publishing endeavors by X date/month (remember, you still have to keep it measurable).
Of course, the whole point of a New Year’s Resolution is that it can be completed and celebrated by the next year. All of the preceding examples have shown the difference between timely and untimely goals inherently by their being S.M.A.R.T. Goals, but here are two more if you need them:
Untimely goal: Write a collection of short stories
Timely goal: Write and edit one short story per week until December; take the month of December to comb through stories and decide what will be included in the collection and make any further edits
And that’s the basis of a S.M.A.R.T. Goal! Do your goals meet all the criteria? Or do they need to be revamped? Let us know, and—if you’re comfortable sharing your ambitions for the rest of the year—give us an idea of how you’re improving your resolutions!