Everybody looks forward to the holidays — gifts, and singing and family and parties. For me, facing a new year with a fresh set of goals in hand (aka, new year’s resolutions!) gets my heart pounding with joy. It’s a chance to take my very nice but routine existence and make some changes. Goals help me feel as though I can power up my perfectly fine life so that it sparks and crackles.

It’s no secret among my friends and co-workers and others I barely know that I love a good goal. Unfortunately, not everyone shares my enthusiasm. So I was overjoyed when writer-friends asked me to help draft goals to make them more productive in their writing. The heavens had heard my prayers!

I set to work, but I pulled up short almost as quickly as memory returned with a thud. Jane Yolen was our graduate speaker the year I received my MFA. She confided that she can turn out so many books because she works on multiple projects at once. This way, she never has “boredom with a project” as an excuse to keep her from working. What an amazing idea, and so worth trying!

My experience with the Yolen approach was a disaster. In fact, I’ll let you in on my secret: The technique left me feeling like words were pounding the inside of my skull, clamoring to get out, but they had no idea which project they are supposed to fasten themselves to. Instead of making me more productive, I became paralyzed and wrote nothing.

It was obvious that a cookie-cutter goal-writing approach just wouldn’t do.

Therefore, I created a self-assessment to help me draft goals that would help my friends address whatever it is that is interfering with them getting more writing done. The assessment is designed to identify the obstacles, both internal and external, that are keeping you from moving forward with writing.

Disclaimer: I am not professionally qualified to write assessment tools! However, I am really experienced at writing goals (see above), and I know that the goal has to fit the problem you want to address.

Self-Assessment for 2020 Goal-setting: Answer the five following questions with the first things that come into your head. The responses that come to you most easily may be the things you know on some level have the biggest affect on your writing.

  1. What are your three greatest writing skills?

  2. What element of writing craft do you find most challenging at this point in your writing:
         A. Plotting
     B. Character development
         C. Dialogue

         D. Voice

         E. Something else
  3. Which sounds most appealing: meeting a daily word count OR sitting down to write every day for the same amount of time?
  4. Which sounds most appealing: having a number of projects in varied states of completion at the end of the year OR having one writing project that’s polished?
  5. Consider a writing project you took on this year and struggled to complete. Using that project, answer the following: 
         A. What kept you from completing the project? In other words, what caused the struggle?
         B. At what point in the project did the struggles arise?
         C. What one measure could you implement to address and neutralize your writing albatross?

Use the answers you’ve generated to help you identify your 2020 goals.

For example, what about drafting a goal that helps you focus on the areas you identified as your strengths in 2020? Could you draft a goal such as, “Over the next six months, review each chapter of my project and add [whatever the strength is, such as “add sizzling dialogue in every single chapter,” assuming that drafting dialogue is a strength for you]”? Could that transform your project?

What about drafting a goal around writing an article or essay concerning your greatest writing weakness? How could you study it to improve?

How about writing a goal around re-envisioning your work in progress to minimize the effect of your weakness? If lyrical language is your weakness, could you try genre writing, to highlight other writing skills you have? Or, could you draft a goal to help you learn and address your weakness? If, for example, your weakness is plotting, perhaps your next WIP could be a rewrite of a story you admire, where you mirror the plot points from the original?

Keep in mind when writing goals that the conventional wisdom is that goals should be SMART — or, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based. A goal that asks you to write 50,000 words in a week while you’re working a full-time job and taking care of your three children is probably neither achievable nor realistic.

Gina DeCiani earned her MFAC from Hamline in 2014. Her goal-setting has allowed her to take on many roles: attorney, adjunct law professor, and now Human Resources director, where one of her responsibilities is to help all the employees of the organization align their professional goals with the organization’s objectives. That work doesn’t really spark and crackle like drafting personal writing goals does, but it’s still satisfying!