It is customary, as the old year slips into the new, to make resolutions regarding the accomplishments one hopes to achieve in the coming year. Since January 1st, I’ve been thinking over my own goals and resolutions for 2012. The month is nearly half-over, now, so this may not seem timely. But a good plan for the year shouldn’t be taken so lightly.
2012 promised to bring many changes and opportunities for me and my family. Many of these are private matters, of course, and suffice to say Dear Wife and I have a few important changes and goals in mind for the year to come. But there are some big changes that are pretty clear. 2012, for instance, will be the first full year in which I will not have any MBA classes, owing to my graduation from the program last May.
This being the blog of an aspiring author, though, most of what I want to talk about, with regards to my goals, plans, and dreams for 2012, concern my writing.
One thing I want to clear up: 2012 is not the year that Stephen A. Watkins gets published. First, as a technical matter, that year was 2011, anyway. But I don’t anticipate repeating that success in 2012. It could happen, but I’m not planning on it. And how could I? It’s not exactly in my control. Which gets to the point of how I want to think about my writing goals and plans for 2012. I want SMART goals.
SMART goals? You might have heard this acronym before. Specific. Measurable. Actionable. Realistic. Timely. These are the characteristics of a goal that is achievable and within your control. (There are alternative specifications for the five components of a SMART goal, but this is how I learned it. The underlying words may change but the point doesn’t.)
Let’s take the typical New Year’s Resolution (and yes, it’s one of mine this year as well): get in shape. “Get in Shape” isn’t a SMART goal. Really, what does “get in shape” mean? It’s nebulous and non-specific. How do you know when you’ve achieved the goal? But it can be translated into a SMART goal. Mine? Perform some combination of stretch, aerobic, and strength exercises for at least 15 minutes a day on 5 days each week. It’s specific. I can look back at the end of each week and know whether I’ve achieved my goal for that week. It’s measurable. Did I work out five times this week? That’s a simple yes-or-no question. It’s actionable. I can find 15 minutes a day for physical activity. This is within my control. I can decide whether I work out each day or not. It’s realistic. Getting in shape is nebulous, and I don’t know if I can really do that, but I can do this. And working out even a little five days a week will move me toward that generalized goal. And, finally, it’s timely, or time-based. Each week I can check my progress, and now how I’m doing. Each day. I’ve printed up a small calendar for the year, and I’ve started crossing through each day when I work out.
How can I apply these same principles to my writing goals for the year? As I ask myself this, I have to consider, what do I have control over, with regard to my writing? The tongue-in-cheek answer: everything and nothing.
Which is to say, I have some control over many different aspects of the process, but that control is within the constraints of other factors. I can, to a certain degree, control the time I spend writing, but that time is constrained by other, higher-priority needs. Time with my family comes first, before writing. Time for the joint projects and goals Dear Wife and I have planned for the year also comes before writing. Ultimately, time is the limited currency I have to spend which will determine whether or not I can achieve what I want to achieve in my writing this year. And although time is in slightly greater supply than it was when I was a day-time desk-job-jockey, evening student, full-time dad, full-time husband and an author, now that one of those five roles has been removed, three of the other four are still enough to put a lot of pressure on writing time.
That said, Dear Wife is supportive of my little writing habit, as long as I can fulfill those other duties. Accordingly, she makes a great effort to help me find the time to write as often as is reasonably possible, even if we can only scrape together three or four non-contiguous hours a week (sometimes more, sometimes less). And I think I can count on that largely being the case in 2012. Some weeks I won’t be able to write at all. But most weeks, I should be okay for some writing time.
So, those constraints in mind, what are my goals for 2012?
1. Find at least 2 hours per week in which to write in at least 45 of the 52 weeks of the year. The two hours should contain at least one period of 60 minutes of uninterrupted time. The second condition is because I find that writing time gets increasingly productive the longer an individual writing session lasts. I don’t think this will be too much of a stretch goal, really. I think it’s fairly close to the baseline that I already maintain. I also realize that there will be weeks when I can’t find even two hours, because other more timely, time-consuming, and higher-priority things come up. That’s why I’ve give this goal a little escape clause of 7 writing-free weeks in the year.
2. By January 25th, I shall have completed all preparatory work on my current novel-in-progress (the code-named “Book of M”) and be ready to write the first draft. This is the goal over which I’m least sure of the specific attainability. I’ve been pushing back the date when I’ll have finished the preparatory work for the novel for the past six months already. This is the first time I’ve really started from scratch with an idea and built up a novel from the ground-floor, notwithstanding my prior efforts to write a novel. Before, I’d always been rehashing, reshaping, and rebuilding the same novel story that I first started writing when I could count my age without employing all of the fingers of my two hands. But I finally put that novel away – not dead, but not actively in development – in favor of working on something fresh. Someday, I’ll go back to that old story – when I have the skill as a writer to tackle it – but for now “Book of M” is the center of my writing world.
Starting from scratch has been a new experience for me, and learning and developing my process for the novel has not been without growing pains. I still don’t really know what it takes, in terms of preparation, for me to successfully write a novel. I’m doing what I think is best for how my mind works. And I’m 85% sure that I can really, really, really be done with this preparatory work by the 25th – that’s two weeks. But. Well. Maybe I’m more like 75% sure. Or… I… maybe I don’t know. But it’s at least SMART. Or it’s SMART when I specify that I will have completed my master outline for the book and all the Character Profiles, including a first-person version for the protagonist, for all the Primary and Major characters. There’s lots of other prep-work I could throw in there – expanded notes on worldbuilding, additional profiles for minor or less-important characters, and so on, but those are the bare essentials I think I need. A lot of those additional details I can fill-in along the way.
3. Concomitant with the above two, I will produce at least 2,000 words of new First Draft material per week spent writing. This is, I think, an achievable stretch goal for me. I’ve typically averaged about 2,000 words per week while working on preparatory materials and research. Part of the idea behind putting all this up-front work in is that the actual drafting will go faster. So setting 2,000 not as my average weekly wordcount but as my minimum will push me and stretch me, but I know I can do it. This goal, of course, is subject to the 7-weeks-off escape hatch of the first goal, in case of various other higher-priority goals taking precedence. And it’s subject to achieving the second goal, which is to say that my 2,000-word-minimum doesn’t kick in until I’ve finished the prep-work. Note, also, that achieving this goal will not see me completing a first draft of “Book of M” in 2012. If I succeed in 2,000 words a week for 41 weeks (that’s the 45 active work weeks minus the four weeks that will have passed by the end of January), that’s only 82,000 words. With an anticipated first draft length of around 125,000 words, New Year’s Eve 2012 would find me only 65% of the way through the book. And that’s not counting some loss of weekly wordcount to Goal #4, below…
4. Complete first drafts for at least 2 short stories having less than 8,000 words apiece. Which is to say, more specifically, complete first drafts of short stories totalling approximately 16,000 words. I can write more or less per story than 8,000 words, but if by year’s end I’ve got an unfinished story that’s a little longer (i.e. another novelette) plus another that’s complete in first draft (of whatever length), then I will consider this goal to have been accomplished. Likewise if I have two stories or more than two stories of substantially shorter length completed. The point is that I will have put some of my writing resources into completing two short stories, and I consider the goal complete if I have at least two stories started and with more than 16,000 words between them or at least two stories finished even with less than 16,000 words between them. Obviously, this writing goal takes time and wordcount away from the above goal regarding the novel project. I’m okay with that. Because the novel is still taking the majority of my writing time for the year. But I feel that writing and honing my short-story craft is an important part of my development as a writer, too, and I don’t want to neglect it.
5. Read at least 550,000 words worth of novels or books this year. At first, I was going to say something like “Read 3 Books” or “Read 5 Books”… but then I thought… really… not all books are created equal. I started The Hunger Games. It’s just under 100,000 words. Then I want to finish Children of Amarid which I started before the New Year. It’s just over 200,000, though I’m a quarter through that. Then I intend to read Elantris after that, which is also over 200,000 words. After that, who knows. But each of the latter two books is significantly longer than Hunger Games. Heck, I could just read a few short Middle Grades books – super-quick reads – and fulfill a goal based on number of books. So instead, I decided to boil it down to the only definitive measure of a book’s length: wordcount. So I can fulfill my goal by reading a small number of larger fantasy door-stoppers, or a larger number of shorter YA and MG books, or some combination thereof.
So yes. Those are my goals for the year ahead.
But New Year’s is also, in it’s way, a time for dreaming, a time for possibilities. What are my dreams for 2012? If the stars aligned, and everything went my way, what do I think is possible?
Some of these dreams are sort of within my control. Some are decidedly not.
I want to finish my novel in 2012. First draft, of course, not a fully-revised and fully-presentable novel, but a first draft. I’d have to do something north of 3,000 words a week to make this happen, but it’s theoretically possible.
I want do better in the Writer’s of the Future contest. I haven’t yet talked about what happened to my last entry. I’ll be discussing that soon, and the lessons I’ve learned. But I truly think I have what it takes to do better than the Honorable Mention I earned on the entry prior to that. As long as I’m dreaming, I might as well admit that I’d be ecstatic beyond my capacity to express it with words to get one of the top-three spots for any given quarter. That’s a tough nut to crack, but my writing is improving, and as long as I improve that dream moves closer to within reach. Maybe right now it’s outside my grasp. But by the end of the year? Who knows? It could happen. Probably won’t, but it could.
And if the above-dream were to come about, then surely I could also dream to have some other bit of short fiction published in 2012 in a professional-paying market.
And lastly, I’d love to attend another writing-centric conference or convention in 2012. I’d love the opportunity to interact with published authors and editors and other aspiring authors. And I’d love to find myself possessed of the social fortitude to actually engage them rather than play the role of wallflower. It’s possible I might get part of such an opportunity this year (even if it were so, I wouldn’t be optimistic about the “social fortitude” part), but other plans that Dear Wife and I have for the year make this one rather more than a little unlikely.
And that’s about it, writing-wise. I don’t dream of getting a novel published in 2012. Even if I finish it, that’s pretty far outside of the realm of the plausible.
So what about you? What are your goals, plans, dreams, and resolutions for 2012 – writing-related or otherwise? Feel free to link to your own blog posts on the subject if you’ve already got something written.