It’s still early in 2016, and at the beginning of the year I’m always thinking about writing goals I want to achieve. Is it better to impose deadlines, or to write every day? To schedule writing or allow it to happen whenever I feel the urge? To use prompts and exercises, or freewrite? To keep a diary or focus on my fiction? There are so many ways to walk the creative path, and yet without choosing specific goals for ourselves, it’s so easy to see a year slip by without any advancement, any progress made. That’s my fear, and so I do what I can to make sure my writing life doesn’t slip through my fingers.
Two pages a day
I heard one writing instructor of mine say that when he is working on a novel, this is the only goal he sets for himself. I love this idea, because it’s attainable, it’s not overly daunting, and yet if you stick to it, you’ll end the year with hundreds of pages to work with. In past years I’ve tried to stick to this as much as I can, and I’m trying it again in 2016. It doesn’t mean I’m actually going to get 2 pages every day; but I feel I’ve achieved a victory if I can get two pages done roughly every other day.
Going to a writing place
I’ve written in the past how important it is for me to be in a location conducive to writing. Just designating a space for writing only can be very powerful; when at home, in my usual office chair, it’s just too easy to pop up for a snack in the kitchen, or to fiddle with the stack of mail that needs going through, or to go on the internet for hours. So in addition to my 2 pages a day goal, I’m making it a goal to go to a cafe or the library with my notebook at least once a week, and preferably twice. When I’m there, I’m in writing mode. I’m not allowed to goof off on the internet, or even to do important work of other kinds. When I’m elsewhere, it’s a powerful motivator to focus on my story. In an odd way, it’s also liberating; with no pressure to do the myriad other things life requires, from cleaning to grading, then I’m free to wander in the worlds of my stories.
Related to that, I don’t think there’s anything more crucial to my own writing then to swim in a sea of books. Looking back at some childhood papers recently, I was stunned to remember the sheer number of books I used to read every year. There was the list; I’d happily downed book after book, reading a whole book in a day. Now, with so many obligations, I find myself not reading every day, and that saddens me; there are few things in life that give the quiet joy of reading. I’m pledging to read a little every day, whether as an audiobook, opening my Kindle on the subway, or curling up in a chair the way I used to do for hours.
Give your creative life purpose and direction
Creative goals are essential because they allow you to check in with yourself throughout the year and see how you’re doing. They allow you to select a theme for your year and for your writing life, and shape your year consciously into the narrative you choose. It’s also important to remember that if you fail to live up to a high standard, that, too, is part of life, and beating yourself up and then giving up won’t improve things. Instead, forgive yourself, pledge to do better, adjust things so that doing better is more feasible, and move serenely on.