Skip the resolutions – set goals instead

I don’t make New Years resolutions, and for the most part I never have. You can’t fail if you don’t try, right? Yeah, there’s your inspirational quote for 2020.

Seriously, I don’t make New Years resolutions, because I can only make major life changes successfully when I am truly ready, not when the calendar says it’s time for self-improvement. What I do set at the beginning of each year, though, are goals.

What’s the difference between a resolution and a goal? Glad you asked!

Resolutions vs. goals

A resolution is a commitment, usually broken by MLK Day, to start or stop a habit or make some other big change: start exercising, stop smoking, lose 10 pounds, start meditating, stop killing teenagers… (OK, who let Jason and Freddy into this party? Someone can’t read the, “No Slasher Movie Villains Allowed,” sign.)

A goal, on the other hand, is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (see, OHSU HR Department? I did pay attention in that workshop on goal-setting!). A resolution is a wish. A goal is the first step in a plan. How about some (slasher-villain-free) examples?

Examples of resolutions vs. Goals

Example 1

Resolution: Write more short stories.
Goal: Write 4 short stories and submit them for publication by the end of 2020.
Difference: The resolution is not specific, measurable, or time-bound.

Example 2

Resolution: Finish my novel.
Goal: Finish the first draft of Delta Dawn by February 1. Finish the first round of revisions (fixing plot holes, reordering scenes, cutting out unnecessary scenes, filling in transitions between scenes) by June 1. Finish the second round of revisions (scene edits) by August 1. Finish line edits by November 1. Send to at least 2 beta readers by December 31.
Difference: The resolution is not specific (Which novel? And when is a novel really finished? When it wins the Pulitzer?), measurable (How will you know when you’re “finished?”), or time-bound (When are you going to do what?). I would also argue that it isn’t achievable, or at least will be much more difficult to achieve, because it isn’t specific and doesn’t break the process down into anything specific.

Anatomy of a SMART goal

Let’s take a closer look at the elements of a SMART goal:

  • Specific – I’m pretty clear in my goal about what, exactly, I hope to complete in 2020. The more specific you can be, the more likely it is you’ll actually achieve what you set out to do.
  • Measurable – It’s measurable if you can tell whether or not you’ve achieved it. Some goals have numeric measures (like write 50,000 words in November. Hmm… where have I heard that before?). Others, like mine above, are measurable in that you can tell whether or not the thing is done.
  • Achievable – or at least I hope so. It’s a bit ambitious, what HR types call a “stretch goal,” but it’s doable if I can reign in my addiction to r/amitheasshole on Reddit. A good goal is one that you can achieve with a bit of effort. If it’s too easy, you’ve sold yourself short (but you’ll have plenty of time for messing around on Reddit). If it’s too hard, you’ll probably fall short, and that can be really discouraging. So be honest with yourself but push yourself a little.
  • Relevant – I want the damn thing done, so it’s relevant to me. Make your goal something you care about.
  • Time-bound – For a goal this large, I need subgoals and deadlines for it to be truly time-bound. I mean, who doesn’t love deadlines? But seriously, a project the size of a novel needs to be broken down into manageable chunks. That’s the cornerstone of what the business types call, Project Management. I’m planning a future post on that topic, so don’t touch that browser!

I highly recommend SMART goals, at the beginning of the year or anytime, to help you clarify what, exactly, you want to achieve. They make it so much more likely that you’ll actually be successful.

My writing goals for 2020

And just in case you care (C’mon, pretend you do. It’s lonely back here behind this keyboard), here are my 2020 writing goals. Note: I’m not just having an ego-fest here. Sharing your goals with someone else is what the self-help types call “practicing accountability.” Telling someone else what you plan to do is supposed to make it more likely that you’ll actually do it, because it makes you accountable to whomever you told. So I guess some of y’all are supposed to come over here and break my legs if I don’t get these goals done. (Narrator: Don’t do that.)

Anyway, here’s what I hope to accomplish in 2020:

  • Goal 1: Finish the first draft of Delta Dawn by February 1. Finish the first round of revisions (fixing plot holes, reordering scenes, cutting out unnecessary scenes, filling in transitions between scenes) by June 1. Finish the second round of revisions (scene edits) by August 1. Finish line edits by November 1. Send to at least 2 beta readers by December 31. (This one should look really familiar. If it doesn’t, you’re probably one of those monsters who skips to the end of mysteries to see whodunit. Shame!)
  • Goal 2: Submit 4 short stories to contests or for publication: revise Collateral Damage and submit it to the Arizona Authors Association annual literary contest; submit Proof Text for publication; write 2 new stories and submit those.
  • Goal 3: Polish Vanishing, Inc.: Continue submitting chapters to my critique group and revising based on their feedback (throughout the year as the group meets); send the entire manuscript to at least 3 beta readers by May 1 and revise based on their feedback by November 1.
  • Goal 4: Write a flash or short creative nonfiction piece about my mother’s dementia and submit to a contest or for publication by December 31.

How about you, dear reader? What are your goals for 2020?