Thursday, 2 January 2014

Getting SMART for 2014

A few years back, I wrote a guest post for Alison Kent's blog. Yesterday, while setting my writing goals for 2014, I dusted it off as I needed a reminder of how to get SMART. I hope you find it helpful, too.


If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there:

Goal-setting is so important, especially for writers. It’s far too easy to sit at the computer checking emails, loops, blogs and websites until a day has passed … a week … a month, and before you know it you don’t have an awful lot to show for the time spent staring at the screen.

Not only is it important to set goals, but it’s important to write them down. Writing out your goals allows the message to travel from the brain to the hand to the page, then as you read them back the message travels from the page to the eye to the brain, thus making your goals more concrete. Does this make them more achievable? I believe it does, as seeing your goals set out on the page, preferably in your own handwriting, makes them real. Also, as you keep looking at them, the words are driven into the brain and eventually become part of consciousness. You can even write them down fresh every day, which will help reinforce their impact. I have a lovely online writer friend and each week we email each other our goals for the week. At the end of each week we report on how things went, and if we didn’t reach our weekly goals we explain why not. Then we set the next week’s goals, and so on. We’ve both found that when we do this, our writing flows better and we get much more done.

While I like to dream BIG, letting my imagination go wild in the process, when I’m setting goals I use the SMART approach. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-related. “I’m going to write a book” or even “I’m going to write a book by Christmas” might be worthy goals but they’re not SMART … both are too vague, too easily put aside to focus on other things. Before you know it you’re setting the same goal twelve months later.

There are variations on the terms that make up SMART, but here’s my take …

SPECIFIC – What are you going to do and how are you going to do it? “I will write 500 words a day on my WIP before checking my emails or surfing the web” (oh, please, a dark chill has just swept down my spine). But this is a very specific and is …

MEASURABLE – I will write 500 words per day, seven days a week. You’ll know when it’s happened because you’ll have those 500 words on the page, which in turn will make you want to get 500 words down tomorrow, and the next day. Then you’ll be thinking like a winner, you’ll feel you’ve succeeded – and as we all know, nothing succeeds like success. Just make sure the goals you set are …

ACHIEVABLE – goals need to feel within reach, but make sure they stretch you. If we set unrealistic goals that need a huge commitment on our part, we’re likely to feel overwhelmed before we start, and it’s easy to let good intentions fall away at the first sign of difficulty. Equally, goals need to make us feel challenged. “I’m going to write a chapter each day until this book is finished!” Yeah, right. But 500 words a day, or 3500 each week, will get that chapter written. Again, stretch yourself a little, or it won’t seem particularly satisfying. Remember, we want that self esteem to soar!

RELEVANT – how do your goals fit with your long term plans? Are they consistent with other goals? Will they feed into your dreams and ambitions for yourself? Say your goal for the week is to rework a synopsis of an old oft-rejected manuscript, but your editor is screaming for those edits by Friday close of business. Is working on that synopsis relevant right now? Well, it might be if your overall goal is to be the very best synopsis writer in the universe, but if you want a career as a successful writer, I’d go for the editor option.

TIME-RELATED – put a time factor into the equation, otherwise things remain too vague and it’s easy to give priority to other things (remember that Internet surfing? Constant email checking?) Procrastination is the thief of time! No time factor = no urgency. Set those goals and make sure you’ve got a date by which you want them achieved.

And that’s all there is to it.

Richard Bach wrote, “You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it come true”. Setting SMART goals is one mighty step toward getting that power, and making those dreams come true.

Where will your road take you? Good luck!