What I do every year is make a To Do List. I make a list of all the things I want to accomplish through the year. They're not resolutions because they're not about a change in behaviour or altering my lifestyle. They're not on-going goals like most resolutions are, they're binary. It's not like a diet which I'm doing, then I slip, then I'm doing it again, then it's the holiday season and I'm bending it a little for social necessity, then I'm back to it. Either I achieve them or I don't. They're either done or they're not. Once they're done, they can't be undone. It's a small distinction but it's important enough to note.
It began in 2013, the year after Sorceress' Blood was published. I decided at the start of that year that I'd have my next novel ready for publication, a collection of short stories in the editing stages and the first draft of a third novel begun.
I accomplished none of those goals in 2013.
In 2014, I basically had the same list. Pilgrimage published and knee deep in the next novel by the start of 2015. I decided not to go with the short story collection idea and instead sell a short story to a magazine. Just one.
Well I did a little better that time. In 2014, I finished Pilgrimage and it was released in November for the whole wide world to read and enjoy. I'd made a dent in the next novel's first draft but I hadn't sold a short story. So I took those left overs and made them my To Do List for 2015.
2015 was a tough year for me for a whole bunch of reasons. I had some hyper productive days, I made some great progress and I learned a lot. In fact, this year's biggest triumph has been how much I've learned about planning a story. But in terms of my To Do List? I didn't tick anything off. Projects aren't finished yet and projects I never intended to work on made a lot of progress.
2015 has been interesting, if not my most productive year.
Now we're just days away from 2016 and I'm looking at my next To Do List. I'm going to share it with you. Hopefully you'll come up with your own. It doesn't have to be long or complicated. Mine is just, well, take a look...
- Sell a short story
- Finish second draft of Sorceress' Blood 2
- Plot fourth novel
After doing this a few years, I'm working to find the right balance of goals that I can accomplish, goals that will challenge me, goals that won't get in the way of each other and goals that are important to me.
The first two are obvious, but those second two are also important. I believe your writer's To Do List for the year should not have goals that interfere with each other. I'm not trying to write two novels at the same time. Those are two massive tasks that I can't split my attention between. I don't know if anybody could juggle that. On the other hand, my first goal is selling a short story. The focus here is selling. The market for any short story is going to be limited and if I've got something in review in that market, I can spend the waiting time working on Sorceress' Blood 2. And I only need to work on it. My goal is not to finish the book this year, it's to complete the second draft. Once the first draft is done, I'll take a break from it and if I haven't sold a story by then, I can work on a few more while taking a break from the novel. These are two different goals, two different tasks. They won't interfere with each other. The third goal is the same. Plotting is something I can do in the spare moments of the day, be it sitting on the train with a notebook or brainstorming in the shower. Plotting time doesn't have to overlap writing time.
The fourth criteria for a goal is being important. I've ranked them in order of importance. For the last two years I've been working here and there on some short stories to try and sell them. So far I've been unsuccessful. The stories I've written have been rejected. Many more I started and wrote didn't even make it to the pitch because they didn't work in a fundamental way or weren't good enough for a wide audience. But I'm not stopping because it's important to me. I want to do it, I want to prove to myself I can do it.
A very early lesson I learned about writing is that you're going to fall short of your dream. You're going to be rejected, you're not going to be a best seller, you're going to get bad reviews, your dreams are not going to come true, your "final draft" is going to suck and you need to do another one. It sucks. But lucky for you and me, there's infinite retries. Get out there and do it again. Maybe this time it'll stick, maybe you'll be lucky. But to be motivated, to be persistent, it has to matter to you.
Writing books matters to me. Right now, selling a short story matters to me.
Every year I've made a To Do List, I've had left overs to carry over to the next year. I've carried over more of my list than I've ticked off. But that's fine. I don't plan on dying any time soon and that is literally the only thing that's going to stop me. I can keep going because it's important to me.
And as long as you don't stop trying, you haven't failed yet.
So just make sure Giving Up isn't on your To Do List.