Friday, December 31, 2021

Writing Goals--Clearing Your Path for Creativity in the New Year

Some writers set goals religiously. Some haven't the interest or time. I'm one of the first group, but my goal setting is done in a slightly different way than the traditional. I like to use both the linear and random approach to goal setting.

I do this because I want to make room for changes and growth along the way, because what I aim for now might be limited to what I currently see as possible. I've learned the hard way that the universe surprises, constantly. Goals can be derailed by unexpected life changes.

One of my favorite goal setting tools is from a long-ago book called Get It All Done and Still Be Human by Tony and Robbie Fanning. (It was reissued in the 90s.) The Fannings use a tool called a "presume," which is like a future resume. To me, this really breaks the mold for goal setting, and I've referred to it in my classes for years. I approach it slightly differently, and it works very well.

A presume can be anything, really: a single word, a page or more, a drawing, an image or even a short movie you make to describe how you see yourself in a future time--say, a year from now.

It asks: What state of being do I want to be in, live in, by that point in time? It is a kind of unique visualization where you work from the "as if," the end instead of the beginning.

In my weeklong writing retreats, I used to ask each writer to imagine our ending day (Friday) and ask themselves where would they like to be, in terms of their writing, by that afternoon. I ask them to describe it in terms of process and product. Process, being the learning side, the new skills, the community they gained, the ah-ha moments about their book; product being the amount of pages written, the storyboard created, the draft revised.

Each new year's, I like to write a presume from both process and product. I find one can't exist in my writing life without the other.

Sometimes I'll do it with writing. Sometimes I'll draw it in a big mind-map to hang on my wall (I often find this approach useful when I have a deadline, like a manuscript to complete). Often I'll create a collage or image board with photos from the internet or magazines pasted in an arrangement that speaks to me.

This often takes me a couple of weeks, but it's a tremendously enjoyable process. It's perfect for the first weeks of the new year, so I've made it an annual ritual. It allows me to look deeply into my writing life, what I really want, where I've been spinning my wheels. I can also ask what support I have or need, what skills are next up for my toolbox.

One of the best things about the presume, at least how I approach it, is that it has more to do with qualities. I found the hard way that if I set goals that rely on other people, such as "I get a contract for my new novel with XX," sure, it might come true, but it's subject to elements I have zero control over. This is one reason traditional goal setting never worked for me--the objectives we set were really wishes, not goals. I remember being in sales when I was in my twenties, and I hated the pumping up of trying to beat sales numbers each month. The pressure wiped any creativity clean. Some thrive in this kind of goal setting. Not me. It always made me want to quit.

Goals work for me when they are (1) aligned with my core values and (2) steps to reach them are under my control. I don't wish for anything, I have to decide if I want to make it happen myself.

So for my 2022 writing-life presume, I came up with several categories. I'll share them just as an example; you will have your own.

Support and community. This is a year when I want to really participate with a writing community--take classes in new topics, support my fellow writers in my writer's group and writing partnership, attend conferences online. My presume statement (remember, I'm imagining myself at the end of 2022, looking back) was about the deepening involvement and great rewards I gained all year from doing this. The concrete steps was to set up a deadline to send my writing partner a draft of an outline for a revised novel I'll be working on.
Space to create. My office is great and it's been useful all year, but I am retiring from manuscript consultation and I want something different in my creative space for 2022 as I focus more on my own writing and art. I'd like to transition from a huge desktop (and huge desk) to my laptop and have a worktable and an easel in the room. That means getting rid of furniture and files I no longer need. My presume described how I felt in this new space, how my creativity blossomed in new directions, and how I benefited others by giving them stuff I didn't want. The concrete steps? A list of what I could pass on, helpers to move the heavier furniture, and a design to try.

Equipment. I've had a hellish time with a new iMac I bought in 2020. I love my laptop but its screen is hard on my eyes after a while. My presume talked about finding a clear path through the tangle of getting the right stuff--hardware and software--so I spent less time on troubleshooting and crashes. This will take dedicated time, and it's not something I enjoy, but it'll make life smoother.

Skills. I am eager to learn, to be a student again, to study! My presume describes my joy at learning more tools and skills and all kinds of stuff I can't even imagine. Concrete steps are finding classes and books and online programs. Even the research for this one is fun.

Projects. I've been on deadline for a couple of years, getting two books revised and off to my agent. I'd like to dabble in 2022, if the gods allow. My presume is all about exploring another novel that needs rethinking and short stories started but never finished. My first concrete step is to get out the old files and spend a day reading through, making notes, and creating a list of possible revision steps.
Practice. How often will I write? I'm an externally motivated person (I work for deadlines). My support team provides those markers to shoot for. If I sign up for a writing class this month, that'll also light a fire under me. But I want my practice to also include more random exploration this year, not just foster my usual get-it-done side. I don't have a deadline at the moment with my agent. I can take time to revisit my projects and decide what appeals to me first. My daily journal pages will continue to be my warm-up, and I'll see how the rest goes. I'm not worried about sitting around not writing--that isn't me. But I do want to give the inner artist time to regroup.

If you're inspired to try a different kind of goal setting for the new year, for your writing life, feel free to borrow any or all of my categories above, or create your own.

For Christmas I got myself a book to help launch all this: The Artist's Journey Creativity Reflection Journal by Nancy Hillis, M.D. Hillis is a painter and former psychiatrist who has a very inspiring way of getting me to think about my dreams and what I vision for my new year--and beyond. I like how she approaches art goals from both the psychological and the artistic view. Worth checking out.

Spend time this week dreaming your goals, and setting up your ideal writing life for 2022.

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