QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

New Year's Resolutions that Actually Work

Statistically speaking, by the time the chips and dip are passed around at the pre-bowl game on Superbowl Sunday, as many as half of people who make a New Year's Resolution have already broken it. One month of an unused gym membership has been paid for. The dairy-free/gluten-free/sugar-free diet was replaced with an ice cream sundae by January 15th. Sure, the intention was to avoid eating out at all costs, but surely it doesn't count for a friend's birthday... or a weekend getaway... or when you're just really busy... right?

It can be all too easy to let resolutions like "lose weight" or "go to the gym more" fall by the wayside as life gets in the way. Don't let this happen to your writing goals.

All too often, I see writers with New Year's Resolutions like "sell a book," or "get an agent," or or "finish my next novel." Now, unlike "lose weight" or "go to the gym more," they are measurable goals. After all, the moment you get an agent, you'll be shouting from the rooftops! So it should count as a reasonable resolution for the year... except it doesn't.

Why not? You do not have all the control when it comes to whether you get an agent or not, and even less control over whether a book sells. Thinking that you do places all the blame on yourself if it doesn't happen, and that isn't good for your self-esteem, which writers struggle with enough. It isn't great for your writing career, either.

So, what to do? Don't set writing resolutions at all? Of course not! Just make sure they're SMART. (Specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound). With one month under our belts, there is plenty of time to re-evaluate not what we want to achieve, but how we get there.

Want an agent for a book you've already revised to perfection? Maybe your goal looks like this: By December 31, 2016, I will have queried at least 75 agents and entered two contests. I will work on my query until it shines, and tweak it if I'm not getting the request rate that I want. I can stop querying before I reach these goals if and only if I get an agent sooner.

Boom. That is a SMART goal, one you can achieve regardless of the market, or your story, or what an agent ate for breakfast the day she read your query.

"Finish my next novel" sounds like a great goal at first. I've been writing lists of New Year's Resolutions for more than ten years and I had to learn the hard way that this one isn't SMART. It turns out, books are never finished--at least not until they hit the printing press and you're out of time to revise. After realizing that I never defined "finish," I set a different goal for the next year: Work on WIP until it is ready for critique partners to review, then take their advice for another revision. By December 31, 2016, have WIP ready enough that I feel comfortable querying it. 

As you're writing this year, don't set yourself up to fail your goals. Make sure they're SMART, then implement a way to track them (I just started tracking my word count using stickers on my calendar, and it's working like magic) that keeps you accountable. Then you'll be amazed what you've accomplished by the end of the year.

Rochelle Deans sometimes feels like the only writer on the planet who rushes through the writing so she can start editing. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two kids under two. Her bad habits include mispronouncing words, correcting grammar, and spending far too much time on the Internet.