January is a natural time for making resolutions and setting new goals. As someone with a large appetite for creative projects, I find setting goals for myself to be an invigorating and entertaining process, but following through with these goals is much less exciting. Acknowledging this about myself led me to the question at the heart of this blog post: How do you set realistic, achievable goals that won’t fall to the wayside? Creating goals for creative side projects in particular can be very challenging when you’re juggling multiple creative pursuits alongside life’s many pressing demands. To help, I’ve listed five steps that I practice when planning goals for my professional and personal projects:
1. Assess Where You Are in Your Major and Minor Projects: I say “major” projects because us creative types tend to have a wide variety and great number of ideas we want to pursue. It helps me to separate projects into two types, major and minor. Finishing my middle grade novel is a major project. Composing a Broadway musical based on my everyday shenanigans as a publishing employee—although a huge undertaking—is a minor project. Decide which projects you want to focus on. During 2019, there’s a mix of major and minor projects I plan to develop.
2. Determine How You Want Your Projects to Grow (or in other words: VISION!): What’s the next phase for each project? Some of your major projects might be long term compared to others. For example, I finished writing the first draft of a middle grade novel last month. I’d like to see the novel published but that’s a tall order for 2019 considering there are chunks of dialogue that still need to be filled in, so I plan to focus on revising the novel and “growing” it into a second or third draft for the time being.
3. List Next Steps: Now that you know how you want to advance your project(s), sit down and list the things that need to happen so your project can reach the next phase. I’ll use my middle grade novel as an example again. Revising the novel into a presentable draft will involve the following steps: writing the missing dialogue, assessing the different plot lines, and revisiting each scene to make sure it’s essential to developing the story. By completing these steps, I’ll accomplish my goal of creating a stronger draft of my manuscript.
4. Set Due Dates and Check-ins: Take a look at the projects you plan to focus on and the steps you need to complete for each project. When creating due dates for yourself, consider the time you devote to your creative projects at present, and how that may have to change so that each project is given the attention and focus it needs for you to achieve your goal. I find that it helps to set soft due dates and hard due dates for myself. For example, let’s say I plan to submit a picture book manuscript to a writing contest that has a submissions deadline of June 1st. I’d set a soft due date for myself by planning to have the manuscript ready to send to the contest by May 1st, then set a hard due date of May 20th for myself. Setting soft due dates helps me pace myself and stagger multiple projects. Setting hard due dates help me build safety nets into my schedule so if my soft due dates prove too ambitious, I still have a chance to stay on schedule.
When I’m planning over long periods of times, it helps me to schedule check-ins. Check-ins are specific dates when I stop and assess how my projects are developing. When I have a big project that I plan to tackle over the course of a year, I arrange check-ins a few times throughout the year, for example, at the start of each season, so I can see how I’m progressing and adjust my plan accordingly.
5. Expect the Unexpected: Now matter how much we plan or how realistic and achievable our goals are, life happens. It’s a good idea to leave some wiggle room in your goal setting to accommodate curve balls in the creative process. There have been times when I planned to focus on one manuscript but had a break through with a different manuscript. When that happens I find it’s best to switch gears and revise my due dates for the first manuscript instead of forcing myself to concentrate on it. I operate best when my schedule is challenging yet manageable. When I make a rigorous schedule and don’t meet my hard due dates, it makes me feel like I’m not doing enough which shuts down my creative process. I’m most diligent and productive when my schedule has some flexibility.
I hope these tips prove useful as you prepare to take 2019 by storm with your unstoppable creative energy!