Why is it that, ever year, I find it embarrassing to admit that I’ve made new year resolutions? Is yearly optimism really so deeply uncool?
Maybe it’s because I worry there’s something naïve about them: thinking the transition of one year to the next is the dawn of a new era in my life, thinking I will stick to them, thinking other people care enough to hear about them. Is anybody really interested to hear about anyone else’s Dry January?
For the past couple of years, though, the turn of the year has represented a new period in my life. Last year, I was about to start a new job in Cambridge. This year, as you saw in my last post, more change is coming. This means that I have actually found it useful to make resolutions, but this year, I’ve decided to do something different, especially with regards to my writing: make goals, not resolutions.
By goals, I mean specific, concrete things that can be checked off a list when they’re completed, with a proper system to track my progress. A resolution like ‘be more dedicated to my writing’ is impossible to quantify, whereas ‘finish the second draft of my novel by this date’ gives me something to work towards, and a sense of satisfaction when I finally check it off (by 31st December, at the rate I’m currently working…).
Here’s an example. I’ve never won a writing competition, which in my moments of low self-esteem makes me worry I’m not a very good writer. But I’ve hardly entered any competitions, so is it reasonable to sulk about not winning the ones I have sporadically entered? I’ve heard from writer friends that, while talent is obviously required, placing in competitions is also a numbers game. Rather than assume I’m a terrible writer and give up, surely the thing to do is enter more competitions?
So that’s one of my goals: enter 5-10 writing competitions. Note that I gave myself a specific number range, not just ‘enter more competitions.’ Note also that the goal isn’t to win any competitions, simply to enter. Entering is something I can control; winning is not (I can write the best piece I possibly can, but ultimately the decision belongs to the judges). So as long as I enter, I can still feel a sense of achievement whether I win or not.
I also intend to work towards each of my goals in small steps. For the writing competitions, I started not by opening a blank document and commanding myself to write a brilliant short story, but by making a spreadsheet of all the writing competitions open in 2020, when the deadlines are, entry fees, etc. I then highlighted a few I’d like to enter and identified things I’ve already written that could be reworked for the competitions. This made the goal seem far less daunting, and I’ve already entered 3 competitions – well on my way to the minimum of 5 already!
Each time I enter a competition, I add it to my ‘2020 goals’ tracker (yes, I did cringe while typing that), so I can look back throughout the year and see how much progress I’ve made. I may not fully achieve all my goals, but at least I can see the steps I made towards them. Having a system like this may be embarrassingly earnest, but it helps me feel in control and gives me small wins to celebrate, which increases my self-esteem – so does it matter if it’s a bit naff?
I’ve only talked about my writing here, but I have other types of goals (all of them do to with learning, joining or creating new things, none to do with restricting things or punishing myself). For example, I’d like to learn Arabic, which is a big task. I started simply by buying a book, which I wrote down as my first step towards the goal. Every time I learn how to write or pronounce a new letter of the alphabet, I congratulate myself on another tiny step. It’ll be years before I can call myself fluent, but if I stay focused and keep chipping away, I’ll get there eventually.
If you’ve got goals for the new year (or any time of year), I hope you might find my system useful, and that you find your own version that works for you. Good luck!