2011 and Planning for Success in the New Year

 

It’s New Year’s Eve, and we are standing on the threshold of a shiny new year. It’s almost as good as getting new school supplies. The smell of virgin paper not yet touched by a ballpoint. A new start. No mistakes. Nothing but potential.

Okay, so if you are anything like me, your initial New Year’s Resolutions might look something like this.

  1. Lose 20 pounds by February 1st
  2. Run a marathon
  3. Go to gym 5 hours a day
  4. Win the Nobel Pulitzer by my birthday
  5. Save 85% of my income
  6. Go on vacation to Bora Bora (Note to Self: Look up actual location of Bora Bora)
  7. Clean out garage
  8. Paint house inside and out
  9. Finally have all my socks match
  10. Write 3 award-winning novels by summer

There is something about facing a new year that instills us with such hope that we lose all touch with reality (and I haven’t even started drinking yet). It’s great to set goals, but most of the time we are our own worst enemy.

Odds are, if you are a fan of this blog, you are likely a writer, an aspiring writer, or this is a condition of your parole. Regardless, all of you need to learn to set effective goals and learn habits that will keep you from sabotaging your success. Hey, I hear ya! I am the world’s worst.

But this past year, 2010, has been one of my best. I reached a lot of goals. Why? Because I learned some good lessons and applied them consistently. I hope to do even better this year. So I am going to pass these lessons on to you and hope that you will benefit as well.

1. Grant Permission to be Imperfect—Perfectionism is a noble trait taken to the extreme which can serve as an excuse for mediocrity and a mask for fear. Perfectionists tend to be self-saboteurs (I would know nothing about this *whistles innocently*).  We perfectionists nit-pick over every single detail often at the expense of the big picture. Perfection is noble, so it makes a great shield. I mean, we just don’t believe in churning out shoddy half-ass work, right? Um…maybe. Or maybe we have a fear of failure, or even a fear of success. So long as nothing is ever complete, we never have to face our demons and can happily fritter away our days perfecting our scenes and dialogue.

            Here’s the deal. No publishing house ever published half of a perfect book.

2. Give Baby Steps a Chance—All or nothing thinking, a close relative of perfectionism, can tank the best projects. It is so easy to fall into this trap of, If I can’t do X, then I do nothing at all. Baby Steps are still steps. It’s like the question, “How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.” Small steps, over time, with consistency add up. It’s sort of like working out. We can choose to show up January 2nd at 5 a.m. and work out three hours, but that is a formula to end up sore, injured and burned out.

So often when I go to the gym I am so tired I want to die. I used to be the person who went hell bent for leather, only to end up sick or injured. So two years ago I made a key change in my attitude. Now when I go to the gym I tell myself, “All I have to do is ten minutes walking on the treadmill. Ten minutes. If I still feel tired, horrible, sick, fatigued, disenchanted, etc. I can stop, go home, and climb back into bed. In two years I have only stopped twice. Usually all I need is to push past that initial wall and then I am off like a rocket.

Same with writing. Make small goals. “I will write 15 minutes.” “I will write 100 words.” Sometimes all we need is a little momentum. Can’t rev the motor if we never turn the key. A good way to get going is to use kitchen timers. Set the clock and write for 30 minutes. I use sticky notes and set my big goal, then I divide it in half. One sticky note is on the left-hand side of my monitor (starting count). I then place the half-way point in the middle, and I am not allowed a break until I make that number (even if all I write is pigeon poo). The finish line is on the right. Getting started is always the hardest part. I generally find that if I can make it to the mid-point, I am golden.

3. Establish Accountability—Earlier in the week we discussed the pros and cons of a critique group. Critique groups and partners do keep us accountable. It is easy to blow off writing when it is just us, but when we will be a let-down to others? Different story. This is one of the reasons I LOVE blogging. Blogging has done so much to change my character. I adore you guys and love helping you and hearing your comments. I feel that you have given me your trust and that I need to always put my best effort forward. The funny thing is that this change in my writing habits, has sifted into other areas of my writing. Sort of like, when you get in the habit of going to the gym, you also start noticing that you take the stairs or don’t mind parking at the back of the parking lot.

This is why writing down your goals is imperative. If nothing else, it is a cue to your subconscious that you are committed to something. You will feel a lot more conviction if you write out a goal than if you decide to let it float around your gray matter. I would even advise taking it to the next step and sharing your goals with others. I feel this is why so many writers have a hard time saying aloud, “I am a writer.” To say it means we have to own it and that people will be watching. We are going to invite a whole other level of accountability and people will notice if we are screwing off. But I say that accountability is the best way to reach your dreams faster, so bring it on!

4. Small Change Will Grow into Big Change—Good habits have a way of filtering through our lives. I have a saying, “Smaller truths reveal larger truths.” We don’t have to do mind-blowing alterations in our routines to start seeing real change in our lives. I guarantee that if you just start making your bed in the morning that other things will fall in line. Soon, you will notice that your bedroom is neater, and then the kitchen. As your house gets tidier, so does your purse and your car, and so on and so forth.

Just start with small writing goals and I guarantee that bigger better changes will follow suit.

5. Understand that Feelings LIE—Modern pop psychology loves to ask about our feeeelings all the time. Feelings are important, but they are a lousy compass to guide our actions. Why? Feelings can be affected by so many things—fatigue, diet, too much sleep, too little sleep, jerks at the office, kid toys underfoot, PMS, hormones, too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, cat vomit in our house slippers, and on and on and on. If I can pass on any lesson that will change your life it is for you to understand that your feelings will almost always take the path of least resistance. If we are going to accomplish anything in life we cannot let our feelings have a vote.

I blog whether I feel like it or not. I don’t wait until I feel like writing to sit my tuchus in a chair. Feelings can be the enemy and steal your dreams. The Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies will capitalize on your feelings and do everything in their power to convince you that you will get to it later when you feel like it. Shut them down. Don’t give your feelings a vote.

The best way to shut down your feelings is to make lists of goals. I make lists every day and it keeps me focused. I can be exhausted, disenchanted, disillusioned, but it doesn’t matter. I look to the list. It’s like my earlier example of the gym. I say, “Okay, I will just do the first three.” Funny thing is that once I get started, I usually keep going. Like most things in life, overcoming that initial inertia is the hardest part. Lists keep us focused and don’t give feelings a say.

6. Make a Plan—There is a saying in sales, Fail to plan, plan to fail. A good plan will keep you focused, accountable, and give you clear benchmarks to measure success. I recommend buying NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer. He teaches how to craft a plan for a writing career. In fact, at WDWPUB, they are running a special and you can order a special bundle package of Warrior Writer along with my agent-recommended book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media AND Bob’s Novel Writer’s Toolkit that will take you from idea to finished product. These three books are the basic pillars to a successful career. I also recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. For $20 a workshop, you can learn everything about self-publishing, writing a novel, social media, and on and on…all from the comfort of your home and for less than the cost of eating out one meal.

In the end? Just Do It. Put that slogan on a Post-It notes and paper your house if you must. Put a Troll doll on your computer to remind you to be wary of Crappy Excuse Trolls in your midst. If any of you are new and don’t know the M.O. of the Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies, go here. They make 12% commission off your shattered dreams.

And remember:

  1. Grant Permission to Be Imperfect
  2. Give Baby Steps a Chance
  3. Establish Accountability
  4. Trust that Small Change will Grow into Big Change
  5. Understand that Feelings LIE
  6. Make a Plan

What are some struggles that you guys have? What are tactics you use to keep focused? What are your goals for this year? Be brave and put them in the comments. What are some goals you’ve always wanted to reach but haven’t? Why? What is your advice?

Happy writing!

See you next year!

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  1. #1 by Kait Nolan on December 31, 2010 - 3:31 pm

    My background is clinical psychology and behavior modification, so I’m big about setting reasonable, ATTAINABLE goals. It’s all about sustainable change. That’s why I decided to start A Round of Words in 80 Days . I see way too many people doing these short, intense writing challenges for 2 weeks or a month and burning out. ROW80 is about setting your OWN goal (because one size does NOT fit all), creating sustainable change, and maintaining accountability.

    My own goals this year are to bump up my daily word count from 500 to 750 and clean out every closet in my house. :D

  2. #2 by Margaret Reyes Dempsey on December 31, 2010 - 3:33 pm

    I recently discovered your blog and subscribed. There’s a wealth of information here. Thanks for that. My first novel, The Benefactor, was published at the end of last year and I’ve struggled to maintain a balance between promoting that book and working on my next one. But then, the other night, I received a bizarre photo in my inbox. ;-) I realized I had to recommit to the promotion of my novel for 2011. That’s my first resolution of the year. More to come. Here’s a link to the photo and story: http://margaretreyesdempsey.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/marketing-or-madness-you-be-the-judge/

    Have a Happy New Year jam-packed with tons of creativity!

  3. #3 by kadja2 on December 31, 2010 - 3:35 pm

    I am going to keep a copy of this post to remind myself to quit sabatoging myself–along with my dream board (aka Life Board)! ROTF! :-) I have a writer’s “tool kit” but will get the others you suggested! Have a great day, Kirsten and thank you for what you do!

  4. #4 by Wendy Bertsch on December 31, 2010 - 3:49 pm

    Solid, workable advice that applies to workaholics as well as dodgers. If we all follow it, there’s no stopping us!

  5. #5 by Bob Mayer on December 31, 2010 - 4:15 pm

    Getting ready to post my predictions for 2011 at Write It Forward. Kristen is on target with her suggestions. A plan is key otherwise you can waste a lot of energy. We already have planned out our entire class schedule for 2011 at WIF, and a list of books in the pipeline to be written and published. An exciting time in publishing.

  6. #6 by Marilag Lubag on December 31, 2010 - 4:52 pm

    I am all for taking baby steps. :-) Accountability is when I’m having trouble. I realized that I get more things done when I’m on a deadline than when I don’t. So, that’s what I’m working on. It’s a slow and painful process but I’m getting there. I got myself an actual deadline on how much I should accomplish each day.

  7. #7 by Kerry Meacham on December 31, 2010 - 5:30 pm

    I’m a goal freak and proud of it. I think it comes from being in sales. Through the years I’ve found several processes that work well for me. By far the biggest thing that has helped me is the formalized practice of understanding ahead of time what resources the goal(s) will require. People say, “I’m going to drop 20 pounds in a month.” Really? Do you have Bob and Jillian in your basement ready to kick your butt? Sure, you can lose 20 pounds in that time period if you’re laser focused, but what resources are you going to have to use to get there? You’re going to need to be tough as nails and draw on mental resources that you may not be prepared for, or you’ll lose your motivation when mom pushes your favorite chocolate pie in front of you and says, “It won’t hurt to have one little piece.” You’re going to have to spend time resources thinking about calorie intake, meals, time at the gym (or walking/running/Wii’ing (is that a word?)), time preparing meals, time away from things you love (watching TV, reading, writing (yeah I said it), etc.). You’re going to have to spend physical resources to cook, exercise, shop at the grocery store instead of ordering out, etc. If you don’t weigh ;-) the costs beforehand, and agree that it’s worth it, your chances of success are much lower. If you know what the price is going to be, I have found that it is much easier to pay it.

    Two of my goals for 2011 are to STUDY six books on the craft of writing and RELIGIOUSLY read three blogs each week on writing. What are my resource requirements? The time to research the books I want to read, the time to actually read the six books during the year, then the time to reread, digest, and apply the information to my work, time to read three blogs (I went through the first 8 stages of your structure series and first 4 parts of blogging on your blog this morning to catch up. Man do I have some work to do on my novel structure.). Mentally prepare myself to read these books when other things are more pressing (the urgent vs. the important), and understand I have a tendency to read non-fiction and store it away never to be read again. Monatary resources to buy the books (I was given two books on writing at Christmas, and I just downloaded the bundle package from Bob’s website. Five down and one to go.). I think you get the picture. If I just said, “Hey I want to get better at the craft of writing in 2011.” I would never meet that goal.

    Get specific, determine the price to pay, agree you will pay it, and then pay it. Doing this work up front is harder than just throwing out a goal that sounds nice. I think another thing about doing that work is that you invested time to get into that kind of detail, so you’re more likely to value it. After deciding on what resources are required, then you have to put action lists together, put those items on your calendar/Outlook, and treat them as things as precious as work meetings. WHOA TRIGGER. Sorry, I’m pretty passionate about goals and how well they work. I’ve used goals to push me for 20 years in business, and I’m only now getting serious about writing a novel. Why not use what I’ve learned to help in this area of my life. I’ll stop now.

    Goals rock,

    Kerry

  8. #8 by Anne R. Allen on December 31, 2010 - 5:30 pm

    What? You’re not going to save 85% of your income? Maybe you could if you moved to a mud hut in Bora Bora…I’m not sure where it is either. Maybe they don’t have mud huts. Nevermind.

    Lots of solid wisdom here. Thanks for this blog. It’s one of the most informative writing blogs around.

  9. #9 by A.J. Zaethe on December 31, 2010 - 5:49 pm

    Brilliant as always. I look forward to the year. This and the guest post at Write it Forward go hand in hand. I know that I have always been the perfectionist in my writing which always kept me from my work.

    “It isn’t perfect, so I can’t move on.”

    I have been doing more than trying this year and I have seen a great change in my writing, but still a long away to go, but I know, if it wasn’t for authors like you. I would be still twiddling my thumbs. Thanks for the reality check. XD

  10. #10 by Amanda Hoving on December 31, 2010 - 6:04 pm

    Great list all around!

    #1 used to be paralyzing for me. If the writing wasn’t perfect, I’d rather just stop. Now, I’m the queen of “sh##*y first drafts (via Anne Lamott) and I’m OK with that…that’s what revisions are for.

    Happy to have found your blog in 2010 — All the best to you in 2011!

  11. #11 by Jami Gold on December 31, 2010 - 6:51 pm

    Great post! I’m pretty good about turning off that all-or-nothing perfectionist trait for my writing. (I often write one sentence – interruption – one sentence – interruption – repeat.) But I need to take the same approach to working out. :)

  12. #12 by jesswords10 on December 31, 2010 - 7:22 pm

    Very motivating post! Thank you again. I plan to use your list idea to help me through the days where I’m making a million excuses why not to. I’ve been sticking to my writing resolutions and planned to go to a writer’s conference in April, meet with other writer’s groups in my town, and write and read each day, even it’s a page, it all gets the creativity flowing. Thank you for your insight and inspiration.

  13. #13 by Susan Bischoff on December 31, 2010 - 7:50 pm

    Ow. Nailed that one. Careful with that thing.
    I have issues with perfectionism. The kind that avoid finishing things because finished projects then move on to the judging stand, right? This year, somehow, I was able to shove that aside for a while in this mad frenzy (and it really was a frenzy so I wouldn’t have time to change my mind) to write something from start to finish, edit, format, and get it out there for people to see. And a bunch of them actually paid money to read it, and they like it, and they’re asking where the next one is. And every time I sit down to write I’m paralyzed with the fear that I can’t do it again. So there it is. I know it’s dumb and I’ve admitted it. I’m now going to sit and wait for that catharsis thing to kick in.
    Waiting…
    Ok, while I wait, I’m going to go back to trying to make the list of goals that won’t require magic to complete.

  14. #14 by tiallarising on December 31, 2010 - 8:21 pm

    This is one of the best posts on New Year Resolutions that I have read so far. I love your take on setting goals, and I will definitely be applying some of your ideas. Nice post! :)

    -Tia

    http://www.tiallarising.wordpress.com

  15. #15 by the rhythm method on December 31, 2010 - 9:27 pm

    This is so true. I used to think fresh starts were best, but its the starting that’s important. Let yourself off the lead and GO!!
    Happy 1.1.11 Kristen! I look forward to your blog posts so much. :)

  16. #16 by nicolebourque on December 31, 2010 - 9:58 pm

    Wow, what great advice! I particularly liked your step of giving baby steps a chance. I always seem to shoot things down if they aren’t “big enough” or “cool enough.” I sabotage myself all the time! Why workout today, I haven’t done it all week. Ha!

    When you said, “Can’t rev the motor if we never turn the key,” that really hit home. It might just be my philosophy for 2011. :) Thanks for all the wonderful posts. I look forward to your blog.

  17. #17 by joannaaslinn on January 1, 2011 - 1:36 am

    I too, have recently discovered and subscribed to this blog–love it! Between you, Bob Mayor and Jenni Holbrook I am so incredibly motivated to go to the next level. I am a firm believer in baby steps; love that as I read your blog my baby steps seem to take shape. (Now to take it to the next level and write them down!) And I’ve been living your exercise analogy for two years and found it to be the key to success with that, too.

    Just one thing I haven’t managed to make happen: getting those little ‘neat’ changes to spill over to the car, purse and school-binder.

    Happy New Year, Kristen! Looking forward to more!
    Joanna Aislinn
    Dream. Believe. Strive. Achieve!
    NO MATTER WHY
    The Wild Rose Press
    http://www.joannaailslinn.com
    http://www.joannaaislinn.wordpress.com

  18. #18 by Lisa Ullrich on January 1, 2011 - 5:44 am

    Your list is so familiar and also so true. I find once I get going, I keep on going. It’s the getting started that is the hard part. I’m also a list maker, in fact, I made a list tonight of the things I want to accomplish over my 3 day weekend. My list is always way longer than the amount of time I have, but that is also a motivator to stay on target. I look forward to reading your blog in the new year….I just love your style!

  19. #19 by Thaddeus Dombrowski on January 1, 2011 - 6:09 am

    Great post, as usual. I find that perfectionism in my writing is the number one cause of writer’s block. William Stafford once said that the cure to writer’s block is to lower your standards. So true.

  20. #20 by pebblecat on January 1, 2011 - 11:41 am

    Wow, you seem to have nailed time travel though! Way to go!

    “But this past year, 2011″ ;)

    Nice bit of irony to put the deliberate mistake just 3 lines above the tip about avoiding perfectionism…

    Good post anyway :)
    Happy New Year!

    • #21 by Author Kristen Lamb on January 1, 2011 - 1:18 pm

      LOL…I didn’t see that. This is what I get for blogging when the family is all home on vacation :D. Thanks! Ha ha ha ha ha.

  21. #22 by Sanna on January 1, 2011 - 4:49 pm

    Dang! Would you get out of my head? *lol*
    These are exactly the things I have to fight with all the time.
    So I have really nothing to add.

    Great blog and great advice. :)

    A happy new year to you!

  22. #23 by V.V. Denman on January 1, 2011 - 4:51 pm

    Love this list. It’s real.

  23. #24 by sharonholly on January 3, 2011 - 7:52 pm

    i find my biggest obstacle is simply my mood. my mood determines a lot of my day, and i often just feel like i don’t have the energy. i thought letting people in on my secret writing habit would help me stay focused. one of the reasons i kept my writing to myself for so long was that if i told everyone, they would be watching.

    i may not be moving ahead as quickly as i would like, but i KNOW i will finish what i started. there are so many good ideas on your blog and in the comments. one thing i do, when i find myself in a rut, is research blogs and books on writing. it inspires me to keep going.

  24. #25 by Schilder on January 5, 2011 - 1:28 pm

    Some of those New Year’s Resolutions look like mine.
    I´ll try to keep your advices in mind. Thats the (6. Make a) plan!

  25. #26 by Charles Warren on January 5, 2011 - 3:25 pm

    Great list for the new year, especially #5. Yes, feelings do lie. Yes, they do take the path of least resistance. Yes, I will stop listening to them. I just wish they weren’t soooo persuasive.

  26. #27 by Joan Noble on January 6, 2011 - 5:31 pm

    I didn’t know until I read this post why my troll sits up there. Thanks.

    Joan

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