The beginning of the year typically turns our thoughts to new beginnings, new challenges, and an opportunity to do things better than the previous year. My husband is a personal trainer, and every year about this time, he listens to his clients share their goals of weight loss, better nutrition, and more dedication to the gym. Sadly, however, many cannot stick to the plan they’ve made for themselves because, without realizing it, they’ve created unreachable goals.

I’m a huge proponent of goal setting, but I’ve learned the hard way that there are right ways and wrong ways to go about creating goals for yourself–whether these goals are health related, financial, relationship oriented, or writing.

So, instead of talking about how to set goals (which varies greatly from writer to writer), I’d like to share with you some things you definitely want to avoid in goal setting. The following are tips I’ve learned along my writing journey that are sure to make reaching your goals nearly impossible:

• Shoot for the stars! Make your goals high and lofty enough to guarantee frustration. There are two ways of going about this: Either try to emulate the goals of someone more advanced in his writing than you, or create unrealistic time frames for your writing. A writer who already has a couple of books under his belt can realistically set a goal of getting a book contract by year end. If you’re a beginning writer with little or no publishing experience, you can’t expect to immediately hit that same goal (but you’d be amazed at how many newbie writers do).

Likewise, an established writer knows how many words or pages she can produce every day, especially if writing is her full-time job. If you’re trying to write in your spare time along with tackling the the demands of running a household, don’t expect to crank out complete chapters every week. You’re just setting yourself up for failure.

• Don’t build in any room for error. In a perfect writing world, you’d be able to spend every waking moment writing, researching, revising, and marketing your work. Writers sometimes forget, however, that no such world exists. The wise, realistic writer knows that life has other demands–sometimes even crises–that slow down or stop their writing progress dead in its tracks. Not building in margin for such times forces you to make up for lost time if you’re adamant about keeping your goals. This is not usually possible, and the result is anxiety and stress.

•  Make sure your goals are vague, general, and immeasurable. I once held a workshop on goal setting, and part of the class was an exercise to create daily, weekly, and monthly writing goals. After a few moments I asked participants to share what they wrote. More than one person had as a goal: “Write more!” While this is a good goal to have, how do you know exactly when you’ve reached it? And what is “more”? More than what? If you’re goals are vague and cannot be measured objectively by time, quantity, or quality, you can be assured you will never reach them–mainly because you won’t know what they are!

• Create goals that push you way out of your comfort zone. It’s good to desire to be stretched in character, professionalism, and writing ability, but a sure way to give up on yourself and your writing is to force yourself to do things you hate for extended periods of time. If you’re an introvert who enjoys writing but hates public speaking and marketing yourself in person or over the phone, the best thing to do to ensure failure is to create goals that have you out in public doing these very things on a regular basis. It’s okay (and probably necessary) to make such things part of your goals so you’ll begin to build confidence in these areas, but if you promise yourself that these activities will go from taking 5% of your current time to over 50% of your current time, you’re going to be very disappointed.

• Don’t allow for accountability. One great thing to do to make sure that you never reach your goals is to keep them a secret and don’t tell anyone, not even your writing mentor, your writing coach, your spouse, or your best friend. I’ve actually had people say to me when I asked them what their goals were for the year, “Oh, I can’t tell anyone, because I might not reach them.” You’re certainly not going to reach them if you keep them to yourself! Why? Because we all need a support group of some form. Either a formal one, like a writers’ group or a coaching relationship, or an informal one made up of friends and family. When the going gets tough (and it will), and you want to quit (and you will), it’s this support that will lift you bakc up and keep your goals infront of you.

So, now you know what to do if you want to be sure not to reach your writing goals this year. And if you do want to bring your goals to pass? Just do the opposite!

Happy goal setting! May 2011 be your most prosperous writing year yet!

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose

the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

— William Shakespeare

Procrastination is an obstacle writers must learn to overcome at some point along their writing journey. But what lies at the root of procrastination? Often it is fear–either fear of failing or fear of succeeding. Let’s talk first about the fear of failure.

As in any profession — even life in general — fear of failure can be detrimental, even paralyzing. Many people never achieve their dreams because they’re afraid to take the risks necessary to accomplish them.

If you’re a writer, you must approach the fear of failure practically, and ask yourself, “If I don’t succeed, what’s the worst that can happen?” Usually that answer will include retruning to your day-job full-time or finding another career, and only writing as a hobby. But…what if you do succeed?

The benefits of being successful will, no doubt, far outweigh the effort and risks involved. Keeping your “eye on the prize” should provide enough motivation to keep you writing.

But, if not, take the following steps:

1. Write down everything you can think of as to why you’re afraid of failing.

2. Now, think of ways you can minimize your risk involved for each thing you just wrote. What are some practical steps you can take to minimize your risks? This may involve tightening your budget or setting aside some extra money for those rainy days. Or, maybe you can minimize your risks by investing in your writing career with classes or by attending conferences.

3. Next, develop a step-by-step plan of action along with specific and measurable goals for your writing. Where do you want to be in 6 months? 1 year? 5 years? And, how do you plan to get there?

Having a vision and a blueprint for developing your vision will go a long way to help you minimize your risks, and therefore, conquer your fears. Sometimes, the big picture is just too overwhelming to consider all at once. So break that picture up into smaller frames, tackling them a little at a time.

Take baby steps of faith, one day at a time. Before you know it, you will be well down the path to becoming a successful writer.

Next time, we’ll look at mastering the fear of success.

As we head into a brand-new year, it’s the perfect time to reflect on what’s worked over the past year and what hasn’t. Hopefully, more has worked than hasn’t! I’m not big on making resolutions, but I am huge on goal setting. Resolutions are too easy to break, but goals stay before you, daring you to reach them. I find goals quite motivating.

Over my next couple of posts, I’d like to discuss different areas of the writing life and how we can  make it work in our favor instead of against us. In particular, I’d like to focus on:

1. Balancing family obligations with writing obligations

2. How to stay organized for optimal efficiency

3. Juggling part-time writing with full-time work

4. Overcoming distractions when working from home

5. Making time to write effectively when it’s part of your non-writing job

If you have any additional areas of the writing life that you’d like to see discussed, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to address them.

Look for today’s follow-up post by January 1!