If you’ve ever worked for a large organization, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with annual performance reviews. Where I last worked there were five possible scores. If you received a “one” you were out the door.
A “two” meant you were also out the door but the company wanted to create the illusion of giving you a chance to redeem yourself. A “three” meant you were out the door just as soon as they could find someone to replace you. “Four” meant they’d have to keep you for a while because it was going to be difficult to find a replacement but maybe if they could pick your brain sufficiently it would be possible.
“Five” suggested it would take a major staff reorganization to dump you. In the latter two cases they’d give you a significant raise to increase their incentive to get rid of you. However such raises as one might receive were always welcome and the mere suggestion that perhaps you were doing a good job was flattering.
Performance reviews were one means by which you and your employers maintained some level of synchronicity. Although normally conducted between you and your boss, you can do them yourself. As a writer you don’t have a boss. You’re on your own. Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile to step back at least once a year and examine your accomplishments as objectively as possible.
In order to perform such a review you need some sort of yardstick against which you can measure yourself. Therefore you need to establish a set of goals. In business you may receive your objectives from on high or you may set them yourself within some sort of corporate framework. As a writer I believe there are four high-level tasks we perform from which objectives can be set. We write, edit, market, and research. I’m including plot and character development under the category of research.
Take each of the four categories and decide what you would like to accomplish over the following year. Since we live within a calendar year as opposed to a fiscal one, January seems like a good time to establish your goals and December to review them.
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There are all sorts of possible way of defining objectives. For example, under “writing,” you might set an objective to produce some number of books over the coming year. Alternatively, you might set a word count. For example, if I think I can average 1,000 words per day, then over the course of a year I might establish a goal of 365,000. Alternatively I might attempt to write for one hour every day. Objectives like this are very cut and dry but it’s possible to set quality objectives as opposed to those involving quantity. For example you might set an objective to improve your ability to write action scenes, or steamy scenes. Another objective might be to write in a new genre to increase the scope of your writing.
Likewise, editing objectives may or may not be numerically based. For example you might set as an objective editing two complete manuscripts and self-publishing, or at least getting them in front of an agent or publisher over the coming year. On the other hand, you may attempt to minimize filler words such as “that” or “to be” in your writing by becoming more sensitive to them as you read. Perhaps you could attempt to improve the flow so the reader isn’t jarred out of the story by awkward wording. These are all valid objectives, although the latter might be tricky to evaluate by yourself. That could also be an objective—finding someone with whom you can trade bits of writing for editing.
Then comes marketing. Oh, how we all love that. I recommend you establish reasonably easy objectives because, in practice, meeting even these will be difficult. An objective here might be to locate and take two free marketing courses, find within them five ideas for improving your exposure, and implementing one over the course of the year. It doesn’t sound like much, but there’s a good chance you’ll find accomplishing it something of a struggle.
With research, you might want to take the opposite approach. Because it’s so easy to get lost down rabbit holes, you might establish an objective to limit internet searches to some number of minutes per day. That way, you’re more likely to stay focused on the writing. Still, there are other objectives which might provide benefits. Compiling a list of research sources could be useful. After all, Wikipedia isn’t the only purveyor of helpful information.
In general, having a set of goals and then reviewing them on a regular basis works for business managers, and it can work for you. Stepping back from your writing and deciding what you might do to improve will help make you a better author. Taking a hard look at what you have and haven’t accomplished will allow you to identify constraints. Perhaps they can be mitigated in the following year. Writing requires talent but it also takes skill, and the latter can be honed over time.
This guest post was contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published thirteen books on Smashwords.com.
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