Making This Year Better Than The Last

And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass.
–Counting Crows, “A Long December”

Goals and AmbitionsDid you make a New Year’s resolution yesterday? Did you know that you have a 78% chance of breaking it?

A few years ago, I gave up on making New Year’s resolutions because I always broke them and ended up feeling like a failure. This past year, though, I noticed another more serious problem.

My life has become triage.

Instead of acting, I spent most of my time reacting. Fires kept cropping up, and I survived by dealing with the biggest and badest first. Everything else tanked. I gained 20 pounds. My husband began to complain that he didn’t get any time with me anymore because I’m always working. I don’t remember what a day off looks like. Lisa and I are scrambling to prepare for the conference we’re headed to in New York this month.

I want this year to be better than the last.

Part of my problem goes back to my failed New Year’s resolutions, and why I was consistently breaking them. To make this year better than the last, I need to care for myself as well as I care for my characters. You see, I give them goals, but I mostly only had ambitions for myself.

If you remember the post I wrote about Creating Three-Dimensional Characters, I explained the difference between an ambition and a goal.

An ambition is an abstract, high-level concept. For example, “I want a well-behaved dog” or “I want a happy marriage.” Two people can have the same ambition, but the way it plays out in their lives can be diametrically opposed based on how they define that ambition. Goals are how you reach your ambition. Without them, you can float around for years never certain if you’re making any progress toward your ambition.

If all you have is ambitions, you’re bound for disappointment and failure because you don’t have any direct control over whether an ambition is reached or not.

For example, “I want an agent this year” or “I want to lose 20 pounds.” Those are ambitions because nothing you do will guarantee they happen. You might change your eating habits and hit the gym, and only lose 10 pounds because you gained muscle as well. Or because that’s the healthy weight your body wants to be at.  

Goals, however, are in your control.

I do a lot of work for non-profit clients writing grant proposals. One of the things that separates successful grants from unsuccessful ones is that the successful ones set goals (they call them objectives) that are SMART.

S – specific

M – measurable

A – attainable

R – realistic

T – time-bound

So if your ambition is to land an agent this year (it’s one of the ambitions on my new list), set SMART goals to reach it.

For example, “I will query one new agent every week in 2012 except for the weeks of Christmas and Thanksgiving.” (Noah Lukeman suggests querying 50 agents before you give up on that particular project.)

Specific – You’ve given the number of agents (one) and what you’re going to do (query). You also specified what you’re not going to do.

Measurable – You either did or you didn’t send out a query each week.

Attainable– You can query an agent a week. That’s within the realm of what’s allowable when it comes to agents. You couldn’t talk to an agent on the phone every week any more than you can probably call up Suzanne Collins or Daniel Craig and expect to have a chat.

Realistic – This really depends on you. Maybe that isn’t realistic for you depending on what you know your personal limitations are. Maybe what you can do is query one new agent every two weeks. But you get the point. Don’t set an unrealistic goal like “I’m going to query 50 agents every week.”

Time-Bound – You have from Monday to Sunday each week to complete this goal. You have from January 1 to December 31 of 2012 to complete this goal.

If you reach your goal, you’re that much more likely to also fulfill your ambition.

I’m not just working on my goals and ambitions for my career, but also for the rest of my life. As writers, it can be easy to become a slave to our work, but some sacrifices are too great.

You see, I don’t just want to be remembered as a great writer at the end of my life. I also want to be remembered as a great wife. As a great friend. As a great daughter, and sister, and cousin, and niece. Perhaps one day as a great mother and grandmother and aunt.

To do that, I need to make this year better than the last.

What’s one ambition you have for this year, and one of the goals that you’re setting to try to meet it?


Connect with Marcy on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Connect with Lisa on Twitter, subscribe to her on Facebook, or join her circles on Google+.

And don’t forget to subscribe to Marcy’s blog Life At Warp 10 and Lisa’s blog Through the Fire.

32 comments on “Making This Year Better Than The Last

  1. I didn’t make any resolutions either, but I completely agree with you about making specific goals. I really need to spell it out–my favorite quote in this regard is: If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.
    Happy new year Marcy! 🙂

    • That quote says it perfectly. And I don’t want to reach the end of my life and find that life just passed me by. While I can’t control what this year might bring, I’m going to take aim at some of the things I want and see what happens.

      Happy New Year to you too 🙂


  2. My goal last year was to submit something somewhere once a month, which I did. A couple of things got accepted for publication, which was amazing and cool, but I can see that if my goal had been “to get something published” then I would have had a harder time. Thanks for breaking things down so clearly.
    Happy New Year!

    • You definitely had the right idea. There’s only so much we have control over. We need to take responsibility for that and not fret over what’s out of our hands.

      Happy New Year!


  3. Great post. I love the idea of separating ambition from goals. My ambition is to make some money from my writing. My goal is to indie pub one of my books in the first quarter of this year.

  4. What a great way to show the difference between goals and ambitions! I never thought of it that way before. I set yearly goals ever September because it feels like the right time to me. I choose goals in all the important areas of my life: work, personal, health, financial, spiritual/emotional. One of my work goals is to write one new chapter a week. I then broke that down to writing for two hours every morning before the day job. My financial goal is to pay off my credit card and rebuild my savings account. I have until next September to accomplish it. Then I go through and make an action plan for how to accomplish each goal. I never think of them like resolutions.

    • I’m breaking my goals down into three month chunks. I think it’ll really help me to re-evaluate them on a quarterly basis to see what’s working and what isn’t. I’m focusing on very similar key areas. The big financial ambition for my husband and I for 2012 is to finish paying off student loans. They’ve been hanging over our heads for years, and it would be nice to finally be free of them.
      Marcy 🙂

  5. Okay, so I read that if you really want to get an agent, you must set out to query 300 of them. Here’s the thinking: you’ll find one before you reach 300, but if you stop at 50 (or 10 or 2), you’ll never get there. I’ve passed this along to others who have tried it and not one person has ever failed to find an agent before they hit #300. If you try it, let me know.

    In answer to your question, though, my big ambition for this year is to make enough money as a writer to support us from this day forward. (This is the first time I’ve publicly stated that ambition…. hmmmm) And what is one of the goals I’ve set to try to meet it? To launch “Don’t Know Jack” successfully as an indie author on 2/1/12. Just writing that here is very scary!! Yikes!

    • Thanks for being brave enough to share that with us 🙂

      I hadn’t heard the #300 idea before. Lisa and I are pretty determined, so if we can find 300 reputable agents who rep what we’re writing, I’m sure we’ll keep going until we find the right one. We’ll be sure to keep you updated.

      Marcy 🙂

  6. I don’t make resolutions in the traditional sense. I do love the newness of a brand sparkling new year and it motivates me to regroup and set my mind back on track with my goals. What I do plan on doing is much like your S.M.A.R.T. game plan in that I will do short range to long range goals and make them very specific and attainable. I also love to give myself a ‘wild card’ goal because it’s just fun. haha!

    Great post.

    • A wild card goal–now that’s something I hadn’t thought off. Since goals have to be achievable, I can’t choose “learn how to shoot a bow” or “learn how to wield a sword” because they’re too general and I know those aren’t realistic for 2012. So I think if I picked a wild card, I might set am ambition as “learn to make homemade marshmallows” and then pick my goals to make it happen. Actually . . . that really appeals to me. You might see a post on it sometime this year 🙂

  7. My life also has the tendency towards triage. I sometimes wonder if that is the life of a writer? Do writer’s have clean homes? Can they always find a matching pair of socks? Is sleep part of their lives? Can they fit into a size zero? Do they get their Christmas cards off before spring?
    You have a great plan with SMART. Perhaps I will post a copy of it on my laptop to remind me. Despite the craziness of the new year I hope that your time in New York goes well. I’m sending you some gourmet jelly beans, virtual sleep, and lots of love. 🙂

    • Haha. Well, I can guarantee that as a writer, I’m never going to get Christmas cards off on time or fit into a size zero. I still hold out hope for sleep and a clean-ish home. As for socks, I’ll tell you my secret. I buy identical socks. All the same. That way, they always match 🙂


  8. This is a smart post in more ways than one. Thanks, Marcy. My goal is to be a better friend. I’m good at responding to those who ask for help or attention or are up for lunch out a drink. I don’t reach out to those who wouldn’t dream of calling attention to themselves–yet need it.

  9. Great post – thanks. I usually don’t do resolutions either, but this is almost inspiring me to make a list of ambitions and goals. 🙂 I’ve been reading The Resolution for Women, so maybe as I try to implement the things I’m learning there, I’ll work on doing it SMART.

    • I’m glad you found something to take away from it 🙂 Resolutions work great for some people (that 22%), but for the rest of us, we need to find what works best with our lives and personalities.


  10. Pingback: The Road to Success in 2012 | Lynette M Burrows' blog

  11. This is brilliant. I set my ROW80 goals before reading it, and most of them follow the SMART guideline by accident.
    “I need to care for myself as well as I care for my characters”. This will stay with me. Thanks, Marcy!

  12. I’m a big believer in goal setting, I even did a paid-for course a couple of years ago with ‘The Goals Guy’ – I still get emails about it! One of the basic rules was to list your goals each morning – 8 things you would achieve that day. Ideally at least half of them would be increments towards your Main Goals, which were the biggies – like ‘I will write 2 new novels this year’. They were sub-divided into 5 steps which had to be achieved along the road, like ‘I will complete 50,000 words by March 1st. I will complete a first draft by May 1st.’ etc. It’s quite regimented and I don’t think I’d go down that path again, as although SMART was a key rule in creating the goals, there were too many of them and not much flexibility. I’m going to set a word limit – it would have been 1,000 per day (GOOD words), but 7,000 per week is better – allows more flexibility, as there’s nothing worse than failing right out of the gate because of an unexpected commitment. It suggests to the subconscious that it was always an unattainable target, making me more likely to fail again and blame the same cause… So. Flexibility is something I try to build into my goals! And, occasionally, a bit of reward… so if I’ve done 7,000 words in 4 days, I can always take a day off :0)

    • As much as I’m a planner and like structure, that sounds a little too regimented even for me. When I did a round of #ROW80, I figured out that I work much better with weekly rather than daily goals too. Weekly goals allowed me to have a terrible day and still feel like my week was a success.

      Marcy 🙂

  13. Very nice post. Now don’t be too hard on yourself, a firee left unattended can be very destructive. You did the right thing by putting them out.

    With a little patience and persistence, you can and will accomplish those goals. Just take baby steps and continue looking at the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Here’s to a strong, powerful and uuplifitng 2012!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  14. My #1 Ambition is to more deliberately share my faith. One Goal that will help me achieve this is to draw closer to the Lord through prayer and heartfelt, deliberate worship. If I don’t tend to my relationship with Him, sharing my faith becomes nothing more than a religious exercise.

    My #1 Ambition as a writer is to submit my work to possible publishers – and perhaps, agents. It is my Goal to do do at least bi-weekly.

    All the best, Marcy…and Lisa too, of course.

    Glad there’s you!

  15. Pingback: January? Already?? Now, where did I put last year’s resolutions. . . . «

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s