I’m carrying two of my notebooks around today. I wrote about notebooks a while back, how I used to have just one where I would write thoughts on everything and anything, and then I decided to try keeping a few separate notebooks: one for writing-related stuff, one for travel, and one for goals/everything else. So far this practice seems to be working pretty well, though at times I need to copy some of what I write in my “goals/everything else” notebook into my writing notebook.

The reason why is the word GOALS. A number of my goals relate to writing, so I’ve found I like to have those in my writing notebook too. A lot of people have discussed the correlation between physically writing down goals and actually achieving them, but I think it bears repeating once again: write them down! If there are things you’d like to accomplish regarding your writing (and probably anything else), you’re much better off if you take a pen or pencil, set the tip on a piece of paper, and move it across the page to form words describing what you want to accomplish. And it’s best to be specific. You’re more likely to achieve a goal which reads “write 40,000 words in my new crime novel” than you would be if you said “write more in 2012.”

Below are some of my writing goals from 2011:

  1. Finish plan for Mystery #2 by January 31st
  2. Finish Mystery #1 by February 15th
  3. Finish Mystery #1 synopsis by February 28th
  4. Query at least 10 agents for mystery #1 by March 31st
  5. Finish Mystery #2 draft by May 15th (4,000 words/week)
  6. Finish first revision of Mystery #2 by August 31st
  7. Idea for NaNoWriMo by September 30th

And here is how I did:

  1. Mystery #2 Plan: yep
  2. Mystery #1 done: finished January 10th
  3. Mystery #1 synopsis: draft finished by date; not polished
  4. Query 10 agents: didn’t do this
  5. Mystery #2 draft: finished May 30th
  6. Mystery #2 revision: reread and edited but did not complete a major revision
  7. Idea for NaNoWriMo: done

So, a few comments. First, you’ll see I didn’t accomplish everything on my list, at least as originally envisioned. But I’m convinced I wouldn’t have gotten even half of that done if I hadn’t written the goals down beforehand. The goals form a plan, and plans can morph, but the list keeps you honest. So, what happened that altered my final results? Well, as I was writing I realized that Mystery #2 seemed better than Mystery #1, so I decided I didn’t want to query the first one yet. This decision solidified after I attended a writers’ workshop in April with RJ Ellory and Sophie Hannah, when I decided I wanted to write more words during the remainder of 2011 rather than polishing already-written manuscripts. Therefore, instead of finishing a major revision of Mystery #2, something interesting happened. I got an idea for NaNoWriMo very early, in late spring, but it was so strong that I wrote another whole manuscript during the summer, rather than revising Mystery #2. And that is the one I’m polishing right now. As regular readers know, I also completed NaNoWriMo, using a new idea.

But the list tells me something more, too, which is instructive. I generally enjoy writing first drafts more than revising, and I find the process of querying agents daunting. In 2011, doing fewer rewrites and not querying agents was okay, because it was enormously helpful for me to work on three different books in one year and it gave me a tremendous lift in terms of realizing that I won’t run out of ideas. But this year I’m in a different place with my writing: I need to revise and I need to query some agents. So what’s on the top of my list for 2012? I’m sure you don’t even need to guess.