Looking Back on 2020, Episode 1: The Phantom Plans

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we all made plans for the bright, shiny new decade. New year, new you! Set some goals! Live your best life!

Uh, huh.

Man plans, and God laughs.

In the immortal words of Aerosmith: Dream On.

Or, in psychological terms, a lot of us spent most of 2020 orbiting the bottom sections of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In my case, I spent most of the year orbiting my laptop, held in place by the tractor beam of Zoom meetings.

Could I strain a little harder for those metaphors? I bet I could.

But I won’t.

I promise.

Seriously, despite what the too-positive-to-exist types had to say about taking advantage of quarantine to learn how to spin your own wool or invent cold fusion or learn Esperanto, most of us spent 2020 putting one foot in front of the other, trying to get by, maintain ties with people we couldn’t see in person, and avoid catching a deadly virus. And folks, if you managed to do those things, congratulations: you won 2020. Hell, if you’re still on this side of the dirt with even a little of your sanity intact: congratulations, you won 2020.

The funny thing about 2020 is that even when I accomplished stuff, it didn’t feel like it. Each day blurred into the next one, until it seemed like all I did all year was sit in front of my computer on Zoom meetings. If I’d written an annual Christmas letter–which I didn’t and haven’t for several years–it would have contained a full-page picture of the Zoom logo. That’s it. Just a giant Zoom logo.

Or this:

But then I started thinking about the year in a little more detail, forcing myself to remember what I actually did, and it turns out that I did not, in fact, spend the entire year as a Zoom Zombie. I accomplished some things, including a few of the things I set out to do back in those innocent, halcyon days of yore (January and February).

Back in January, I wrote a post on goal-setting and included my writing goals for the year. With great fear and trepidation, I decided to revisit that post earlier this week. No, I didn’t accomplish everything I set out to do. But I did make progress–and I made that progress during a global pandemic while also applying and interviewing for a new job, getting that job, starting that job, relocating to a new city for that job, trying to learn that job, trying to get to know my new co-workers (on Zoom), and learning my way around a new city. Oh yeah, and selling a house, buying a house, packing, moving, unpacking, and organizing a new home. That’s not nuthin’.

I encourage you to make a list of what you accomplished this year. It may not be as long a list as you hoped, but I bet it isn’t as short as you think. We need to celebrate our successes rather than lament what we didn’t do, especially in these hard times.

And in case anyone cares (c’mon… pretend you do), here’s how I did on my 2020 writing goals:

Goal 1: Finish the first draft of Delta Dawn by February 1. Finish the first round of revisions (fixing plot holes, reordering scenes, cutting out unnecessary scenes, filling in transitions between scenes) by June 1. Finish the second round of revisions (scene edits) by August 1. Finish line edits by November 1. Send to at least 2 beta readers by December 31. Status: I was delusional. I’m almost halfway through the first round of edits, which I’ll finish by the end of February if I’m lucky.

Goal 2: Submit 4 short stories to contests or for publication: revise Collateral Damage and submit it to the Arizona Authors Association annual literary contest; submit Proof Text for publication; write 2 new stories and submit those. Status: I did a little better here. I submitted Collateral Damage to the Arizona Authors Association annual literary contest, and it won first place! I submitted Proof Text to a flash fiction site, and it was rejected. Bummer. I wrote a new story called Open House, and it’s on submission now.

Goal 3: Polish Vanishing, Inc.: Continue submitting chapters to my critique group and revising based on their feedback (throughout the year as the group meets); send the entire manuscript to at least 3 beta readers by May 1 and revise based on their feedback by November 1. Status: I have continued to submit chapters to my critique group, and they will have seen the whole story by the end of January. Instead of beta readers, I decided to pony up some cash for a professional editor. The manuscript is in the editor’s hands now, and I should have her feedback by late January. I also submitted Vanishing to Pitch Wars, and while it wasn’t chosen, two mentor teams asked me for my full manuscript, and one team sent me some positive feedback.

Goal 4: Write a flash or short creative nonfiction piece about my mother’s dementia and submit to a contest or for publication by December 31. Status: I wrote a piece about my mother’s last Christmas and submitted it to Chicken Soup for the Soul’s annual Christmas book, but it wasn’t chosen. I’ll try to find another home for it. (There’s an early draft here on the blog if you want to read it).

So, how about you? What are you most proud of doing in 2020? Big or small, doesn’t matter. Let’s celebrate that we made it through. We’re still here! We survived! And new possibilities await.

Skip the resolutions – set goals instead

I don’t make New Years resolutions, and for the most part I never have. You can’t fail if you don’t try, right? Yeah, there’s your inspirational quote for 2020.

Seriously, I don’t make New Years resolutions, because I can only make major life changes successfully when I am truly ready, not when the calendar says it’s time for self-improvement. What I do set at the beginning of each year, though, are goals.

What’s the difference between a resolution and a goal? Glad you asked!

Resolutions vs. goals

A resolution is a commitment, usually broken by MLK Day, to start or stop a habit or make some other big change: start exercising, stop smoking, lose 10 pounds, start meditating, stop killing teenagers… (OK, who let Jason and Freddy into this party? Someone can’t read the, “No Slasher Movie Villains Allowed,” sign.)

A goal, on the other hand, is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (see, OHSU HR Department? I did pay attention in that workshop on goal-setting!). A resolution is a wish. A goal is the first step in a plan. How about some (slasher-villain-free) examples?

Examples of resolutions vs. Goals

Example 1

Resolution: Write more short stories.
Goal: Write 4 short stories and submit them for publication by the end of 2020.
Difference: The resolution is not specific, measurable, or time-bound.

Example 2

Resolution: Finish my novel.
Goal: Finish the first draft of Delta Dawn by February 1. Finish the first round of revisions (fixing plot holes, reordering scenes, cutting out unnecessary scenes, filling in transitions between scenes) by June 1. Finish the second round of revisions (scene edits) by August 1. Finish line edits by November 1. Send to at least 2 beta readers by December 31.
Difference: The resolution is not specific (Which novel? And when is a novel really finished? When it wins the Pulitzer?), measurable (How will you know when you’re “finished?”), or time-bound (When are you going to do what?). I would also argue that it isn’t achievable, or at least will be much more difficult to achieve, because it isn’t specific and doesn’t break the process down into anything specific.

Anatomy of a SMART goal

Let’s take a closer look at the elements of a SMART goal:

  • Specific – I’m pretty clear in my goal about what, exactly, I hope to complete in 2020. The more specific you can be, the more likely it is you’ll actually achieve what you set out to do.
  • Measurable – It’s measurable if you can tell whether or not you’ve achieved it. Some goals have numeric measures (like write 50,000 words in November. Hmm… where have I heard that before?). Others, like mine above, are measurable in that you can tell whether or not the thing is done.
  • Achievable – or at least I hope so. It’s a bit ambitious, what HR types call a “stretch goal,” but it’s doable if I can reign in my addiction to r/amitheasshole on Reddit. A good goal is one that you can achieve with a bit of effort. If it’s too easy, you’ve sold yourself short (but you’ll have plenty of time for messing around on Reddit). If it’s too hard, you’ll probably fall short, and that can be really discouraging. So be honest with yourself but push yourself a little.
  • Relevant – I want the damn thing done, so it’s relevant to me. Make your goal something you care about.
  • Time-bound – For a goal this large, I need subgoals and deadlines for it to be truly time-bound. I mean, who doesn’t love deadlines? But seriously, a project the size of a novel needs to be broken down into manageable chunks. That’s the cornerstone of what the business types call, Project Management. I’m planning a future post on that topic, so don’t touch that browser!

I highly recommend SMART goals, at the beginning of the year or anytime, to help you clarify what, exactly, you want to achieve. They make it so much more likely that you’ll actually be successful.

My writing goals for 2020

And just in case you care (C’mon, pretend you do. It’s lonely back here behind this keyboard), here are my 2020 writing goals. Note: I’m not just having an ego-fest here. Sharing your goals with someone else is what the self-help types call “practicing accountability.” Telling someone else what you plan to do is supposed to make it more likely that you’ll actually do it, because it makes you accountable to whomever you told. So I guess some of y’all are supposed to come over here and break my legs if I don’t get these goals done. (Narrator: Don’t do that.)

Anyway, here’s what I hope to accomplish in 2020:

  • Goal 1: Finish the first draft of Delta Dawn by February 1. Finish the first round of revisions (fixing plot holes, reordering scenes, cutting out unnecessary scenes, filling in transitions between scenes) by June 1. Finish the second round of revisions (scene edits) by August 1. Finish line edits by November 1. Send to at least 2 beta readers by December 31. (This one should look really familiar. If it doesn’t, you’re probably one of those monsters who skips to the end of mysteries to see whodunit. Shame!)
  • Goal 2: Submit 4 short stories to contests or for publication: revise Collateral Damage and submit it to the Arizona Authors Association annual literary contest; submit Proof Text for publication; write 2 new stories and submit those.
  • Goal 3: Polish Vanishing, Inc.: Continue submitting chapters to my critique group and revising based on their feedback (throughout the year as the group meets); send the entire manuscript to at least 3 beta readers by May 1 and revise based on their feedback by November 1.
  • Goal 4: Write a flash or short creative nonfiction piece about my mother’s dementia and submit to a contest or for publication by December 31.

How about you, dear reader? What are your goals for 2020?