By now, we’re far enough into 2014 that some of your friends’ New Year’s resolutions have probably already started slipping. (But not yours, right?) Resolutions tend not to work. Think about goals, instead.
What do you want to get out of this year? Fame and fortune are at the root of most freelancer’s goals, whether that means writing for more prestigious publications, working on a pet project, or depositing heftier checks. The trick is to break down those dreams into specific goals, be accountable, and enjoy the rewards.
Your name in lights
You won’t write for The New Yorker if you never send in a pitch. Coming up with story ideas is quite possibly the best part of being a writer. Writing the pitch, on the other hand, is rarely fun.
I’ve been known to collect facts, take names, and mull over story ideas for far too long before I commit to writing a pitch. Turning pitches into goals helped shake that behavior.
When I think about the coming year, I consider the magazines or editors I’d like to work with or specific fields I’d like to write about. You won’t see “Write for Magazine X” on my list of goals. Instead, I type: Pitch 6 feature ideas to Magazine X this year.
“I always make sure they are goals over which I have control,” says Robert Fredrick (bio). “It’s not ‘I will get a book contract this year,’ but ‘I will submit my proposal for a book contract and be ready to send it out again immediately if I get a negative reply.’”
I add my goals to the spreadsheet where I track all my projects, income, and unpaid invoices because I open the workbook weekly, so I know I’ll check on my goals regularly. If I’ve done what I said I would do, I make a note.
Bryn uses MacFreelance to invoice and track time (FreshBooks is another great option) as well as a detailed spreadsheet with 15 headings: Client, Contact, Project Name, Assigned, Deadline, Turned In, Published, Hours Tracked, Payment (agreed upon), Earned, Invoiced, Paid, Date Invoiced, Date Paid, Story URL. When things go right Earned, Invoiced, and Paid are all the same amounts. Bryn highlights the project row in yellow when he invoices and in green when he’s been paid.
Tracking assignments, time and income on a spreadsheet lets Bryn add up columns to track productivity and financial goals as the year progresses.
Sarah Webb (bio), another enthusiastic spreadsheet user, checks in to see which projects are working in her favor. “I can evaluate along the way and know whether I might need to ask for more money on a future assignment or even start hunting for a new client to replace one that isn’t working for me,” she says. (A Business Planning for Writers class she took online with Erik Sherman helped her set these goals.)
My spreadsheet also calculates my current average monthly income and projects my annual income.
Making the stretch
Several of us also have stretch-type goals. They’re ambitious and might fall outside of the normal realm of just working harder. A stretch goal might be writing a 6,000-word narrative or producing an audio piece or writing essays. Stretch goals take you outside of your comfort zone. And need additional support.
I write for a living, but I don’t write everyday—not structured prose, at least. Writing for an hour or two a day, five days a week, seems daunting to me. (I’ve never been a journal writer.) But I can see that there would be benefits. Signing a Writing Contract with a partner could change that.
Forming a small support group can help you reach a stretch goal. Roughly six of us have done that for the coming year. We’ll bounce ideas off each other, get feedback on fellowship and funding applications, and have hard-nosed colleagues check in on our pitch quota.
Carrots help too
Rewards—other than lack of guilt—have been missing from my annual business goals. Rob has been more thoughtful about this.
After Rob met his goals, he rewarded himself with a new gadget: a Garmin 310xt watch with heart-rate monitor, and he’s already logged more than 250 miles on it. When I asked him why he chose the Garmin, he said it was to encourage himself to do work/life activities he was passionate about.
My goals are plotted out, but I could sweeten the pot. But with what?
Photo credit: PV KS via Flickr