Monday, January 4, 2021

A New Year for Writers

 By Henry McLaughlin


Yep, 2021 is here. As bad as 2020 was it still seemed to fly by. Maybe faster for some than others. It was a year in which we all enjoyed successes and challenges. A year in which we all experienced things we never had before. But it’s behind us now.

2021 spreads before us. Do we view it with dread or with hope? You know, that’s entirely up to us. How we view 2021 is our choice. We decide how we will respond to every circumstance we encounter. Like all years, 2021 will be a year of decisions and choices. I find the best approach to decisions is to seek God first. Not that I always do it, but that’s my goal. Things turn out so much better when I do.

One of the decisions we face as we enter 2021 are our goals for writing this year. I don’t mean resolutions. They are meaningless because we usually forget them by the end of January.

By goals I mean what we want to accomplish this year and how we plan to do it. Without plans for achievement, goals are merely wishes.

Goals need to be specific and measurable: what am I going to do, and how will I know when I’ve done it? And they’re something I have to do. For example, I may set a goal to be traditionally published this year. This is unrealistic because I cannot traditionally publish alone. That requires a publishing house accepting my manuscript. I can’t control that. I can’t achieve the New York Times bestseller list or a Christy Award. There are too many things beyond my control.

What I can control is making my manuscript the best I can make it. Which requires writing and rewriting. It also requires getting feedback from critique groups or writing partners and listening with an open and discerning mind and applying what’s helpful.

Making my story the best it can be might also mean hiring an editor or writing coach. I’ve learned not to assume my self-edited manuscript can’t be improved. Jerry B. Jenkins once said the time to stop revising is when you’re no longer making your manuscript better, you’re only changing it. Knowing that point comes with experience and prayer. When we reach that place, it’s time to seek an editor.

Another aspect of setting goals is achievability. Can I achieve this goal? Do I have the skills and resources? If not, can I obtain them and still meet my timeline?

Maybe we need an interim goal. Such a goal might be to set a word count target. Again, it must be realistic. Writing 5,000 words a day is indeed a noble goal. But how likely am I to achieve it every day if I work full-time, have to take care of kids or elderly parents, or if I have ministry and church responsibilities. 

I’ve learned many things about writing from James Scott Bell. One of the most vital yet simplest is to set reasonable word count goals. And set them for a week, not daily. This allows for slow writing days or no writing days. We have to remember that, despite our best intentions, life happens, and we need to adjust. My writing goal is 2,500 words per week in creative writing—my fiction. I write creatively five days per week. 2,500 words may not sound like much. But if I achieve my goal for 50 weeks out of the year, I will write 125,000 words. That’s a complete novel plus.

One other thing our goals need is a timeline, a due date. By what date will we achieve our goal? Be firm with this. Be firm with yourself to meet it. Yeah, it’s that nasty thing we call discipline, self-discipline actually. An accountability partner is helpful, but they can’t do the work for us. Ain’t gonna get done if I don’t do it. And how else will I know I achieved it unless I know when it’s supposed to be completed?

So, my challenge to you, dear writer, and to myself is set some writing goals for 2021. Make sure they’re goals and not wishes. Can you measure them? When will you achieve them? Will you know when you meet them? Is it achievable based on where you are on your writing journey?

I pray God’s blessing on you as you enter 2021. Let the Lord guide you into what goals to set and how to achieve them. Without Him with you, nothing gets done.

(Photos courtesy of and Stuart Miles.)

Tagged as “one to watch” by Publishers Weekly, award-winning author Henry McLaughlin takes his readers on adventures into the hearts and souls of his characters as they battle inner conflicts while seeking to bring restoration and justice in a dark world. His writing explores these themes of restoration, reconciliation and redemption.

Besides his writing, Henry treasures working with other writers and helping them on their own writing journeys. He is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. He regularly teaches at conferences and workshops, leads writing groups, edits, and mentors and coaches.

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  1. Great reminders. This is definitely something I need to pray about as I ponder picking up the pen again to write.

  2. Thank you, Sheryl. I pray 2021 will be a year of writing success for you.