Monday, 1 February 2021

Reaching for our creative goals in 2021


Photo of a man on a mountaintop, his arms raised in triumph.
Photo by Xan Griffin on Unsplash

2020 was a bad year for most of us: The COVID outbreak, the restrictions, loss of work, weeks of being focused on the news, pondering our mortality, some even losing friends and family to the awful thing... We’ve done okay in Australia compared with many countries but still COVID took its toll on life as a whole including our finances, mental health and especially on our creativity. My friends in Victoria have done it especially tough, with three months in hard lockdown. I spent much of the year ghostwriting a non-fiction book and even with deadlines there were weeks when I couldn’t write. When I was done I wanted to get straight into a project for myself but I couldn’t. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted.


But 2021 is a new year. We have hope of a vaccine program for COVID and we’ve (hopefully) had some kind of break or holiday over Christmas. It feels, at least for me, that it’s time to start running again. A new year brings new hope and new purpose as we reach for our goals. 


You may already be doing this. If you’ve stayed focused and super-productive through 2020, I applaud you. In the comments, please share some of the things that have helped you do this. For the rest of us – those wanting to pick up again and get going afresh in their creative journey – let’s take a quick look at some things we can do to help us rock our creative goals in 2021.


Define your goals


I've never been a huge fan of the goal-setting gurus and their five-year plans. Especially not when they recommend the hyper-organised break-everything-down-into-the-minutia approach to goal setting. Maybe I should be. I know some people thrive with that level of organisation and they are a lot more productive than I am. But I get exhausted even thinking that way.


My writing ‘muse’ doesn’t like too much pressure. She’s sometimes like a frightened kitten – only sneaking out of her hiding place when everything is quiet to lap from a saucer of fresh milk and nibble at juicy chunks of topside steak. The pressure of high-powered goal setting immediately sends the poor thing hissing and spitting back into its dark corner under a cupboard. 


Having said that, I don’t work well without any goals, either. If we don’t aim toward a target, we are unlikely to hit it, right? I think it’s all about balance: having clear goals that guide our focus but don’t put so much pressure on us that we become creatively catatonic.


Have you thought about your goals for 2021? What's your definition of success?


I recently read Stop Worrying; Start Writing by Sarah R Painter. It’s a lovely book about overcoming your fears and neuroses as a writer (hint: I have lots ;)). Some books on productivity make you feel guilty – and exhausted before you get started. But Painter is so encouraging... like having a good friend grab your hand and say, 'It’s okay, keep going. You can do this!' 


One of the things she encouraged writers to do was to consider their own definition of success. For some it might be to one day win a literary prize, for others it could be having a book published for their family and friends to read. Others could have the goal of becoming a high-earning independent author. Success is a very individual thing and that’s okay. We shouldn’t feel pressured to have the same goals as our author friends.  


This is how Painter defines her own success:



Wouldn't this be fantastic? I had to copy this because her words echoed my own long-term desires – except I would have thrown in ‘and honouring God’ at the end of the last sentence. The problem is that for me you’d need an earth-bound version of the Hubble telescope to see that far into the future. I earned freelance income last year but nothing from my fiction writing.


It’s generally held that good goals should be both measurable and achievable. I also think that if we are to succeed in reaching our goals, they need to reflect our deepest motivations, otherwise, we’ll start out okay but fall away quickly. The ghostwriting experience I mentioned at the beginning of the post taught me a lot. I gained valuable experience, but it also showed me I don’t want to spend my writing life crafting someone else’s words. I gave it everything I had, but it didn’t satisfy my deeper desire to have my own words set loose to scurry around the universe and dive into readers’ hearts.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash


While there are many facets to creative success for me in 2021 the most important is to get my own words down on paper. 


Success for me involves planning a series of books and writing at least one new novel to a publishable standard in 2021 (ideally, I’d like to write two – or three – I'm greedy). 


There are other parts to my creative journey. I want to encourage others, so I’ll still do some freelance editing work. I also have a YA novel that needs a publishing home (or to be published independently). I'd also like to develop the animal art side of my creative business. However, the priority is getting new words of my own ‘out there’.  


What about you? What is your definition of success in 2021?


What changes are needed to reach your goals?


One of the things many of us are guilty of, is saying we want something but then not counting the cost and doing what it takes to get there. If we are to reach our goals, we’ll need to make some changes. Here are some things to think about:


Make your creative goals a priority


As a society we often devalue creativity, but I reckon that if it's important to God, it needs to be important to us. If creativity wasn't valued by God we'd be living in a flat monochrome world, where everything functioned but there was little beauty. Instead, he gave us a world with soaring mountains, azure oceans and brilliant blue butterflies. 


Not only does creativity make our life more meaningful, our creativity can help and heal others. Books and poetry are powerful. Wouldn't it be fantastic if the book we wrote made someone's life better for a few hours and gave them the hope they needed to keep going in hard times? 


Even if we are convinced that our creative goals are important, it's easy for life to subvert them. How much do we want this? Very few of us can do everything we'd like to do, so we need to set priorities. If we're going to write fresh words this year, we need to allow time and energy for this. 


Make your wellbeing (and the wellbeing of others) a priority too. 


On the other hand, there's no point reaching our goals if we make ourselves sick or neglect our family and friends. It's important to look after ourselves and others as we go. This may mean moving more slowly than we would like or doing things differently. 


Make changes with both your goals and wellbeing in mind. 


I hurt my back badly last year working under pressure with a less than ideal desk set-up, so it's important for me to make changes that help protect my health. For me this means trying to lose some weight, moving more (hydro-exercises are my friend), learning Dragon dictation and hopefully increasing my hours of non-writing part-time work so I can afford to spend my desk-time on my fiction. This will hopefully help me reach my creative goals 😃.


I also need to develop regular quality time for creative flow that fits in with the rest of my life. I do my best and most focused work between 10 pm and 2 am, which is okay if you never have appointments in the real world, don’t need to work a part time job, don't have a husband to encourage and don’t suffer from a fatigue-inducing chronic illness. The late night/ late mornings are not conducive to my health and the rest of the flow of my life. If I’m to accomplish my goals, I need to change. Will it be hard? Yes. Will it be worth it? Definitely!


I could say a lot more here but I’m out of time and well out of word count. Now it’s over to you.


What are your creative goals for 2021? What steps are you taking to get there? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you are reaching for this year. 




Susan J Bruce, aka Sue Jeffrey, spent her childhood reading, drawing, and collecting stray animals. Now she’s grown up, she does the same kinds of things. Susan has worked for many years as a veterinarian, and writes stories filled with themes of suspense, adventure, romance and overcoming. Susan also loves to paint animals. 
Susan won the ‘Short’ section of the inaugural Stories of Life writing competition and won the 'Unpublished Manuscript' section of the 2018 Caleb prize. Susan is the editor of'If They Could Talk: Bible Stories Told By the Animals' (Morning Star Publishing) and her stories and poems have appeared in multiple anthologies. Her e-book, 'Ruthless The Killer: A Short Story' is available on Amazon.comYou can check out some of Susan’s art work on her website



1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a very thoughtful post Susan.
    I am learning (later in life) how to write well. One of my goals for 2021 is to finish editing my first novel - which has many flaws - and continue writing my second. On top of that - supporting ill and aging family members, working and studying part-time. So life is full and goal-setting for me is a rather loose thing; I certainly am not one of those micro-planned kind of people. At the end of the day I count myself successful if I have honoured God in all I do - family first, then my writing, then other things. And if that novel gets finished - YAY!! But I'm not going to beat myself up about it. :o)