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How to Plan Your Best Creative Year

It's the beginning of a new year, and if you're like me, you want the next twelve months to be the most creative you've had. Whether you already have a lot of projects you intend to complete or simply have a drive to create this year, preparing your goals and plans is an important step of the creative process.

I'm Grayson Taylor, and these are my tips on how to prepare for a creative year. Planning ahead is important in almost any area of life—creativity is no exception. You might think that scheduling and planning a year feels a bit constrictive, especially for the creative arts, but it can actually be quite helpful. I think it's important to head into every new year with at least a basic understanding of what you hope to get done.

While you can certainly wing it and come up with creative projects on the fly, I think it's helpful to do a little self-assessment, especially at the beginning of a year, to see what you hope to see from yourself in these coming twelve months. Setting goals at the beginning of the year gives you something to look forward to. It also gives you something to measure your progress by as you go throughout the year. And, once you've reached December or the beginning of the next year, you can look back at what you accomplished and what you didn't. Setting creative goals might not be your thing, and you might not like the idea at all, but hang with me for a minute.

Part I: Goal Brainstorm

Here's a little something I would recommend doing when it comes to setting goals for the new year. Write down all your craziest creative dreams on a sheet of paper or device. Don't filter anything, don't criticize any of these insane ideas that come to you, just write down every single thing that comes to your mind. It could be the most ambitious goal you've ever had, the most insane project you've ever thought up—it doesn't matter. The important thing is to write it down and look at it. Or you can throw it in the trash or burn it in a fire, I don't really care. The point is, you might get something valuable out of this exercise. Maybe you'll find one idea that really is a good idea. One of these crazy goals might end up being an actual reality.

Letting your brain vomit out all its wildest dreams for the next year can be helpful. If nothing else, it's just a bit of fun. You might begin to see what you really want out of your creative endeavors, or discover a kind of creative project that you've always wanted to do but have never had the courage to try. Maybe this year is the year you finally do. And once you're done with that totally unfiltered brainstorming session, then it's time to create your actual goals.

Part II: C.R.E.A.T.E. Goals

First, I'm going to show you what I think is a helpful acronym/structure to create goals with. So this is what I call a C.R.E.A.T.E. goal. Each letter, of course, corresponds to a word, the first one being C, which stands for Concrete. Ideally, your goals won't be vague or amorphous. You should have a good idea of what the final product will be. Of course, yes, creative projects change as you work on them, but it is important to have something that you're working toward, even if that does change in the process. Try to get as specific as possible with your goals. If your goal is, "I'm going to write a piece of fiction this year," I would recommend making it a little more specific, more along the lines of, "I'm going to write a short story that's around 15,000 words this year," or, "I'm going to write a novel this year." You could use any measurement of length to determine how long you want your project to be when it's done. Don't get too attached to the length, though, because that could change as you make your project. It could be that what you once thought was going to be a novel ends up only being a short story, or what you once thought was a five minute film turns into a fifteen minute film. That's fine. For now, just lay out in as much detail as you can what exactly you want accomplished in this creative project. This will help later when you're planning for the project.

Second, it should be Realistic. This means that your goals shouldn't be overly ambitious. I often set ambitious goals myself, and while that can be a good thing, it can often be demoralizing when you're halfway through a project and realize there's just not enough time in the year to get it done. Think about how fast or slow you work as an artist, and then work around that with your goals. You should also take into account how experienced you are in this field. If you're planning to write three novels in a year and you've never written a story in your life, don't expect it to go that fast. And besides, if you rush your projects, the end result probably won't be as good.

The third point is that this goal must be Exciting to you. You're gonna need a lot of passion to stick with this project, especially if it's a longer one. This creative goal of yours has to matter to you—not just now, but in the future as well. The idea of this project should energize you, because you're going to need energy for it. I wouldn't recommend setting goals based on an idea you're not sure about. Be sure you're confident in your idea, especially if it's a more ambitious goal.

Fourth, your goal should be Action-oriented, not result-oriented. By this guideline, setting a goal like, "I want to sell 500 books" is not a great goal. Your goal should be more along the lines of, "I want to write 200 pages this year." In your goals, and in your projects at large, you should focus on output, not on impact. During the creative stage, make sure you're only focusing on what you can control, not on the results it produces. Yes, learning from the results of your work is certainly important—you can gain important information from looking at your analytics and the reach of your projects—but for now, we're only focusing on what you're doing, which is creating. And when you're creating, you don't need to worry about what happens outside of that creation. So I would recommend not setting a goal that is dependent on something that you can't control. Instead, make sure your goals are only about your own output and factors that you can control yourself.

Fifth is make sure your goal is Time-bound. This means you should set deadlines for your projects. Now, personal deadlines can be kind of tricky. I often have a hard time setting realistic deadlines for myself, and so I end up missing them all the time. There is a fine balance between pushing yourself to your creative limits and pushing yourself past them. It's quite easy to say that your future self will be very productive creatively, and then when the time comes, you miss your deadline. I recommend breaking your project down into smaller steps. That will make it easier to see how long exactly it's going to take. Especially for bigger goals like writing a novel, you really have no idea how long the entire process is going to take, because it entails so many different steps. It's important to take a look at every one of those steps and estimate how long each one of those is going to take. That's much easier than trying to estimate the whole length of the entire project. If you've made projects like this one in the past, then look back and see how long it took you for each step. Make sure you're allotting enough time on your calendar to finish these projects. Do your best to figure out when exactly in your month, week, and day you're going to be able to work on this project. How much time in a given week will you be able to allot to this project? Judging by those numbers, you'll then have a better way of estimating how long a project will take. I would also recommend building in buffer time, because you never know what kinds of complications will come up and mess up your plans. I'll touch on that a little bit more later.

Sixth and finally, make sure your goal is Extraordinary. And I know that sounds like a lot—all I mean here is that you should be pushing your creative limits. Ambition certainly does have its faults, but it's also important to try to surpass what you've done before. Even if it's a very similar kind of project to one that you've done before, see if you can set a goal for yourself to try to improve one aspect of it. If you're not a little intimidated by your goal, it might be too small. On the flip side, don't make it too extraordinary—you'll regret it later. Know your creative limits, and push just a little bit past that. If you fail, at least you tried, and you aimed high.

So that's the C.R.E.A.T.E. goal framework. You can use it and tweak it as you like; it's just a little something I came up with to help with the goal creating process. If you already have creative goals for the new year, try to run them through this and see how well they line up with the guidelines I've mentioned here.

Part III: Goal Tactics

I would recommend limiting your creative goals for a year to a relatively low number. One thing I do is create three main goals for every month, three main goals for every week, and three main goals for every day. Now, each set of goals does not consist entirely of creative goals. I usually have one creative goal for a month, a smaller creative goal for the week, and an even smaller creative goal for the day. Creative goals, of course, are only one kind of goal, and I would recommend you set goals for a variety of other sectors of life. But try to keep your creative goals in mind as you go throughout the year. It helps to write them in a prominent place where you'll never forget what they are.

When you're coming up with your goals for the new year, make sure you have a strong intent behind them. That will help you to not forget why you started out on these projects in the first place, and not give up before you're done.

I have no idea what lies ahead in this year for you or for me. I can only hope that it will be a creatively productive year for both of us. But in order to be as creative as possible this year, I think it is important to prepare ahead of time. Schedule time for your projects on your calendar. Write your intentions for every creative goal that you set out to achieve this year. Really take the time to think through what exactly it's going to take to accomplish every one of these goals.

Part IV: Accountability

Another important aspect of goal setting is accountability. If you're the only one who knows or cares about your goals, you're less likely to achieve them. You can gain accountability by announcing your goals to family or friends—or even enemies, I guess—or in a more public setting like on social media. Be careful, though, because if you announce things like deadlines too soon, you might find that you're just disappointing a bunch of people when you don't meet them. I have experience with missing deadlines, so take it from me: don't announce them too soon.

You can ask friends or family to check in on you occasionally to see how you're going on your goals. That'll help motivate you to keep going.

And if accountability from others isn't really your thing, you can create rewards for yourself to incentivize yourself to complete these goals. Come up with something to motivate yourself to finish this goal. Something vaguely enticing that lies at the end of finishing your project, like buying a gift for yourself.

And again, don't stress out about it if you miss your deadlines or don't complete your goals. You shouldn't be beating yourself up about your creative shortcomings—that's not gonna help anything. However, you should try to avoid being apathetic toward your goals. That's where accountability can help. It might take a little bit of pressure to get you to finish these projects you set out to create, and that's okay.

Part V: Unpredictability

Okay. Now, as I mentioned before, life can be unpredictable. Things can come up and ruin your plans any day. I made a podcast episode back in early 2020 about how to plan a creative year. You can still listen to it if you want to—there's probably some good advice you could get out of it. But of course, I had no idea what was coming ahead in the next year. You can actually hear in that episode all the plans I had for 2020, very few of which came true. That was partially due to the sheer ambition of my goals, and partially due to the fact that I can't see the future.

No one knows exactly what's coming in the next year—I certainly don't. So it's important to remember the uncertainty of life. Your goals may not come true at all. Life changes or world events might disrupt your plans.

For me, the sheer chaos of 2020 and also being in lockdown sent me into something of a creative funk. I didn't really write much of anything that year, and I didn't make any films at all. The novel I released that year, Dark Waters, I published in March, and then literally days after it came out, the whole world changed and my creative plans were totally upended.

So expect the unexpected. Things are going to happen that are beyond your control. Things are going to happen that you can't predict. It's important to be flexible. Don't be too hard on yourself if you don't get any of these things done.

Still, I think it is important to set goals. They are something to shoot for, something you can dream about. If nothing else, you can save those ideas for a better year. I don't have the faintest idea what this next year will hold, but I'm optimistic—cautiously so—and I think you should be too. With enough effort and preparation, you can make these goals into a reality.

Just imagine what you can accomplish in these next twelve months. But don't leave it at the level of mere imagination. Set your goals, prepare your schedule, and you'll be much better equipped to complete these goals. Remember to try goal setting with my C.R.E.A.T.E. acronym, which should help make your goals much stronger, and make you much more likely to accomplish them.

If you want to watch the video versions of these blog posts, head over to my YouTube channel here, and subscribe for more videos on writing and publishing.

– Grayson Taylor

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