The Serious Writer’s Year-End Assessment

By D.L. Koontz, @DLKoontz

 

As writers, we enjoy being our own bosses.

If you could separate You-the-Writer from You-the-Boss in order to conduct a Year-End Review of your 2017 performance, how well would you do?

  • Did you arrive in your office (kitchen table, attic nook) on time?
  • Did you immediately start work or did Facebook and Pinterest snag your attention?
  • Did you daily conquer the word count or clock time you set at the beginning of the year?
  • Was your output consistent, laudable, and true to your voice?
  • Did you market your work consistent with a plan developed at the beginning of the year?
  • Did you juggle multiple marketing tasks with aplomb?
  • Were you a team player—offered tips, wrote for others’ sites, helped to market others’ work, etc.?
  • Did you take advantage of opportunities to perfect your craft (such as with BRMCWC)?

Later in this posting, we’ll discuss other questions to consider when conducting self-reviews, but first:

Why Does It Matter?

Whether we devote two, twenty or forty hours to our craft, we are encouraged to treat our writing like a business.

We should establish (and stick to) our platforms (in business vernacular, our “mission statement”), write regularly (even when it hurts), market faithfully (groan), and protect fiercely our craft.

But, when the school calls, the dishwasher breaks, a health concern arises, the spouse needs our help, or our mood is negative, our “boss” too often graces us the opportunity to slack off, ease up, kick back…pick your phrase for lack of productivity.

All the while, we rationalize: we can start again tomorrow.

But, we can’t get away with rationalization in a “real” business.

In the corporate world we quickly learn the perils of slacking off, when the Year-End Review rolls around (if not before!). If we don’t show up and produce, we can be disciplined or fired.

Perhaps we need to practice more of this rigid accountability in our writing.

My Confession

Lest you think I scored an A+ in my own self-assessment, allow me to humble myself: I’ve earned a D- for 2017.

If it weren’t for the fact I managed to pen two manuscripts (proving only that I spent time writing, NOT that the writing was quality OR in line with my platform), I’d say my effort for 2017 would have been an epic fail. A solid grade of F.

Why? Because I let external factors derail me: I was forced to “retire” too young from my consulting position (due to changes in corporate focus), I was diagnosed with an autoimmune challenge (ushering in fatigue, brain fog, and a new diet), and I convinced myself I would never merit as a “noted” novelist so why bother?

As a result, I spent most of the year mourning the loss of the person I was and the person I thought I was going to be in the future, rather than gracefully accepting the daunting (and perhaps potentially awesome) changes God has been placing in my path.

None of these changes meant I failed, or my physical life would be shortened, or my work would never touch lives in a positive way, or that God no longer had use for me and my writing.

But, still, I grieved the loss of me and slogged through the most dismal year of my life (discounting the years I experienced divorce and my mother’s death).

In a real business, grief will get us a week or two off from work. Then we’re expected to show up and return to peak performance as soon as possible. No company would grace a year!

I even copied the corporate protocol of allowing myself to rebut my boss’ D- by listing the reasons I deserved a better review (You know the verbiage: “I’m proud of my performance this past year and feel I’ve developed and succeeded in these ways….”).

Despite my (feeble) rebuttal, I still came up short.

How Would You Assess Your Performance?

Before a corporation can assess its employees, it must provide them with a mission statement and goals addressing the organization’s purpose, scope of operations, products/services provided, targeted customers, and unique niche in the market. Otherwise, how will employees know what to work toward?

For writers, these business elements factor into our platforms, writing goals, and marketing endeavors.

It’s important to establish these upfront because how else can we decide if we’ve been successful? (Important: You MUST define your own success!)

Next, look at the bulleted questions at the beginning of this posting. Change them from their yes/no formats such that you can assign percentages. For example, the question, “Did you show up in your office on time?” should now read: “What percentage of the time did you show up in your office on time?”

Finally, assess where you succeeded and failed. How well did your performance mesh with the goals you set at the beginning of 2017?

Looking Ahead, Rather Than Behind

Once you’ve assessed your performance for 2017, it’s time to look ahead to 2018. Answers to the questions below may help you plan. Some questions overlap, so pick those that are enlightening for you.

  • What are your writing and marketing goals for the new year?
  • What do you hope to accomplish by the end of 2018? (Think in terms of numbers).
  • What things can you do to be more effective in reaching your goals?
  • What’s one thing you liked about your writing life and one thing you think could be improved?
  • Are your writing goals, vision and strategy still applicable, or have these changed?
  • What are your strongest motivators to write every day?
  • Name some things that de-motivate you about writing. What about marketing?
  • Do any of your processes and practices need to change?
  • What motivates you to write and how can you incorporate it more into your life?
  • What motivates you to market and how can you incorporate it more into your life?
  • What are the ideal working conditions for you to be most productive?
  • What changes can you employ to make productivity more likely?
  • If a new writer sought your advice on how to tackle the writing life, what advice would you give?
  • How/When do you do your best writing?
  • What are your biggest obstacles to writing?
  • Do you have the resources and tools you need?
  • What tools or technology would make your writing easier?
  • In what areas do you want to improve and what are you going to do about it?

 

An award-winning writer, former journalist and corporate escapee, Debra Koontz Roberson (writing as D. L. Koontz) is the author of Crossing into the Mystic, Edging through the Darkness, and Escaping from the Abyss. Despite her dismal 2017 writing year, her next novel What the Moon Saw comes out March 8, 2018. She has been published in seven languages. Growing up, she learned the power of stories on the front porch of her Appalachian, Pennsylvania farmhouse. She now lives with her husband in rural Georgia on a cattle ranch, where she divides her time between writing, teaching, researching, and photographing cows and wildlife.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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