A Writing Plan for 2021: Taking Stock and Setting Goals

Like most people, I won’t be sorry to see the back of 2020. Setting goals for the new year feels odd when I know we’ll still be in quarantine for several months. In some ways, 2020 has shifted the way we view goal-setting overall; allowing ourselves some breathing room to do the best we can. With that in mind, I wanted to take stock of how 2020 has gone for me in terms of writing, and figure out what I want to accomplish in 2021.

Taking Stock

In order to best figure out reasonable goals, I think the best place to start is looking at happened over the past year. This year has felt like a never-ending slog, so making note of what I’d done this year was strangely gratifying.


— Finished my book! I handed my manuscript off to my first beta reader around New Year’s 2020. After that, I had an additional ten beta readers. I edited using software ProWritingAid and several helpful books, including The Novel Editing Workbook by Kris Spisak. I also joined a virtual critique group—5-8 people who show no mercy. My final product is version 21. And it was recently a finalist in a fiction contest.
— I wrote 46 articles for Triple Pundit, a publication that focuses on sustainable business with a monthly readership of 450,000 people. The articles I’m proudest of focus on climate justice.
— With a manuscript done, I shifted gears toward finding an agent. I hired an editor to help with my first 20 pages and the dreaded query letter that every author has to send to hook an agent into asking for more pages to read. I took a class through my local writer’s organization on writing a synopsis, with personalized feedback from the instructor. In early December, I participated in a book pitch event. Three agents liked my pitch and asked for more. After the sometimes painful effort to get to this point, I am ready to query in January.
— I participated in NaNoWriMo. NaNo was tough this year. I struggled to get my outline in order, gave in and called myself a plantser (part planner, part pantser—as in, by the seat of your pants), and dove in November 1st. What I didn’t expect was the stress of the election on top of the pandemic. I had a great first day and then tanked. I couldn’t focus at all. And then the election seemed like it would never end. I booked a solo writing retreat in mid-November and powered through. I “won” – I finished my draft, but I’m a little terrified of what it’ll look like when I open it back up.
— Inspired by conversations in my writing group, I have an idea for the next project. And I’m excited about it.

I did most of my writing in the evenings after my daughter went to bed. Writing is my creative outlet and self-care—something that is always important, but doubly so during quarantine. We must be gentle with ourselves and with the people we live with. Taking a couple of hours a few nights a week to write or edit is not too much to ask for your own sanity. Every writer will have different needs and different distractions. Figuring out what works best for you and then making the space for yourself to do it will help ensure success.

Setting Goals

As this year closes, I have one completed manuscript, two drafts (one I wrote in 2018 and have been editing in fits and starts), and a rough idea of the next one. It’s better than I thought it would be when I first started thinking about 2020.

Setting a big goal with smaller milestones works for me. For example, say I want to have a manuscript done in one year. My one-week goal would be to write down five ideas. At one month, I have chosen one and started to outline, plot, and develop character profiles. Then write with smaller, achievable milestones along the way.

My goals for 2021:
— Get an agent for my completed manuscript – Send 10 queries a week until I get through my target list. If after the first week, 10 is too many, I’ll adjust accordingly.
— Edit my 2018 manuscript – It needs another developmental edit and a copy edit, then one more time through before identifying beta readers. The plan is to have it in some readers’ hands by June.
— Draft fourth manuscript – Set research goals for each week. I need to do enough research to draft a decent outline. With historical fiction, research is ongoing. So, with a goal to start drafting in, say, April, I can set up some milestones along the way: note particular research needs, obtain any required books, make a list of online sources, etc.

I typically set a writing/editing/research goal each week. During NaNo, it was every day. In other months, with a day job and a family, I set that goal at five times a week. If that gets to be too much, I may ratchet that down and, importantly, not give myself a hard time for not meeting that goal that week.

I’m stubborn and love checking things off to-do lists, so I know this works for me. As much as I dislike management speak, there is something to SMART goals: smart, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Vague and unattainable goals are setting yourself up for disappointment. Figuring out what’s doable requires some looking back to see what we’ve already achieved to know how much we can push ourselves to do more. Whatever your goal is, make it work for you and your life. And have some fun with it. Now, out with 2020 and onto 2021!

Published by katezerrenner

I write non-fiction environmental work, mainly climate change, energy, and water, with a heavy focus on policy. I also write historical fiction. In addition to writing, I work as a policy advisor at the State of Texas. Previously, I spent over a decade at Environmental Defense Fund, where I led EDF’s multi-year campaign to influence and enact state and national energy and water efficiency policy. I led the state legislative team, testifying before the US Congress and Texas Legislature. Prior to joining EDF, I worked at the U.S. Government Accountability Office analyzing U.S. action on climate change and the voluntary carbon offset market; SAIC, on climate change projects for the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and U.S. Department of Energy. I have a Master’s degree in International Energy and Environmental Policy and Economics from the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, a Master’s in Comparative Politics from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and a Bachelor’s degree in European History from the University of Texas

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