Starting the Year Off Right When So Much in the World is Still So Wrong: My First-Quarter 2021 Goals Check-In

Engine start-stop

The first quarter of the first full year of the Covid-19 global pandemic is now over.

Setting and achieving your goals during a pandemic is a delicate balance. Always with goal-setting you want to find the sweet spot between ambitious and realistic, between things that will challenge you but you’ll still actually be able to do.

But when life as we know it has disappeared and, for good or for ill, the ways of the world will likely never return to how they once were, this can be a real hindrance to your motivation.

Meanwhile, just the day-to-day stress of surviving during Covid—all the individual tasks, changes, and anxieties this comprises—can suck away your time for achieving goals no matter if you’re the most motivated person in the world.

All this to say that I set my goals (New Year’s resolutions) for 2021 cautiously, keeping them mostly writing-related and requiring me to stay close to home. With the first quarter now over, as usual, I’m assessing my progress to date. I do this to determine if any changes or course correction is needed to improve my chances of success by the end of the year.

I used to use a simple scoring system of either 0, 0.5, or 1 point, but discovered that this wasn’t always precise enough. This year, where possible, I’ll be using percentages to grade each goal.

My 2021 goals and progress over the first quarter of the year are as follows:

1) Writing life goals

  • Query my completed novel – In progress
  • Read four key reference books in support of my next novel – 25%
  • Draft my next novel – ~5%
  • Start researching my next-next novel – 0%
  • Read the first draft of my WIP’s sequel and make general/overall revision notes – 100% (completed)
  • New: Make a beat sheet for the next draft of my WIP’s sequel

Summary of progress: Right off the bat percentages fail me. A big goal for the year was to query my completed novel, and I’m currently doing so.

But the extent of my control over the process is limited to researching agents and sending query letters, with no way to know how much of each will be required, or how long this entire querying journey will take. So “in progress” is the best I can offer for this sub-goal.

I didn’t intentionally set out to divide the four reference books I’m planning to read into each of the year’s four quarters, but this is now seeming like a handy sub-goal.

When it comes to goal-setting I’m all about breaking it down to smaller and smaller components that can be achieved in shorter durations of time. I’ve written about this before.

I really enjoyed Q1’s reference book and have since decided on the order in which I’ll tackle the remaining three (in order of how soon I’ll need the information for my new WIP).

I’ve now started my new WIP in earnest! (I wrote two opening sentences last year, one for the first chapter and one for a prologue, but I’ve since decided to re-purpose the prologue content to Chapter 3).

I’m not very far into it yet (I based my percentage on an estimated 110,000 words) for a few reasons:

One: A final line-edit of my previous WIP, plus the researching of agents and preparation of my initial round of queries, took time away from the new WIP.

Beautiful things planner 2

My 2021 day planner: Beautiful things take time.

Two: Because it’s been so long since I drafted anything completely new, I’ve kind of had to re-learn how to write.

And three: Because even though I wrote a 32,000-word “outline” (more of a zero draft) for this new novel last year, the beginning of the story—the initial goal and emotional state of the MC straight through to the inciting incident, as well as how she responds in the moment to the inciting incident—is the part I’m least clear about and am thus having to muddle/pants my way through…

…while also trying to remember how to write at all. Fun times!

Still, that I’m working on this novel at all is incredibly exciting for me since I’ve been mulling over some version of this story since 2015.

I’ve written before about the process of reading through the sequel I years ago wrote for my previous WIP.

At that time I was about halfway through. I’ve now finished reading, making revision notes (SO MANY REVISION NOTES), and even creating an outline of everything that happens in this draft of the story.

As much as I despise reverse outlining, Future Me will be so grateful that it already exists when I finally get around to revising this book.

I know that Future Me will also appreciate a beat sheet reflecting the changes I want to make. So I’m going to do that too, and have added it as another sub-goal to complete by the end of the year.

I haven’t started researching my next-next novel at all. However, I was getting up at 5:30am to read my sequel for an hour everyday, and this ungodly hour has since become something of a practice. So now that the sequel-reading is finished, I know what next I’ll be doing in that early morning hour.

2) Real life goals

  • Get more exercise (closer to my pre-pandemic amount) – in progress
  • Make a will – 0%
  • Miscellaneous career goals – in progress
  • Finish de-cluttering my apartment (continued from 2020) – 0%

De-cluttering Checklist:

    • Living room

[ ] Bookshelf
[ ] Desk
[X] Armchair
[X] Magazine box
[ ] Couch

    • Dining room

[X] Table
[ ] Side chair

    • Kitchen

[X] Fridge
[X] Cupboards
[X] Drawers
[X] On top of cupboards
[X] Behind the oven
[X] Behind the fridge

    • Hallway

[X] Coat closet
[X] Shoe trays
[ ] Storage closet

    • Bathroom

[X] Shower caddy
[X] Medicine cabinet
[X] Cupboard under the sink

    • Bedroom

[X] Closet
[ ] Top of dresser/ornament shelf
[ ] Dresser drawers
[ ] Smallclothes drawers
[X] Bookshelf
[ ] Nightstand
[ ] Under the bed

Summary of progress: I’m definitely not anywhere closer—or even particularly close—to my pre-pandemic amount of exercise.

A large part of this is because I spent most of Q1 feeling quite unwell (not Covid, but extremely low iron—surprise!), and lacked the physical strength to even perform my pandemic fitness regime with vigour.

My iron deficiency is being treated, but I’m now first having to rebuild my fitness from an even lower level before I can attempt to add more exercise.

That said, I did start doing a twice-weekly arm workout this quarter, which I’ve largely continued throughout my sickness. My muscular arms were always my favourite physical characteristic, and I wasn’t liking how sloppy-looking they were getting while in quarantine.

(I’m happy to report that the dedicated arm work has been helping and my vanity in that regard is mostly restored.)

I don’t want to get into details about my career goals but there has definitely been movement, including within areas I didn’t even have in mind initially. There’s much more for me to do, but again, its hard to quantify.

I’ve done nothing in support of getting my will made, although having gone through an illness once again impresses the importance of this goal upon me. Neither did I resumed my apartment de-cluttering project in Q1, but I really want to get this task completed this year.


(Image source #1 and #2 – J.G. Noelle)

3 thoughts on “Starting the Year Off Right When So Much in the World is Still So Wrong: My First-Quarter 2021 Goals Check-In

  1. Make yourself happy: it’s all progress. Accept that, since you can’t change the past.

    Are you unhappy with what will happen if you die without a will? For single people, sometimes the State’s default is more or less what you wanted anyway – not a good permanent attitude, and you may have very different plans, but it IS an option.

    I got nothing done in my goal of finishing our move to California by making this new apartment – our permanent one – comfier and more organized. My excuse is that I can accomplish almost nothing physical without assistance, because just a few minutes exhausts me; we are finally to be allowed assistants back in, and as soon as mine is two weeks post second vaccine we’ll be able to get started. Very soon now. I have plans – I’m just incapable of doing them on my own.

    You might consider that: someone to help you get organized initially MIGHT be worth the investment. They’re good with things like containers and shelves.

    The fitness will come back – what a surprise about the iron, though. How did you figure out even to ask? I’ve looked up the symptoms several times, but don’t seem to have the ones which indicate iron deficiency, and the ME/CFS is of long standing, and nothing much has changed there except that I’m sleeping better and getting more writing done since the stress level dropped and I had a little talk with myself about some of the bad net-surfing habits acquired during the stressful quarantine months.

    Good luck on the submissions – it is a dismal process to go through, but some prefer the results.


    • Definitely not happy with how the government would handle my estate so I’ve got to get on the will.

      I didn’t think about my iron at all. I was worried that I had developed high blood pressure even though I’m kind of young for that and my lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to that because I was having so many heart irregularities. But that is one of the symptoms of extremely low iron. They discovered it with a routine blood test. Iron deficiency has a whole laundry list of symptoms and it seems like I had all the strange ones. I’m already feeling noticeably better but it will take a long time to rebuild my iron stores since the body naturally absorbs it so poorly.

      I’m glad that your stress levels have been dropping and that you’ve gotten your vaccine. I’ve got a while to wait for mine but I’m quite locked down, comfortably even, this introvert might say, so I have no problem with being near the back of the line.


      • I asked about the iron test because it is not one of the things measured on MY routine blood tests. It may be a routine test – but I’d have to ask for it, and have a reason for asking. I don’t have any of the symptoms I’ve read about.

        Hope you can get your levels to where you can function – it’s necessary to have enough iron, I think, for your red blood cells to carry enough oxygen.

        Oxygen is not the problem most people with my disease have; it’s the ability to turn food into energy by metabolism.

        The stress is definitely down – and I’m writing well, and enjoying it, except for days like today where it took FIVE half-hour naps to get me past a morning doctor’s appointment in a nearby city. I’ll see how tomorrow goes – these appointments often cost me an extra day after, too.

        As for the will – unless you own a lot of property, it shouldn’t cost that much to get one. You don’t want to do it yourself usually – check if that is legal in your area if you want to try. We didn’t discover that our first one would have caused problems until over 30 years later when we redid them – but we have no property any more, and all assets have our three kids equally as automatic beneficiaries (no probate), so it won’t be too hard. We still have to find out if our New Jersey will is good in California, but it still doesn’t cover much. Good luck with that – and we’re still alive a very long time after making our first one! (Some people worry.)

        I hope your vaccine comes along very soon.


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