The Magic of Using Appraisals in Your Writing Practise
Post written by guest writer Alexandra Dawning.
I used to hate appraisals. The yearly reminder from Human Resources, the same paperwork to fill in, wracking your brain trying to come up with something different and heartfelt to say about the previous year’s work, and then the awkward meeting with your manager where you talk about your performance, all so a box could be ticked and you could get back to your ever-growing to-do list.
It wasn’t until I started my own business that I suddenly saw the need to assess my performance, to check my personal development as an editor and the growing needs of my fledgling business. I suddenly found the appraisal process oddly reassuring. It gave me a plan and allowed me to see how things were progressing. I quickly decided that once a year was not frequent enough, and started scheduling quarterly appraisals with myself, feeling quite smug and self-satisfied.
Fast-forward to this summer. I found myself moaning to a writer friend about how my current writing project had slowed to a crawl, and how I felt like I wasn’t making any progress at all. She listened sympathetically for a while (aren’t writing friends the best friends?) before suggesting that I might not be seeing my writing progress very clearly. Perhaps I had managed to do a lot more than I realised, just not in the areas I had expected. Perhaps I was only looking at what I hadn’t accomplished, instead of what I had. She reminded me of the craft books I’d read, the workshops and online seminars I’d attended, and the research I’d mentioned doing. “Writing progress,” she reminded me, “is not always about word count.”
She was right! Inspired, I decided to pull out my business appraisal form and start filling it in, but this time for my writing. After all, authors are self-employed too! Even if you’ve got an agent, even if you are traditionally published, you are ultimately in charge of your own writing. You have to be your own project manager.
I ended up tweaking my forms a little bit, but I was honestly surprised at how much of it already applied to my writing. It gave me the opportunity and space to think about my writing goals and dreams, and a place to put them down on paper, whilst also allowing me to think critically and practically about how I could move towards those dreams over the next three months. I even made a note of what chapter I was currently drafting and how many words my draft was at that point in time. (Word count isn’t everything, but those metrics do make me happy!) I felt a real sense of clarity about my writing and what I wanted to accomplish over the autumn. I put a reminder in my diary for three months time, to reassess my previous appraisal and fill in a new one, and then… I forgot all about it!
But, when I was scrolling through my calendar recently, checking my plans for the new year, I noticed that reminder about my writing appraisal. Curious, I decided to have a quick look at the appraisal form I’d filled in and was pleasantly surprised. I had made a lot more progress on my WIP than I’d thought, I’d done more reading of craft books and comp titles, and I’d made some comprehensive notes to myself about some plotting issues that I’d identified, so that I could tackle them in revisions. And, perhaps most importantly, my attitude to my writing had changed, becoming more positive and realistic.
By sitting down and spending an hour or two thinking about my writing, what I hoped to achieve in the next few months and how I planned on doing it, I’d legitimized my writing practice to myself. I’d been a little concerned that applying a business practice to a creative endeavour like writing might have killed some of the indefinable magic of writing, but instead, I’ve found it easier to justify my writing time (no matter what I choose to do with it), even when things are very busy, because I know that words written, comp titles read, workshops attended and brainstorming sessions are all moving me towards my writing goals.
Getting a book published can sometimes feel like an unattainable dream, with so many factors to consider, some of which can be completely out of our control. But by breaking down that dream into clearly defined steps and goals and considering what is (realistically!) achievable in the next three months (or year, if you aren’t quite as keen on the appraisal process as I am), we can give ourselves the opportunity to regularly check in with our goals, see where we can improve, and celebrate where we have excelled!
You don’t need to have a specific form, just a notebook and a pen would do. My recommendation is to spend a little bit of time reflecting on your writing practice over the previous few months and answering the following questions for yourself:
- What has gone well? What about your writing practice have you enjoyed?
- What has not gone so well? What have you found difficult, or enjoyed least?
- What external factors have impacted your writing?
- What learning or development have you completed? (Have you completed any courses or workshops? Read any craft books? Done writing-specific research?)
- What impact has this learning and development had on your writing?
- What are your long-term writing aspirations?
Once you’ve considered where you currently are with your writing practice, you can better consider where you’d like to be in the future. This clarity can help you form your immediate writing plans.
Decide when you will next review your writing practice, and what goals you’d like to accomplish or targets you’d like to try to reach by that point. Remember to keep your goals practical and achievable! There’s nothing more demoralising than setting yourself a list of difficult goals with unrealistic timelines, and then burning yourself out trying to achieve them.
Come up with a short list of writing goals. I recommend three, but certainly no more than five. Make a note of:
- exactly what is to be achieved,
- the target date for completion,
- what you expect the outcome to be, and
- when you’ll review your progress.
Once you have this information down, put a reminder in your diary for your next appraisal, and any dates for reviewing the progress of your goals above.
Then you can sit back and relax, knowing that you’ve got a general roadmap of where you want your writing practice to be going.
I’m now a firm believer in the writing self-appraisal process. So much so that I’ve made a copy of my appraisal document freely available on my website, so that anyone else who wants to give it a try can start straight away.
I hope the writing self-appraisal process helps you to better understand your writing practice and expand your unique creative output. Good luck!
Alexandra Dawning is a developmental editor specialising in speculative fiction by day and a writer of adult and YA fantasy by night. When she can be prised away from her laptop, she finds inspiration through travelling widely and having adventures with her husband and toddler. She is incapable of going anywhere without numerous books, because everyone needs options. You can find her editing services at www.dawningedits.com and her writing Instagram is @alexdawningwrites.
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