So You Want to Be a Writer in 2022? Setting Yourself Up for Success

Author and GrubStreet instructor Ethan Gilsdorf shares some tips and practical insight into how to set and reach your writing goals in 2022. You can learn more about this subject in Ethan’s two upcoming Online: Zoom seminars, So You Want to be a Writer in 2022? on Friday, January 21st or Saturday, February 19th.



If you’re anything like me, then this will sound like a familiar scenario: The new year begins. You make a list of resolutions, hopes and dreams: to improve your diet, your fitness, your mindfulness, or to change any so-called “bad habit” or behavior which has long dogged you. 

In my case, my hit-list for 2022 includes: more exercise, less screen time, and making progress on several writing projects perpetually stuck in first gear or neutral (if not reverse).

Alas, the road to good intentions is paved with pints of ice cream and hours of Netflix and Twitter. I mean, I’ve been waiting all year for The Book of Boba Fett to drop on Disney+. That’s worth my precious time, right? More so than my memoir?

In other words, success in achieving our goals is no slam-dunk. When it comes to our writerly selves, making good on our promise that “This is the year that I [fill in the blank]” is easy to dream big about, but infinitely harder to execute.

Pulling off my aspirations often comes down to one thing: accountability.

I’ve discovered over my 30-plus years as a serious writer that pulling off my aspirations often comes down to one thing: accountability.

Accountability for writers usually translates as a mash-up of structure, routine and community, with a reward (and/or some tiny “punishment”) built into the system.

We need to begin by setting reasonable, realistic and achievable goals, then set into motion some change in our behavior to make it happen.

But the goal can’t be unreachable. Let's imagine that I'm a writer just beginning on my writing journey. I used to be an English major in college but haven't written for pleasure in some years. I’ve set as my goal for 2022 to publish something in The New Yorker magazine.

What's wrong with this wish? For starters, it's incredibly unrealistic. Only one out of every gazillion writers is going to hit a home run the first time they write something and submit it to a top publication. Moreover, what lesson is to be learned from failing at this goal? The wrong lesson! The danger is I will mutter to myself, “Well gosh. I failed at my goal. The New Yorker doesn't love me. I'm a terrible writer,” and tail between my legs, I will crawl back under that writing rock where I’ve been living for the past eon.

No, I’m not a terrible writer. I’m probably a perfectly good writer. But the goal I’ve selected is 10 sizes too big. I’ve set myself up for failure. Perhaps I need to be more realistic about my goals.

Let me give you some examples of far more realistic goals for 2022:

  • Find 20 minutes a day or 3 hours each week for my writing 
  • Find a writing group or a writing partner for feedback and support
  • Finish that shitty first draft of my novel
  • Finish 3 short stories/5 poems this year and submit them for publication (but please, not to the The New Yorker)

Sound more doable?

To make some of these dreams come true, I'm going to need to create some changes in my behavior and build some structure and some accountability. 

To make some of these dreams come true, I'm going to need to create some changes in my behavior and build some structure and some accountability. That might mean booking that writing time on my calendar, creating smartphone alerts, or telling a spouse why I need to get up an hour earlier than usual and head to the attic to work. It might mean sharing my writing with an email writing partner at the end of each week. It might mean enrolling in a generative workshop to draft new work or signing up for a feedback-oriented workshop to master a specific craft technique (where I will also be responsible to a group of fellow writers and receive the benefit of community support). It might mean arranging for child care, or renting a cabin for the weekend in the middle of the woods, or giving up my Sunday night binge-watching routine (sorry, Boba Fett!).

And I might give myself a reward: Ben and Jerry’s and my bounty hunter show, but only after I reach my 500-word goal for the day.

All of these are achievable because I’ve set myself up for success. I can do this, one step at a time, by not biting off more than I can chew, or trying to wear a suit or dress that’s too big.

As Stephen King says in his tome On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”

Now let’s get started. I wish you well on reaching your realistic writing goals and dreams in 2022.

Sign up for Ethan’s upcoming Online: Zoom seminars So You Want to be a Writer in 2022? on Friday, January 21st or Saturday, February 19th.

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About the Author

A GrubStreet instructor since 2005, Ethan Gilsdorf is a journalist, memoirist, essayist, critic, poet, teacher, performer and nerd. He is the author of the travel memoir investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, named a Must-Read Book by the Massachusetts Book Awards. His essay "The Day My Mother Became a Stranger" was cited in the anthology Best American Essays 2016. His fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, The Quarterly, Exquisite Corpse, The North American Review, The Massachusetts Review, New York Quarterly and dozens of other literary magazines and in several anthologies, and he is the winner of the Hobblestock Peace Poetry Competition and the Esme Bradberry Contemporary Poets Prize. Gilsdorf got his start in journalism as a Paris-based travel writer and food and film critic for Time Out, Fodor's and the Washington Post. He has published hundreds of feature stories, essays, op-eds and reviews about the arts, pop, gaming and geek culture; and media and technology, and travel, in dozens of other publications worldwide including the New York Times, New York Times Book Review, Boston Globe, Boston Globe Magazine, Boston Magazine, Wired, Salon, WBUR's The Artery and Cognoscenti, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and Art New England. A regular presenter, performer, and event moderator, he frequently appears on programs such as NPR, The Discovery Channel, PBS, CBC, BBC, and the Learning Channel, and also lectures at schools, universities, festivals, conventions, and conferences worldwide, including at this TEDx event, where he nerded out about D&D. Gilsdorf is co-founder of GrubStreet's Young Adult Writers Program (YAWP), and teaches creative writing at GrubStreet, where he served on the Board of Directors for 10 years. He teaches essay, memoir, journalism and other workshops, and is also the instructor of GrubStreet's 8-month Essay Incubator program and serves as coordinator of GrubStreet's Providence program. He’s also the lead instructor for the Westerly (RI) Memoir Project. He has led writing workshops for non-profit social justice organizations and also teaches writing and Dungeons & Dragons classes for younger students, in schools, libraries and community centers. He had also served on the Boston Book Festival Program Committee and as a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He received his BA from Hampshire College, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Louisiana State University. Follow Ethan’s adventures at or Twitter @ethanfreak, and read his posts on Grub's blog, GrubWrites.

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