Set goals for the new year
Dream big, but then take action
Published: January 3, 2006
|With the coming of a new year, it seems inevitable to set goals, even if you're like me and are adverse to making resolutions that you know you'll break within weeks, days, hours. Maybe you stick to your goals like glue, never wavering, always full of faith that you can make them happen. Be forewarned, this article isn't for you. But if you're a little like me, and you have trouble keeping those goals in focus ... well, read on.|
I've always had grand dreams, which in turn take grand goals. I attended my first Romance Writers of America conference in 1986, and Nora Roberts delivered the keynote address that year. She was celebrating a milestone--I don't remember if it was her 30th or 50th book, but I was struck by how much she had accomplished in so short a time. Her first Silhouette had been published just six years earlier.
So I laid out my own six-year plan. I'd sell a book before July 1987, two in 1988, two in 1989, and starting in 1990 I'd sell three books a year--and by the end of 1992, I would have 10 books in print. I'd go from unpublished obscurity to the top, where my name would be recognized with the likes of Nora Roberts, Mary Jo Putney, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. And RWA would be begging me to deliver the keynote address. In my dreams ...
Of course, none of that happened. And it wasn't because I didn't work toward my goals. It was because I set goals that I couldn't possibly give myself, that weren't within my control!
Is Item No. 1 on your list of goals to become a published author this year?
Is Item No. 2 on your list of goals to win a writing contest this year?
If so, strike these from your list. To win contests or become published is the thing we all strive for, and the thing we cannot give ourselves. For a variety of reasons, no matter how perfectly written, your submission may not fit what a publisher wants. To set a goal that says, "By the end of this year, I'm going to be published," is to set yourself up for failure. Publication is the result of practicing and polishing your craft, researching what a publisher is printing, and submitting your work. Those are the things within your control--the cause, if you will. The effect is publication (and yes, rejection, too).
The goals we set in life, including the quest to become a published author, must be ones that we can measure and achieve based on our own initiative. Those goals are the grunt work that can lead to publication or winning contests or achieving fame and fortune. But in and of themselves, they don't have much glamour (darn it), which makes sticking to them hard.
So, that's the bad news. Now, let's get on to what you can do toward making your dreams come true.
1. Dream big. Write your dreams down, no matter how far out they seem. Whether you want to take a cruise around the world or be a New York Times bestseller, let your imagination reign free. All things begin with a thought. Little ones, like what to feed the family for dinner tonight. Big ones, like writing a fabulous book that will capture attention. Out of those dreams will come the things you most want, and more important, the price you're willing to pay to have them or become them. This is where you write down your dream to be a published published author. Write it down without judging or limiting your imagination.
Dreams stretch us, make us into something more than we were before embracing a bigger idea of ourselves. You must decide which aspects of your dreams are within your control and whether you're willing to do the hard work to achieve them.
2. Set your goals. Remember, your dreams aren't your goals. That's an important distinction. Here's the difference between the two:
First, a goal is a tangible, measurable something that you can achieve through your own efforts. Some are big that take years to accomplish, such as graduating from college. Some are more modest, such as losing that 10 pounds you gained over Christmas or finishing your novel. Write your goals down, no matter how lofty or ambitious. Study after study tells us that one of the big differences between people who meet their goals and those who fail to do so is the simple act of writing them down.
Second, your goals must be achievable by your own effort and not dependent on the actions or goodwill of someone else. Publication, making bestseller lists, receiving favorable reviews and so on are results, not goals.
3. Make sure your goals are SMART. That is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Whether in writing or any other aspect of your life, SMART goals are on the ones that get the job done. I have a theory that nothing in life gets done without a deadline--so, I especially like being time-bound. Specific, measurable and time-bound are easy. Harder is determining what's achievable and realistic. This requires that you critically access your own process and life to determine what's right for you. Some people are fast writers, and some aren't. Some people have demanding obligations in a too-busy life, and some don't. To set your SMART goals on the basis of someone else's process will set yourself up for failure. SMART goals certainly lack the sex appeal of dreams, but this is the structure where dreams come into fruition.
4. Divide your goals into action steps that you can work on each day. Action steps are things like: I'll write 3 pages before I go to bed today. I'll finish that outline today. I'll find that piece of research I need today.
Let's suppose your action steps are in support of finishing a book by a specific deadline, about four months from now. And let's suppose you have a full-time job, children and a life, so you have maybe 20 hours a week to devote to writing. If you're writing a 10-chapter book, you have about two weeks to write each chapter. If you're writing a 20-chapter book, you have one week for each one.
If your chapters are 15 to 20 pages long, you have to write only three to four pages per day to complete a chapter a week. And you should be able to take weekends off, which is good, since soccer/hockey/Little League requires your attendance.
Action steps look a lot like goals in that they are specific and measurable. Personally, I prefer to measure production rather than time. I can say I'm going to write three hours today, but if I have nothing to show for that time, then how am I going to get that 20 pages produced in a week?
5. Surround yourself with a support system that uplifts you. To maintain a big goal, such as writing a book, you need people who believe in your dream so they can hold the faith for you when your own gets shaken. And if that hasn't happened yet, trust me, it will. That's where critique groups and online listservs come into play. Others have been wherever it is you now are, and they know what that feels like. Does an editor want to see the rest of the manuscript? It's both exhilarating and scary, and other writers have been there. Did a rejection letter come in today's mail? Does the scene you're currently working on seem about as interesting as cooked oatmeal? Been there, too. Your fellow writers are there to commiserate, offer sympathy and more important, point you toward solutions.
6. Find someone to whine to. The nature of being a writer is to face rejection, sometimes a lot of rejection. It doesn't end with publication. Some people will love what you write while others are left cold, so rejection expands to include reviews. The frustration that comes with the negative aspects of being a writer needs an outlet. This is when you call your whining partner.
Allow yourself only one whining partner--whining committees are not allowed. When I call my whining partner, I say to her, "I'm calling to whine." She then knows she's supposed to make properly sympathetic noises, even if she thinks I'm full of it. When I'm finished, I say, "I'm done now." We don't share what we say with others, and we refrain from judging while we're listening. That way we don't give energy and momentum to the less-than-pleasing things that happen to us, but we still have an outlet for the frustration.
7. Bless your gifts without comparing your work to anyone else. You can't write like Stephen King, Jennifer Crusie, J.K. Rowling, Lisa Gardner, J.D. Robb, Dan Brown or whomever your favorite author is. You can only write like you. The subtext of this is, be the best you that you can be.
8. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to your best friend. Being a writer is both curse and blessing. A blessing because we get to create something new, and we always have some newly learned technique to apply or a new horizon to strive for. A curse because we're always judging yesterday's work by today's skill. Face it, if you had known how to write better yesterday, you would have. So put a Post-It on the page that needs fixing and move forward in your story. Along the way, be forgiving of yourself for what you don't know today.
9. Celebrate your accomplishments--even the little ones. You don't have live in deprivation until you sell your first book, at which time you're going to Hawaii. Instead, treat yourself to lunch with a friend at your favorite restaurant after you've reached the halfway point in your book.
10. Do something toward the achievement of your goals every single day, no matter how small it may seem at the moment. Add all those little things together, and they amount to a lot. If you don't have time today to write your three pages, write two. Write a paragraph. Write a sentence.
Writers write, whiners whine, publishers publish. Only two of those are within your control, and the good news is that you get to choose.
Sharon Mignerey is the author of nine romance novels. She's a frequent workshop presenter at regional and national writers conferences.
--Posted Jan. 3, 2006