You wouldn’t be a writer if you didn’t dare to dream, and dream big. Whether the ambitions that drive you are creative, critical, commercial, or all three, those dreams (and delusions) are part of why you started writing in the first place. Wild hopes and lofty goals can help motivate you through the hardest and most dispiriting parts of the writing and publishing processes. But they also can throw you off track, position you for failure, and even get in the way of the writing itself.
If visions of starred reviews, prestigious bylines, best-seller lists, and fat royalty checks keep dancing in your head, they can easily distract from the work at hand. A focus on grand aspirations makes the unglamorous task of sitting down to write feel overwhelming, insufficient, and undoable. So turn off the music, tell those dreams to take a seat, and try these less-obvious goals and ambitions on for size. You might even find that striving for failure sets you on a path to success.
So you want to write a best-selling novel that will endear you to critics, fill your exes with regret, and allow you to quit your day job and live off the royalty checks forever? Great. Put that goal aside and start with a much, much smaller one – preferably one that’s not only within reach but also within your control. Instead of “write a novel,” aim for “add a new page to my draft every day.” In place of “sell my book this year,” shoot for “query six new agents each month.” Rather than “hit the best-seller list,” go for “offer to Skype with a dozen book clubs,” “ask 20 friends to request that their libraries purchase the book,” and “set up a fun launch event at my favorite local bookstore.”
Aiming too high can make writing and publishing seem more daunting than they need to be and set you up for repeated letdowns. Setting a truly reasonable and achievable goal broken down into manageable steps means you won’t have to psych yourself up so much to approach the task – and you’ll be more likely to meet or even exceed the goal.