Wisdomous Wednesday: Goal-setting
Wisdomous Wednesday is a weekly series of posts with advice about writing ranging from craft to navigation through the publishing world. If you have some wisdomous thoughts you’d like to share here, don’t hesitate to contact me. I love advice from other writers!
Dreams are tricky. If you never go after them, they’ll always be there as a nice security blanket, a sort of “what-if” that you can take out and admire whenever you’re feeling low. Going after them, though, means that you’re introducing the possibility of failure. And if you fail, that nice shiny dream might go kerplut, and no one wants to carry around a squashed dream. Not nearly so shiny. Writers who decide to pursue publication risk that kerplut every day, which is a pretty terrifying thing when you want something badly enough. So how do you actually go about pursuing a dream that big?
Setting goals, cheesy though it sounds, can be a helpful way to get started–or to keep yourself on track, or find your way if you get derailed. This is hardly news to anyone. I think that many of us, however, aren’t setting the right kinds of goals. So I’ve got three things that I do when I’m setting goals for myself that have really changed how I go after the things I want.
1. Own Your Goals.
The totally awesome Carrie Vaughn taught me this–the idea being that you should only set goals for yourself that YOU can control. There is so much about the publishing industry that we can’t control, like whether an agent will like your book or whether a distant marketing team thinks you’re a good investment for a publisher. Instead of letting that freak you out, try setting goals that you can accomplish all on your own, and be sure to give yourself a time frame in which to finish them.No: “I am going to sell a book.” Yes: “I am going to finish my novel and query thirty agents by the end of the year.”
The first one is an aspiration, not a goal. You actually have no control over whether you sell a book (however much that sucks!). But you can control how much work you put in. Figure out the steps you have to follow yourself between where you are and where you want to be.
2. Break It Down.
I get really easily overwhelmed when I have a big task in front of me. And something like “get published” is so big that for the longest time I just ignored it, vaguely hoping that if I just kept writing stories eventually someone would just show up and be like “Surprise, you’re brilliant! Here’s a book deal!” I’m like this about tasks of any kind–the bigger the task the more I procrastinate, and the more stressed I get about it. So I’ve learned to break tasks into little pieces, so I don’t scare myself.
So let’s look at our previous example, which seems simple enough until you start looking at all of the steps involved in that goal.No: “I am going to finish my novel and query thirty agents by the end of the year.” Yes: “Write every day.” Yes: “Share with critique partners by the end of the month.” Yes: “Research a dozen agents this summer.”
Don’t hesitate to make each piece as small and bite-sized as you can. If all you can manage right now is to sit down for ten minutes each day and focus on thinking about your new story idea, then do it. Just make sure you really stick to it.
3. Get Specific.
I am a total master at fooling myself. If I allow myself any leeway I’ll just sort of dither around going “Well, I looked up concept art on the internet, so that’s basically like I worked today….” I’m just as good as procrastinating now as I was in school. So when I make goals I have to get very specific, and I have to make them immediate and not give myself long, unscheduled time spans in which I have to try and stay on track.
Again, we’ll narrow down our examples one step further.No: “Write every day.” Yes: “Write at least 250 words of my current WIP every day until it’s finished.” No: “Research a dozen agents this summer.” Yes: “Research at least one new agent every week.”
Make sure these goals are something you can DO with your current schedule. Remember there are only 24 hours in a day. That ties in with another important thing to remember, which is to start small. The easier it is to do something, the more likely it is you’ll do it. Start with an easy task and build up momentum from there. Get a friend who will hold you accountable for your goals, at least at the beginning until you get that momentum going. It’s also important not to kill yourself if you mess up every now and then–if you miss a self-imposed deadline, don’t drown yourself in guilt, or it can overwhelm you. Just start fresh from tomorrow. It’s a new day!