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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Setting Goals

Happy 2011, Everyone!

I have never been a resolution kind of person. I break them, so they seem pretty rediculous to swear once a year. Usually they are scoping things, utopian ideas I want to achieve which require a lot more energy than I want to spend.

Conversely, I've always been a big proponant of setting goals and milestones. Admittedly this comes from my "former" life of project management and a sick craving to check off little boxes and watch a project plan unfold.

So I dragged out that project plan before we went into the new year -- this poor spreadsheet that has been running for three years and has so many uncoordinated colors a blind man would cringe -- and looked at what I'd set and where I'd succeeded and didn't, as well as plugging in new things.

I noticed something. Now... I should have been aware of this all along. But it never really stood out to me until I started listening to other people talk about their goals and really looking at what I wanted to accomplish. What I observed?

The only things I've accomplished are the things I can directly control. The things I, and myself alone, can own.

We all have great big scoping dreams as authors. We write a book that we love, our immediate first round readers love, and we let that project grow. We dream with that project, maybe even while we're working on something else. There's nothing wrong with that. If there's no motivation to achieve a dream, that dream doesn't have the first chance at surviving much longer than the short space of time it took to flit across our brain.

But this is one of the few careers I am aware of where the work put into achieving a dream is not necessarily going to make it happen. For instance, as a teenager I held the dream of riding in the olympics. It's totally doable for almost anyone who shares that vision. Have a horse that can do it, put the hours and hours into training, enter competitions, and nine times out of ten training is directly proportional to success. Corporate world -- put in the hours, study the field, most often you'll see promotions.

But writing is different in so many respects. Our training comes from practicing the habit and I still heavily believe anyone can do it if they put in the time and effort. The when becomes the issue, and as we all know, the struggle to get there discourages many people from pursuit.

So... what's the trick to sticking in there when the changing nature of the publishing industry makes things even more difficult to predict and expect?

Goals. Goals that a writer can hold complete ownership over.

This means... strike out all entries that look like: "Get an Agent, Sell XYZ" Don't discard them, but modify them so they are yours. This translates to a larger list of goals and things you can look at as accomplishments.

"Get an Agent" becomes: Finish book. Write synoposis. Write query. Shop query to agent xyz.

Same thing with Sell XYZ, only if you've got an agent doing this work for you, modify that to again, "Shop, xyz to AHouse, BHouse"

You control the completion of the book. You control the effort put into doing all the right things to accomplish the dream. You do not control whether someone else chooses to accept your work. And getting frustrated about it doesn't accomplish anything. While you're doing one thing for one book, do something else for another... keep your productivity rolling so you don't have all your eggs in one proverbial basket.

When the end of the year comes around and you go into another, you won't have frustrations. You will have a solid list of achievements that will make you feel good about what you're doing.

Good luck everyone! I look forward to hearing all your accomplishments as 2011 continues. May this year be your year for success.



Katalina Leon said...

I've found writing to be very humbling. My only goals for 2011 is to keep moving forward at whatever speed I can manage, and try to write a smidge better than last time on each book. Everything else is out of my hands.

Claire Ashgrove said...

Absolutely, Katalina -- a little a day is progress, and it keeps the talent growing. You know what they say: Practice makes perfect!

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