Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Setting goals I can keep January 9, 2011

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:51 pm
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How are you doing so far with your New Year’s Resolutions and writing goals for 2011?

Hopefully you did the goalsetting bit right and are powering on with them!

Or have you already broken them?  Or did you not bother making any at all, ‘cos you know from bitter experience all they do is make you feel like a failure?

That’s been me most years, one or the other. I really hope I can do it differently this year. I’m old enough to know better than to keep on doing what doesn’t work. If you are feeling like a failure because you haven’t met your writing goals, that’s not really true. You haven’t failed as a writer. Maybe you simply set the wrong goals. I know I often have.

The New Year starts off all clean and fresh and hopeful and positive, and by around now I am usually sitting in a corner crying and feeling like crap (well, that was yesterday, and it wasn’t over writing, it was over other goals that are less under my control than my writing is).

I have a history of setting crazy high goals I could never manage to keep going longer than three days. Impossible daily word counts, or finishing the story by a date that’s insanely too soon are my favourites. Problem is, every time I crashed and burned and couldn’t do it, I felt like an even worse failure as a writer than I did when I started.

So the easy answer was to give up on goalsetting. I’d write when I wrote, and that was okay.

Only problem with that was, it got me nowhere. Sure, I’d write. Lots of ideas and first chapters that never went any further, because without the discipline of a goal to keep me focused, I’d follow whatever bright shiny idea came along, and never stuck at anything long enough to get results.

Good goals are goals you can keep. Good goals deal with things you can control. Good goals are goals that get you where you want to go.

I’ve had loads of practice setting bad goals. To write 3000 words a day when I have a busy full-time job. To get published by Mills and Boon by the time I was fifty. To enter writing contests that were for lines I really didn’t want to write for. Baaaaad goalsetting!

Good goals start with thinking about what it is you really want, then working out the steps to get there. It’s not usually going to be easy, or doable in one step, or we’d already be there. A bit like that old joke where a lost tourist stops his car to ask a local how to get to the place he wants to be, and the local replies, “Well, if you want to get there, you really don’t want to be starting from here.”

My big dream come true goal is to take early retirement, move back to Australia, and make my living from writing romance. That’s a massive goal. I’m not going to get there from here. But if I can get myself a few steps closer, I might just get to where I can reach “there” from.

Steps to get there- Improve my writing. Learn how to present it better. Submit it to the right places. If I get rejected, learn from that. Either revise the story to submit somewhere else, or start a new story. Repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat some more.

But those steps aren’t what I really need, either. I need specifics. I need to know what I have to do today and every day to get me there.

I like this blog post where writer Hart Johnson applies science to goal setting. She differentiates between goals and strategies. Goals are the results we want, big aims that break down into smaller stages. Strategies are the things we need to do to achieve those stages, real, concrete, measurable things. 

So, the things that will get me published are to write better, write finished stories, and submit them.  

The practical task that will show I am doing that is to finish my work in progress, edit it up, and submit it.

The strategies to get there are to stick with writing at least 500 words a day on work days, 1000 words a day on non-work days until I finish first drafting the work in progress, my SYTYCW story.  I know this is a realistic, do-able target. 5000 words a week and 55,000 more words to write, so I aim to have that done by the end of March. I need to edit up the first three chapters and update the synopsis, so a realistic subbing target is the end of April. There’s a bit of leeway in there, so if real life gets in the way, it won’t derail me.

Then on to the next step- starting rewrites on my rejected SuperRomance, to sub elsewhere.

So far, 9 days into the New Year, it’s working! Though there’s a lot of year still to go.

It should keep working, because what I have set myself to do is realistic and practical. I’m determined. I’m ready to change the way I do things and make the changes last.  I want 2011 to be the year it happens for me. Maybe not publication with Mills and Boon, but by this time next year I will be published or at least had a story accepted for publication. I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep editing. I’ll keep subbing. I’ll keep learning. I’ll keep growing as a writer. In the end, that’s all it will take- keeping on and not giving up.

Chelsea over at Sassy Sisters  wrote a wonderful post on goal setting that reminded  me of the most important piece of all- celebrating the little successes along the way to the big goal.  

The big goal is so huge- to make my living from writing full-time, that measuring myself against that goal, I feel a constant failure. But there are so many smaller goals along the way I can feel good about, from sending in a sub, to sticking to writing 500 words a day minimum, to finally getting a handle on story structure, to understanding character arc and why proactive characters are so important.

So, wherever you are, if you are powering into the New Year or looking at the flaming wreck of good intentions and wondering why you bothered, remember to celebrate what you have achieved and what you’ve learned. If what you’ve tried isn’t working, it’s never too late to start again. That’s what I keep telling myself.

And it’s true.

If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy, and inspires your hopes. – Andrew Carnegie


8 Responses to “Setting goals I can keep”

  1. Hart Says:

    Hey–thank you for siting me! I wish you a ton of luck for figuring out the goals and strategies that work for you–it’s a rough road eh? I’m sure though, that you can do it!

  2. I love the way you explain goals and strategies. I didn’t have many clear writing goals because they seemed things I couldn’t measure. But they were strategies, really. It’s the day to day things that I can change that I really need to focus on.

    The other things will follow from that.

  3. Actually I’m doing pretty good with the resolutions this year but that’s because I made resolutions about being a better me – as opposed to a new me. My resolutions were chosen because I think they will make me a better person AND a better writer. I’m especially enjoying the breathing deep – it comes in handy all the time (helps with frustration, anger, disappointment etc) and it gives you that little space to pause and think – highly recommended. My goal is to finish the WIP, edit it and then sub it and if that takes me until December 2011 well that’s okay.

  4. I think your goals are very sensible. Setting moderate, attainable goals makes much more sense than high, hard-to-reach ones. And if you do more than your target, you feel really good! Regular writing is the best thing no matter how much you do. And to be a writer, we only have to write! I’llbe interested to see how you do with your Superromance. I’m still hummng and aahing about the line. Blaze is still my favourite. I’m not actually keen on the Super covers, they sometimes look a little old fashioned?

  5. Great post, Jane! And good going with your goals. They’re all little steps along the way. I’m just trying to enjoy my writing this year. Lost the love last year but this year it’s GOING to be different. 🙂

  6. Good luck with your goals. You are so right that making achievable goals is the healthy way to live. I HOPE my goals are achievable this year, but with all that’s going on at the moment, I think I may have been too ambitious yet again 🙂

  7. susan wilson Says:

    I’m boring. My only goal for the year is Keep Writing. I tend to try and keep things simple as life tends to be complicated anyway! Good luck for 2011

  8. waitingforthecall Says:

    Oh wow, what excellent comments to come back to!

    Hart, thanks for your fab post.

    Julia, that’s exactly what I’m hoping. And those everyday victories are the things we can celebrate to keep us going, on those inevitable days when it gets to feeling like our dream is going to take forever to achieve.

    Yay Elissa, great goals and a good way of looking at it. One of my non-writing goals was to practice yoga and meditation, because I just need to calm down some days and lose the hamster on a wheel mentality.

    Serenity, the Supers have a different feel to Blaze, because the main values there are love, family, and community; while in Blaze it’s love and hot sex! I like almost all all the Super authors, but I’ve read a few I enjoyed less than others. There’s a wide range of heat levels- some are close to Sweets with the bedroom door firmly closed, some are hot. Try a Karina Bliss or Sarah Mayberry Super- I think you will like them!

    Jackie, that is so right. I think at times last year I turned the writing into yet another chore that had to be done- this year I want to feel the lurve. You can do it!

    Rach, there are two theories on goals- one is set achievable goals because we’ll do it and feel good and keep doing it, the other is set super-high goals to push us on. So long as you’re not going to beat yourself up if you don’t make your goals, either way is fine! You have loads going on and sometimes life throws unexpected things at us along the way. Fingers crossed for your revisions!

    Susan, you are NOT boring. Keep writing is the best goal of all! I think my post is really about the strategies I’m using to make sure I do that. Hope your revisions are doing well too.

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