Archive for 'goals'
Monday, January 9th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
This week on Genreality, we’re all going to be posting on the same topic: annual goal setting in our writing careers.
I’m a big fan of setting goals, writing them down, and making plans to accomplish them. Having the goal isn’t enough — making a daily plan to take care of the steps that will get me to that goal is the important part. I’ve been writing my goals down since I was a teenager, and the start of a new year is a natural time to review the previous year, reassess my plans, and think about what I’d like to accomplish in the future.
In the past, I’ve used a system where I think about what I want to accomplish in the long term (5-10 years), the middle term (1-2 years), and in the near term (6 months – 1 year). Ideally, the near-term goals are stepping stones to accomplishing the long term goals. For example, if the long term goal is “have a successful career writing science fiction novels,” then a good near-term goal would be “finish this novel manuscript by the end of the year.” The writing life is particularly suited to this kind of goal-setting because many of the steps we have to accomplish are concrete and attainable: writing every day, submitting stories, attending conferences, reading a certain number of books, finishing a certain number of manuscripts, and so on. It’s so wonderful being able to check off a step once you’ve accomplished it!
I also think it’s important to differentiate between goals and hopes. Goals are the steps you have direct control over — writing, revising, getting your work out, educating yourself. Hopes, or milestones, or wishes, are the parts of a writing career that we’d love to accomplish, but may not have any direct control over. You might have your heart set on placing your book with a certain publisher — but if that publisher doesn’t buy your work, what do you do? Landing on bestseller lists, winning awards, getting starred reviews, are all great milestones to aspire to, but be careful about setting your heart on something that you don’t actually have direct control over. It’s better to focus on what you can actually do.
The last couple of years have been strange for me and my goal-setting process. Namely, I’ve accomplished the big long-term goal that’s been on my list since I was a teenager: I’m making a living as a writer. The day-to-day goals have become habit, and haven’t really changed in years, which sometimes makes me feel like I’m in a bit of a rut. Rather than look at those daily goals as “goals” anymore, I need to look at them as the good habits that help me accomplish my goals. And what are the new goals? In some respects, I’m having to take stock of my whole career: How do I keep up the momentum I’ve generated? How do I build on what I’ve accomplished? Those steps aren’t so easy to pin down. It’s not like when I was starting out, and the goals on the road to selling my first story were so clearly defined.
I’m still working on my goals for the coming year, but they fall into a couple of different areas. Business-wise, I want to work on my time management skills so I can maintain the prolific pace I’ve established. I have many books I want to write, and I want to continue to write short stories as well. I want to try some new promotional strategies to expand my readership. I want to do new and interesting kinds of promotions, not the same kind of stuff that everyone does. I need to think about what that would entail. On the creative side, I have some pie-in-the-sky projects I’d love to tackle: I’d love to write a comic book and a screenplay someday — entirely new forms of writing I’d have to practice. I’m still learning and growing as a writer, and if I’m going to keep developing my career I need to keep working on being a better writer. I have some ideas on how to accomplish this. Another big goal I have is to pay attention to the rest of my life: make sure I stay happy and healthy so I can better enjoy my beloved writing life.
You’ll find plenty of lists online of things writers should and shouldn’t do, and they can be good guidelines for how to get started. But I think it’s important to take a little time for introspection, to really think about your life and what you want to accomplish with your writing career. Goals shouldn’t be chores you have to slog through — they should be the things that are going to help your dreams come true.
Friday, November 11th, 2011 by Rosemary
Last week I talked about peer pressure—how a writing buddy, whether you meet in person or on Twitter, is someone who can hold you accountable and motivate you to progress on your page count.
Today I’m going to talk about the reverse of that—doing your own thing.
I’m lucky enough to be friends with a number of fabulously talented authors, and even more are Twitter or Internet acquaintances. And some of them—a lot of them—write faster than I do. They generate pages faster, without (it seems) nearly as much angst. Heck, during NaNoWriMo, it seems my entire Twitter circle writes faster than me. There’s nothing like seeing a Tweet that says “I just finished my 20 pages for the day” while you’ve been rewriting the same page for the last three hours.
It would be easy on a day like this to feel like a failure. (I’m not.) It would be just as easy to stick my nose in the air and say that I was doing something better. (I’m not doing that, either.)
Everyone works differently, and that’s okay. It isn’t important who writes more pages in a day, it’s only important that you write. Even if I rewrite the same page three times, at least I’m working. (Inefficiently, but still.) And maybe the next day will be better.
People’s writing careers will take different courses as well—and this is something you really can’t control. As far as book sales, I’ve been outpaced more than once by someone who started after me. You may become frustrated when someone newer to the game makes a sale, when you’ve been submitting for years.
But you can’t compare yourself to anyone else. You can only compare yourself to you. Are you keeping query letters out there? Are you polishing your work? Getting critique. Working hard on the next book, knowing that each book you write gets better?
The only person who can make you feel “bad” about your writing is you. Get rid of negativity and set goals that are reasonable for YOU, and stick to those goals, not to anyone else’s.
What are YOUR writing goals for next week?
Thursday, December 23rd, 2010 by Candace Havens
The wonderful Kristen Lamb is guest blogging for me today. She has some great stuff for you!
Years ago, when I first became a writer I befriended a gentleman, James Dunne, who worked for Ferrari. I was writing a novel set in Monte Carlo and wanted to know all I could about the Formula One and the cars, people, etc. I also attended the first NASCAR races in DFW and became friends with members of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s pit crew to get an inside perspective on car racing. It was a tremendous experience. The book is in a drawer, but the lessons were forever. I took away a maxim that has affected how I approach life and people. Today I will share with you guys because it is getting close to New Year’s Resolution time, and I want you guys to succeed.
Race car drivers not only have to go top speed (duh) but the largest part of winning is staying in the race. Drivers stay in the race if they can avoid colliding with other cars and keep from hitting the wall. Rocket science here, right? Bear with me. When race car drivers train, they are taught to keep their eyes where they want to go. Why? Because where the eyes go, the car follows. Thus, they are instructed that, to avoid hitting the wall, never look at the wall. Or more accurately, To avoid hitting the wall, focus on the finish line.
Race car drivers always keep their eyes on the straightaway and on the finish line. This was a life-changing lesson for me. Where the mind goes the man follows. Race car drivers aren’t foolish. They know the wall is there. Yet, they understand that staring at it is not going to do anything positive for getting them closer to the checkered flags.
In life, I do all I can to ignore the walls and keep my eyes on the prize. This has a lot to do with positive thinking, which beats being negative any day of the week. My thought life is vitally important to my attitude, and my attitude is the most vital component of how I treat myself and others. How do I avoid walls? I watch 2 things—my focus and my mouth.
Watching My Focus
For years I volunteered teaching children in a Christian after school program. We generally inherited most of the problem kids because no one else wanted them around. These kids hit and kicked and had no concept of self-control. I noticed that when we corrected them or chastised them for a certain behavior, we soon could expect more of it…a LOT more. So we volunteers decided to change our approach with these little “scoundrels.”
Even though it made me want to pull out my hair, I began ignoring most of their acting out. Yet, when they settled down and were quiet, I offered heaping praise. When they played nicely with other kids, I made a big production of what great kiddos they were. It wasn’t long until most of these kids were happy, smiling, and well-behaved. They craved attention. All I did was lavish attention for better behavior.
The strange thing was that a few of them didn’t change. Some of the kids still acted up. They didn’t change, but I did. I could still care for them and enjoy them because I focused on the good they had to offer.
Other people always have “walls” and I make a deliberate act to ignore them. It doesn’t do me or other people any good to focus on weakness or where they fall short, because we all fall short. I find that if I focus on how someone is always late or disorganized or negative, pretty soon it colors how I treat that person. Yet, I notice that if I can look for the good, then eventually I get to the point where I don’t even see the bad. It isn’t that their “wall” isn’t there; it just isn’t my sole focus.
The same goes for how I treat myself. I know if I pay undue attention to my flaws, I soon can expect those flaws (um, thighs) to get bigger, which leads to my next point…
Watching My Mouth
Did you know that the subconscious brain cannot tell the difference between truth and lie? Even if you give it wrong information, the subconscious brain will accept it as true. Psychiatrists call this conditioning. Hindus feel we create psychic grooves that affect our future. Christians say that, out of your mouth you speak life and death; choose life. Regardless our persuasion, all schools imply we have a choice.
If I say, “Today is going to be so horrible.” Guess what? Often it is. Why? I spoke it and deemed it so. Thus, instead of noticing the good things that happen, my eyes will be fixed on “walls” all day long because I have instructed them to do so. I will look for every little thing that doesn’t go my way to affirm the belief I have stuck in my head… “Today is going to be horrible.”
“Oh I just know I am going to be late for that meeting.” Hmmm. Suddenly I cannot find my keys, my bag, my purse, my butt.
Another point. Did you know that the human brain also has this weird way of chopping off conditionals, and it only begins to listen at the first active verb? This is why negative goals can submarine our best efforts.
I say: Don’t forget your folder.
Brain hears: Forget your folder.
I say: Don’t overeat tonight at dinner.
Brain hears: Overeat at dinner.
I say: Under no certain circumstances will you bait to that woman at the board meeting.
Brain hears: Bait to that woman at the board meeting.
I say: Now make sure you don’t lose that business card.
Brain hears: Lose that business card.
If you tell a writer, “The pitch session isn’t the end of the world. Don’t panic.” I guarantee you she hears, “Pitch session. End of the world. Panic.”
How we talk to ourselves is critical. I have found that phrasing things in the positive makes a remarkable difference. When I come in the door, I say, “Now remember your keys are here.” When I am going to a restaurant that I know can make me eat until I pop, I say, “I am going to only eat until I am full.” When I wake up in the morning I say, “I am going to have a great day.” When I am staring down the barrel of having to face a horrible, negative person, I tell myself, “I am going to be calm and maintain my peace.” Is this some kind of magic charm? No. But I do find this approach mitigates the negative. I might find that my temper flares at that person who feels the need to sabotage a committee meeting, but it isn’t as bad as if I had told myself, “If such-and-such says one word, I am going to give her what-for.”
This approach also works with others.
I find that when I tell my husband, “Remember to pick up your slacks from the cleaners” that my odds are better that he will come home with his cleaning.
When I tell my young nephews, “I just know you two are going to make me look good when everyone sees how well you behave.” Most of the time, they do.
One of my favorite quotes is from Dale Carnegie. He said, “The ideas I stand for are not mine. I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus. And I put them in a book. If you don’t like their rules, whose would you use?”
We have a choice with our attitude, and we have a choice what rules govern how we see others and ourselves. If the most skilled racecar drivers in the world know to focus on the goal line, and top athletes know to focus on winning, and successful entrepreneurs know to focus on possibility, and successful couples know to focus on love, then we can take a lesson from that. If we want what they have, adopting their habits and attitude is a darn good start.
What are some ways you guys stay positive? All of us have to deal with hurt, angry, spiteful people, so how do you remain calm? We all face trials and hardship. How do you guys keep focused on the goal? Be brave and share so we might grow.
Visit Kristen at http://kristenlamb.org/
Monday, December 20th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
I’m a fan of formal goal setting — writing down what I hope to accomplish and making a plan to accomplish it. The holidays and end-of-the-year festivities are a nice external benchmark for reviewing last year’s goals and thinking about what I want to accomplish for next year.
The last couple of years have been strange, because I’ve accomplished many of the goals that had been driving me for most of my adult life — all the things I needed to do to become a full-time novelist with a successful career. I find that my goals moving forward — maintaining and building on the career I have — aren’t as well-defined, and don’t necessarily have clear steps for accomplishing them. At least, I’m still in the process of figuring out what those steps are. (There’s lots of advice for writers starting out. Not so much for those who are several years into their career.)
Five to ten years ago, my goal list looked more like a to-do list: Write every day. Submit a short story to market every week. Finish the current novel by the end of the year. Query five agents a month. Attend Worldcon.
The “submit a story to market every week” goal was something I did every year from 1995 to about 2007. When I stopped being able to do that — I wasn’t writing enough short stories to keep in circulation, the short stories I was writing were by request and therefore already sold, I didn’t have time to research markets, and it simply wasn’t worth the effort anymore — I took that goal off the list, and it was a little traumatic, because it was one of the things that helped me be a better writer and helped me develop my career. But goals have to change — if they don’t, it means you aren’t making any progress.
My goals for 2010: Think about the next YA books I want to work on. Pick the next stand-alone book to work on. Keep my website up to date. Remember to say no. (After the last couple of years I’ve had, packed with nonstop deadlines, I realized I had to manage my time better and figure out how to actually limit the amount of work I do and the number of deadlines I have per year. Can you imagine how I would have felt about that ten years ago?) Career planning, think about the next five years, what I want to do with the Kitty series and a possible spin-off series. (Writing in some form every day is a given. I don’t even put it on the list any more.)
It’s a lot of thinking about stuff and not a lot of doing. Momentum as much as anything is carrying me right now. (When you’re writing an ongoing series, much of your career is organized around the deadlines and requirements of that series. You hardly have to think about what you’re going to do next. This isn’t really conducive to long-term planning.)
How did I do? I know what YA books I’m working on next and am in the process of pitching them. I could do a little better with updating my website, but it’s not too bad. I could also do a little better about saying no. However, because I’m between contracts right now I’m in a position to manage my deadlines much better moving forward and I plan on using what I’ve learned over the last couple of years to accomplish this, and hopefully I won’t be working on five books at once again, like I was at a couple of points over the last couple of years. I think I know the stand-alone book I’ll be working on next, and I have some ideas about where Kitty is going.
So, I did okay. But I’m still thinking about how to be more definite in my goal setting, and what concrete things I can do to accomplish the big goal of building on my career.
How about you? Are you a goal setter? If so, how are you doing? Do you use the end of the year and the start of the next to review your goals?
Wednesday, May 5th, 2010 by Bob Mayer
For a long time I flailed about as a writer picking what to write. Just look at my career path. It was only this past year as I wrote myself out of my last contract and was not contracted for the first time in my career, that I stopped and took a serious look at ‘what to write’. At first I thought, well, I’ll use my platform as an ex-Green Beret and write military thrillers. But I had to be honest with myself and realize I didn’t feel it. After all, if I was that passionate about the military, wouldn’t I still be on active duty?
Then I thought: well, I’m the only male author on RWA’s Honor Roll. I can be the male romantic suspense author. But again, I didn’t have the passion for it. Also, that’s kind of counter-intuitive. Maybe there’s a reason the Honor Roll isn’t full of male authors? After all, men and women look at romance very differently. I remember 200 women hissing at me in Reno at Nationals when Jenny mentioned my character never said, “I love you” to the heroine in our first collaboration. What we finally figured out is that it’s two very different phrases when a man says it and when a woman says it.
So. My platform wasn’t working for me in those directions.
I met my agent for lunch and we talked about it. She told me the scenes she had really liked in my last manuscript. She talked about my platform: military, Green Beret, West Point, best-selling writer. She said it was very unique. I mentioned the male, romantic suspense thing and her enthusiasm was a bit lacking. Probably because mine was lacking.
I went home and pondered. Then I was emailing a friend whose father had also gone to West Point. And the words Civil War came up. I remember as a plebe at West Point one of the pieces of ‘plebe poop’ (yes, enough said) we had to memorize was: There were 60 major battles in the Civil War. In 55 of them, West Pointers commanded on both sides. In the other five, West Pointers commanded one side. I used to think to myself—maybe that’s why the war lasted so long. When the Ken Burns series on the Civil War came out, I used to watch it over and over again. I’ve walked pretty much every major battlefield of the war. I wrote the Gettysburg Staff Walk used to train officers at Fort Bragg in Special Forces.
I started getting excited.
That’s the key to it all.
I loved the HBO mini-series Rome. The way the two fictional characters, Vorenus and Pullo, caused pretty much every major event in Roman history from Caesar crossing the Rubicon to Augustus being crowned emperor. I thought it was brilliant writing and an intriguing way to look at history.
So I took that concept—two fictional characters causing major events behind the scenes—added in my fascination with the Civil War; threw in my platform as a West Pointer and a military expert and decided I would write military historical fiction. One of the key angles to it is that every time I watch specials on the war, it’s always historians they are using for their quotes. But a military person looks at a battle and war with a much different perspective than a historian.
I started emailing my agent about the idea and doing research. My agent caught my enthusiasm (I still email her every few weeks a short note just to let her know the enthusiasm is still there). When she emailed back and said it sounded to her like I was writing something like Lonesome Dove, I knew I had nailed it, because that’s my favorite book. And the more I researched, focusing on Ulysses S. Grant, the more fascinated I became. I kept finding out more and more things I hadn’t known and I started bringing to life two fictional families for my two main characters.
Here’s another thing: you have to figure out what you’re strong at as a writer and weak at. I’m a great plotter. I write great action. I’m weak with characters. By choosing to write historical fiction, my plot is kind of determined. So all that energy I used to put into plot, is now going into character. When I did the outline for this book, I outlined the characters first. So sometimes what you need to consider is compensating for what you’re weak at as a writer by writing a story that allows you to concentrate on it.
The bottom line though is enthusiasm. I firmly believe that an agent who reps a book she isn’t enthusiastic about, but thinks she can sell, is killing that book. An agent has to be enthusiastic. It starts with the author. Then the agent. Then the editor has to share that enthusiasm and so on.
This is the entertainment business. Emotion/logic. Emotion is more important than logic.
Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 by Bob Mayer
The Hierarchy of Goals Example:
Overall Writing Goal. (Strategic)
Book goal. (Tactical)
Business goal (Tactical)
Shorter range/daily goals (Tactical)
I will be a New York Times best-selling author within five years.
Tactical Goal (Book)
I will write a unique thriller, in the vein of James Rollins, but different because of ????, in the next six months.
I will be researching and outlining the second book in the series.
I will research and come up with the idea for the third book in the series.
Tactical Goal (Business)
My thriller will be the first of three similar thrillers featuring the same protagonist, an ex- Navy SEAL, Harvard educated, anthropologist with one arm who secretly cross-dresses.
Every week I will research and make a list of five agents interested in this genre.
I will attend a writers’ conference this month where there is an author who has what I want and attend every session I can. I will not stalk her, but I will try to talk socially to her given the opportunity, which I will make by NOT hiding in my room, but spending every available minute in workshops and in the conference area.
I will attend a writers’ conference in four months where there will be agents that represent my type of novel to get feedback from them. Ditto for the stalking.
I will follow the publishing business to see what the trends are.
Tactical Goal (Shorter Range)
I will get up an hour earlier every day to write.
I will stay up an hour later every night to write.
I will write five pages a day. Every day.
I will have a draft done in ten weeks.
I will rewrite the draft for plot, for character, for symbols, for subplots.
As I rewrite, I will write my query letter and synopsis.
I will continue to rewrite my query letter and synopsis until they are the best I can make them.
The Hierarchy of Goals Must Be Aligned.
This is your responsibility, not your agent’s or editor’s. If goals are not aligned, there is inherent conflict and wasted time and energy. Awareness and honesty are key. In the example above, I mentioned three books. In the last lesson, I’ll discuss a career plan involving three books that Susan Wiggs shared with me when I asked her for help.
You have ONE strategic goal as a writer. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be working on only one thing. In fact, as you’ll see later when we discuss Catastrophe Planning, you probably should be working on more than one thing. The key each day is to remember where your primary focus is.
First, quality is better than quantity. That’s a maxim of Warrior Writer, because it’s a maxim of Special Forces.
So when I watch something like Nanowrimo or #writegoal on twitter, I think it’s good that people are on task and producing, but am also concerned about the quality of the material.
I can’t write more than one piece of fiction at a time. I can’t cross the creative wires. However, I am very prolific because my work schedule looks like this on any given day:
Priority #1: My fiction work in progress.
Priority #2: My non-fiction work in progress. I find writing non-fiction very different than fiction. So the wires don’t cross.
Priority #3: Working on getting Who Dares Wins Publishing off the ground.
Priority #4: Working on new concepts for fiction and non-fiction
Priority #5: Lining up workshops for the future and keeping one’s already scheduled on target.
Priority #6: Running my businesses. ie keeping track of taxes, expenses, etc.
Priority #7: Marketing and sales. Keeping up on social media, blogs, etc.
There’s more I do, but if you add it up, it’s a lot. So I suggest everyone needs to make a list of priorities and that not only makes you prolific, but on target to achieve what you really want. Because #1 priority is your strategic goal.
The key to success as a writer is focusing on that strategic goal every single day as you accomplish your tactical goals.
Special Forces Selection & Assessment thought: Take your eyes off the price and put them on the prize. (well, not literally.)
(Excerpted from Warrior Writer: From Writer To Published Author)
Wednesday, April 21st, 2010 by Bob Mayer
Excerpted from Warrior Writer: From Writer To Published Author
Things to consider when trying to figure out your goal:
Did anyone else achieve this goal (write this kind of book; have this type of career)? You are not the first one trying to achieve the goal. When I asked Susan Wiggs for some career advice the first thing she said she did was study authors who had achieved what she wanted to: she cited Nora Roberts and Suzanne Brockman among other. Was that shooting high? Yes. Did she do it? Her last mass-market paperback debuted at #1 on the NY Times list.
What do you fear doing? (Often this is exactly what we must do). I have often found that many writers are afraid of writing about the things closest to them. Which means they are afraid to write their passion. Why didn’t Johnny Cash walk in and sing his own song right from the start? I submit that he was afraid that his own music wasn’t good enough. More importantly, and dangerous, it was too close to some raw emotions boiling inside of him.
Questions to ask to get to one sentence:
What do I want to do?
Why do I want to do it?
Why should anyone else want to do it? (History & Research)
What is the most important thing I want to achieve?
How will I know when I have achieved my goal? What will have happened?
(The one sentence is the What, not the How.)
How have others defined it?
How long did it take others to achieve this goal?
What was your original goal when you began writing? The good news is you had one. The bad news is you might well have forgotten it. That original goal is key. It is usually the spark of inspiration. It is the foundation of you as a writer, the seed, from which all else comes. It is your Strategic Original Idea.
EXERCISE: WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGIC GOAL AS A WRITER?
Key tactical goal: WHAT to write.
At the core of being a writer is the writing. Everything else is secondary to that. So this is the most critical tactical goal you need to define.
Mark Twain said ‘Write what you know’. This makes sense. Your platform is based on your experiences. However, there is a danger to this as you might be too close to reality and not be able to do the suspension of belief that fiction requires.
What is your platform? What unique experiences have you had in your life? What could your publisher put on the back inside flap of your hardcover that would make readers think you knew something about what you are writing?
Write what you want to know. My friend Elizabeth George writes literary British mysteries. She was a schoolteacher in Orange County, CA. But she traveled to England and became fascinated with it, particularly the class structure. So she invented two characters, one a handsome rich nobleman, the other a plain, lower-class woman and teamed them together as detectives.
Write what you are passionate about. Study writers. Some writers focus on a specific locale that they are passionate about: Dennis Lehane and Boston; Michael Connelly and LA. Others a specific topic: Stephen Pressfield and ancient battles. Others a specific character: Sue Grafton and Kinsey Milhone.
Write to fulfill a need. Sometimes you just have to say something. Be careful, though. Make sure you aren’t lecturing the reader. The primary reason people read fiction is for entertainment. So what makes a consumer want to read it? How does your story connect emotionally with the reader?
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people.” Virginia Woolf.
This is a fear many writers have. They feel they are revealing too much of themselves in their writing and exposing themselves to the world.
But don’t sweat it. How many authors would you recognize if you saw them?
And even if you put your mother in the book as a character, it’s probably not a problem because:
You have to write the book.
You have to sell the book.
Your mother has to read the book.
Your mother has to recognize herself in the book. Most won’t.
People are going to know things about you from what you write. You can’t let that inhibit you. Remember, you always have the excuse it’s fiction. I start many of my presentations by reminding people I’m a professional liar. I get paid to make things up.
No matter what, once you are published, someone is not going to like what you wrote. And they will feel it’s their solemn duty to let you know that. It’s part of the job.
Out of every 100 emails I get about my books, 99 are nice. That 1 that isn’t used to really bum me out until I adjusted my attitude. Now I do the following:
If it’s nasty email (not a thoughtful critical one). I immediately stop reading and hit delete. I don’t need to pollute my mind with such thoughts. Then I smile and think: “That book really must have affected that person to get them so angry.” I’d rather have anger, than apathy.