New World of Publishing: Failure is an Option. Quitting is Not.

The First of the “Goals and Dreams 2012 Series”

I’ll bet a few of you got very uneasy by me starting off a goals and dreams series of blogs with the words: “Failure is an Option.”

That’s right, you must fail, over and over to become an artist in this business and to just survive. And that’s normal and perfectly fine.

Let me say this clearly. The reason I am starting right here, talking about failure, is that until you understand failure in publishing, you don’t have a lot of chances at success and setting goals for success. Failure is very much an option in publishing in all levels. However, quitting is not. You quit, you are done. You go into the “whatever happened to…?” authors and after that the “blank look” authors when your name is even mentioned.

So first let me talk about failure. It’s going to take a minute, so hang on. I need to try to see if I can get everyone on the same page here.

When setting goals, everything about your goal must be in your control. Completely.

Let me give you a list of examples of “control.”

1a) Selling a book to a traditional publisher…NO CONTROL

1b) Mailing a submission package to a traditional editor. YOUR CONTROL.

2a) Wanting your book to sell 200 copies a month on Kindle…NO CONTROL

2b) Getting your book on Kindle with a great cover, good, active blurbs, and written well… YOUR CONTROL.

You get the idea I hope.  So when some writer talks to me about a goal of selling a book to a traditional publisher by the end of the year, I just snort and they walk away insulted. I wasn’t laughing at their ability to write. Not at all. I was laughing at the goal they set and put a deadline on that was out of their control completely. Such goals are guaranteed to create disappointment.

In fact, to be clear, when I talk about an objective in the future that is out of your control, I will call it a “dream.”

An objective in the future that is totally in your control I will call a “goal.”

I will talk about setting dreams and using goals to work toward them at different places in this series of articles.

Plan Point #1…

Check through all your goals for 2012 and make sure they ONLY concern your work level that is in your control.

Nothing more.

No action from another party can be involved, otherwise it is not realistic.

So if you are an indie writer and thinking you want to sell a thousand copies of all your books per month next year, that’s a dream. Retreat back to how many new projects you can write and indie publish. Set up how many you want to finish and publish. That’s a goal. Let the sales take care of themselves.

So do that now. Step one for next year. (I will have these basic step Plan Points through these columns. Start your list now.)

Now, back to failure.

To become a professional fiction writer, you must become a major risk-taker without fear of failure or a care in the world what anyone else thinks of you or your writing.

Now, saying that, all new writers have just turned away, convinced I am muttering stupidity. But alas, I am not.

Examples from writers of fear of failure:

Example One …

A manuscript must be perfect. The writer doesn’t dare let a “flawed” manuscript out for anyone to see. 

The writers who have this major fear are constant rewriters, are major workshop people, are writers who write for their critique group instead of what they want.

Writers with this fear will take five people’s feedback and try to get it all into their manuscript turning their story into boring garbage written by a committee.

Writers with this fear spend huge sums of money on book doctors and other scams.

Writers with this fear are writers who let agents tell them to rewrite over and over. And so on.

Writers with this fear are replacing reality in publishing with their own fear. There are no perfect books in publishing. Never has been, never will.

Writers with this fear are often afraid of success, and certainly don’t trust their own art, because they willingly let many other people mess with it.

A personal note about this: Back when I was first getting serious, I was writing a story per week. I could not type much on my typewriter and certainly couldn’t spell anything. So I would write a new story, have my trusted first reader (Nina Kiriki Hoffman) read it and find the billion mistakes. I would fix the mistakes in spelling and typing. Then I made a copy to mail and copies to turn into the workshop. I would mail the story to an editor on the way to the weekly workshop. (I turned in the story to the local workshop to get audience reaction and see if I could learn something for writing the next story, not to “fix” the story I already had in the mail.)  Stories the workshop beat up and said were worthless, I often sold. I never told them I hadn’t “fixed” the story. (If I had “fixed the story,” it never would have sold.)

Were those stories flawed and scarred?  Yup, they were. Zero doubt about that. But they were my stories, my voice, my mistakes, done at the best skill level I could manage at the time, and that’s what helped them sell. I trusted my own art, even flawed.

If I had been afraid of mailing out anything but a “perfect” manuscript then or now, I would be done as a writer.

Another personal example. In 1973, in Palm Springs, CA, I finished up a pretty good professional golf tournament for me a few under. Not at all happy with the round, but it made me a buck or two. One of my friends at the time, another young professional out chasing, had just shot one of his best rounds ever. And won the tournament. When asked about his round, he was proud of it, but mentioned to the reporter a few places he had left shots on the course. And a wedge he had missed on #14.

That night instead of drinking, we were both hitting golf balls and practicing under the lights at the driving range. And he was working on hitting wedges. Luckily, he didn’t need a perfect golf game to put himself on the line. He just needed to keep working and trust the skill and art he had at that moment in time. And even though the next spring I quit golf and went back to college, he went on to do just fine in the world of golf. And trust me, you would recognize his last name.

Plan for 2012… If you have this fear that everything needs to be perfect, take drastic action to fix it, otherwise 2013 just won’t matter much. 

Example Two…

Afraid to mail a story because of the rejection or afraid to put a story up indie published for fear of not having many sales.

I have never understood this fear, but I know it is real. For me, this fear is beyond silly. It’s like walking up to a golf course and then deciding not to play because your score might not be perfect.

This fear is one of the “quitters’ fears” as I call them. It is safer to not try than try and fail.

Nothing I can say or do to help you past this fear because, honestly, I just find it too silly. And sad. What do you think an editor will do to you? Come to your house and shoot you for not sending in a perfect story? Never once heard of that happening in the history of publishing.  And if you put up a book on Kindle and no one buys it, WHO IS GOING TO NOTICE??  No one. Because no one bought it. Duh.

But interestingly, by not trying, you guarantee failure. Quitters never really understand that logic.

Example Three…

Afraid to write or finish a story you have been talking about for a while.

People respect others, especially artists of all stripes, who work hard in their art. There is no respect for those who claim they want to do something then never “get around to it” or as the laughing-stock phrase of all writers who are quitters, “I just can’t find the time.” Maybe for a month or six months or a year you won’t find the time as life beats on you with something special. But if you don’t really have this fear, you will come back to writing when life gets off your back and you will finish your work.

This fear is just an excuse to quit by never starting, never putting your skill and art on the line for anyone to read.

Remember, quitting is not an option. Failing is fine and you will do that a lot, but the moment you find a reason to quit and stay away, you and your art are finished. And if you can’t find the time, just keep telling yourself that, but please don’t write me with your excuses because I won’t care because you have quit by never starting. I want to help people who are not afraid of fighting for their art.

If you suffer from this fear and can’t just use logic to snap out of it, get professional help if you really want to be a writer at some point. Not kidding.

I think that’s enough examples of fear for now. We can talk about more if you want in the comments section. I’ve seen them all, actually.

… “It’s too hard” fear.

… “It’s going to take too long” fear. (Kids under thirty worry about this one the most.)

… “The system is rigged against me” fear.

… “I don’t have enough talent” fear.

… “Fear of success” fear. (This fear is deep and subtle and needs professional help to get past.)

… “I am so good, I don’t have to practice” fear. (Yes, this is a fear of admitting a need to keep learning. It is ego-based fear.)

… “Fear of public failure” fear.

And so on…

Summary of Fear and Quitting

You must be fearless in writing and at the publishing business. If a fear slows you down or causes you to quit, then you have lost your art and your fight. Stay aware of the fears as you set goals for next year. Trust me, over these articles, I will repeat a few points about fears and failure.

One way to find hidden fears is look back through Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series. You can find them all under the tab up at the top of the page.

But the very, very best way of getting rid of fears is just not worry about failure.

Failure is normal in publishing and writing and all art.

Kill the fear of failure and all those fears I listed will just vanish. (Except for fear of success, which more than likely will take professional help to deal with.)

 Going Personal Again

Okay, as we start getting into goal-setting and dream-setting in this series, let me just get out onto the table the goals I sat last year right here in public.

I seem to remember two challenges to myself besides my normal writing.  I wanted to write 100 short stories in one year and post them all here when finished. I also wanted to lose a bunch more weight and run in a marathon in the fall.

I did not run a marathon, lost only some weight, and wrote thirty-some short stories. So when looked at in the cold light of last December’s writing, all three goals were all a complete failure.

But nothing is ever a complete failure.

Challenge #1:  I was on track to hit my mark fine for one hundred stories in one year. Then what Kris and I called “A life roll” hit with my friend’s death and I am just getting back. Not an excuse, a fact.

So failure?  Nope, not in the slightest.  I had a blast writing the 32 short stories for the challenge and the other three for traditional markets, stories I might not have written without the challenge. I wrote over 140,000 word of short fiction last year, my best short fiction year in more than a decade.

I had so much fun, I am extending the challenge to now just be 100 stories. Stay tuned, more stories coming.

Challenge #2: Weight and Running. Again I was on track to run the marathon, or better put, run/walk the marathon in September and “Life Roll” moved me down. So here in December, looking back, complete failure? Nope, not in the slightest.

I dropped 14 pounds total in 2011. I still have thirty more to go, but I am not unhappy with dropping and keeping off 14 pounds. (By the way, when I run the marathon, I will get pictures and I have a great “before” picture you will believe that was taken when I started this drop in weight four years ago. I was what my friend Jim calls, “A big boy.”)

As far as the running went, I got up to some pretty good milage which shouldn’t take me too long to get back to. Not great, but not bad. That’s all positive as well.

Attitude is Everything

It says that on my iced tea mug. And it is true.

I am not afraid of failure, and my attitude is to look at what did get done from a goal or challenge and see the success.

So this year, part of helping some of you set goals in your writing and publishing for the new year is to help you look at your “failure” positives.

Going Personal Again.

A number of blogs back, while talking about the rudeness of a young, traditional editor, I laid out a challenge a friend and I did two years ago at this time. Read it here. I made up, wrote the first three chapters, a synopsis, a cover letter and sent off 13 novels in 13 weeks. I had a blast. Was that a horrid failure? Nine of the books I sent to five editors each. No one in the comments much mentioned how frighteningly successful that challenge was for me. I SOLD TWO BOOKS and almost sold a third series.

In essence I laid out the secret to selling books quickly to traditional publishing and not one person mentioned that.

So, when looked at that challenge from one side, I got at least 50 no-response or rejections from editors. Horrid failure. Right?

Other side, I got two acceptances of what I wrote and I ended up writing both books. And I got a phone call from another editor who wanted to buy a third book called “Subway Martians: A Romance” but it was too weird for her sales force. (I really got to get around to writing that book some day.)  Failure? Not in the slightest.

50 rejections against 2 acceptances. Wow, that has to be a complete failure. Right?

Of course not.

Summary: Failure must be an option.

When you are setting new goals for 2012, you must expect failure at all levels in your plans.

And you must not allow the worry about failure, or a bad attitude about failure, to bury the success you are having.

Plan Point #2…

Check in with yourself and figure out where your writing fears are.

If you have none, you are more than likely just deluding yourself. I’ve never met a writer (or any artist) who doesn’t have strings of fears, some small, some crippling.  I was no exception.

List the fears. Write them down! Keep them to yourself.

Then  figure out which ones you can climb over without any problem every time and which ones twist your stomach even harder when you think about them. Can you mail a manuscript after only fixing typos your first reader found? If not, you have perfection fear. You get the idea. Figure out the ones that are your problems and give them so thought.

Then stay tuned for the second article in this series.

Going Personal Again: By the way, with my “failed” short story challenge, a rough guess on the amount of money I will make from the stories in the challenge is $3,500.00 in 2011.

And I will make more than that in 2012 from those same stories at their rates of sale, not counting the new stories I add to the challenge.

And in theory, in three years I will be past $10,000 in income from those 32 stories that I had a blast writing. And that income will just keep on coming in.

Yup, that’s failure.

I love this new world.

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Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
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This chapter is now part of my inventory in my Magic Bakery.  I’m giving you this small slice as a sample. I’m giving you a taste, but not selling any of the pie.

If you feel this helped you in any way, toss a tip into the tip jar on the way out of the Magic Bakery.

If you can’t afford to donate, please feel free to pass this chapter along to others who might get some help from it.

And I would like to thank all the fine folks who have donated over this last year. The donations and the comments both after the posts and privately are really keeping me going on this. Thanks!

Thanks, Dean

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59 Responses to New World of Publishing: Failure is an Option. Quitting is Not.

  1. David Barron says:

    Great article!

    “The system is rigged against me”

    I hear this so many times, albeit not from ‘aspiring writers’ so-called (because, to maintain my creative sanity, I don’t hang out in forums and viciously cull depressing sites).

    I hear this a lot in a lot of different areas of my life, and whenever I do I take it and say “So what if it is?” There’s only two options if you suspect the system is rigged: (1) Fight it, “kick over the table”; (2) Circumvent it, “play your own game”.

    You circumvent it by making sure you know what The System really is – for the writer, Learn Publishing…Do The Math.

    Once you know that, the best way to fight The System is to punch it, directly and repeatedly, in the face – preferably, for the writer, with a big pile of nice, thick manuscripts as your brass knuckles.

    It may turn out that the system wasn’t rigged after all, or it might just get tired of getting punched and roll over for you…either way is better than whining.

  2. Rasputin says:

    I would await with breathless anticipation the Subway Martians romance but only if one of them scrawls “Frodo Lives” on the subway wall while engaging in coitus.

  3. “In essence I laid out the secret to selling books quickly to traditional publishing and not one person mentioned that.”

    I remember thinking, “That’s cool, but I don’t have the time.” The interesting thing was that I was/am too busy making more money than the publishing companies could pay me (given the time, effort and production loss).

    “I dropped 14 pounds total in 2011.”

    Good on you, Dean. It’s really hard to lose weight and keep it off for a lot of people. 14 pounds is excellent!

    “I will make from the stories in the challenge is $3,500.00 in 2011″

    Ugh, I must find your sales manual. I’m at $1,200 a year right now. $3,500 = Confirmation of nice writing!

    Anyway, gotta go. Only 38,000 more words and I can finish this novel (I’m hoping to finish on the 30th of December, 2011. However, I’m one day behind and have a mean headache.) I also plan to fix a few of my 100 ‘to tidy up now that I can blurb/cover better’ files over the holidays, so no time for lurking or lingering today.

    Have a Merry Christmas, Dean and Kris!

  4. Dean said: “In essence I laid out the secret to selling books quickly to traditional publishing and not one person mentioned that.”

    I did not know it was a secret. I was taught that I had to get one book published on my own before I could use the submission package of synop and few chapters. Not sure if the completed book was proof I could complete a novel or proof of my writing voice, etc.

    Also, well done on all the short stories.

  5. “If you suffer from this fear and can’t just use logic to snap out of it, get professional help if you really want to be a writer at some point. Not kidding.”

    I think the above is perhaps the best piece of advice in the article.

    Paralyzing fear is a major cause of suffering and lack of success to many people, but it is most times a treatable condition. It is not normal not the able to do what you want most out of fear of failure.

    So, if you just can’t work around your fears by yourself, do look for professional help. There is nothing wrong in seeing a mental health professional, and it often helps a lot.

    Thanks for all the advice and have a merry christmas, Dean.

  6. Dean, this is a great article. I so often hear aspiring writers who focus on sales rather than writing and on things over which they have no control.

    I have several dreams and goals and even a few fears. My primary dream is to be able to write full-time. I’ve set a goal of publishing 20 books in the next 5 years in hopes of achieving that dream. 8 of the books will be novels that my father wrote, 12 will be mine. That computes to 4 a year. I’ve currently published 6, so I’m already half-way through my goal for next year.

    Maybe in 5 years, with my goal of 20 books for sale met, I’ll see my dream come true. But I’m sure I’ll still be writing, regardless.

    I always enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience.

    Merry Christmas.

    Merrill

  7. I’m going to learn to fail like you next year. This is a great post and I look forward to the next one. Thanks for all you’ve done for the writing community.
    I hope you are feeling better.
    Happy Holidays!

  8. In my experience, the ‘fear of failure’ is often tied to a self-identity. “I am X” which becomes important for self-esteem. If one never puts it to the test, one can believe “I am X” for a long time. There are plenty of rationalizations and justifications to continue to support the belief sans test.

    For example, “I am a good writer” can be sustained indefinitely if the writer never put my stories in a place where they can be rejected. It’s easy to say, “oh, I just don’t have the time to learn how to self-publish” as rationalization.

    The solution, in my experience and observation, is to separate the self-esteem and self-identity from the work. The fact that I only sold 4 ebooks total in December to date (out of 6 shorts and 2 novels available at multiple sites) does not mean “I am a failure” or “I am a bad writer.” It means that they’re not selling for reasons I haven’t figured out yet and there are many many possibilities besides “I suck.” By not having any ego/self-esteem in their sales, I can “work on my slice” in your analogy above and try to figure out why they’re not selling while writing the next ones.

    Finally, as you point out above, attaching self-esteem to a test doesn’t allow for the vagaries of success. Yep, I sold only 4 in December. That’s still more than zero. It’s also only one ‘test.’ There have been tests for sales in May, June, July, August, September, October, and November. There have been tests for sales to traditional short story markets. There have been form letter rejections, personalized rejections, some acceptances, a few pieces of fan mail, and a helluva lot of fun. So with all these tests, exactly how do I use them to define “success” or “failure”? I don’t think there’s any objective way to do so. Since there’s not, why attach the results of those tests to my self-esteem?

    My self-identity does not depend on sales and that makes a huge difference in being able to proceed.

    • dwsmith says:

      Big Ed, very good point. So many writers put some sort of “dream” on the self-identity part of writing. A dream is out of our control, so when the dream doesn’t happen, the writer must twist reality to just keep going, and the more you twist, the farther the writer gets away from healthy.

      Merrill, good primary dream. I’ll talk about how setting goals can work toward dreams shortly, but you are sure on the right track.

      Lucas, thanks for the back-up on professional help. So many writers are idiots when it comes to that. They think “If I get the help, it will stop my writing.” Of course, without the help, they have no writing in the first place. Sick, sick, cycle. I got help for numbers of things for almost five years back about 26 years ago. The biggest thing it helped me with was the way my fear of success chewed up any chance I had of really being a professional writer. I still struggle with that one element a lot and have another pro I talk to who has the same problem and fights it as well. Stunning how fear of success can just creep in and keep you making very bad decisions.

  9. Lee Allred says:

    Great column, Dean. (Gave me the old boot-to-posterior jet assisted take off in several passages. :) )

    Ok. Here we go. (Deep breath.) My goals for 2012:

    10 stories written, uploaded to Rookhouse

    1 novel written, uploaded

    2 POD/ebook anthos w/u

    4 old trunk stories uploaded (my fear factor)

  10. M. A. Golla says:

    Wonderful blog post! I totally love your attitude toward your goals, successes and ‘failures’, mainly because they echo my own.

    On the plus side:

    –Self-published five middle grade stories–sold a few, still haven’t broken even (I paid for my covers), but these stories are available to be read, which they wouldn’t have been if I let them rot on my hard drive. It was the 200+ rejections on GNOME by trad. agents/publishers that got me down and made me realize that even if I didn’t make a dime, I wanted kids to read these books! Earlier this month, I joined Amazon Prime’s program with GNOME and offered it free for 3 days this last week–I “sold” almost 1,000 copies! Nope, no money for me, but I reached 1000 potential customers for my other stories, plus the word-of-mouth audience (hopefully).

    –I vowed to eat healthier and exercise–Joined Weight Watchers in June, and lost almost 40 pounds by eating right and walking 45 minutes/day.

    On the negative side:

    –entered contest with new Young Adult story–my back is still healing from my flayed skin. I allowed others opinions to bother me.
    –Depressed myself over lack of sales, knowing full well I’m ahead of the curve for my target audience to be using electronic devices for reading, plus parents are still doing the downloading not the kids. I do think this might have something to do with it.

    All-in-all, it was a wonderful year and I hope next year will be just as good.

    Have a Merry Christmas and keep up your wonderful blog posts!

  11. PV Lundqvist says:

    Hi Dean,

    I recognize myself in example #3. Which is weird because I’ve already self-pubbed a book. Just had the best month of its run. You’d think I’d be past that!

    But different pen name, different genre. A million excuses to delay.

    And that’s what they are. For one, I’m sick to death of the book. Edited it a million times; put other eyeballs on it. And yes, dozens of suggestions to water it down: can’t say that! What if somebody’s offended?

    Rattles the brain. The constant, is it ready?

    And then there’s knowing that the work gets harder after pubbing. The marketing, the advertising, the…waiting. To see if it goes anywhere. Exhausting.

    But I tip my cap to you, it’s not logical to stop now, so close. Because writers are not here to prepare to prepare, we’re here to FINISH.

    • dwsmith says:

      PV, the key is to recognize the issue so some of your goals for the next year can work to help the recognize problems. Make sense? That’s why I started where I did with this series.

  12. L. M. May says:

    Great article, Dean. I think this post is going to be a lifeline for writers looking for help in unloading the emotional baggage holding them back.

    I thought I’d share a quote from James Lee Burke on failure for those who had never read his article (http://www.jamesleeburke.com/content/4):

    “The most difficult test for me as a writer came during the middle of my career, when, after publishing three novels in New York, I went 13 years without a hardback publication. My novel the “The Lost Get-Back Boogie” alone received 110 rejections during nine years of submission…It was during this period I had to relearn the lesson I had learned at 20, when I worked on the offshore oil crew: you write it a day at a time and let God be the measure of its worth; you let the score take care of itself; and most important, you never lose faith in your vision….”

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, L.M., That’s a great quote from Burke and spot on.

      Chrissy, those of us with upper-level athletics do have an advantage in this thinking. But the thinking “never good enough” is just normal and never goes away to any driven writer. It’s what keeps us learning and trying to make every new story better. Most writers, once they have a few publications and have hit what their own “I’m there…” goal, they stop learning. And fairly quickly the business goes by them and they don’t have a clue what happened. I see it all the time in some of my favorite writers.

      So the “never good enough” is not a bad fear unless it keeps work inside your head or your office. Then that’s bad. But otherwise that fear of never knowing enough, never being good enough, is the best thing you can have to drive you for a very long and successful career.

  13. Thanks for this post, Dean! I’m glad you don’t shy away from failure and it being a fact of life – especially the idea that within ‘failure’ there is also success. Sometimes you can’t physically identify or hold what that success is, and yet there’s still success. For those who’ve played serious sports, in one form or another, this might be an easier concept to grasp. I know it is for me. There can only be one ‘winner’ in a tournament, but just because you didn’t win doesn’t mean you played badly. And even if you won, you probably recognized areas you need work – like if I hit an outside pitch to left field instead of going with it. In theory, that would be a failed at bat – except I identified what I did wrong and try to do better next time. Try. I might make the same mistake just because it’s a hard habit to break but I’ll go to bat next time with the same goal in mind.
    In many ways, that’s just like writing. I need practice to get better and I might not be able to see (or feel) an improvement with each story. But I can sit down and write with a goal in the back of my mind to improve character setting. Maybe I fail, maybe I don’t, but I’ll keep working at it.
    I do have plenty of fears about writing – mostly about not ‘being good enough’ (I still feel new at this) and I purposefully avoid looking at posted stories in case they have one stars. Sure that’s not a good reflection of my writing (especially if a story happens to sell incredibly well – completely at odds with the one star), but it’s still an insecurity that could (if I let it) freeze my writing. So, I avoid even seeing the stars, keep my head down and write more.

  14. Lisa Nowak says:

    I tend to be the type to press forward despite my fears (at least in writing) but I have let the failure thing affect me in other ways. Mainly by buying into it. I set my goals ridiculously high and then can’t meet them. It’s not intentional. I just write down all the things I need to get done, and once they’re on paper they’ve suddenly become goals instead of just a list. And since I have a tendency to put at least double the things on a daily list than I could possibly get done in that amount of time (even if I’m lucky enough to escape any “life rolls”) I feel like a failure every single day. What’s more, since I never get through my daily list, I can never give myself permission to take a day off or do something just for fun. Even when life circumstances force me to take a day off, I have a hard time enjoying it because all I can think of is how much time I’m wasting. So yeah, that’s pretty messed up. But seeing a post like this helps me to put it all in perspective. Focus on what you’ve done, not on what you didn’t do. Good advice.

  15. Todd says:

    I love it when you rail against the danger of homogenization, i.e., constant rewriting, taking everybody’s notes, and ending up with a Committee Camel when you set out to design a horse.

    Coming from the world of Hollywood, this was S.O.P. in scriptwriting.

    Which explains a lot about what you see on screen, big and small.

    “Superhero meets girl, superhero meets girl, superhero meets girl…”

    Todd
    http://www.toddtrumpet.com

  16. Dean, I’m glad to see a new post and one that hits home for me. I am grateful for it. I want to head strong going into 2012 and hitting goals. I sometimes think I have a fear of success, but was wondering how it manifests itself. It’s not one of those things I’ve really researched. Maybe I’m over thinking. I feel more confident about what I have planned though. I’m keeping my eye on realistic goals rather than dreams…that’s for sure. Look forward to the next post.

  17. Sam says:

    Great article, Dean!

    You’ve listed several of my own personal roadblocks, but as you say, being willing to fail, and fail often, will blast through almost all of them.

    >>”Afraid to write or finish a story you have been talking about for a while.”

    Also works on story length. I started out writing novels, then sidestepped to short stories, and now I’ve built novels up so much in my head that I spent all year avoiding writing one!

    Time to get back up on that particular horse.

  18. Carradee says:

    This post came at a good time. I pulled out the “2012 Goals” notecard I have and realized that I’ve put my goals for my freelance business and goals for my fiction writing on the same card. Bad move. (Because it helps the freelance business to have a numerical value to aim for each day, but that hurts the fiction writing.)

    So I need to make a different card for my writing goals. (I’m a 3×5 card junkie.)

    I faced down fear when finishing my two novels I’ve released. Free associative writing helped, which started along the lines of “I’m stuck. Why am I stuck?” etc.

    And actually, that “fear of finishing” might be why the hardest part on any story always seems to be the final 1/3rd, for me.

  19. J.A. Marlow says:

    I’m working on my 2012 writing and publishing business plan, so this series of posts are coming at exactly the right time. I’ve pretty much scrapped the old 5 and 10 year plans I’d made out in 2009 as so much does not apply in this new world of publishing where the time-scales are so sped up (What a great time to be writing!). So, I’m making out new longer-term goals, as well.

    My books are the typical types when it comes to selling. Starting out slow and then slowly building. I have not hit the ‘lottery’ jackpot and I’m moving forward as if I never will, which I’m incorporating into my yearly business plans.

    Meanwhile, I’m loving the process. I already have fans of certain series poking at me for the next book. Talk about priceless.

  20. “In fact, to be clear, when I talk about an objective in the future that is out of your control, I will call it a ‘dream.’

    An objective in the future that is totally in your control I will call a ‘goal.’”

    Wow. Dean, those two sentences are profound. Those by themselves can be life-changing.

    Dreams are good. Goals are good. Know the difference. Don’t confuse them.

    I expect I’ll find myself sharing that insight with lots of people in the future. I’ll be sure to credit you.

    “A manuscript must be perfect. The writer doesn’t dare let a ‘flawed’ manuscript out for anyone to see.”

    I’ve given up fighting this one. People get it, or they don’t. If they don’t, it’s likely they VEHEMENTLY don’t, and trying to discuss it with them will only cause an argument.

    OK, goals…

    1. My first goal is a repeat of my goal from last year, one where I had only middling success. At the end of every week, every story must be one of the following:

    A.Sold.

    B.In the hands of an editor who might buy it.

    C.Self-published to Kindle and other platforms.

    D.Free-published on my blog. (This is only for works that I do like, but I think are too short or otherwise too noncommercial for self-publishing.)

    I would say I met that goal about half the weeks of the year. This year I’ll aim for every week. Of course, I made it too easy on myself, because I didn’t finish as much as I could have. So that leads to…

    2. Write more.

    3. Finish more. Finish 24 short stories and 1 short novel.

    4. Set up my publishing house as per “Think Like a Publisher”. I already have the domain name, the web site, and the DBA. I have two titles published under Old Town Press. Now I need to put in place more structure to think MORE like a publisher.

  21. Chrissy Wissler says:

    Actually, Dean, until I found your posts and indie publishing came along, “never good enough” really did prevent stories and novels from going out the door. Everyone said your novel “needed to be perfect” (everyone meaning everyone a new writer would hear online or at a writer’s conference). And because I was new and you know, needed to actually practice, I just kept redrafting the same novel over and over again. Now with indie publishing it’s like that fear has been taken off the table because it doesn’t matter anymore. There is no ‘perfect’ but only ‘write the next story.’

    And maybe the ‘never good enough’ is another thing I picked up from sports without realizing it. There’s always more for you to learn and there’s always someone better than you. The last may not directly apply to writing but there are always others you can learn from.

    Thanks for helping all this make sense – it’s incredibly fun when the pieces start falling into place.

    • dwsmith says:

      Chrissy, when editors say, ‘Only send me a “perfect” manuscript” they are doing two things. They are purposefully trying to slow down the flood that is around them. Over and over in traditional publishing you will get people who just don’t know any better to tell you to slow down in one way or another. It’s the worst advice a writer can take, of course, but it is given all the time, mostly by non-writers and often by lazy people who don’t want to work any harder. The second reason is that every editor, me included, has seen a manuscript somewhere along the way, that was never spell-checked, is covered in dirt, is written on. Kris got one with cobwebs. I often got stories with rusted staples.

      The problem is those idiots, which are the bottom feeders in the business and who go and come all the time, make editors say things like “make the manuscript perfect” and thus those bottom idiots hurt all writers with their stupidity or sickness. (Often, I discovered, it is a sickness.) Editors, not being writers, have no idea how utterly stupid their words are and how really damaging their words are to young artists and all the fears in those artists’ heads. The editors know there are no perfect books. Hell, they publish them every day. Hell, they make typos in cover copy they have written that doesn’t get caught because they are the only ones looking at it and they wrote it. When they say “perfect manuscript” they are seeing in their mind the dirty, not spellchecked, manuscripts.

      But a young writer hears, “Oh, shit, I had better rewrite that again and I had better let my workshop read it and I had better…. ” And thus they kill their own voice and never mail the book.

      Sad communication problem between people working in a communications business. But alas, true.

  22. Might I add another one to your list, Dean? Authors need to remember that they are in competition with themselves and not others.

    Now, it’s fun to do personal bets and dares (A bit of cash was put down by some friends due to me opening my big mouth). I’m not talking about that kind of fun. I’m talking about those who spend their time on online *cough* kindleboards, writing circles, twitter *cough* and lament over their lack of sales, make passive aggressive comments that their sales are less than others, and complain that others are writing oh so much.

    I can make a lovely list of why I can’t write as much as you, Dean, right now. But, other than begging for pity, why would I do that? Who cares why I can’t write?

    Instead, I compete against myself. I can’t write 140,000 in short fiction alone in a year and meet my contractual obligations plus my “I wanna to it” projects. I can not. However, I can push myself to write 1 more short story than I wrote this year. I can push myself to write 1 more novella.

    I can push myself to do a little more.

    I think a lot of people get jealous, disappointed, and/or discouraged when they see what others are producing. In the end, those feelings are useless. What is important is pushing yourself.

    If a person only ever writes 1 short story a year, for example. Instead of looking at you or Kris, perhaps they look at themselves and say “this year I’m going to write 2.”

    Newer writers would do better to set realistic goals that push, as opposed to being 100x more than they’ve ever accomplished thus far.

    /end ramble

  23. Thank you, thank you! This is exactly what I needed to hear. I’m preparing to self-publish my first novel (first out in the world, eighth finished) and I keep worrying that it’s not good enough. I look at the books I just finished and they’re better than this one. I have to keep telling myself that this book was the best I could do in early 2010 and I should be proud of it and send it out. (Yes I’ve gotten THAT much better at writing in a year. My 2011 stuff is AWESOME.)

    I’m declaring 2012 “The Year of No Fear”. I won’t let fear stop me from publishing my work, or writing something daring, or trying new things.

  24. Kort says:

    Loved this post, Dean. Was thinking about writing a post on failure re: a Christmas program I was asked to do at the very last minute. I play the tuba recreationally and I was sure I was going to suck. Honestly, I think I did and there’s no way I would have made it as a professional musician but I had nearly a hundred people pull me aside after the program to tell me how much they loved it.

    I sucked, if I was playing for a different audience it would have been a ‘fail’ but for the group I was playing for? They loved it and that’s the important part.

    Ten years ago, I would have been beating myself up about the program. Now, I take the compliments and remind the music director to call me more than 3 days before they need me.

    It took me a long time to get to that attitude and I’m applying it to my writing. Write it, get it out the door and move on. If it comes back, send it back out and keep writing. Practice, perform, practice, perform, get better for next time.

    Cheers!

    • dwsmith says:

      Kort, what a great story and spot on the money for what I talked about in this first article. Thanks for sharing it.

      Devin, sounds like you have cleared out some of the aspects, but just by judging your own writing, you are setting yourself up again. So caution on that. Stories have titles, novels have titles, they were the best you could do when you wrote them. Beyond that, nothing matters but getting them into indie print or on editor’s desks. If you start comparing your own work, you are doomed to madness. (grin) Hell, never, ever occurs to me to reread anything I have written. Ever. Not once. It’s a waste of time, I know how it ends so it’s boring, and I would rather be writing new. I have zero memory of writing most of the 32 stories I wrote this year, plus the three others. Plus all the other novel and nonfiction work I did.

      So great job, Devin, but caution on comparing anything you have written to anything else. Madness, I say, madness. (grin)

  25. I’ve been using the mantra “Failure is not Optional.” You must fail, you can’t avoid it, so go after it. Have fun with it for goodness’ sakes.

    I think I’ll kick off my “Liminal Zone” (which is what I call the days between Xmas and New Years — the 8 days between the years) with a post about the book I just finished, why I don’t regret what reworking I did, but also why I don’t even want to fix certain major “flaws.”

    There’s a phrase they use in acting, “Burning your steps.” That’s when an actor gets to the emotional climax of a scene too fast, and has no where to go (emotionally speaking) for the rest of the scene.

    Big entertainment corporations encourage people to spend every bit of creative ammo you’ve got on the first go. Make that huge hit, and then just skate through sequels which become more and more boring as they bring nothing new to the table.

    And advice I hear on agent sites and writing groups is like that too. Use up everything you’ve got, just to break in.

    Generally, that’s in itself is not horrible advice — use up what you’ve got and you have to dig deeper, creatively — but the result is the kind of rewriting that Dean talks about above. And also the kind of advice I would be getting on my just finished book:

    I discovered, in the writing of this book, that the series will go in a slightly different direction than I thought. An agent would undoubtedly tell me to revise the whole book with the new direction in mind. But I can’t help but feel like that would be burning my steps.

    “That’s where I want to end up,” says I to myself. “Why would I want to start there? And if I spent the time to push this book in that direction, I won’t be able to write a last book at the other end.”

    Although I do think that burning your steps is only half fear. The other half is impatience. You want it all now, and ironically when you try to make it all happen now, it slows you down.

    • dwsmith says:

      Camille said, “…ironically when you try to make it all happen now, it slows you down.”

      Wow, is that true. Wow, just wow. If Kris wasn’t in her office writing right now (meaning do not disturb) I would run and show her that right now. It’s spot on topic for something we’ve been talking about.

      Thanks!!

  26. Sam says:

    I agree, Camille, that sometimes, the long way is the shortest path there.

    Those who seek shortcuts end up learning that their way took much longer than if they’d taken the road that seemed longer and harder.

  27. Camille — So true!

    My mystery series, which I started last year with the intention of doing maybe four books in the main arc, has ballooned to eight (4 done, 4 to go). I’d planned the shorter series initially because I wanted to have a series finished and because I figured I’d be doing one a year. I’ve done four in the last 15 months, and it’s gone in a vastly different direction than I expected–and better, it seems, than the one I had planned.

    I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s the same experience I’m having with my SF series, but the willingess to treat the experience like riding a horse (an organic, dynamic, and highly unpredictable process) than like designing a bridge (a highly-engineered, very rigid process) has resulted in better books. Not only that, it’s resulted in more complex books. Just like with things in nature, working from the bottom up seems to produce more elegance, variation, and interconnection than working from the top down.

    Not everyone’s process works this way, but I gotta say, doing things in this fashion instead of the rigid manner I learned (outline, flesh out, put the bones on it) has freed me up to be better, faster, AND more relaxed about the whole thing.

    And since we’re checking in on goals this year, here were mine from last year:
    1: Average 1500 wds/day, all 365 days.
    2: Get 20 titles released
    3: Complete 4 new novels (working January to January)

    Result:
    1: Averaged 1200 wds/day, up from 900 wds/day last year
    2: 18 released so far, 2 on deck for this week. I’ll barely make this one.
    3: Completed 2 novels at twice the intended length, have a further 3 that are 75%-90% done (one of which I might still finish before the new year). Also accidentally wrote a nonfiction book (an article got too big for its britches). Compare this to 2.5 books the previous year, and 1 per year in the years before that.

    Mixed results? Kinda disappointing? Hell yes. but also a HUGE level-up from last year, particularly when you consider the 8 unintended short stories along the way (2 of which sold to magazines).

    So I’m counting a win, and retrenching for next year. :-)

    -Dan

    • dwsmith says:

      Yup, Dan, clearly a win!! Congrats.

      Part two of the new “goals” series almost done. I should have it up by Tuesday. 3rd part later in the week.

  28. allynh says:

    One thing I would like to add as a goal:

    - Create an e-book/POD cover each week.

    At work there were a number of tasks that only needed to be done once or twice a year. I was part of the support staff and every week someone would ask me for help on those blue moon tasks. They felt stupid for not remembering how to do all the steps. I told them that was normal. No one can build skills when they only do something once in a blue moon.

    - Start creating covers now, when you don’t need them.

    Build up the skill-set by creating the covers to your favorite stories. That gives you the chance to develop your own style without the panic moment of asking, How do I do this?

    Play with the covers, be serious, funny, ironic, etc… Keep doing that every week from this point on. Covers are too important to be done in panic.

    Formatting the interior of the e-book/POD is another blue moon task to start doing now rather that later.

  29. Allynh–

    A very good notion, that. When I was learning VisualFX and editing one of the basic teaching tools was footage from BTS specials on DVDs. We’d use them to practice bluescreen matte pulling (which is actually more difficult on consumer footage that raw footage, so it forced us to get really good), rotoscoping (laser bolts, lightsabers, etc), wire removal, compositing, etc. We knew the movies we were using as test beds, so we had a standard to work to, and we could hone our skills even when there wasn’t an active project in the shop. It was an *excellent* way to learn.

    With book covers you’ve got the same situation: Many great examples of covers which you can try to re-create from scratch, books you love which you can do alternate cover art for to learn how different approaches affect the presentation, professional standards to compare against, and all of it uses the same five basic tools: Stock imagery (or your own camera), Fonts, vector graphics (like Illustrator and Inkscape), and raster graphics (photoshop, GIMP, etc.) and layout programs (InDesign, Scribus, Powerpoint, Quark, etc.).

    Good call! I’ll have to start passing this on to friends who are trying to figure out the cover art thing. It is an excellent idea.
    -Dan

  30. Creating covers can also be a great brainstorming exercise. Create a cool cover you like, then write a story for it.

  31. allynh, that is some terrific advice!

    Indeed, one of the ways I got additional practice early on, when I was starting out learning to do e-covers early this year, was to offer to do covers for free for a writer I know who was preparing to self-pub three of his backlist books. I was familiar with the material, so this was a great opportunity for me to practice without pressure. He hadn’t even started proofreading the old MSs, so there was no rush; and we agreed he just wouldn’t use the covers I created if he didn’t like them, no pressure. I was JUST PRACTICING, after all. (The deal was that, if he liked what I came up with and WANTED to use it, then he’d foot the bill to license the images I’d selected; I think the total fee for that was $36, which covered all three covers.) Those practice covers actually wound up on the finished ebooks, and I learned a lot by doing them. Fortunately, having my own backlist of about 20 books has also given me a lot of practice opportunities. But if someone’s just got one-or-two books to package at this time, then, yes, practicing on a dozen favorite novels or something is a GREAT idea.

    (In fact, that’s also how I taught myself to write submission synopses for my own novels many years ago–writing a “submission” synopsis of every book I read for about a year. It allowed me to focus on learning synopsizing skills without the fog created by one’s insecurities and attachments involved in one’s -own- manuscripts.)

    RE covers, I also study what professional publishers and professional freelance ebook designers are doing, conceptually, and try to learn from it. I make regular sweeps of online bookstores and of designer sights, studying what catches my eye and doesn’t, what atracts me to a book or leaves me cold, etc.

    I’ve been making a study of book covers and cover design for years anyhow (ever since doing a big five-part series of articles on book covers in the mid-1990s, since the cover is so important to the commercial success of the book), and I’ve always been very hands-on in the cover process of my books at publishers (at least when allowed–I also think the results speak for themselves, frankly: To give one good example, at Luna Books, where they refused to discuss packaging with me at ALL, let alone involve me, the packaging was so disastrous it killed sales and nearly killed my career; at DAW, where they actively accommodate my involvement (as do the illustrators whom they commission) in the -exact- same (resurrected) series that Luna killed, I’m getting the best covers of my career and hear often from readers who say they picked up one of these books for the first time -because- of the cover–which is -exactly- what you want in a cover, something that actively attracts your audience).

    If you keep practicing at covers, you do indeed get better at it. I’ve lately repackaged a couple of my earliest homemade e-covers (which I created in February, when I was just getting started), since I can do a better job now, 10-11 months and multiple covers later. (I do my own covers, since my decision early on was to minimize expenses. But for people who really don’t want to do their own covers, or who feel they really CANNOT, there are some excellent and affordable freelance designers doing e-covers, such as Kim Killion of Hot Damn Designs and Pati Nagle of Mandala, to name just two).

    Not RUSHING is also excellent advice. I usually start working on the covers for a book, trilogy, or series weeks or months before I’m going to need it, which leaves me plenty of time to fiddle and tweak until it’s just right. One of the problems with my first couple of efforts were that they were indeed rushed–I didn’t start working on the covers until after the manuscripts were proofed, formatting, and ready-to-go, and that made me rush the covers, since once the MS is ready, I’m always DYING to get the book posted. So I find I’ve got plenty of time to be meticulous and exacting about the covers if I do them well BEFORE the book is ready. (This is also important because, whereas I’m very experienced at proofreading and don’t need to do it multiple times, I’m inexperienced and untrained at cover design and ahve limited/fumbling software skills, so I have to do more experimenting and tweaking to get something I like. So building in TIME to the cover process works much better for me.)

  32. Josephine Wade says:

    I’ve been thinking about the fears in my life and one of mine is admitting out loud that I have any (smile), but maybe if what I have to say will help someone — well, then here it goes.

    I’ve come back to writing after many years away and this can eat at you because you feel behind and it is easier to just stay away then come back. So initially I just gave myself a simple goal — six years to write, no pressure. After I got comfortable writing I’ve added on other goals: word count, finish this project, learn this skill, read up on the markets (they’ve changed a lot since I was last here), meet people in the field, eventually up the word count, and …the list goes on. But I should point out that every goal leads to another one and I couldn’t do my last goals first. Just taking the first step of writing again initially was really all my internal voices skilled at making me feel lousy would allow.

    I’m still currently holding several of my pieces hostage (they are in different stages of being completed, but I have trouble letting them go) and that is my goal for this year. I found each fear is really a skill set you haven’t learned yet. And if I break down what the fear is and just concentrate on the to do list to get the task done then it seems less ominous.

    Years ago I was watching a ‘Friends’ episode where one of the main characters Monica had her purse stolen and when she looked at her credit card statement she realized the woman who stole her card was having more fun with her money than she ever did. The episode ended by Monica taking a tap dancing class with a tough teacher (something she would have walked out of earlier claiming it was too difficult), but when the teach yelled at her this time “You’re doing it all WRONG!” Monica armed with her new fear slaying skills yells back, “Yeah, well at least I’m doing it!” This is the line I tell myself over and over when my internal voice wants to put me down. There are plenty of people sitting on the sidelines, I may do it all wrong, but I’m doing it.

  33. re: “Afraid to write or finish a story you have been talking about for a while.”

    I read that fear completely differently than your discussion of it – as an actual fear of writing the *story.* My first book, the one I’m working on now, and one I still have on the drawing board have, laced through them, themes (*not* story lines – they’re *far* from autobiographical!) that are deeply personal and, for me, difficult to write about. I hate/love Kris for pushing me to go deeper than the glossed-over, fluffy crap I’d been defaulting to in my writing, and actually write from a place of intense emotion, but it’s been one of the best things for my writing. It’s painful to bump a nerve and write from that level of depth, but I love what I’ve been writing as a result.

    As far as the book that’s “still on the drawing board”… yeah, I’m still afraid of it – but I’m closer to writing it than I have been for many years, so that’s progress. In the meantime, I’ve got a few projects in the queue for the coming year that I’m looking forward to getting out the door.

  34. Liz Pierce says:

    It’s funny that you’re mostly hearing from young people (“kids under thirty”) the complaint that “it takes too long” – or maybe it’s just that the crowd I hang out with most doesn’t have too many under-thirty writers in it. All the “it takes too long” concerns I hear center around the “I’m fifty+ and I don’t have time to start a new career / write a book around the demands of my life / achieve [fill in the blank] level of success before retirement” type of arguments. All of which are perfectly valid concerns for the individuals expressing them (no “dissing” of personal situations here).

    I could voice many of the same concerns – and have on more than one occasion – and now I’m twenty years farther down the road without a backlist. A situation I will *not* be in twenty years hence, let me tell you, even if I only manage to eke out one book a year, like I should have been doing for the last twenty years.

    But that’s all water under the bridge, as they say. My first book is completed and up as an ebook (and people tell me they *like* it – yay!), along with a companion short, another short in progress, and notes for the next book coalescing into the skeletal outline I like to have before I start writing. My life is too often crazy-busy, and I measure my success at reaching my goals by how much I write in a week rather than on a daily basis, but it’s where I’m starting from, and that’s more than I could say five years ago.

    So to your thirty-something friends who think being a professional writer “takes too long” all I can say is “pfft!” You’ve got twenty more years than I do, so don’t waste them like I did – unless, of course, you want to be me when you grow up, just getting started and shaking your head at all the thirty-somethings who think that being a professional writer takes too long… :P

  35. I create my own covers, too – and, like Laura and allynh, think they’re getting better with practice (although there are a couple I’ll probably go back and fix when I have time). With shorter stories, I usually create the cover after the story is written (although I have written a story to match a cover idea once or twice).

    For a novel project, I might go through multiple covers during the course of writing the book, pausing in the writing for an hour or so when a cover idea occurs to me to create it and set it as my desktop background (or slideshow, if I’ve come up with more than one idea for the cover). That lets me “live with” the cover for a little while, as well as serve as an ongoing memory-jog to keep working on the book even when other things tried to distract me or pull my focus away.

  36. Tamara says:

    I rifled through a copy of Allen’s “Getting Things Done” a while back… there were some common sense elements in there. One of the basic principles of his “method” was that To Do lists should only contain actionable items, because ill-defined ones are just intimidating and make you procrastinate. “Finish X Project” is not actionable, because there’s no criteria for success. If by “Finish X Project” you mean “Research Y” and “Write Z,” then you should focus on /those/, not on the amorphous idea of a “project.”

    Expanding on what you said about identifying goals that are within your control, I’ve found it immensely helpful to break my larger goals down into ones I can take care of immediately. Millions of American adults will soon make a New Years Resolution to “Lose Weight,” which sounds significant and daunting and will make them lose steam halfway into January. If they instead said, “Jog four times a week,” “Replace sodas with water,” or “Stop buying Doritos,” we’d be a collectively smaller nation in no time. Similarly, self-publishing a book sounds like a big, scary concept. Writing each chapter, getting friendly feedback, formatting the document and uploading it to A, B, and C sites does not.

  37. Since we’re talking goals and fears, I guess I’ll join the crowd and talk about how I did with my goals for the year.

    This was my first year of writing (I started writing my first book over the Christmas holiday last year). At first I was just writing to finish that one project, but around February or March, I set the following goals:

    1) Finish my first novel by the end of April
    2) Finish novel #2 by the end of September
    3) Win NaNoWriMo
    4) Write 25 short stories
    5) Get my business set up and figure out e-publishing
    6) Go to a writing conference

    Later it became clear that life would not allow #6, so I scrapped it and replaced it with submitting to Writers of the Future each quarter until I win or pro out.

    So how’d I do?

    1) I finished Masters of the Sun on May 5th. Close enough for government work – success
    2) Fail. I didn’t finish novel #2 in September. In fact I’m still only about 30k into it. Though I decided to break it up into two or three novellas, so maybe I’m being a little hard on myself there. :)
    3) Success. I crossed the NaNoWriMo finish line at just under 50,100 words. :) The story ended up being just under 54,000 words and is now with a friend who’s acting as my first reader.
    4) If you count novelettes in with short stories, I wrote nine. Far from my goal of 25, so that goes down as a Fail.
    5) Success. I got through all the starting up a business things and posted up 10 titles: one novel, 5 short stories, those five in a collection, and 3 novelettes.
    6) Three for three so far, with one Honorable Mention (my first entry). I’ll confess I have not started my story for this quarter yet, but I’ve got a few days still. :)

    So it’s a mixed bag. I suppose I could beat myself up over novel #2 and the short story goal, but I’m not going to. Shoot it’s more than I’ve ever written before as it is. :) I haven’t done the final tally for the year yet, but I think I’ll come in somewhere around 220 to 230k words this year. I finished all those titles and have started several more. I’ve earned a bit less than $120 in royalties. I’ve met a lot of cool people (and some douchebags too, though fortunately they are few and far between). And I’ve had a bunch of fun.

    So it’s been a good first year. :) I fully expect 2012 to be even better. :)

  38. Dean,
    Thanks. I love this post and look forward to this series.

    I’d like to hear about Goals 2.0. What I mean by that is, if you’ve achieved your goals and you’re kind of at a loss.

    2011 was a huge year for me, writing-wise:
    –contract for a radio drama pilot
    –two book contract offers
    –several short story contracts and publications
    –jumping into indie publishing, with one bestseller
    Plus raising my baby and son and returning to work part-time.

    I devoted a lot of my energy to publishing rather than writing this year. I think a good deal of my energy/creativity went into my baby. Which leaves me kind of a lull right now. I still have short stories and novels to publish, but my all-consuming writing obsession is at a lower ebb. If anyone has any thoughts/advice, I’d sure appreciate it. Thanks!

    P.S. Krista, totally agree that competing with other writers is a long and twisted road to unhappiness. Well said.

    • dwsmith says:

      Thanks, Melissa, and wow, what a great year.

      One note, to keep things straight here. Most of what you listed is not accomplishing goals. Very little of that was in your control, actually, so you had “dreams” realized, but I see few goals there. Everything was outside based. Great stuff, but out of your control from moment to moment and year-to-year. (Except the raising the baby and returning to work part-time. (grin)

      And after a year like that, if you think you will have another year like that, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Reread my post again about the difference between a goal and a dream. #2 chapter is on the way shortly.

  39. Thomas E says:

    Last year’s goals were simple for me:

    1) 365,000 words of fiction written – I’ve just counted up this month’s work so far, and I am actually on 436,000. So I guess that is a success.

    2) Writing 1 short story a week from June – I had been doing this without fail until two weeks ago. But various life events happened in December that prevented me writing as much as I would like. Still, I completed three times as much short fiction this year compared to any previous year – so the goal failed, but it was a happy failure.

    This coming year I am going for a very ambitious goal, which is to finish 12 novels. I’ll either self publish them or submit them during next year.

  40. Great blog, Dean. Full of honest inspiration. Thanks, you’ve really made me think here.

  41. I love Josephine’s mantra: “I may be doing it wrong but I’m doing it.” I’m so putting that up near my computer!

    My goals for this year were to write 150,000 words and self-publish 10 stories. So far, I’m at just under 391,000 words (aiming for 400,000 although it’s dragging a bit this week) which turned out to be 24 projects including 2 novels, 1 short novel, a couple of novellas and the rest short stories. For the self-publishing, I’m currently at 69 items uploaded and I’ll do one more this week just because I like to hit round numbers!

    I tried different things to find out when it was the best time to write and what kept me going. Challenging myself with mini-streaks really worked. I started writing over 1,000 words per day at the beginning of August and haven’t missed a day. Then challenged myself to hit 10,000 words a week at the same time and I’ve hit that each week as well. I even managed a week of hitting over 2,000 words a day for 7 days straight but purposely broke that after the 7 days. I know myself and I can be a little obsessive and it just felt that trying to keep hitting 2K words per day right now would become work and take the fun out of it. It’s important for me to keep the sense of fun and joy in writing.

    But who knows, in 6-8 months, that 2K per day might just be a whole lot of fun!

    For 2012, I want to write 400-450,000 words, including 4 novels and to self-publish at least 25 items.

  42. Rob Cornell says:

    “The writer doesn’t dare let a “flawed” manuscript out for anyone to see.”

    Yeah, I have trouble with this one. I’m getting better, but it’s a fear that I’ve noticed has moved from excessive rewriting to excessive pondering while writing.

    I say, “I’m not going to rewrite.”

    Fear says, “Then we better make sure we slow down and make sure to get it right the first time.”

    But I’m setting myself a goal of 10 60,000-word novels for 2012. That’s going to make this fear pretty hard to nurture if I want to get that done. :)

  43. As happens, I stumbled on something the other day on fear, and it seems appropriate to share it here. This comes from a Hollywood Reporter list titled, “2011′s Biggest Rule Breakers, and is the entry on George Clooney:
    ======
    Nominated in actor, writer, producer and director Golden Globe categories for his work in The Descendants and The Ides of March, Clooney still admits he’s “afraid of failure.”

    Clooney told THR, “I failed so many times, I have a much better understanding of the journey. It’s how you handle the down part [that counts].”
    ======
    I can’t argue with that.

  44. I’ve since done my own blog post about failure (and fear of same) spinning in part from the George Clooney quote linked above. It’s called “Only the Brave.”
    http://www.yorkwriters.com/2011/12/only-brave.html

  45. Nancy Beck says:

    My goals for 2011 were to write and upload 3 novellas and upload 3 short stories.

    Since I just uploaded the last novella yesterday, that’s a success! :-)

    I also wrote 2 shorts, combining them into 1 book (I felt they were too short to keep them separate, and they’re in the same universe, so it made sense to keep them in the same package.) Another success!

    I also wanted to start writing shorts and novelettes in another genre, under a pen name. It’s actually a subgenre, but it’s one that I especially like. But do to life rolls, I’ve only written half of the first short/novelette, and I wanted to get three of them up by the end of the year. So that’s a fail.

    However, I’ve written more this year than I ever have, had fun doing it, and look forward to writing more in 2012.

    Goals:
    1. Write, finish, and upload 10-12 short stories and novelettes in that other genre under a pen name.
    2. Work on historical fantasy/alternate history series set in NYC in the 1930s.
    3. Write, finish, and upload historical fantasy set World War II California, in between the “other genre” novelettes and the NYC series. I first worked on this years ago, rewrote waaay too much, but I still love the idea and characters.
    4. Further sketch out ideas for a fantasy/SF series set on an asteroid. This is just in the beginning stages (percolating in my mind) but I love the idea of writing something that I’m not necessarily comfortable with (that’s the SF side).
    5. Set up a website for my publishing company. (Still sounds so cool to me, lol!)

    Thanks again, Dean, for all the info you put out there. I was nervous about setting up my business, but because you gave out the info in a step-by-step way, I was less nervous than I thought it’d be. In fact, it was a really simple thing to do.

  46. Dean,

    You’re right. I had a lot of dreams come true in 2011. I did respond by setting and meeting goals, but that didn’t come through in my post.

    Thanks for pointing that out, and for telling me to reset my expectations for 2012.

    For goals, I’m going to start writing consistently again, including fiction.

    And I want to have 50 items under my name on Amazon by the end of 2013 (I am at 38 now).

    I’m keeping my writing goals vague and publication goals within easy reach, since I am a workaholic in recovery, still trying to hold on to the day job and the children. I wrote “day joy” by accident–but that, too. :)

    Thanks, as always,
    Melissa

  47. Faysie says:

    Dean, I just wanted to say thank you for this series. And I wanted to add that it’s taken me four days to read this one post because I would read a paragraph, get inspired, and start writing. Thank you for helping me start 2012 by hitting the ground running!

    My biggest fear is the fear of writing myself into an impossible corner and “losing” my precious story. I’m experimenting on solving this by writing my current work in two documents, one each from different character’s points of view. Every time I get blocked in one, I write the other, and suddenly I get new ideas for the first one again, and vice versa. I’m sure this experiment will bite me in the rear before the story is finished, but I DO NOT CARE. I’m writing every day!!!

    That’s my goal, by the way. No word count, no story count, just write EVERY DAY for at least half an hour. Which, so far, has been so much fun that it’s been closer to two hours a day. I also plan to re-evaluate and set new goals in around three months, or whenever writing every day moves from being a goal to being a habit.

    This is going to be a GREAT year!

    • dwsmith says:

      Faysle, what a great idea. It might not bite you, it might be exactly what your subconscious is trying to tell you to write the story. Trust the process and keep having fun. And thanks for the comments.

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