The Second of the “Goals and Dreams 2012 Series”

A Dream:

An objective in the future that is out of your control.

A Goal:

An objective in the future that is totally in your control.

Basic and very simple. Selling to a traditional publisher is a dream. Mailing manuscripts to traditional editors is a goal.

A person sets goals and works toward them in the hopes of achieving dreams.

This concept must be very, very clear or you just ask for a ton of pain and disappointment when the people you can’t control don’t do what you want them to do when and how you want them to do it.

The first third of this series was about failure and how it must be accepted and built on. Sadly, so many writers wrote me saying they had “failed” by only getting three of four novels finished in 2011. Or only 200,000 words when they wanted more. Or something similar. Holy smokes, folks, let me simply say that thinking is very, very messed up. You wrote THREE novels. That is total success. Claim it as a success for heaven’s sake!!!

It’s one thing to accept failure and live with it, but my point, or part of my point of the first third of this:

Success is often buried in what seems like failure.

Type that up and put it on a sign on your office wall. If you only do 1,000 words in a day instead of your 1,250 word goal, climb back on the horse the next day (never try to catch up) and get the 1,250 words of your goal the next day. And be happy with the success of getting the 1,000 words you did get done the first day.

I wrote 32 original short stories last year because of my challenge. Sorry, that’s success. No matter what I set out to do a year ago. In fact, I couldn’t give a crap at this point what I set out to do, I wrote 32 short stories in 2011. (Plus three, actually.)  That is a damn fine short story year.

So in other words, quit calling writing a failure just because a year ago you set a goal and came only close. Dig in and find out what you did, how much you actually wrote, and that is success.

Call it that.

The Point of a Goal

The point of a goal is to help set guidelines on work and maybe deadlines on that work that help drive the work forward.

That’s pretty simple. But how do you set goals that are right for you? That gets a lot more tricky.

So let me run you through a step-by-step worksheet to set a goal.

Step One:

Move away from the computer, go to the couch, and let yourself daydream. In your fondest daydream, what kind of writer would you like to be? (I am using writer here, but this works for any dream.)  Do you want to be rich, write one book per year and get waited on by publishing staff on your book tour? You want to do commercials for your own books like James Patterson? You want to write the great literary novel and win a ton of prizes?  You want to sell 100,000 books per day on Kindle alone. All good dreams.

Of course, no one knows the exact path between that couch and having those dreams come true.

What we do know about writing is that it will take a ton of practice, a lot of years, and many miles of words written while walking in deep publishing forests filled with evil monsters that always jump out at you when you least expect it. In other words, there is no chance can you see a road that leads from that couch to your dream. None of us can.

But there is a road and the first little bit of it can be seen if you know where to look. But first you have to dream! And dream big!

So assuming the dream is to be a bestselling, rich writer with millions of readers waiting for your every book. What next?

Step Two:

Analyse what the writers who have attained yourt dream did in their early years.

For example: Koontz wrote under a dozen or more pen names as fast as he could, practicing his writing while fixing up houses to make enough money.  King wrote nine novels before he sold one, teaching high school English and working in a furnace room. Nora wrote and published upwards of fifty or a hundred novels before she became a bestseller. Patterson worked for decades in advertising writing. So did Cussler. Bradbury wrote up to a short story per day for years. And so on and so on.

In essence, they all wrote a great deal, practiced, studied what they did, and just kept going. That’s a pretty uniform trait of all mega-bestsellers in publishing. (Except for a few lucky modern ones. Jury is out on if they will be around in ten years, so stay with the long-term writers in your study. You want to be good and stable, not just lucky.)

Got that?

Step Three:

Now look at your own schedule for the upcoming week, upcoming month, upcoming year. With your job and family, how many hours per day or per week can you carve out safely for your writing? Talk to your family about this. Make them part of the process right here.

Write down the number of hours so that after a week or a month you can check back with the number to see how many hours you actually were able to carve out for your writing. You can adjust at that point.

Step Four:

Time your writing speed. If you tend to do about 250 words every fifteen minutes like most of us, just use that. One thousand words per hour is pretty good pace. No big deal if you are slower or faster typist. No one cares. You just need the amount of fiction you can type in an hour comfortably.

Step Five:

Tricky part. Using your speed of writing and available hours, figure out how many words you can write in a week. Safely!

However, if you are being too safe because of fear or need to rewrite or need to research or some other silliness, catch yourself and refigure.

Your writing hours are not for rewriting or research, they are for creating new words.  Protect those hours like a mother animal protecting cubs. Especially from yourself. That is the only way you will actually move down that path toward your dream.

Step Six:

Convert the number of original words you can write in a week into some unit of measure that works for you. Or leave it as words. I tend to like short stories or novels as units of measure. Actual word count means little-to-nothing for me. Everyone is different, find your own comfort measurement.

Step Seven:

With all the information, set your goals for the year. Talk about them with friends and family or not. Put them on your blog or not. Up to you. Just get them set.

And written down.

In Your Control

What you have just done is set a goal that is completely in your control. A writing goal.

You can then use the writing you will produce to set other goals. Goals such as mailing stories or books to editors or indie publishing your own books. Go through the same basic steps of figuring time needed and time you have to give to those new goals.

Caution!!!!  Never take writing time for rewriting, publishing, mailing, or anything else. Writing time, the production and practice of creating new stories is the only real way you will move along the road toward your dream.

There are a thousand disappointments every year in this business, usually from the outside directed inward toward you and your writing. If you TAKE CONTROL of what you can control, which is your writing and writing time, and protect it and meet your writing goals, the outside disappointments won’t be as bothersome.

An Honest Warning

What seems so simple in this section is actually very, very hard to accomplish. It is like I am telling you to follow Heinlein’s Rules. Those rules Heinlein set out are basic and simple and almost impossible for most writers full of myths to follow.

Well, setting writing goals, producing new words at a consistent basis seems simple as well. But it takes a driven person to accomplish even a percentage of the set goal. Most writers set goals in January and forget about them by April. The writing myths are very powerful in this area. For a little help with myths, read the chapters under the title Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing under the tab at the top of the page.

And if you do manage to hit a monthly goal with your production of new words, celebrate!

And don’t be surprised when the world decides that your writing isn’t going to get done, no matter how much you want it to get done. That happens all the time to all of us. And that will be the subject of the third part of this series: Climbing back on the horse and helping you get a goal all the way through a year.

When this series is done, I’ll post my new challenges and goals for 2012 so you all can follow along. I fell off a ton of horses in 2011, even though I ended up having a pretty fine year.

Time to mount up again.

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Copyright © 2011 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime
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Thanks, Dean