December 10, 2019
Goals keep you focused. Pin them up where you can see them when you sit down to write. Draw a target on a sheet of paper and write your goals in the bull’s eye.
But first you need to write them. And before you do that, you need to think about them. Skip that and you’ll end up with “Write 3 books!” :-)
This is the time, while you’re thinking about your goals for 2020, to do some reading and research, to gather ideas and suggestions. But remember to write your goals yourself.
Goals don’t have to be about finishing things. They can be about starting things, studying things; things about your writing you want to improve or stop doing—like eliminating favorite go-to words (we all have them) focusing on strong verbs, reducing adjectives and adverbs. Your goal needn’t be anything more than writing for the love of writing.
You set goals to help you achieve your deepest desire, the thing you want most from your writing. If you have no idea what that is, what you want your writing to do for you, or where you want your writing to take you, this is the time to figure it out.
Let’s say your goal for 2020 is “Write and sell one novel.”
Writing a novel and selling a novel are two separate things. You need a plan for writing the novel, and a plan for selling it. For selling a novel, really? Yes, really. Your plan for selling is selecting a specific publishing house or literary agent, a house that’s looking for the type of novel you want to write, and an agent that represents, let’s say, fantasy. (It is worth noting, however, that when you set up a goal for yourself that is not within your own control, it’s very hard to accomplish.)
If your goal for 2020 is “Write and sell 20 nonfiction articles,” begin with deciding what you want to write about, what length, and where you can sell your articles. Make a list of topics and don’t limit yourself to 20. Now pull your copy of Writers Market off the shelf and search for magazines––print and online––that publish what you want to write. Make a note of the length the editors want and the submission process.
Then put your market research aside and write the articles. Yes, all twenty. This is how professional freelancers do it, so they always have at least a few articles circulating. If you excel at Excel, when you’re ready to start submitting create a spreadsheet for each article. Note where you sent it, when, what the wait time is, and have at least three markets in mind for each one. If the first magazine says no, send it to the second. While your 20 articles are circulating, make another list of topics you want to write about and get busy on those.
Short Story Goals
If your target for 2020 is “Write and sell 20 short stories,” write the stories. Keep in mind that you may have to edit them to meet length requirements, and then do your magazine research. Why are the steps reversed for short stories? Because fiction is subjective. Oftentimes editors have no idea what they want to buy until it lands on their desk. The only thing you need to pay attention to is genre. In other words, don’t send a hardboiled detective story to Weird Tales. You’ll need a spreadsheet to keep track of where and when you’ve sent your stories.
Those are examples of one-year goals. Do you need two-year goals, five-year goals? If you aspire beyond writing and selling one novel, writing and selling 20 articles, writing and selling 20 short stories, then yes, because in two years or five years you won’t be the same writer you are today, any more than you’re the same writer you were yesterday.
Every time you sit down to write you learn and you grow. Your skills sharpen, your knowledge of craft increases. You may not be aware of it in the moment, but eventually it will dawn on you: “Hey, that’s some great dialogue!” or “Whoa, look at me writing a novel synopsis in one day!”
The two main types of goals are short-term and long-term. Short-term goals can be daily, or weekly, even hourly if you like; these are your goals. You can also have long-term goals that are monthly, or yearly.
My method is combining both. I break down my goals this way: yearly, monthly, weekly, daily.
Here are three other types of goals:
• outcome, the result you hope to achieve;
• process, strategies that will increase your chances of success;
• and performance, which is results.
I use strategies a lot, especially when I write my yearly goals for my life. I’m always looking for ways to spend less time doing other things to give myself more time to write.
The toughest part of goal setting? Accountability.
A goal is a commitment, a promise you make to yourself. This means you are the only person who’ll know if you achieved your 2020 goals (unless you can wheedle, con, or browbeat a couple of writer friends or your critique group into sharing their goals with you … so you can share yours with them). That way you can hold each other accountable. Writing is a solitary and sometimes lonely endeavor. Having a cheerleader or someone you can whine to on a bad day, someone who understands what you’re going through because he or she is going through it, too, can be invaluable.
But ultimately, success or failure rests on you.
That’s why it’s important to keep your goals realistic and doable. If your friends or critique group agree to share goals, awesome. If Susie’s goal is “Write 3 books! ??” don’t try to match or outdo her. If your goal is “Write 10 pages a week” and that’s the best you can do because you have a full-time job and 3 kids under the age of five, remember, this is a support group, not a competition. The idea is to succeed, not fail. That’s the primary reason for setting goals.
Next, we’ll talk about your plan. The straight, sharp-tipped arrow you need to hit your target.
Lynne Smith, aka Lynn Michaels, is the author of two novellas and sixteen novels, three of which were nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA award, the Oscar of romance writing. She won two awards from Romantic Times Magazine, for best romantic suspense and best contemporary romance. Her only complaint about writing is that it really cuts into her reading time. She lives in Missouri with her husband, two sons, three grandsons, and one granddaughter, born on Lynne’s birthday. Lynne is also an IFW instructor. She teaches “Breaking into Print” and “Shape, Write and Sell Your Novel.”
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