Dreams vs. Goals: Setting Goals to Achieve Our Writing Dreams
Yesterday, we looked at the idea that to achieve our dreams, we must give them marching orders—we must set goals. So let’s look at how to go about setting those goals to give us the best chances of success.
Don’t Be Vague
The first, very vague, statement was my “goal” that I set for myself at the age of 30, shortly after I’d returned to finish my undergrad degree and right after attending my first writing conference in 2001. Then, after I’d been a member of a national writing organization for a few months, I sat down and wrote down the second set of goals—the specific, actionable ones—so that I knew what I needed to do in order to achieve that vague goal (dream).
In 2002, I attended my first national writers’ conference and I entered a writing contest. In 2003, I not only finished my bachelor’s degree, I found and started working with my first critique partners—and entered two more manuscripts into contests. In 2004, I started grad school. I became an officer with the national writing organization, serving in two successive positions in which I got to know many publishing industry professionals who would, years later, become vital cobblestones in my path to publication. I went to at least one national conference every year. I started my own local writers’ group here in Nashville.
I turned 35 in May 2006. About a month after my birthday, I walked across the stage, got “hooded,” and received my master’s degree. A few weeks after that, I learned Stand-In Groom (my master’s thesis novel) was a finalist in a national writers’ group contest. In September, I went to the conference and, while there, asked two agents if I could submit my book proposal to them. I’d already pitched the book a few years before (when it wasn’t ready); and, over the next year, I’d pitch Stand-In Groom and the Ransome Trilogy to editors from two different publishing houses.
Actionable items. Personally achievable. And completed.
In January 2007 (while I was still 35), I signed with MacGregor Literary. Then, in early December 2007, a little more than six months after I turned 36, I signed my first book contract.
The result of my setting/achieving specific goals was attaining my dream of becoming a published author.
What does “Actionable Items” mean?
While starting out with a vague goal (still something achievable, but without “legs” to walk through all the way to the end result) is a good starting place, setting specific goals with actionable items is going to be how you measure your success.
When you set specific goals with actionable items, it gives you a built-in method to measure whether or not you’re successful and meeting/achieving your goals. And this is where being a list-maker can really come in handy. There’s nothing like starting out with a long to-do list and having the enormous pleasure of crossing out completed items. That, in a way, is almost as satisfying as actually having attained/completed the item being scratched off.
One of the best ways to break your goal down into actionable items is to set both short-term and long-term steps.
One of the reasons I label these “short-term” and “long-term” instead of “little” and “big” or something else like that is because creating actionable items to reach your overall goal requires setting a timeline and sticking to it.
Writing down your goals makes them more real—and gives you the opportunity to review them from time to time and remember their specifics. If you don’t write your goals down, how will you know if you’ve achieved them?
As you come up with your list of actionable items, create a timeline:
- I will write 1,000 words a day until I reach a completed manuscript length of 90,000 words, and I will have a completed first-draft of Novel A by January 31
- I will find at least two critique partners and start working with them by March.
- I will join Mystery Writers of America in January.
- I will attend the Killer Nashville conference next August.
- I will have the second draft of Novel A completed and to my critique partners in May.
- I will begin Novel B in June.
- I will write my proposal, create my one-sheet, and develop my pitch for Novel A in July.
- I will have my polished draft of Novel A completed by August 15.
- I will pitch Novel A to Editor A, Agent B, and Editor C at Killer Nashville in August.
And so on.
Then, even if it seems silly, cross each item off the list as you complete it. It may seem daunting at first all of the small steps that go into working to achieve the dream of becoming a published writer. But once you start seeing more items crossed off than remain, you’ll realize just how much you’ve accomplished and how successful you already are.
Tomorrow: Risk, Failure, and Re-evaluation of Set Goals
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