First of all, apologies for the radio silence. I’ve been spending my writing time working on a short story that is supposed to be inspired by video games, and that’s eating some of my evening time. If I get rejected, I’ll post it up here for everybody to see. If it gets accepted, I’ll point you to the magazine. (;
Today I wanted to talk about goals. I recently read an article on The Writer’s Path regarding Goal Setting. It was a good post, and gave a really colorful analogy for goals, but what it really did was get me started thinking about mine.
First thing I’ll say: I believe goals are important. I think anything worth achieving is worth committing to paper (or screen or whatever) and analyzing every week. In What They Don’t Teach You in the Harvard Business School, Mark McCormack tells us that statistics show that the 3% of Harvard graduates who had clear, written goals performed dramatically better than the other 97% put together. That statistic is staggering.
I am a senior leader in a large consulting firm. In that role, I’ve coached and led over a hundred team members over the years, and I can corroborate the premise above: The employees who spent time thinking about goals and writing them down tended to do better than those who didn’t. I do the same thing for my goals. I imagine the end state I want to be in, and then I start working backwards to the steps I’ll need to follow.
So what does that mean in writing?
It means that if you want to see yourself published, you need to see yourself published. I’ll document my own plan as an example.
Final Goal: Rawlings/George RR Martin/CS Lewis level success. IE: I want to have written something so powerful and moving that people are inspired to make movies, games, etc based on it.
Is this realistic? Maybe. It’s easy to say that these individuals won the literary lottery and say that grinding it out is the best I can do. Maybe 100 followers on my blog is the upper limit. Maybe a self-published book that a few friends and family members buy a copy of. For most of us, that’s the best we can expect.
I want more.
How do I get there?
First, and most obviously, none of this is going to happen without a book. So I need to write a book. Great. Totally saw that one coming. What do I need to know to write a book?
Second, I know that to gain fame and fortune, I need marketing. Do I do that myself, or does somebody else? Make a note to explore this later.
Finally the above items might make me a successful author, but I want epic/inspirational/ready to adapt to other media to the same degrees as the individuals I listed. How do I do that? I need to understand my models. How did they get their breakthroughs? What do they have in common with one another?
That’s the big idea, and core branches. But now we start getting into actionable steps. I actually am generally a believer of the somewhat cheesy SMART Goals. There’s tons of media out there about it, so feel free to review. It basically says goals should be:
Specific: Be clear. We tend to procrastinate when it’s not a very specific thing.
Measurable: Can you tell if you are on track for your goal or not?
Achievable: When you are done, will you know it? “I want to get better at writing” isn’t really achievable. “I want to see positive reviews of the works I write” or “I want to see an article I write published” is measurable.
Result-Focused: The goals you set should be with your end goal in mind, and link to how they will contribute to it.
Time-bound: One of the most critical pieces of the goal. When will you have it done by?
Let’s take the “write a book” branch. What makes a good book? What do I need to be doing today that will build towards a good book. I need to learn more about the craft of writing, I need to read, I need to write.
To whit, goals might become:
1) Read a new book each month on the craft of writing.
2) Get involved in a critiquing group that forces me to constantly read new and evolving things, looking with a critical eye so you can improve your own work.
3) Start writing short stories, since that will let you experience the entire writing cycle from inspiration to draft to revision to publication, which gives you more practice and theoretically makes the whole thing better.
I also included goals around word counts (by week), expected dates I wanted to complete my novel rough draft, revisions, etc. And even within the rough draft goal, I have smaller goals about outlines, scenes, character maps, etc.
That’s one branch. Each branch gets its own goals and steps, but they are all critical to getting where I want to be.
You can get fancy with this. People map them out in MS Project, or free alternatives, with dependencies and prerequisites. Whatever works best for you is probably the right approach, but I caution that making goals should not be more grandiose than actually executing on them.
The next piece is follow-up. Making the goals is great, but doesn’t matter a whole lot if you aren’t frequently checking to see how you are doing against them. So after I set my goals, I have a reminder set for once a week to review them and see how I’m tracking towards them.
Do I meet them all? Nope. However, the goals require stretch, and I knew going into it they probably wouldn’t all hit the mark. But that lets me make more informed plans for the next set of goals. And when I fall behind on my goals, it does tell me what I need to be working on, and which areas I should expect my overall dream to be lagging behind in.
All in all, the goal setting process (and execution) I think is critical for success in the long run. Do you use goals? Do you think they are a staple of truly successful people, or do you think success is serendipity? I’d love to hear your thoughts!