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Monday, January 3, 2011

Goal-setting for writers

Did you make a writing resolution for the new year? Writers especially need to be careful when setting goals, moreso than in other fields.Goal-setting for a hockey player is easy: “Get the puck into the net.”

Goals are especially important for writers because writing is a "squishy" pursuit. Without goals, we lack a means to judge our performance. In setting goals, however, we must be careful to make “us-dependent” goals rather than “them-dependent” goals.

A goal that is us-dependent is a goal realized through our own effort. It does not involve anyone else’s response. For example:

  • I will write one poem every week.
  • I will keep a journal.
  • I will attend the writer’s group and bring something to critique.

A goal that is them-dependent relies on others for its fulfillment.

  • I will get my novel published this year.
  • I will write a column for the newspaper.

Publication and contest wins are beyond your control. You can improve your odds of publication with market research and a sparkling query, but you cannot guarantee acceptance. The editor might not even read your query. Is that rejection truly a measure of your skill? The publisher might have just accepted a piece similar to yours. The newspaper may not have any funding. While important, this sort of goal is not an accurate gauge of progress.

A writer’s goals should combine the two types. If your ultimate goal is to be published, then use that…but add in others.

Just for example, my goals one year were:

  • Get a novel published.
  • Get 12 pieces accepted or get 100 rejections in the process.

The first was not dependent on me. I could submit all I liked, but if my genre wasn’t snapping, I wasn’t going to sell, and I didn’t.

For the second, though, I was guaranteed to achieve one part or the other if I submitted 111 pieces: two pieces per week, and some weeks three. Plus, every rejection letter, rather than being disheartening, carried me closer to my goal!

As it turned out, I did get 12 acceptances that year, so I made my second goal. I didn’t sell the novel until the next year.

Finally, is your goal achievable? If you’ve never written a short story before, publication in The New Yorker is less achievable than the goal of bringing one highly-polished story every month to your writing group. Also, the goal must be challenging. If it doesn’t involve enough effort, we’re more likely to let it slip, and achieving it would be meaningless.

Your take-away: Set goals, but make them reasonable, and make most of them dependent on your own effort. Then get the puck into the net.


Dolly said...

That's why I don't do resolutions, but rather set goals. With goals - even if they are broad for the year, there is opportunity to break them down and make them achievable. Resolutions always sound woolly.

Stina said...

I don't do resolutions, either. I prefer to set realistic goals. I like the 100 rejections one. Not that I want 100 rejections, but at least it's an easy one to achieve.

Julie Musil said...

I like this! Setting goals that rely on other people would be frustrating.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Yes! Exactly - . . .

(And I can tell y'all, as an editor/publisher of an online journal, sometimes we reject works because we've just accepted something similar in story, tone, et cetera - or because we can't fit in one more story, much as we really really loved that particular piece . . . and I think sometimes we just get it wrong . . . sometimes good work is rejected when it should have been accepted, plain and simple!)

GM said...
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Ghenet Myrthil said...

You've made great points. This year I set a goal to finish my first draft, revise and get it polished, and then query it. These are all things in my control and will only depend on my ability to work hard!

G. B. Miller said...

Excellent points.

My goals for writing this year are relatively basic.

1) keep producing original content for my blog.

2) polish up my synopsis so that I can start querying/submitting my novel.

I figure the first is more than achievable and the second is required if I want to make a serious run at getting published this year (or next year).

Mary Mary said...

Great advice. I truly believe in making your writing goals manageable, then you don't set yourself up for a big letdown if your goal is too outlandish.

Carolyn Kaufman | @CMKaufman said...

I like the 100 rejections too, because it makes you KEEP TRYING despite feeling like you're failing. I must remember this approach!