Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Writing on Wednesday: Speaking of (Writing) Goals

Here we are again - a New Year! Maybe it's the brand new date book in my computer bag, or the brand new 365 Dogs calendar in the kitchen, but starting a new year always feels hopeful to me, and the tiniest bit intimidating. It's not unlike the brand new spiral-bound notebook on the first day of class - a clean start full of possibilities, and I don't want to mess it up. But here's the thing: to live creatively, whether through writing or painting or travel or volunteerism or, well, any pursuit, we have to make a mess. We have to make false starts. We have to make booboos.
We have to come to terms with the notion that the path to our goals is paved with failures, set-backs, disappointments. I won't throw a bunch of platitutes at you -- you've heard them all. And I agree: failures suck. Rejections suck. If you can get your breath back  and stick it out, though, you can use all that crappy feedback to make your work, your play, and yourself stronger. Granted, you'll have a few scars, and some of the buises won't completely disappear. Hey, I'm still smarting from a comment my seventh-grade English teacher made about an image in a poem I wrote. (He was right, but did he have to laugh so hard?)
Enough of that. The real question when we open this lovely new notebook is this: what now? Where do I want to go, and how will I know when I'm getting close? Goal setting and tracking work for me (and, according to many studies, for a lot of people). I'm actually a bit of a "goal addict." I have  lists of goals for all sorts of things, so I will stick to writing goals -- that still leaves me with several lists. Every year for the past mumble mumble years, I have written down my goals for the year, for the next few years. When I start a new project, I create goals for getting it done. Trust me, I'm obsessive about this. Having my goals where I can open a file and look at them gives structure to what can become open-ended work.
Do I reach all my goals? Bahahaha. No. Do I revise my goals along the way? You betcha. Do I re-evaluate the importance of some of my goals as I go? Of course. Occasionally I ditch a goal. But the bones, as they say, are still there, and they support the body of my work, both the act of working and the result. Does goal-setting work? Since 1998, I have written 22 books of non-fiction; 19 of them are published (three were in series that were cancelled by the publisher). I've also written two and a half novels (one published, one in production, one coming along), several short-stories, several essays, a few poems. Goals work for me.
As I thought about this post and the goals I plan to write down for the coming year, I wondered how goals from past years have played out. I picked a year at random and pulled up the general writing goals I had written down. Here's my list:

Writing Goals 2006
agent for Drop Dead on Recall
complete Terra Nova Training Book (try for June 1, due Aug 1)
complete plan for The Communicator
complete draft of Jackknife
write short story Indy 500
Drug or bomb dog at 500?
write short story New England Crime Bake
Pemaquid Point or New Bedford setting (get in Christ of the Laundry – taken from Moby Dick? Start with "Call me ???"
Due April 30
Outline and begin second Janet MacPhail (other series name?)

The upshot?
  • It took another two years and many rejections, but I signed with my agent, Josh Getzler, in 2008.
  • I finished Training Your Dog for Life, the Terra Nova book from T.F.H. Publications, on June 5
  • Rattlesnake Mountain (formerly The Communicator) is half written (one of my goals for 2013!)
  • Jackknife morphed from potential novel to short story, and is written - revision in on my list!
  • "Tracks," the Indy 500 short story, featuring characters from my Animals in Focus mystery series, was published in Racing Can Be Murder, an anthology from the Speed City (Indianapolis area) Sisters in Crime. You can read it here.
  • I didn't write the Crime Bake story - oh well!
  • I started writing The Money Bird (the second Janet MacPhail/Animals in Focus mystery), although barely....I wrote the book in 2012. Watch for it September 2013!
So I have started assembling my goals for 2013. I still use my trusty spreadsheets and lists and calendars (I like the redundancy!), but I may also play around with some of the nifty on-line tools for obsessive goal setters like me. If you'd like to try one or two, here's an interesting list from "Where Writers Win" - give it a shot!
I would love to hear about your goals for the coming year (or years!) - writing, travel, reading, whatever! Let's inspire one another - and report back next January 1.
Wishing you a happy, creative new year!


  1. Sheila, one of my goals was to build my platform by marketing my previous publications.
    So, in February, I'll be a participating author and have my books available at the inaugural Atlanta Writers Club member's book fair.
    What better way to set new goals than to remind myself that I've done it before, and can do it again?
    Happy Writing in 2013 --
    Linda Rehkopf

    1. Excellent, Linda! And you're so right - that next project and blank page/screen can be terrifying, but looking back at what we have done with blank pages before is a realy boost. Be sure to send me info about your event - I will post on Facebook for friends in and near Atlanta.

  2. I have not usually set goals. After reading your blog i am setting a trial list as soon as i end this comment.
    I read and enjoy your work here on the web. I have never read one of your books. That is on my goal list.

    1. Good - if writing down your goals doesn't seem to work for you, at least you will have learned something. I would suggest you do more reading on goal setting, and that you make your goals concrete: not "I will write a book," but "I will write two pages a day, five days a week" or "I will write for half and hour three mornings a week." Then you can tell how far you are along the path.

      Please check back in and let us know how your goal setting experiment goes!

  3. My goals list is about as long as yours, Sheila. I want to get three novels out (two already written, but need editing, covers, and formatting), write a dozen short stories, keep up on my blog, write my two articles for an on-line zine about reading, and market, market, market. I can only hope both of us meet our yearly goals. Good luck!

    1. That's great, Jan! Let's check back in in a few months and see how we're doing. Always good to have a buddy system. I would wish you good luck, but although I think there is an element of luck in success, there is mostly a lot of hard work, so I'll wish you good work instead!

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