Writing My Novel: On Reaching Goals

goals_destination1 The fall semester starts in just under a month.  I have maybe two full weeks before faculty conferences begin for the new year, which means that my wonderful summer of writing time is drawing to a close.

That’s okay because I have far surpassed the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the summer, and I’ve set myself a new one to keep myself in the same mindset once I get back to teaching regularly.

And that’s important.  Without something to work toward, no matter how small, it’s easy to fall off the path and start going in a different direction.  If there’s one thing I have learned about being a writer this summer, it’s that writing doesn’t just happen. It takes planning and discipline, and most importantly, a reachable end goal.

A Path of Goals

My first goal this year was simple: Finish a novel manuscript by January 1, 2011 and have ready at least one short story for submission.

It didn’t take a long time after I set this one to realize that it was a bit too low.  I’m not a shoot-for-the-stars kind of person.  I like to keep things realistic, but 12 months for a single short story and a first draft was a little low, especially once I realized that I would not be teaching over the summer.

So I set myself a slightly higher goal: Finish a novel manuscript and two short stories that tie into the novel’s universe by the time the fall semester starts.

This didn’t happen.  Well, the novel did, but the two short stories set in its universe did not.  I just had other ideas, and by the time I had finished the novel itself, I wanted a break from that universe.  Note: I do intend to use these last two weeks to write a short in that universe.

So I co-opted the goal and changed it into simply finishing the novel manuscript and having two short stories ready for submission to pro markets by the end of the summer.

That evolved into a goal of readying an additional 6-10 shorts and self-publishing them as a Kindle edition by mid-December, and that goal will both be met and not met at the same time.

On Reaching Goals It will be met because, even as I write this, I am finishing the first draft of short story #8.  They will not, however, be collected and self-published.  I decided that my best course of action would be to have as many shorts as possible circulating to as many magazines and contests as possible.

That way, as the semester weighs on me and writing time dwindles, I can still be sending out stories as quickly I get rejections in the mail.  Even if I’m not writing, I’ll be working on my goal of getting published.

Now though, I need a new goal since, in two weeks, I will have reached those my self-imposed finish line.

This time, I think it’s going to be a long-term goal: become an active member of the SFWA.

To do that, however, I have to keep writing.  And submitting.

To be honest, this summer’s goals have worked so well, I intend to keep them.  By this time next year, I hope to have a second novel’s manuscript finished (first draft), a decent second-draft of my first novel, and around 5 more short stories ready for submission.

I want to add in NaNoWriMo participation this year, but my teaching load gets heavier during November, so I don’t know if that will happen.  I might be able to work a few thousand words in, though.  Christmas break will be full of writing, though; that’s when I want to dig in on novel revisions.

What Good is Any of This?

It keeps me focused.

As a writer, the easiest thing in the world to do is not write.  I can read about writing, talk about it, play video games, make a sandwich, water the plants, learn to crochet, bake a soufflé, anything but write.

But I’m a goal oriented person.  I have a one-track mind, and when I set my sights on something, I do it.  So I need a goal to keep me writing.  My end-goal above all else is to make a living writing.  That will come in time.  Along the way, I need guide posts; I need stopping points where I can give myself a pat on the back, say “Good job”, and then start trucking along to the next waypoint.

And I think most writers are like that.  We all want to make a living at writing somehow, but few people know how.  And from my experience at starting out and trying, the first thing you need are small, reachable goals that help you stay on the path you want to be on.

Your goals don’t have to be as crazy intense as mine.  I’ve had a lot of free time—more than I usually do–so a novel and 8 or 9 short stories in 3 months might be a little much for you.  But make sure that your goals are both difficult enough to achieve that you have to work at them, but easy enough that you can actually reach them in a reasonable amount of time.

goal-setting Don’t say that you want to be a published author who makes a living with fiction by the year’s end.  That’s not going to happen unless you have 4-5 novels already under your belt, and even then it’s a crapshoot.  But you can say that you’ll have a perfect query letter and polished manuscript that you will send to New York literary agents by January.

Just whatever you do, work toward something.  Writing takes effort, but like anything, if you break it down into digestible morsels, it never really seems like work.  I’ve put in a lot of hours writing this summer, and only a couple of times has it ever really felt like “work.”  That was because I broke my writing into wordcount quotas (2k/day or 10k/week) that took effort to reach, but weren’t so drastic that I wanted to bang my head against the wall.

I’m doing something I love and finally taking a shot at my dream.  Without keeping those small milestones in the back of my mind, that wouldn’t be possible.  I would get overwhelmed.  There’s a reason that I have an 86k word manuscript this summer when other attempts petered out between 7 and 10k.

Goals work.  What are yours?

Comments

  1. I’ve had a lot of free time since graduation in May of 2009. With the economy being so tough I still haven’t found a full time job. In February I decided to start blogging to be productive with some of my free time and my goal was to try it for a full month. Now I’m about 6 months in and loving blogging.

    My new goal is to blog for an entire year and average about 3 posts per week. I’m well on my way. I also want to try my hand at some short story fiction writing by the end of the year.

  2. Professor, this is a really honest and inspiring post.

    I love the fact that you openly put out everything to the world. That also kind of helps you to stick to the goals you set.

    And I believe you that, discipline is really the most important thing in writing. I have learned that from you. Setting a quota, setting a numerical goal (like 1k per day) or a short story per month is what works for me. If I sit and just wait for writing to happen, it really won’t.

    Thanks for helping other writers like me on your way to a successful writing career. 🙂