Goals – How and When to Evaluate Them

         My oldest son is in the military. That has been his dream for as long as I can remember. We have discussed military and weapons and tactics for years. One time, when he was 9 years old, he came to me upset that the children’s section of the library had no battle strategy books. That’s when his father gave him Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.” He still devours books on military tactics, biographies of famous generals and the fine art of war. (Apparently, there IS such a thing.) So it’s not unusual that a battle strategy analogy comes to mind as I plan and make my goals for 2009.

         A long time ago I read about how a general has one main objective in any battle campaign. That is the one thing that must be accomplished. All plans, goals, missions and effort goes into accomplishing that one objective, be it to secure a hill or rescue fallen soldiers or hold territory. There might be other objectives, such as capture enemy equipment intact or retrieve more than just wounded men, but the general never loses sight of that one main objective. Of course battle campaigns are ever-changing, so a general is constantly adapting and re-evaluating. Not unlike a writer with ever-changing life responsibilities striving to be published in an ever-changing market. But that primary objective helps the general, or the writer, gauge whether true progress is happening in the midst of that change and chaos.

         What is your one main objective? Do you know? Years ago, I made a conscious decision to make my young family a primary objective and writing a secondary one. I made goals related to writing, but I also made sure they never took valuable time from my family. I taught the kids to not need me, to be self-sufficient when that was appropriate, but I never neglected them. I fed and clothed them, gave them a pleasant, somewhat clean, place to live and I spent lots of time talking and playing, as well as teaching them. They knew they were a priority to me. I sometimes insisted on me-time, but even while doing that, I made sure the experience helped to teach them valuable life lessons and prepared them for life. By going after a secondary objective (the writing), I often accomplished progress in my primary objective. But I never lost sight of that primary objective . . . to lead my children through an emotionally safe, spiritually rich childhood into a responsible, productive and fulfilling adulthood.

         Times have changed, though, and I need to re-evaluate that “standard operating procedure”. Two of my three children are grown and on their own (sort of – one of them rents a room from us). The other one is almost ready to leave (at least according to his chronological age . . . his father and I wonder about his maturity level at times LOL). They no longer need to be my primary objective (although I DO need to be available and aware of their life events to help guide them when they want or need it . . . or at least pray for them, when they don’t want my input. 🙂 )

         And that is what I am doing this month, besides taking a break and enjoying my Army son’s visit over Christmas. I’m listing all the things I want to do and evaluating where they fit in relation to my primary and secondary goals. And I’m doing a bit of tweaking to those goals. I’m sure there won’t be any big changes. My family will always be an important part of who I am. I’ll still regularly choose to arrange my writing schedule to accommodate my husband and children. The difference is really just a slight re-focusing of the goals, with writing (or more specifically, getting published) being at the forefront.

         What about you? What is the one thing that is most important? The second thing? Do your everyday choices reflect that? Or are you doing things that actually keep you from making progress? Spend some time over the next few weeks evaluating your life. Make sure all your choices are leading toward and never away from that primary, most important objective.

A Writer’s Business Plan

I

 don’t know how to talk about goal setting for writing without talking about my SNAP plan. Until a year and a half ago I hadn’t thought about treating my writing like a business. I just “followed the muse” and wrote a little of this, a little of that…when I was in the mood.

I was all over the place. I knew I was supposed to create some kind of body of work that my readers could identify me by. For example: “Oh, she’s the author who writes historical fantasies for children, I just love her!”

The trouble was, I didn’t know what I wrote. I had ideas for books for girls, books for boys, books for women, Christian novels, secular novels, magazine articles, and even a non-fiction book or two. I was spread out and not concentrating my efforts on any one thing.

So, despite holding a business degree (ahem), I had no business plan for my writing. A little embarrassing.

Enter Kay Lockner over at Author MBA. Brilliant. The three of us took her SNAP planning course when she offered it as an online class.

She led us through the steps of defining our purpose and vision for our writing. We looked at the big picture, and then defined the steps needed to get there. We didn’t just look at the projects we were working on. We looked at our career goals, our image, our brand, etc. The whole package.

We defined measurable and dated goals for each area of the writer’s business plan: production, marketing, professional development, and a wild card goal.

In the end we had a one-sheet Vision Plan and a one-sheet Action Plan. (FYI—this Routines for Writers website was one of the items on my SNAP plan. Thanks, Kay! Something else I can cross off the plan.)

Creating a business plan was probably the single most important step I have taken in my writing life. If forced me to really think about what I was doing and how I was going to achieve my dreams.

Good news for you—Author MBA is now offering the class as a simple download. You can go there and take a peek at the free preview (click here) to see if it is something that will help you. I highly recommend you purchase the full download and work your way through it all. (Don’t worry!  It’s very affordable and well-worth your time.)

You’ve got a couple weeks left in 2008. Use these last few days to organize and focus your thoughts. Think about all the different areas you’ll want to work on. Then, in January you can start working the plan.

Get Ready, Get Set – Goal!

Goal setting is easy for me – I think of something I want and I decide to go after it. Like the 1793 times I’ve made a goal to lose weight. Or the 47 times I’ve made a goal to stop using swear words. Or the 16 times I’ve made a goal to write every day. See? Goal setting is easy! I’ve done it thousands of times!

Follow through, that’s my problem. I make my goals too lofty – lose forty pounds in two months, finish my entire To Do list today, make everyone happy – and then I can’t achieve them. But I’ve heard several different speakers in the last few months talk about making goals you can achieve so you set yourself up for success. Making goals you can’t achieve sets you up for failure, then you fail, then you see yourself as a failure. Bingo! That’s what I’d been doing to myself for years!

Because I’d worked myself into the rut of believing I sucked as a human being, let alone as a writer, I had to start out with ridiculously small goals to build myself back up again. Sometimes my goal for a writing project was “Don’t Quit.” Sometimes it was “Write at least one sentence before you go to bed.” When my confidence increased, I’d say today’s goal is to not do anything else (check email, answer the phone, wash the dishes) during my scheduled writing time. On a really good day, my goal might be to not stop until I have another chapter done. But that would have been far too lofty a goal for me in my “rut” period. And perhaps too much for a holiday period. (Hint, hint!)

When I am making new goals, I ask myself a lot of questions. Am I feeling confident, or nervous, or discouraged? Do I need a carrot or a threat or a reward right now? What would help me work more consistently? What would keep me from quitting? Am I in a planning mood (and can plan 4-12 months in advance) or a “now” mood (and can plan no more than a month or so at a time)?

I also ask myself spiritually leading questions like, what do I think God is leading me toward right now? What doors or windows seem to be opening and which seem to be closing? What project or schedule seems “right” for me right now? Is there something I’m supposed to be learning, or something I’m supposed to be teaching right now?

If you see your life more like the ocean, understanding that everything has an ebb and flow, and not trying to set everything in stone, you may find you actually accomplish more and have more joy doing it. And that is a good enough reason for me to make goals. There is so much I want to do in life, and I don’t want to wake up one morning and realize I’d done some nice things, but I could’ve done so many cool things if I’d taken the time to plan things a little better. I also want to know how far I’ve come, and have a method for deciding if this or that is worth my time.

Next week we’ll talk about how and when to evaluate your goals. I’ll tell you how I decide when the goal needs to be adjusted, and when I need to work harder (or differently) to meet the goal. I’ll even commit right now to having my 2009 writing goals ready to share by then! Eek!

 

Anatomy of a Good Goal

         Goals. Resolutions. Objectives. Whatever you call them, they are basically the same thing. And January seems to be a time of year that incites people to make them, to put unrealistic expectations on themselves and then spend the next year (or 10!) beating themselves up for not succeeding. I’m not sure why that is, but I suspect that in many cases these resolutions are unrealistic (I’m going to lose 50 pounds without changing my lifestyle or I’m going to write 5 hours every day when I really only have 15 minutes free in my schedule from 6 am to midnight). It is also possible that there is nothing holding the resolutions together, no common theme or objective. I’m going to discuss that next week. This week I want to identify what makes a good and helpful goal, one that will aid you in accomplishing it and encourage you to continue past it.

From my experience, I’ve learned that a good goal is:

  • concrete,
  • specific,
  • achievable and
  • has a time limit.
  • And, to really be successful, it needs a reward attached to it, something motivating that will kick you into high gear when you start to lag and create excuses to quit.

         I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Goals have to be concrete, specific. “I’m going to write more” is not a good goal. You will never know when you accomplish it. And, if you are like me, even if you do somehow convince yourself you did it (I wrote more than I did yesterday), it is too nebulous to be maintained (everyday you have to write more than the day before? Or more than your best day? How do you decide?) So the first rule is that any goal you make must be specific.

         It must be achievable. If your schedule is so full during the week that you fall into bed exhausted every night, a goal of writing 5 pages every weekday is unrealistic. It’s good to stretch yourself, but don’t set yourself up for failure. If you get an hour for lunch each day and can eat at your desk, maybe a goal of writing for 30 minutes each workday is doable. Keep in mind that goals you make for yourself must be achievable by yourself. If the success of a goal depends on someone else (“get an agent,” “sell my book”), it is not a goal. It is a dream. Achieving goals can lead to obtaining dreams, but it is not guaranteed. Make sure your goal is really a goal, achievable by your effort alone.

         A good goal must have a time limit. There must be a time when you know if you succeeded in accomplishing the goal. As I said, “I want to write more” is not a good goal. “I want to write 30 minutes each day,” would be a better goal. It is specific, most likely achievable and you know how well (or not) you succeeded at the end of the day. To make it even better, you could say, “I want to write 30 minutes each day by 11 pm.” or “2 hours before the kids get home from school.”

         Keeping those three “rules” in mind when you plan your goals will ensure you set good goals. There is one more thing you should consider, though. I used to think it was optional, but I’m learning that, for me at least, it is absolutely necessary. A reward must be associated with each and every goal. It doesn’t have to be a huge reward. In fact, it should only be a huge reward if the accomplishment is a huge one. Treating yourself to an expensive meal with champagne for writing 30 minutes on Thursday is just a bit over the top. 🙂 (I have a friend who says I’m Queen of Understatement. She might be right. LOL) That same champagne meal is much more appropriate a reward for writing 30 minutes every day for a year and completing your novel.

         Let’s not kid ourselves. Accomplishing our goals is never easy. It’s often hard work. If we want to achieve our dreams, though, we must spend the time working on those goals that will help make the dreams a reality. Keeping these rules (or guidelines, if you don’t like the word rules) in mind when you plan how to reach your dreams will hopefully make the hard work just a bit easier to plan and do. Good luck with making your goals!

Rewards, Motivation and Harry Potter

         We’re done. All of us crazy writers who participated in NaNoWriMo are finished. (In more ways than one?) Many of us made it to 50,000 words. Many of us did not. As my blog partners and I talked about last week, you could be a winner even if you missed the midnight-50K deadline. Only you know. Now it is time to reward yourself.

         Do not underestimate the power of rewards. I have known, in theory anyway, the motivating power of rewards for years. I have even used that motivating power countless times on my kids (no! That’s not bribing. Is it?) But I am only now coming to appreciate and comprehend its power to motivate me.

         This has been a difficult month for me. I have had several unexpected family matters that stole my computer time. The emotional issues attached to those family matters attempted to steal even more. The story I began with such hope and excitement on November 1st turned into an object of frustration and discouragement ran like blood through my veins. By the last week of November, even though I’d continued the struggle to get to the computer and to drag scenes from my brain, I was certain I would fail. A very bleak time for me.

         Then I was reminded of a half-joking comment to make going to see the new movie, Twilight, my reward for finishing. My son and daughter planned to go see it Sunday night, November 29. Could I do it? Could I get to from 19K to 50K in a week? I tried. I really, really tried. You have no idea how hard I tried. As the weekend progressed and knowing Sunday would be full and filled with commitments, leaving maybe 2-5 hours that I could actually be at my computer, I made a decision. I would lower the “bar” to 35K. If I made it there, if I wrote 35,000 words by 2 pm Sunday, I would call this month a win. I would luxuriate in the story and family accomplishments of this month. And I would have a play date with my almost-grown-and-gone children. Oh, and those emotional issues I told you about? Well rewarding myself for a job well done, even if not perfect, combats those issues, as well.

         So, for me, 37,312 words is a win.

         And I caught sight of my next big reward. The Harry Potter movie. We saw a preview of it at the theater. It comes out in July 2009. Yep. I’m just an overgrown kid. Can’t help it. Fantastical stories excite me. The surge of excitement that preview generated reminded me of the summer of 2007. I’d made a major writing goal for myself and was falling behind. The last Harry Potter book was due out soon. I refused to allow myself to read it until I’d accomplished that goal. The book Harry Potter: Deathly Hollows motivated me that summer to reach a goal. The movie Harry Potter: the Half-Blood Prince will do it again this summer. My goal? I will have at least one book finished, polished and submitted to publishers. Only then will I allow myself to see the movie. It will most likely be the one in which I just wrote 35K, but I will decide that by January 1. December will be spent playing with other story ideas and enjoying the time I have with my family.

         What about you? What is your reward? As you decide, remember the important thing about rewards. They must motivate. Really motivate. If the rewards you choose are not something that actually motivates you, what is the use? They won’t give you that extra push you’ll need to reach your goal. They won’t pull that last, desperately needed milliliter of determination from you when you are empty and spent. They won’t be a carrot-on-a-stick that forces you to take one more step. And one more. Real rewards motivate you. So, no matter how silly they seem, find those rewards that really, truly motivate you. Even if they are incredibly juvenile, like my fascination with YA fantasy books and movies. Even if they are totally lame, like my penchant for M&Ms or chocolate covered cherries. Whatever reward actually gets you moving toward that goal is the reward you need to stick out in front of yourself. Let those naysayers and criticizers find their own carrots. 🙂