Tag: goals

I think setting goals and staying passionate and motivated is a huge part of being a successful writer.  We can have all the talent in the world, but without the stick-to-it-iveness to sit down on a regular basis–preferably every day–and actually pound out those words, especially when we don’t feel passionate or motivated, we’ll never reach our true potential.

Despite the importance I put on this idea, I still struggle with staying disciplined and sticking with it.  Sometimes I blow off writing.  Sometimes I decide to do something else–procrastinate!–like play a video game or watch the television.  I know it’s not what I should do or need to do or even what I want to do, but I do it anyway, and ignore the nagging voices in the back of my head saying I’m letting myself down.

There are no easy answers to this problem.  The cure to “not writing” is to “write”, as often and as much as possible.  But it is also easy to let days and weeks slip by and not be honest with myself about how little I’ve actually done.

So, to address this troubling dilemma and find a way to stay on target, like many of you, I occasionally identify goals and then measure my performance accordingly.  Publicly stating my goals works well because either I’ll show you all what I’m really made of, or I get to stand here and admit my embarrassment. 

I’ve said it before: fear of failure is a huge motivator for me, but I’ve found over the years that the way to make the fear real is to ensure there are witnesses.  Making the possibility of failure public helps me succeed.  Sounds twisted, but it works for me!

So without further adieu, here are my writing goals for 2011:

  • One hundred WSMG posts
  • Ten draft short stories
  • Five short stories ready for critique
  • Three shorts submitted for publication
  • One short story published
  • DAISY ready to query
  • First 50k words of SHOOTER NUMBER ONE (my next novel idea) completed/Win NaNo 2011
  • Start Twitter account
  • Climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya
  • Read a ton of good fiction
  • Support my fellow writers

Obviously this list is pretty ambitious, but I guess I’ve always been a “go big or go home” kinda guy.  Call me crazy.  Anyone got any pointers on getting a Twitter account set up?

When we paid a visit to Rome in July, I snapped this picture of an outdoor stone staircase near the Colloseum.

The wear and tear on those steps, the way the curves seemed to speak of a several hundred years-long process of people walking up and down them and wearing them down, really fascinated me.  If my travel companions hadn’t been tugging gently on my sleeve–“Come on,” they urged.  “We have a ton to see!”–then I probably would have spent the morning taking a million and one snapshots of this set of stairs.

Many images and objects I come across in daily life make me think of writing, and the writing process.  My environment gets me thinking, or, rather, I puzzle at the writing process utilizing an objet du jour–a set of stairs, for example!–as a sort of lense through which I filter my thoughts.

In this case, the steps made me wonder about the stages involved in writing, in the step-by-step process of taking the barest seed of an idea, developing it, first-drafting, marching right through Revision Hell (sometimes more than once!), getting beta and second-reader eyes on it, querying, and if everything goes really well, maybe even finding an agent and getting the durn thing published.  What we all hope for, right?

The staircase becomes a metaphor.  What could be simpler.  But looking at that staircase, another set of thoughts hit me.  As the steps led from the most ancient part of the city to the Colloseum, no doubt they were heavily travelled.  Over the years, countless travellers on their way to Gladiator Games or Chariot Races must have climbed or descended them with nary a thought as to their construction, or with any true understanding of their utility. 

Yet there must have been a certain class of citizen–perhaps the Colloseum workers or the Senatorial runners (whose job it was to run messages back and forth all over the city–the ancient equivalent of e-mail)–who knew those steps better than anyone, who knew every crease in the stones, the measure of every riser, the missing knots and blemishes worn slick by sandal and shoe, who knew the spots to avoid, the safe passage.

After all, they’d been up and down those steps a whole lot more than the average bear, fallen a few times, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off.  They’d successfully traversed those stairs in darkness, sometimes when the rains blew in, or in the newday light of morning when the stones were slick with dew.  Those few had skipped the tricks of the trade and learned the trade instead, a process which granted them a wisdom not shared by their peers. 

Their continued success was built on that wisdom.

As writers, I think we share the same challenge.  The best way up the hill may not be the fastest, or the safest, or the easiest, but it’s up to us to discover what works, to uncover our own set of rules.  As I thought about this, and tarried to marvel at those majestic stone steps, I realized when it comes to writing, my stairway looks a lot like this:

Clearly, I have plenty of work to do.  😀  But I am committed.  I want to keep building, learning, discovering.  Someday, I want my writing process to feel as weatherworn and understood and real as those beautiful Roman steps.

_ _ _ _ _ _

But wait!  The story’s not over yet!  Hours later, over a beer and in a goofier state-of-mind, I wondered what the stairs for different types of fiction would look like.  I mean, would Horror look different from Science Fiction?

After some snooping and hunting around on the intertubes, here’s what I came up with.  Enjoy!

Short Fiction:
Experimental Fiction:

Mystery/Thriller Fiction (DL, I’m looking at you :D):

Epic Fiction:
Horror:
Historical Fiction:
Fantasy:
Science Fiction:
Romance:
Combat Fiction:
Pantser Fiction:
Plotter Fiction:
Writer’s Block Fiction:
Unfinished Fiction:
Here’s hoping my upcoming NaNoWriMo project–and yours too if you’re doing one–doesn’t end up looking like the last two!  What about you guys?  What would your fiction look like as a set of stairs?  Or any other architectural device for that matter?
Hope you’re having a great hump day, and don’t forget to stay groovy!

Howdy, gang!

A quick note today, as Furnace Girl, The Muffin and I are still in the sleep-now, sleep-later throes of Lag de Jet, among other things.

In the last few days, we’ve discovered that hotel life isn’t for the faint of heart, and we’re in the process of learning a canoe-full of wonderful things about this place called Sicily.  Oh, and we’ve been looking for a place to live too.  Mustn’t forget that little item on the Honey-Do list.

So today, I’d like to direct your attention out the windows on the right side of the WSMG tour bus to a (pretty amazing, if you ask me) post by the Authoress where she lays down the most persuasive argument I’ve yet read/heard for making writing a career, not just a hobby.

If you haven’t had a chance to stop by and follow Miss Snark’s First Victim, you really should.  The Authoress consistently dispenses cut-straight-to-the-bone pointers like the wisdom in the post above, and she hosts a number of fun writing contests and critique sessions sure to expand the knowledge of even the most erudite among you.  I know I always walk away with a useful nugget or two.

Be sure to stop by and say hello.  Oh, and one other thing: how you doin’ on this fine June Tuesday?  :)

Not a single one of you reading this wants to fail at the writing game.  I don’t either.

But statistics are against us.  After all, as the famous demotivational poster points out: it could be that the purpose of our lives is only to serve as warnings to others.

So I was blown away by this recent article about why some authors never succeed.  I tell ya, I wish I could report that there was much here I already knew, but my impression was exactly the opposite: there is a lot here I have barely given thought to or am only now beginning to wrap my head around.

A few quick thoughts after reading this article:

  • Learning about the industry is certainly key–but there is a lot to know.  Make sure you set time aside to do your homework.
  • Accepting feedback is critical, but equally important is finding good sources of feedback.  Not doing so can be a dealbreaker.  Classes and forums can only go so far–get out there and find other writers that are at your experience level and that share your interests who you can exchange work with.
  • I think right along with measuring success in book sales, measuring success in blog posts (for us greener writers who have not been published yet) can be equally misleading.  If the fiction isn’t getting done but your blog is rocking, you may need to take a closer look at your priorities.

And I think the most important lesson is understanding that you are going to fail–that sooner or later you’ll try and not succeed–but learning from your failures and pressing on.  “Fail up,” as the author notes. 

So I ask you: how do you measure short and long-term success?  What are the measuring sticks you use to judge daily, monthly, and yearly progress?  What’s your process when things don’t go as planned?

Welcome!  This is Part Three of a six-part post series entitled Conquering the Page: Creating Your Own Fiction Writer’s Battle Plan.  You can find the first two parts here:

Part One: The Overview
Part Two: Defining Your Writing Mission

Your homework from Part Two was to come up with up to three writing goals.  Today, with those goals in mind, we’re going to start sketching out the broad outlines of our Battle Plans–or BPs.

If you don’t know, the military has a plan for everything.  Going to chow, clearing minefields–even invasions of entire countries have detailed plans.  It is part of our culture, and when conducting military missions, we plan without even thinking about it.

As we set out to plan for our writing though, we don’t want to go overboard.  Writing is a creative and dynamic process.  Writing can’t be organized in the same way that one might organize an assembly line, but organizing your writing process can still help.  Let’s face it: if getting published were as simple as sitting down and banging out 1,000 words a day, everybody would be doing it.  But it’s not.  For this reason, a tailored BP–one aligned with your unique needs as a writer–can provide you with a number of important benefits.

Planning Hierarchy.  In order to understand how we will construct our BPs, it will be helpful to understand a little about military planning.  Military planners organize their tasks using a hierarchy.  Plans are strategic or tactical (there’s an intermediate type of operational plan, but it is not needed for our purposes).  This sounds complicated, but stick with me.

Strategic plans relate to high level efforts.  A plan to invade a country is a good example of a strategic plan.  Tactical plans apply to individual units–occupy and defend this road intersection, for example.

In order to win the war, the overall plan–the BP–must synchronize tactical level operations with the strategic objectives.  Problems occur if this is not done.  For instance, the Generals may have an amazing attack plan, guaranteed to catch the enemy by surprise, but the troops on the ground are poorly trained (no one thought to put it in the plan), so the attack fails.  Conversely, let’s suppose the troops at the tactical level are highly motivated and trained, but the Generals have no real plan.  Individual units wander around the battlefield in disorder, and the strategic objectives are not met. 

The same idea can be applied to writing.  The concept for your novel is amazing, but your language isn’t polished.  Therefore, you can’t find an agent.  Or you write so beautifully that your first drafts read like published work, but your novel concept isn’t all that inspiring.  Again, no agent.

The point is these different efforts rely on each other.  All your writing activities–first drafting, editing, critiquing, beta’ing, querying, platform building, market research, etc.–must work in concert and all be of high quality if you want to be published. 

Are you a General or a Foot Soldier?  Let’s take a look at the goals you identified after Part Two.  Are they strategic or tactical goals?  If one of your goals is to publish a novel, then I would put that in the strategic category.  If, on the other hand, a goal is to write 1,000 words a day, then that would be a tactical goal.

For our purposes, we’re going to call writers with tactical goals Foot Soldiers and writers with strategic goals Generals.  You may be a little of both and that’s OK too.  (By the way, it’s not better to be either a Foot Soldier or a General).

Generals tend to think big picture, but tend to not work out the details to get where they want to go.  I am about the biggest General around.  I always have some bright idea–writing or otherwise–that I think is earth shattering and amazing, but I struggle to do the day to day legwork needed to achieve the vision of the ideas I’ve chosen.  Generals tend to start lots of projects but finish only a few of them.  If you think you’re a General, your job in constructing your BP will be to think more like a Foot Soldier.

Foot Soldiers are great at digging in and producing day after day, but they haven’t plugged the constellation of their efforts into a larger set of long-term goals.  Foot Soldiers may finish the year and have accomplished a ton of work, but in terms of moving forward in their career (strategic level effort), they are really no better off than they were the year before.  If you have more than two finished novel manuscripts that you’ve never submitted to an agent, you may be a Foot Soldier.  If you’re a Foot Soldier, your job will be to think more like a General.

If you find you fit somewhere in between these two definitions then pat yourself on the back.  You’re already ahead of the power curve.

Constructing a Battle Plan.  Writers who want to be published have to be both Foot Soldiers and Generals.  The BP process will help us adjust our efforts to cover all the bases.

The job of building a BP begins with identifying all the different activities we need to accomplish to reach our writing goals.  This is alot like balancing the checkbook or building a monthly budget.  We need to make a list of each individual process in our writing effort.  Here are some examples (not an all inclusive list):

Strategic:

  • Career planning and development
  • Novel/story concept development
  • Platform building
  • Query plan and tracking
  • Mid to long-term planning
  • Market research

Tactical:

  • Plotting and scene development
  • Editing and rewriting
  • Drafting query letters and correspondence
  • Reading fiction (for fun and to see what published authors are doing)
  • Reading fiction how-to books (for craft and knowledge development)
  • Writing classes
  • First draft writing
  • Vocabulary development
  • Exercises and games
  • Production tracking and assessment
  • Muscle memory development and training
  • Fiction case study and language study

Homework.  The post this coming Monday will cover how we implement the BP–in other words, how we transmogrify this list of tasks into a real plan.  Here’s how you create your own list of tasks:

  • Get out a legal pad (or you can do it in MS Word if you prefer) and title it [YOUR NAME HERE]’s Battle Plan.
  • Below the heading, write down your goal(s) from Part Two.
  • Next, place two headings on the page:  “Strategic” and “Tactical.”  Decide whether each of your goals is strategic or tactical, and place them under that heading.  Then start brainstorming other tasks you think you need. 
  • If your a Foot Soldier, you’ll be building up.  Begin to think about and identify strategic activities that your tactical goals (“write 1,000 words a day,” for example) support.  The trick here is to start thinking big picture.  Where do you want to be six months from now?  A year?  Five years? 
  • If you’re a General, the opposite will be true.  You’ll goals will be high level, and you’ll build down.  Your strategic level goal might be to publish a novel.  A corresponding tactical goal that you should write down will be to “write a first draft.”  Edit, beta, etc. might be others.  So the game is to capture all the smaller efforts that are needed to get your novel published.
  • Simply provide a single line placeholder for each activity.  Don’t worry so much about capturing the scope of each activity.  So “write every day” without mention of a word count is OK.  The idea is to have every kind of task listed–in the way you would try to capture every flavor of expenditure in a budget.  Next post we’ll start defining these activities further and taking a look at how much time they take individually and together.

When you finish, pat yourself on the back.  You have started building your BP.  Woo hoo!  Let me know what questions you have. 

Monday will be Part Four: Implementing the Plan.  Thanks for stopping by!