My Goal Setting Story

pen calendar to do checklist
This planner is a TAD out of date…
Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

A few months ago when I began writing posts for this blog, I had a goal: write enough posts that I could have 20 weeks worth of posts at the ready. This would allow me to schedule them, then get to writing fiction. With fiction, I would write one flash fiction story draft in a week, write a new flash fiction story in the next week, edit the first one in the third week, and then finish up editing the second one the week after that. I would be able to do this for 20 weeks – that’s approximately 5 months, or 10 stories. I would take a little bit of time to write up cover letters and find places to submit the stories I wrote each month, and then get back to writing while I waited to hear back. Adorable.

I outlined, and wrote, and re-wrote, and edited. I honed the process over time so that I could write faster and better starting with the first draft. Eventually I outlined 20 posts, but only actually finished about 8 of them. Close enough, I thought. I could just start scheduling them and go from there. 

Then I had the idea that I could alternate between writing fiction and writing posts, since I had 8 weeks of posts under my belt. Including retrospectives, that was 10 weeks. So I tried that.

Truth is, when I have the pressure to do well on my mind (and little recent practice under my belt), it takes a lot longer than a week to write flash fiction. “Flash” also tends to morph into “short.” When I didn’t have the pressure there, I could write a first draft of flash in a day, so I thought I was giving myself ample time to deal with not only the writing but writer’s block as well. Apparently not.

Anyhow, I shifted from flash to posts to working on worldbuilding for a novel I want to write during NaNoWriMo this year, and sometimes I would switch between them in matters of minutes. I kept track of my word counts, so I knew I was writing something, but it didn’t feel like it. I was making little to no progress, and it only got worse once I realized my older pieces I wanted to spruce up for publishing needed major rework. Was this due to my newfound perfectionism or because they were written in a day? 

Mmm…probably both. 

But I kept pushing, kept switching, kept flailing and failing, until I found myself headed for burnout. I didn’t really know what to work on or when. I set up a schedule which helped for a little while, outlining that I’d work on fiction in the morning, blog posts at lunch (during the work week, since I have to have a “real” job for now), and then school work or whatever was most pressing after. It felt better, having some order. But I quickly devolved into chaos again.

I can’t even remember what spurred my decision to start writing out my goals, but whatever it was, I’m thankful for it. I’m still working out the kinks, and I’ve discovered that I really need to have stuff like goals and task lists very visible all the time, but here’s what I’ve started with, if you want to follow along at home:

By the end of the year, I want to:

  • Finish the first draft of The Dragon (mostly during NaNoWriMo, naturally)
  • Submit my stories to LitMags ~30 times (I’ve given up on the rejection goals for this year, since that requires them actually getting back to me by December 31st)
  • Finish reading 12 more books
  • Manage to post on my blog every Saturday until the end of the year

So I guess it’s just time to start working, right? WRONG. Your plan is bad and you should feel bad. And you probably will if you try to make that work – I know I did. Hence this article!

Breaking it Down

Knowing these specific goals, I can now break them down into smaller ones. For finishing The Dragon (I am slowly starting to hate this name, but it’s simple enough to work with it for now), I will need to make sure I finish character development, worldbuilding, and plot/story planning before November – or at least as much as I can before then. I will naturally find holes that can’t be filled until I write scenes, and in the spirit of NaNo that’s a no no. Then during November, it’s fifty thousand words I’ll need to write in thirty days. 

For submissions, if I submit one story five times each month, then I can reach this goal. That means that I’ll need to finish writing/editing/polishing at least one story a month and submit it to 5 different places. This is going to definitely be a stretch considering my current burnout problem and also NaNoWriMo kind of conflicting with this goal, but that’s okay. I won’t die if I fall short, but it gives me something to reach for.

To read 12 more books is simple: read 2 of them every month until the end of the year.

Finally, posting every Saturday is just as simple as the last goal: don’t miss a Saturday! That’s making sure I finish polishing up about 4 posts a month.

But I’m not done yet!

Breaking it down even more

For The Dragon, breaking it down further is a little more difficult, mostly because characters, setting, and plot are so interconnected. Basically I’m just going to start with character development and plot first and go from there. I’m trying out Lisa Cron’s Story Genius method for this book, just to see how it goes. Don’t worry, I’ll write about that in the future.

For submissions, I’ve already got several short stories started and lined up for this year. I’ll need to rework and rewrite them, which I hope to do in the first two weeks of each month. Then I’ll let it rest for a few days while I try to find places to submit, then head back into editing and rewriting for the rest of the third week. The fourth week I’ll let it rest for a day or two, then polish it up and write the cover letter for the story of the month. 

Every twoish weeks, I’ll be reading one book, and each week I will finish up and polish a post. 

Also every week, I will be going even further and trying to set up every day so that I will make sure I do a little bit of what needs to be accomplished each week. Once I have everything checked off my list for the day, I can relax. 

This list doesn’t include the things I’m doing for work or class or just being alive in a society of laws in general, but I have included those into my plans. In fact, because there are so many things I need to get done, I have also made sure to prioritize my goals so that if I need to remove some things, I know what to axe first.

To use my writing goals as an example, I will be lowering the number of submissions first. I still want to have experience for finishing and submitting pieces, so I won’t be nixing that goal entirely. Next will be lowering the number of books to read. Then I might end up having to just finish the prep work for The Dragon and complete the first draft early next year. I’m really hoping I don’t need to take anything off of the table completely, but if I do, it will probably end up being The Dragon. That’s mainly because of the amount of sustained effort required to see that kind of project all the way through combined with the fact that next year I should have a lot more free time to work on it, so I can catch up quickly. Everything else has a cumulative effect on my skills, so they need to stay.

This is actually the beginning of making SMART goals. I might end up setting these up in the future, but I am taking it one step at a time for now.

Update:
Since I am still going to be working a full-time job in November, I am most likely going to end up nixing The Dragon until next year unless I can get enough posts written and all the prep work done before then.


What about you: do you have a goal-setting system of your own you’d like to share?

My Experience Shifting Between Hobby and Professional Writing

See? He’s professional now because of the bowtie!
Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

I’ve written a retrospective, but no posts about my experiences. This is what I had originally intended for this blog, I just haven’t felt like anything I’ve done or been through was worth mentioning yet. I’ve started to reflect on what’s changed, however, and I wanted to talk a little bit about the overall shift of attitude and habits between hobby and professional writing. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t earned a dime yet, but I have committed to writing in a “professional manner,” so there’s still at least a subtle difference.

When you’re writing as a hobby, there’s zero pressure to do well. Don’t like a story you’re writing? Toss it. Don’t want to finish it? Don’t. Is editing the bane of your existence? Forget about it. There’s no reason to agonize over tone or flow, and if you write something that’s not great but still okay, that’s fine. No one is going to read it anyway.

The shift that happens when you try to write professionally, is that you have an obligation to keep going. Don’t like a story you’re writing? Figure out why and fix it. Don’t want to finish it? Too bad. Is editing the bane of your existence? Deal with it. “Git gud,” as the kids say. 

This isn’t to say that I’m not enjoying this. On the contrary, I feel that it lends the credibility I needed for my new addiction profession. I no longer feel like a child now that I’m paying attention to schedules and I’m actively reading about writing. I’m setting goals and objectives, planning out my learning and doing all of the career ownership I never did in any other job I’ve had before. I enjoy this and take it more seriously than anything else in my life, and it feels…purposeful. Liberating. It’s why I’m doing the retrospectives and keeping tabs on metrics. I’m my own boss, yes, said with all the puffed up pride as the next guy. But I’m also acting as my own manager. 

I’m sitting in my new writing spot as I type this. My “writing spot” has moved multiple times over the past couple of months, indicative of the changes I’ve gone through. There’s a lot more pressure now, but it feels good. When I write something terrible, my first thought is still “oh god, why?” but that’s followed closely by “How can I make this better?” and “Editing this will be great practice for me.” It’s a strange shift, going from a fixed-mindset to a growth-mindset. I’ll have to write more on that as well. 

We are getting closer and closer to the day when I’ll be able to actually quit and write full-time, though I’m not counting this as my “be a full-time writer” goal until I’m actually making money from it. I also don’t have delusions that I’m going to write the next Big Thing that earns me millions, but I suspect that I might be able to make enough each month to cover the gap between what my partner makes and what we need to both make rent and eat out a time or two. 

This gets me to the part where I write a little more about the lessons I’ve learned in this process.

Lessons Learned Thus Far

Letting a piece rest

When you cook meat, you always want to let it sit at room temperature to rest for a little while. This allows all the juices to redistribute, otherwise when you carve it, you’re just going to have a wet cutting board and dry meat. When you finish a draft, what I’m learning is you want to let the story rest, lest you cut into it for editing and…your story juice gets…you know what? Terrible metaphor. I find that it gives me space and clarity. It sounds a little less like my own writing and it makes it easier to tear apart. The longer a piece rests, the easier it is to edit, but you don’t always get that luxury. Letting it rest between edits is useful as well, especially if you change a significant portion or are doing rewrites.

Setting your objectives

If you have a lot of projects you are trying to get done all at once (say, a blog, a book, and a short story or five), it may begin to feel like you aren’t making progress on any of them. I felt this. It was like I was pressing the pedal all the way to the floorboards and my wheels were caught in mud. Pulling away from everything and writing down exactly what I wanted to accomplish this year made it clear where I wanted to go, and writing down exactly what I aimed to accomplish when gave me a plan for how to get there (this might actually be the next article, since it has been so helpful). This allowed me to simply trust in this plan, as long as I could stick to the daily tasks. It also allowed me to plan for time off. That brings me to another item:

Burnout suuuuuucks

I cannot say this enough. If you are trying to get through a night class, do homework, work full time, and start a brand new career, you will need time to rest. Not having the clear plan I mentioned in the last point combined with a need to be constantly working sapped the life out of me and reduced me to a panicking, sobbing mess two or three days out of the week. Don’t be like me–er, the old me. Be more like the me now. Whatever – don’t burn yourself out is the important bit. Plan for down time.

Find a writing group

I haven’t actually done this one yet, and I hate it. I need to have someone who I’m not married or related to read my work for feedback, and I need to get better at critiquing others’ work as well. Why the second one? It’s important to learn from your own mistakes and writing habits, but you get double the lessons out of learning from someone else’s as well. There also inherent risks involved in writing groups, but as long as you remain aware of them, it makes for a great way to grow.

Sometimes you need to completely start over

The other day I was working on a flash fiction piece that I wrote the first draft for a year or so ago. No matter what I did, nothing seemed to work – the descriptions were clunky, the piece had no point, nothing really mattered. I hated it, but as we’ve just established, professionals at least try to finish what they start. For a week I wrote a paragraph here, did some copypasta from the first draft there. Removing lines, adding words. Taking out and promptly putting commas back in (seriously, I have a problem). In frustration I opened a new document and started from scratch. In about an hour I had something far better than I’ve written in a long while. 

Once you figure out that a piece isn’t working, and you can’t get it to – nix it. Toss it. Kill it. Not the whole idea, but parts that aren’t working. My example was flash fiction, so I could afford to start from scratch all over again, but if you’re working on a chapter that doesn’t fit – get rid of it and try again. No need to throw away the book, but the chapter can go, I promise. You will soar once out from under that dead weight.

Most importantly, be honest with yourself

If you know you aren’t going to work on Tuesdays, don’t try. Make that your Saturday. If you know that you like your spouse and you want to spend time with them once they get off work, make sure you finish your tasks for the day before then. If you know that you’re very “out of sight, out of mind,” hang your tasks and schedule on the wall where you see them every day. Stay mindful of what works and what doesn’t, and don’t be afraid to change something, even for a day, if you think it will help.


What have you been learning about yourself or your process recently? Any specific tips to share with the rest of us about making the switch to “professional?” Share in the comments below!