We make goals all the time. Arbitrary goals, necessary goals, goals based on wishes and dreams. No goals are better or worse than others, and all goals require steps to achieve. It’s figuring out those steps and getting them done that separate those who achieve from those who give up. I am no expert. I’m not even going to pretend to be an expert. I have zero qualifications of any kind, unless you consider a high school diploma, a Bachelor of Arts degree, and reading a metric shit ton of books on this stuff qualifiers. That and when I set a goal I achieve it.
There are tons of books out there about achieving goals and learning to build in the steps and what separates the can do’s from the can’t do’s, etc. Some of those books are really good. Some of those books are terrible. Many of those books are redundant. So to save you the time I’ve compiled what I’ve found to be the necessary information for achieving goals.
Define Your Goal in Specific Terms
My main goal is to become a published author. Sounds specific, right? But it’s not. Technically, I am a published author. I wrote and edited my department newsletter in college. That newsletter went to hundreds of people and institutions of higher learning all over the United States. Therefore, I am a published author. Technically true, but not what I mean. I need to dial in and really define what I mean for myself when I say “become a published author.”
I want to write and publish a novel. That is much more specific. I’ve defined what the published writing is that will mean I’ve accomplished my goal. Defined, right? Nope. What do I mean by publish? Published on my blog? Published by Amazon? Published by a major publishing house?
I want to write a novel and publish it without losing my rights of ownership, most likely via Amazon.
That. That is a defined goal. It shows that I know what I want to achieve. There’s nothing vague about it. If I were to tell someone my goal they would have a very clear picture in their mind. I can’t pretend I’ve accomplished it by doing anything other than what I’ve said I’m going to do. Define your goal in specific terms.
Determine and Define the Major Steps
Where are you now? Where do you want to be? How do you get there? It is often easier to start at the end and work backwards. Visualizing your goal, seeing what it looks like to be where you want to be, can help you see how to get there.
Where I want to be: I want to write a novel and publish it without losing my rights of ownership, most likely via Amazon. Where I am now (the time I made my NYR’s): I write in my journal every night for anywhere from ten minutes to 45 minutes. How can I get from journal writing, which I don’t intend to publish, to a completed novel to publish?
I need to start writing fiction. I need to write fiction that I want to publish. I need to write fiction that I can compile into a novel to publish. You will notice that my end goal is not one of my NYR’s. It’s too large. It’s too daunting. It’s too far from where I am. My timeline, or my list of major steps, looks like this:
- Be disciplined in my writing
- Send my writing out for publication
- Obtain publishing credits
- Obtain a following of readers
- Write a novel
- Determine how I want to publish
- Get published
You will notice not all of these are on my NYR’s because again, too large, too daunting, too much to accomplish in a year when I also have other goals that include time with my family and friends. Instead, what’s on my NYR’s are the first two steps and those two steps have been more clearly defined
- Be disciplined in my writing became “write for one hour every day” – this creates discipline and a lot of potential material for a novel
- Send my writing out for publication became “submit at least one piece for publication every month” – this shows dedication to becoming published in smaller ways and building an audience for my eventual novel publication and involves a lot of learning about how and where to submit
Determining and defining your major steps is awesome, because you now have a path to follow. But the path can be daunting. You’ve got to keep your spirits up and help you get to your destination because nothing worth doing is going to be easy.
Build in Excitement and Reward
There’s nothing inherently exciting or rewarding about “write for one hour a day.” So how do I make it fun? How do I ensure I’ll hit my major step? I need to build in the excitement and reward.
I decided it was most exciting and rewarding for me to write my one hour a day on the computer, on a blog, for the whole world to see. Eep! It’s also terrifying. Publishing a blog is a way to potentially gain followers/readers which is one of my major steps. It’s keeping me accountable for my “one hour a day.” It’s exciting because it shows I’m committed to letting people see what I write. It’s exciting because people might like it. It’s rewarding when I do get “like”s from people, especially people who don’t know me. It’s rewarding because I sometimes get entire comments from people that help keep me excited. It’s become a cycle of excitement and reward.
There’s absolutely zero that’s rewarding about “submit at least one piece for publication each month,” because the odds are I will receive more rejections than I can count before receiving an acceptance. It’s just the way it is. Plus the only exciting thing about submitting a piece is the idea that it may get accepted and since you already know you’ll pull in tons of rejections before an acceptance it just feels super disheartening. I will be completely honest: I have not done one single thing about attempting this goal yet and we are currently just over halfway through the month.
I need to build in some serious excitement around this step or it won’t happen. It has it’s own reward: when a piece is accepted I will have gained some publishing credits (one of my major steps) and will gain potential readers/followers (another major step). So the reward is built in to accomplishing the step, I’ve just got to find the excitement. And it’s not there.
I am going to build in the excitement on this step by appealing to my need for order. It’s crazy, I know, but I love, love, love spreadsheets. I love organization. I am going to make this step exciting by creating a spreadsheet to track every piece I write and submit. The name of the piece, where I submitted it, how I submitted it, when I receive a rejection/acceptance, etc. Not only is keeping track of my submissions essential to meeting my goal, it’s also a form of excitement for me.
Most people are not thrilled by a spreadsheet. So for most people this kind of “excitement” won’t fly. I get it. Feel free to build in excitement with false rewards. For example, when I’ve learned enough Spanish that I can have a conversation with my Spanish speaking friends without using any English I will treat myself to dinner at a fancy tapas bar. Or, when I’ve learned to play my first song on guitar I will treat myself to a new song book. Do not build in excitement and reward by saying, when I hit x goal I will treat myself by taking a day off from y. Taking days off is a slippery slope to failure.
As long as you are building in excitement and reward that continue to feed your goals rather than detract from them you will hit your mark.
Schedule All the Steps
You know what you need to do, you have a path to get there, and you have so much motivation, even if it’s built-in motivation. Now you need to get it on your calendar so it happens. If you do not make time for the things you want to accomplish, you will not accomplish them. Make the time by scheduling it.
For some people this means literally scheduling their lives: 6 am wake-up, 6:30 am jog, 7:30 am shower and breakfast, etc. For other people it is a bit more vague: daily write, monthly submit for publication, annually update NYR’s with next steps. Figure out what works for you and do it.
My days are scheduled such that from the moment of wake up until the moment the kids are in bed I do nothing but kid stuff with the occasional five second of me time thrown in when the kids are occupied by something like story time at the library or playing with grandma or running at the playground with friends. I shamelessly use those seconds of me time for time wasting/occupying things like Facebook or catching up on email, or updating my grocery list, or ordering that thing online that I keep forgetting to buy at the store, etc. Shamelessly.
I’m serious about this step, folks. One of the reasons I’m struggling with my “submit at least one piece for publication a month” goal is that I have not scheduled in the time required to do it. I need time to organize my work, determine where I want to publish and what sorts of pieces they normally publish, and then start submitting. This is a huge up-front time requirement and a smaller down the line time requirement. And it’s not happening because I haven’t scheduled it in because I didn’t have enough of an excitement/reward system in place until just today when I figured out that a spreadsheet would help excite me.
My “write for one hour a day” goal, however, is in full effect because I do it without fail as soon as the kids are in bed. I do it even when I am interrupted every twenty minutes by a colicky baby. I do it even when I am exhausted because I only got three hours of sleep the night before. I do it every, freaking day for one hour. It is scheduled. That said, you will notice I didn’t publish anything last night. That’s because I started two pieces that I didn’t finish, one was nothing but whining and one was too intense for me to continue. And then my older son, who had been cranky all day spiked a fever and needed mom.
I’m making up for yesterday with today. This post has taken well over an hour.
Get started. Today. Do it. Waiting for the first of the year, waiting for the first of the month, waiting for Monday…all that waiting speaks of lack of motivation and promises failure. Start today. Make a small step: like creating your goal and defining the major steps. Tomorrow you will start implementing your plan. For example: today I will create the goal that I want to run a marathon and determine that from here to there includes scheduling my workouts/runs, downloading the C25K app on my phone, and determining which marathon I want to run. Tomorrow I will begin my workouts/runs using my app. The next day I will continue with my app workouts/runs and also determine which marathon I want to run. The next day I will continue with my app workouts/runs and also sign up for the marathon I picked. etc. etc. etc.
You can do anything you set your mind to, don’t give up on yourself, don’t give up on your dreams. The first step to not giving up: create your steps to meet your goal.
UPDATE: that whole spreadsheet idea seriously revved me up. I have now created my spreadsheet and done some research on publications and submissions for different genres. It makes my heart pound wildly and I’m full of nervous anticipation.