Saturday, February 7, 2015

Goals that Make Sense, by Ron Estrada

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons and Paula Naugle

I love New Year's resolutions. I love the wha-wha-whaaa sound they make as they fizzle and die by January 3rd. A resolution is something announced from an elevated platform. Usually a bathroom scale. Resolutions are for lifestyle changes, not business.

And you, my friend, are a business.

What a business does is to establish goals for the coming quarter or year. Even weekly goals or quotas are put into place, sometimes on a big white board in the sales office. No big white boards for you (unless you're like my wife and fantasize about such things). In your case a Word document or spreadsheet should suffice.

The key to establish goals has been passed down from every corporation from General Motors to Bob's Bait & Tackle (you have to try his attack crawlers!). Here's what is what we all learned during our first year in the corporate trenches.

A goal must be two things:

1. Achievable
2. Measurable

Heavy stuff, huh? But you'd be surprised how many people can't grasp it. How many of you, in your very first days and weeks of writing, announced that you would finish your manuscript and find an agent that year? Those of you who are lying, see me after class. 

Let's take an average beginner, we'll call her Mary, and an average unpublished veteran, we'll call him Bob (he hates the bait & tackle business) as examples.

Mary's Goals:
  1. Learn all I can about story structure.
  2. Write 500 words a day, even if it's just gibberish.
  3. Attend one writer's conference.
  4. Find a critique\accountability partner or group.
  5. Read one fiction novel per week both in and outside my genre.
Simple enough? Notice Mary didn't list "Get published" as a goal. Mary knows that she won't become a published author in a few months any more than she can start practicing law after one semester of college. 

I like to keep my list of goals short, five or six at most. I also like to split them up into categories. Number 1, for example, is about craft. It can be "Work on character development" or any other writing skill. It's helpful to have that goal in mind when planning that conference, right?

Now let's move on to the veteran, someone who's been at this for a while and is nearly ready to be published or self-publish.

Bob's Goals:
  1. Learn how to show emotions on the page.
  2. Finish 3 drafts this year.
  3. Attend a conference focused on my genre (Thrillerfest, RWA, etc.).
  4. Agree with my accountability partner to send daily or weekly progress reports.
  5. Submit my last novel, Once Bitten Twice Hooked, to Agent A, B, and C. 
If Bob intended to self-publish, I'd modify that list to include hiring a professional editor and cover designer for Once Bitten Twice Hooked (feel free to steal that awesome title, by the way). If Mary can't find it in her budget to attend a conference, she can switch that goal with "Read one book per month on writing craft." 

It's your list, modify as needed.

Now on to part two of goal setting--it must be measurable.

You'll notice, from my two lists above, that almost everything on that list can be measured. Word count, completed drafts, number of books read, etc., are all easily measured. 

But what about that pesky number 1 on each list? How do you measure learning? We can write this off as the difference between business and art, but I think that's a bit of a cop out. A teacher gives tests to measure a student's progress. You can do the same.

If you don't have a critique group or beta readers, add that to your list. Let's say Mary is working on story structure. She doesn't have to finish a novel to see if her structure works. She can write the short synopsis and pitch it to her readers (The late Blake Snyder of Save the Cat fame said he would pitch his ideas to people in restaurants). Of course, structure and idea are two different things, but you get the idea. Even better if Mary has a mentor to look at her outline.

Bob can do the same thing. When he sends his manuscript to his beta readers, he can add a note--Keep a specific eye out for my description of emotion. 

If you have five beta readers and two say you have more work to do, you've scored a 60% on your test. What would mom and dad say? Right. Back to work.

Be sure to set your quarterly, weekly, and daily goals as well. Some of us prefer weekly because we have crazy schedules. Some like daily goals to hold ourselves accountable. It's up to you. But write it down. No, don't post it on Facebook. This is between you and, at most, you family and accountability partner\group. Then adjust as necessary as the year progresses. Hey, things happen. We get sick. We take a new day job. Babies get birthed. Adjust.

I'm going to add a final note. Be realistic in setting your goals. We all want to be Super Writer. But if your burn-it-at-both-ends schedule interferes with your devotional time, family time, or exercise, you'll crash. Take it from the guy who slacked off on his exercise last year and has spent the last three months with horrible back pain. Do you know how hard it is to get through NaNoWriMo when it hurts to sit down for more than five minutes at a time?

So set those goals as well. Mind, Body,  & Spirit, right? 

2015 doesn't have to be the year you get published or the year you sell ten-thousand self-published books, but it can be your best year ever. 

Ron Estrada has multiple published magazine articles, including a regular column in the 
bi-monthly Women2Women Michigan. He also freelances as a technical writer, specializing in white papers for manufacturing and consumer products. He writes spec fiction, hovering somewhere between post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction (he prefers the term pre-Last Days), but has also dabbled in Mystery and Suspense. Turn-ons include long walks to Frosty Boy and dinner by Kindle light. His real-writer’s blog can be found at  You can e-mail him at or catch him (at pretty much any time) on Facebook. Twitter handle is @RonEstrada. CB handle is God’s Gift.

(article reprinted with permission from NovelRocket)

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