Book Trends Blog

January 4, 2012

Goal Setting for Writers by Bob Spear

So many of us become interested in a fresh start at this time of year. We want to do better, get more done, become more successful, etc. For writers, this can include a number of approaches such as:

  • Work or projects accomplished
  • Entering new areas
  • Improved skills
  • Improved discipline
  • Greater recognition

Work or Projects accomplished– This pertains to getting the work done. Goals in this area are focused on various combinations of word counts, pages, number of articles or projects such as books written. Whatever it is, try not to bite off more than you can chew. Be realistic and plan ahead. In the military, we use a method called backwards planning. If you want to plan an attack for a certain time, start at that time and work backwards as to what must be done before that attack is accomplished in reverse order. For example: Let’s say you want to write a book and submit it to an agent/publisher or begin the self-publishing process. What’s the last thing you’ll have to accomplish in that process. If it is to submit the manuscript first, you’ll need to write a query letter or proposal package. Before that happens, the ms will need a final proofing. Before that, you’ll need a professional edit. Before that, you’ll need to go through the self-edit process. Before that, your final draft needs to be finished. Before that, you will need to write the book. Before that, you should outline the book. Before that, you will need to come up with a character bible/data-base. You should have conducted a good bit of your research before that. Before that, you will need to come up with a problem(s) to be solved or a theme and context.

Note, each one of these steps takes time. Some can be done simultaneously with others. Each takes a finite amount of time and effort. By doing a planning process like this, it will insert a degree of reality as to what is doable. It will also provide a series of sub-goals and steps to be accomplished and you will be forced to consider most of what needs to be done.

Related to all of this is setting realistic work effort goals such as when you will work, how long you will work, and how much you will get done each time you do.

If you’re working on projects of lesser scopes, such as magazine article, you can still use a similar planning process, but do it multiple times.

Entering new areas– Lets say you have been writing mysteries or thrillers but would like to try your hand at a different genre this year, such as paranormal romance. Lately, a number of well-established writers have been doing this when they depart from adult writing, changing over to young adult or mid-grade level writing in an attempt to capture more of a market earlier on. There are several important things which must take place before doing that, specifically: read, read, read. Become familiar with what that new genre or form looks and feels like. What kind of structures and language are used? Who are the big-gun writers in the new field and what are their reputations based on?  What’s done and what’s not done and why? Who in the industry specializes in the new area and how should they be approached, be they agent, publisher, reviewer, or market segment. You probably did something like this when you initially began writing in your specialty. Now you have to do it again.

Improved skills– So you want to be a better writer, then you need to learn to do so through self-study and with help from professionals. Although I have written several screenplays, I knew I wasn’t writing them as well as I could be. I had read “Screenwriting for Dummies” and several other good books on the subject. I had also read a number of screenplays of successful movies. I watch a lot of movies and TV episodes on Netflix. Still, that wasn’t enough. I finally signed up for and took a 10-day intensive internet course in subtext writing. I count the tuition I had to pay as an investment in myself. Do you see a pattern here? I did my due diligence with my self-study at several levels and still paid for professional guidance. I’m not saying I will now write great screenplays, but I know what I write will be much better than when I first began buying formatting software and trying my hand at it back in 1997.

Improved discipline– Be firm with yourself. If you set goals, work toward them on a regular, systematic basis. It’s just like setting weight-loss goals. You have to do it the right way and work at it constantly. The key word here is “work.” Have you ever met someone who is constantly talking about their someday dreams but who do nothing to actualize them? All the dreaming in the world will be for nothing if you don’t make the efforts to make them happen. New Years always puts people in the frame of mind to set goals, but that’s the easy part. The hard and meaningful part is attaining them.

Greater recognition– The most successful writers understand how important it is to gain recognition. They are always marketing themselves through the social media, industry organs, public appearances, and creating a fan base. The book industry is like the music industry. Who knows of you and who will buy your product? As iffy as this business is, the powers that be will always consider someone with a strong fan base or platform before they will consider a complete unknown.

OK, this may not be everything, but hopefully it will give you a few things to consider when setting those New Years goals.


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