Monday, July 16, 2012

Dream with a plan and a deadline: A Roundtable Discussion

Roundtable! We have a lot to say about setting goals in the writing life, and we hope you'll add your thoughts. We're here to learn from one another today. So glad you stopped by.

To quote a favorite fairytale princess, "A dream is a wish your heart makes." It's a nice sentiment if you're waiting for someone to make your dreams come true for you but it's not very good advice. I recently found this more practical advice in a fortune cookie : 'A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.' I don't put stock in fortune cookies, but this one makes sense (it's now glued inside one of my writing notebooks!)

I'm not always good at goal-setting, but I recognize the importance. As writers, we don't accomplish much without goal-setting on many levels. Life happens, and even the most enthusiastic of us stall in our writing if we don't have our goals clearly defined and posted prominently as reminders. Some writers set daily, weekly and monthly word counts complete with charts to track their progress. Ray Bradbury wrote 1,000 words a day, but I never heard that he was a chart-maker. He probably didn't need it. If you're planning a large manuscript, posting your word count and adding time for a cooling off period and ample time for revision will give you a pretty accurate idea of when your darling will enter the world. This is especially important if you have a deadline, in which case you must work backward from the due date and hope you are not already behind.

Setting writing goals is only part of the writer's picture. Career goals are a blending of what is and what is not in our control. We can't control the economy or the changing demands of the marketplace, but investing in writers conferences, both local and national, building your library with the best 'how to' and reference books, developing creative web and blog sites and defining your brand will enhance your chances of reaching career goals down the road. Fortunately, more information is available on these topics than has been in the past.

Of course, goals are flexible and need periodic review and adjustment. Are they practical or unrealistic? For some writers, it's a creative process and they love seeing their progress. For others, it's like pulling teeth. I fall somewhere in between. Which is it for you? What kind of goals do you set for yourself, or which goals are helping you most on your road to publication?

I've always made goals related to writing. For my first five novels, I wrote three pages a day.To be truthful, I have goals related to just about every part of my life, or I tend to bob along with the current in a most unproductive manner. Now that I'm going Indie, it's even more important to have goals. I'm publisher, writer, art director, formatting, marketing, publicist, and some other roles I'm not even aware of yet.

I've given myself the goal of shooting four covers and getting my WIP to an editor by the end of the month. I'm waking up in the middle of the night wondering how to do a 1940s hairstyle on a model I haven't found yet. I'm also sewing this yet-to-be-found model a dress. My husband is building her a bench to sit on.

I'm loving this! It's fun and I'm actually moving toward a goal. It feels good.

Of course sometimes "goals" are set by publishers who see a book proposal and want the book sooner than we think we can possibly do it. But I thrive under that kind of pressure. Year before last, I imposed a deadline on myself by committing to write a novel in the month of November during NANOWRIMO. That's National Novel Writing Month. I didn't finish it in the 30 days but I came close! And though no editor asked for the full manuscript after reading my proposal, I thought of it as a house "with good bones" that needed some serious staging, so to speak. So I have recast the novel to a setting I believe better fits the somber tone of the book. It will be presented to several publishers at ICRS, including one who said that the blurb about it was exactly what she was looking for. So --- let's see if my own deadline-setting bears fruit!

Goal setting. Right. I'll get right on that.
Nothing gets the fingers flying like a deadline. I tend to work on a deadline when I start writing a novel, but I don't set one while I'm stewing a book. I need LOTS of time to think (average is about two years) before I start to write.
In terms of career goals, it seems to me much of what I need to do is say no to lots of stuff. There are all kinds of seemingly writing related things out there that work to keep me from writing. Especially those subjective, circular discussions about what publishing "should" be. My goal is to be a well published author. It's big. Probably too big for the likes of me, but there it is. I have no plan B.

Things are a bit off kilter for me these days. In fact, I feel like I've floundered for much of the year. Like Patti, I'm going independent with my very-soon-to-be-released novel Unraveled -- with perhaps more to follow -- and my goal was to have the book ready to release soon after the first of this year. But I've had some health issues that completely messed with my goals. Not only did I not have the book ready to release in January, I also floundered when it came to writing. For the first time since I began writing novels back in the mid-eighties, I haven't had a novel in the works since I completed my last manuscript a number of months ago. I've had good intentions, but you know what they say about those. Compounding the problem was not knowing the next book I wanted to write. I had three story ideas vying for first place, and was convinced I was going to go one direction, only to realize deep in my gut I wanted to go another. But before I began a new work, I need to get Unraveled ready for release. And I'm very happy to say I'm there. Finally. It should be available before the end of the month. Then my goals will be all about marketing, but honestly, I'd rather go fishing. In Alaska. Sigh. But it does feel good to feel like I'm getting back on track with my writing goals. Once Unraveled has left the nest, I have two more completed novels I hope to release. And I seriously plan to begin work on the novel my gut says to go with. So my main goal for now is getting back on track. I think I can ... I think I can ... I think ...

 I'm the champion flounderer here, having done it for years, for some good and some not as good reasons. I evidently need lots more time than Bonnie to think. These ladies are my heroes.

On my first book, I created a deadline, by telling an editor to expect the manuscript I'd pitched to him on a certain date. The second book was bought by a publisher while I was still writing it.

Deadlines are serious pressure, and hard on your health and family life. On the other hand, they get things done.

The one I'm writing now is not contracted, and I've given myself permission to publish it independantly if that seems best. It's interesting what that option does to your writing. It may indeed seem best.

For now, my goals consist of simply doing the next thing.

Pray for me. 

How about you, dear readers? Tell us about your goals!


Megan Sayer said...

Katy: YES!!

Anonymous said...

This is so timely as I have just given myself nine weeks to finish my book. Can I do it? I think so. This has come out of being frustrated from hearing myself say "I am almost finished" for the past year. The truth is - I am almost finished but I am really going to do it this time. No more fluffing about - I have written a plan and a list and ooohhhhhh how I love to tick off things from my list.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Currently, I'm in the "concept writing" phase of my WIP. I'd love to say that the first draft will be done by January (so I can focus on marketing "Paint Chips").

Here's my struggle. As I'm writing, a character keeps intruding. She is NOT right for this novel. She is NOT right for anything that I would ever hope for CBA. She needs her own space. I call her "Little Miss Cussy"...for very specific reasons. That's creating a bit of trouble with my WIP.

I need a restraining order.

Patti Hill said...

I think we've successfully nixed the whole notion of the glamorous writing life with this post. It's hard work just getting to the computer. Once I realized how difficult starting and FINISHING a novel could be, I developed some strategies that fit my personality and life-style.

Like our dear Sharon, we've all gone through times when even the most reasonable plans and goals have gotten thrashed by other priorities, like caring for ourselves and others. And I believe the laying down of goals to love honors God. In that way, we continue to do the work of the kingdom, only differently.

Bonnie, I'm with you about not rushing through the mulling stage of a novel. Take all the time you need to know your characters, nail down motivation, and all the other vital pieces of this masterpiece you're about to create.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I appreciate Bonnie's comment about taking time on the idea phase. I think that may be the issue with my WIP. I didn't allow enough time to mull. Thank you for the permission. :)

Oh, and, Patti, you are so right. And as soon as we all realize how un-glamorous it is, the better we'll become.

Bonnie Grove said...

I wish I'd know when I first started, how important it was to have several ideas for novels at different stages when you get published. It's a treadmill, and most CBA publishers (if you're lucky enough to keep one) expects a book a year. With some genre's (romance) two books a year is ideal.

Yes, there are writers out there able to produce two books a year.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Sometimes silent goals are best; that way those close to you don't consciously or subconsciously thwart them.

Other times, you have to put them right out there on the to do list like you do with other things you love. I remember putting, "practice piano," on the to do list each day so I would HAVE to do it. Then someone chided me for making a chore out of something I love. But, hey, I was always taught to do my chores first.

S. F. Foxfire said...

Usually I have a 7-page-a-day deadline for myself, but my current WIP is going really SLOOOOOWLY. I know it's the right one to be working on--I've haven't been this excited to write for a long time. But something inside me just keeps putting off writing....

I don't think it's writer's block, but my mother has noticed phases I go through where I either readreadread, or writewritewrite. While I'm not a fan of phases like that (I prefer consistency), I would very much like to identify this blockage in my brain's intestines.

Any suggestions?

Josey Bozzo said...

I have struggled so much with my writing since a year ago the end of this month. I even set it aside for a time thinking that I was done. But the urge to write started in again the beginning of this year. So far I have still kept it on the back burner.
My goal right now?
To just put pencil to paper and start again.