In this new series on Self-Care for Writers, I’m sharing insights on looking after yourself, body and soul. In this article, because it’s January, we’re talking goals. Not all goals are good goals; some can be downright unhealthy.
In the first article in my Self-Care for Writers series, Seven Tips for Flourishing as a Writer, I touched on discerning between the things we can and can’t control. It’s a critical distinction if you want to last the distance in the writing business.
Of course, most writers want to sign with a world-class agent, experience a bidding war over their manuscript, sell out their first print run, hit the best seller’s list, and become wildly and internationally famous. The trouble with all of those awesome events is they are completely outside of a writer’s control. Setting any of them as a goal will lead to disillusionment, heartache, and burnout.
Dreams & Goals
The old adages hold true: Go big or go home. Shoot for the moon. Dreams should be big enough and wild enough to scare us. We should engage our faith and speak into the universe.
But dreams and goals are two very different things. Dreams engage your wishbone. Goals rely on backbone.
Writers—all creatives in fact—need both ‘bones’. Your wishbone is a trellis that supports your imagination, fosters your vision, and trains your creativity into something uniquely yours. Your backbone is a girder for your growth, dedication, resilience, and longevity.
Goals or SMART Goals
The SMART acronym has been bandied about since 1981 when it was coined by George Doran and associates in an article in Management Review. I particularly like this amplification of the basic qualities of good goals:
S = specific and stretching
M = measurable + meaningful and motivating
A = achievable and action-oriented
R = realistic + rewarding and results-oriented
T = time-bound and trackable
I whimper on the inside when my writing peers say their goals for the year are to get an agent and land a publishing deal. Both are superior dreams but inferior goals, because they aren’t specific, measurable, achievable, realistic or time-bound. Lots of wishbone, little backbone.
Compare these SMART Goals:
- By the end of January, I will identify ten agents who are suitable matches for my work and my desired career path.
- Each month I will research two of the ten agents to discover their preferences, clients’ work, sales record, and wishlists.
- I will craft a tailored query letter for an agent by the 15th of the month, and before sending it out at the end of the month, I will have it critiqued and proofread by my writing buddies.
But Will Setting SMART Goals Get Me My Agent?
Well, not exactly… But it will lay stepping stones in the direction of that dream. Instead of chasing a hazy desire, you create a clear path to follow. Won’t it feel amazing to know where you’re going and how far you’ve come?
As a bonus, tranquillity, optimism, and contentedness flow more freely when we focus on the things we can control. Setting smart goals makes the journey pleasant and healthy!
Self-Care is a Non-Negotiable
Hitting send on your query letter simultaneously hits pause on the part you control. I can tell you from years of experience: unless you are unbelievably lucky, freaky talented, or have an X-factor idea whose time is RIGHT NOW, waiting is the name of the game.
The waiting “to get somewhere” in the life of a writer can be frustrating and bewildering and downright disheartening. It can feel like being stuck in a terminal with no flight information while everyone around you takes off on time or lands safely and falls into the embrace of waiting loved ones. That’s why it’s so important to have clear steps to care for yourself.
It’s common—normal even—for emerging and aspiring writers to feel lousy about “not getting anywhere”, which is industry shorthand for not getting an agent or a publishing deal. Unchecked, disappointment can fester into disillusionment, despair, and even deeper into mental health issues. If you are vulnerable (genetically or circumstantially or both), please, please take steps to be proactive about self-care.
The creative life is a zany rollercoaster with an unpredictable series of highs and lows and tummy-squeezing, knuckle-whitening loop-de-loops. Try to step back so you can view the whole ride, rather than bogging down on the slow or disappointing bits. And above all, share the ride with friends. It’s more fun to scream in symphony than all alone!
Own the Process
We control the quality and quantity of our work. We control how we use our time, how we spend our resources, who we include in our networks. We can control what we read, who we listen to, where we find inspiration, and how we treat other writers. We cannot control whether an agent will like our work enough to sign us as a client. Therefore, own what we do control and let the rest go.
This is a workout for the backbone, not the wishbone.
A Word from the Wise
“My goals are all about controlling what you can control in this crazy world. You have control over the body of your work. You can set clear and concise goals that are achievable. You can write down goals that won’t give you a one way ticket into full blown therapy.”
Check out Julie’s examples of healthy goals, shared with her permission:
- Write for twenty minutes every day.
- Brainstorm 100 story ideas.
- Write a first chapter in both first person and third.
- Create a playlist for your work-in-progress.
- Find five new writer friends.
- Go to at least one writing conference.
- Buy five books from debut authors. Read them. Review them.
- Write multiple last chapters of a book you haven’t started.
- Be brave. Get a critique from an expert.
- Turn your work-in-progress into a screenplay.
- Draw five pivotal scenes from your work, dive back into pivotal scenes. What do you know now? Revise.
- Set a specific word count, meet it.
Every one of these hits the markers of SMART goals, and they are completely within your control. Any or all of the above will contribute to both your growth and health as a writer. Plus, they are meaningful and useful exercises to engage in AS YOU WAIT for responses to your queries.
Julie also says this:
“Take a deep breath. You’ve got this. It’s all about putting one word before the next. It’s all about the people you meet along the way.”
I totally agree! On that note, I’ll wrap it up.
Over to You
I hope this is the year of your breakthrough or continued success in the creative life—whatever that means for you, signing with your dream agent or landing a publishing contract. May it also mean growing in your ability to find joy in the act of creating and strength in the practice of caring for yourself.
I’m adding some of Julie’s goals to my list. I especially like the screenplay idea, which will stretch me to acquire new skills. Which of Julie’s sample goals do you like best?
Until next time, take care of yourself!
Stars photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash