“In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”
~Robert Heinlein (1907 – 1988)
I announced at the beginning of the year that I was hanging out my shingle as a professional writer.
Usually, when a person sets out to pursue a more traditional career, there is a clear-cut path maintained by the trampling feet of thousands. If you want to be a teacher, you go to college and take all the prerequisite courses. If you want to be an investigator, there’s pre-outlined courses for you, too. Same for those who want to lawyer, doctor, or account for things.
For a writer, there is no list of courses to take to become a professional writer, no minimum number of on-the-job hours for credit, no easy-to-follow path. And there’s no guarantee.
Folks made of lesser stuff view this reality as a formidable mountain to climb. But you and me, the positive-thinking, this-is-your-year-thinking, gonnabe writers, we see this as complete freedom. We are in control of our own success. We get to dream it, design it, and engineer it any way we please.
We do that by setting goals.
In his book “Booklife,” Jeff Vandermeer has a wonderful chapter on “Creating and Managing Goals.” He writes, “A goal must be specific, measurable, and be attached to a timeline.” Amid lots of detailed and insightful advice, Vandermeer suggests having a five-year plan, a one-year plan, a list of monthly tasks, and a list of weekly tasks. I advocate a list of daily tasks as well.
If it seems like a lot of commitment, then you’re probably not ready. But if you’re ready to get serious about your writing career, then this probably sounds like a lot of fun to you. It does to me.
1. Five-Year Plan ~ You’ve probably been dreaming about the type of writing success you want for years. Ask yourself, for you to have this dream career, what has to happen in the next five years? Do you need to sell a book? How about two books? Maybe you want to be represented by an agent? Are you desiring to write graphic novels or screenplays? How do you imagine yourself to be marketed as a writer?
2. One-Year Plan ~ What do you have to accomplish in one year’s time in order to further yourself towards your ultimate goal? Maybe your goal is to have a polished draft of your novel in the mail to an agent. Maybe you have a more modest goal of completing a handful of stories. Or maybe you’re of a more aggressive mindset and are looking to complete several big projects and generate a positive income flow.
3. Monthly Tasks ~ This is pretty simple to me. Figure out how much time you need to accomplish the things on this year’s to-do list and plan it out. Schedule the time you need for each project. This not only helps you determine whether or not your goals for the year are attainable, but it also helps you stay focused on what you need to work on each month.
4. Weekly Tasks ~ Know what you need to accomplish in a given week to meet your monthly goals.
5. Daily Tasks ~ Setting down a list of daily tasks seems cumbersome to many folks, but I find that it helps lighten the load. If I know on a particular day my focus must be on getting in a certain word count or finishing a draft of a short story, then I don’t waste any time or energy worrying about other projects. Their day is coming, and that’s when I will deal with them.
This does not have to be a long and complicated process, nor does it have to become some sort of burdensome record-keeping. Keep it simple. Post your five-year and one-year plans up where you can see them every day. Same with your monthly and weekly tasks.
On the days when you need focus, you need only look down at your list of daily tasks and focus only on what needs to be done next.
On the days when you feel lost and need inspiration, you need only look up to find your long-term goals, your North Star to the bright future you have written for yourself.