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Establishing goals

I used to hate thinking about and writing down goals, probably because when I first had to do them it was as part of a budget plan I was assigned to create annually when I was a Publisher. That all changed when I first became an agent, though. One of the very first authors I worked with was writing an unusual book on achieving one’s dreams. In order to do that, the author advised, you had to write down ten goals that you were reaching for – things you never thought you would achieve. He demanded that I as the agent on the project go through this exercise just as a reader would. At the time, I was a single mother of a young daughter beginning a new career and not in the mood for dreaming about anything. But I went along and wrote down things I just knew would never happen: increase my gross book sales threefold by the end of the year (in terms of dollars); meet and marry the love of my life within the next two years; buy a house in the next three years; have another child in the next five years…. And every week, he demanded that I review my goals.

Well, the upshot is that I never sold that book (that actually wasn’t one of my goals). But, incredibly, I did achieve every other goal, and within the time period I had laid out. I did sell that amount in advances and more; I did meet the love of my life and we are about to celebrate our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary; I did buy that house in the country; and my handsome son has just turned 20.

So, when I began my own company, I asked everyone I worked with to set short term goals each quarter; these were almost wishes – they should be reaches – and they should be reviewed monthly. Recently, Miriam told me that she has always hated doing goals “with the burning intensity of a thousand suns,” but she has become a believer because the process really does work.

I have now begun asking my newer clients what their goals and wishes are. It’s an exercise that is energizing many of them and they are realizing that setting short term goals enables them to strategize about their entire career.

I wonder whether you set goals for yourself already. And, if not, don’t you think you might begin now?

3 Responses to Establishing goals

  1. Tami Veldura says:

    I love checklists. I also love goals. I do very poorly when I don’t have a well-defined path to follow so I keep a running checklist on evernote. I use it all the time.

    I’ve set up a system that reflects a semester school schedule because I have a friend working on her second degree and that keeps us in sync. But the timing of the list doesn’t really matter. The key is getting the goals down to pieces small enough that I can sit down for two hours of focused work and at the end, be able to check something off the list.

    So writing a short story involves outline, drafting, beta readers, editing, subital, etc. My list includes ‘outline’ bit drafting is broken up into 1k increments. Each beta reader has a check box. And another for returning the work. Editing is broken up in 5 page chunks. And so on all the way through available for print.

    I do the same thing for work on my website/blog and work on my newsletter.

    This is particularly useful when i have this nonspecific desire to be productive and no idea where to focus my energy. I just go through my list until something sounds fun. That way I’m always moving forward.

  2. emily says:

    Must have goals!

    Yearning for a college degree, and having Flunked Freshman French, scraped by psychology but ACED biology and swimming — I had an abysmal GPA.

    My target: THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN [formerly just The University of Texas].

    I got the 1963 catalog, lived with my grandmother in Dallas, and after work, day after day I went through the course requirements. In the end I had a complete list of courses that would lead to a BA Degree.

    Six years later, after cancer, car wreaks, death, divorce, and more illness: I graduated with a 3.6 GPA. From The University of Texas at Austin.

    When I moved back to Dallas, I found my list. Even though I never reviewed it again, every item on the list had come to pass.

    Then I went to work for The University as an editor for a research report series [so I know that the OFFICIAL name of The University includes the article -- which is capitalized.]

    And further graduated with a Master’s Degree and a 3.9 GPA.

    Now, I still keep goals listed. My current goals include:
    1- finishing a silly little romance with touches of magical realism and a nod to Rocky & Bullwinkle, Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse. — full draft by Dec. 2012
    2- drafting a series of antiwar novels with strong romantic elements [as defined by Romance Writers of America] — polished draft of first volume by Dec. 2013

  3. It’s also key to make these goals somewhat objective and concrete; it’s harder to work toward something undefined and wishy-washy than it is to something you can measure or check off a list of tasks. Of course, when it comes to writing, a lot more of it is subjective, especially if your goal is just to write better. In cases like that, you could think of a few key areas of improvement, and that way you’ll have something definite to work on.

    I think it also helps to realize that some goals are more like dreams you can only help along. You can aim for the NYT bestsellers list and work like crazy to make it happen, but there’s only so much you can do, and part of your success will be based on external factors. That doesn’t mean you should stop trying, though!

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