Thursday, July 26, 2012

What are you doing with the Rest of Your Life: Intermediate Goals

Last week we discussed the concept of a long-term goal. We compared it to taking a trip. You need to know the destination otherwise you're likely to end up someplace you don't want to be. But experienced traveler knows that having a destination is not enough. You need a plan to get to that destination. This plan will include many intermediate destinations. They are not the final goal. However, they are places you must reach before you get to that final destination.

Likewise, with your writing goals you need midrange targets. So, how do you determine how you reach those intermediate destinations?

To determine your midrange goal, you must ask yourself one simple question. What do I need to accomplish in order to achieve my long-term goal.

For instance, if your goal is to become a full-time freelance writer, what things do you have to do to prepare for that. For instance, you are not going to quit your job hammer out a couple of stories in a week to get a paycheck at the end of the month. One of the things you're going to have to do is have some sort of income during the year to year and a half that it will take to build up a stable revenue stream from your freelance work. So, your list might look something like this:

  • Save six months income
  • Cultivate at least five steady writing clients
  • Develop at least twenty article queries to begin circulating
  • Develop a marketing package for my business 

You may have several of these midrange goals that you have to accomplish first before you reach your ultimate goal. For instance, if your goal is to write a novel, your list might look something like this.

  • Write character dossiers
  • Write short descriptions of each scene in the novel
  • Research any aspects of the novel that need a factual basis
  • Write a first draft of the novel
  • Edit the first draft of the novel
  • Prepare the final copy of the novel

Now, the above list is based largely on my process when I right or not. Obviously, everybody's process is different. But whatever your process, it can be broken down into a number of discrete steps. Each of these steps constitutes an intermediate goal.

In my case, my five year goal is to produce half my income from freelance writing and teaching activities. So, here are a few of my intermediate goals:

  • Complete 10 novels over the next five years at a rate of two a year
  • Self publish five mini-ebooks a year on a variety of how-to and self-help subjects. 
  • Develop at least four writing courses to be taught online
  • Develop a marketing website for my writing business
  • Develop local writing clients
  • Develop and monetize the Keeping Up with Tech website. 

Okay, so now you have developed your intermediate or midrange goals which will bring you closer to your long-term goal. Next time, we will discuss the short term goals you need to establish to operationalize the whole process.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What are You Doing with the Rest of Your Life: Long Term Goals

Photo by Glideongirl (Flicker)
The story is told of the great Medieval architect Sir Christopher Wren's visit to a construction site. According to the story, we found three stone masons cutting three stones. He approaches one of them and says, "My dear man, what are you doing?"

The man doesn't even look up and snaps back, "What's it look like I'm doing? I'm cutting a stone?"

Sir Christopher then stops by the second stone mason and says, "My Good man, what are you doing?"

This man wearily wipes his forehead and says, "I'm earning a living."

Sir Christopher finally comes to the third man. This man has been watching what was happening. So he had his answer ready when the great man asked, "My good man, what are you doing?"

He dusted off his apron, stood tall and said, "I'm helping Sir Christopher build his great cathedral."

Each of these men was doing the same job. One focused on the immediate task at hand. The second looked forward to a paycheck. The third, though, saw his work within the context of a long range goal.

When most writers (including myself) write about goal setting we usually talk about short or mid-range goals. We set goals like, "I'm going to write 1000 words a day." or  "I'm going to complete my novel this year." These goals are fine, but how often do we fail with them? There are many reasons why we fail. Some may be unrealistic. We may have a goal but no plan to reach the goal. There may not be an accountability stucture in place. We will talk about all of these in future posts. However, one reason we rarely talk about is that we don't see how that goal fits into the big picture.

Even when we reach the goal, we wonder, "Where do I go from here?" We are making short term goals without integrating them into long range planning. Consequently, we don't see how what we are doing fits into an overall plan. We only see the stone and not the cathedral.

Long range goals must come first. Think about it like a trip. Let's say you decide to go on a business trip. So, you sit down and carefully plan out how to get to the airport, how to get to the ticket counter, how to check your bags and reach the terminal gate, but you don't have a destination in mind, your trip will be a disaster. Too often we set daily, weekly and even yearly goals without ever once thinking of where they are leading us.

So, then how do we set these long-term goals? I follow a three step process in setting these goals.

Step One: Set the Time Frame

 The phrase "long term goal" is purposely vague. You need to define what you mean by it yourself. Some long term goals may be five years away. Others may be twenty-five. Basically, they are destination goals. They are goals that once achieved will in some way define your life over an extended period of time. While I would not set a hard and fast rule, I would say most long-term goals are going to be five years or more away. However, that may not be the case. For instance, a long term goal might be to finish a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing or a Journalism degree and you are currently only a year or two away because you have already been working on this goal.

In my case, I have set the time frame at five years. I may (indeed, I hope to) achieve these goals earlier, but that is my target right now.

Step Two: Visualize the Destination 

What will your future life look like if you make your goal? (I'm going to speak in the singular, but, of course, you may have many life goals and not just those related to writing.) Sit down and write about what you want your life to be like five or even ten years from now. One exercise I like to give people is a "Day in the Life" exercise. As the name implies you write a short description of a single day in your life when you have achieved your goal. Here's an example:

I will get up late morning. I will begin my day dealing with email from editors and clients. Then I check into an online class I'm teaching on magazine writing and post a new lesson.  After lunch, I will meet with an ad agency about a brochure project I'm working on with them. I meet with the business owner and gather the points he wants included in the piece. On my way back, I will stop at the bank to deposit the check I got from the agency. I also check my PayPal account for book royalties and direct payments for self-published books.  Later in the afternoon, I spend some time writing and editing my novels then take a rest until about midnight when I do more research and writing for a nonfiction book. I go to bed about 3:00 am. 
Step Three: Condense Your Visualization into a Single Sentence

Okay, after visualizing your future, you need to state that vision as a goal. A goal is something that is specific and observable. It also has a time frame attached to it. Now, your long-term goal will have the highest level of abstraction since it probably forms a portion of your lifestyle.

For instance, for me, I have the following goal:

Within five years at least half of my income will come from my freelance writing and teaching activities.

Now, you have a long term goal. But just setting that goal and not having a plan to get to it, is like setting out on a trip from San Francisco to New York without a road map or GPS. You might get there eventually, but I wouldn't count on it. Later this week, we will talk about intermediate and short term goals.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?

I have been researching a book about time management for writers. Researchers have uncovered many techniques we can use to work more efficiently. Writers can adapt these techniques to be more productive in their writing careers.

I’ll be sharing more about time management in upcoming blog posts. Before discussing any tips or tricks to improve productivity the time management experts say we need to be certain of our goals.
Think about your goals as destination points on your journey. More accurately, think about them as destination points on the many journeys you make in your life.

The experts say we need to consider three types of goals: Long Term Goals, mid-range goals and short-term goals. Success in achieving your long term goals depends on achieving your mid-range goals, which, in turn, depends on completing your short term goals.

Likewise, the goals become less specific as they go from short term to long term.  For instance, a long term goal might be to become a full-time freelance writer in five years. Your mid-range goal might be to sell at least three pieces of writing a month for a total of at least  $500 in two years. Your short term goal might be to write at least 10,000 words a week (about 1500 words a day).
This makes it a bit overly simplistic, though. You will have multiple mid-range and short-term goals supporting the long term goal. It is like a pyramid.  One long-term goal may be supported by five mid-range goals which are supported by 20 or so short term goals.

Unfortunately, it is sometimes easy to get focused simply on the day to day activities of life and lose sight of those long term or what I call “Life Goals.” This doesn’t mean that those long-term goals once set are chiseled in stone. Long term goals of necessity change.

 When I was in high school my long term goal was to become a teacher. Later that narrowed down to becoming a college professor. Happily, I achieved that goal and taught at the college level for close to 30 years. But now, I have entered retirement, and I am redefining my long term goals. I’m only 60 and have quite a few years still ahead of me.

 One of my retirement goals, though, is to develop a full-time writing career focusing on “long-form” writing meaning novels, short story collections and nonfiction books. I began preparations for that more than a year before I retired. But, it was largely a vague goal, now I’m going to be refining that goal and defining my mid-range and short term goals to get there.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be looking at goal setting and you can follow me as I begin to set my new life goals. In the meantime, your assignment is to set fort at least one long term goal. If you want to share that goal (and any mid-range or short-term goals you can think of), you can in the comments section below.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Becoming a World Class Writer

I'm not a sports fan, but even I have heard about this little shindig they are cooking up in London called the Olympics. While I will probably be watching a Law and Order marathon or something during that time, I do understand and respect our Olympic Athletes. I also know there are several things writers can learn from the Olympians.

Excellence Requires Hard Work

Those athletes get up at 4:30 and by 6:00 A.M. they are out on the field practicing. They continue with that for hours at a time. Notice what I'm saying. They are PRACTICING. I didn't say they are competing or performing. They are all alone going through exercises perfecting their skills one at a time without an audience or even the expectation of an audience.

Many of us who write seem to want to be able to do world class writing (You know the type that gets published by people who pay you as opposed to you paying them) without putting in the time and effort. We want to sit down for a couple hours a week and dash off some wonderful words and send them off to a publisher waiting for a check to arrive in the next week or so.


Success in any field requires practice. That means writing 10,000 words for every 100 that get published, especially in the beginning when you are learning your craft. How many laps do you think Michael Phelps swam before he competed in his first swim meet? How many before the regionals? How many before the nationals? How many before the Olympics?

Okay, today you spent an hour writing stuff only good enough to line the bird cage with. Big, Fat, Juicy Deal. Do you think Dorthy Hamill never fell on the ice? That's just part of the practice round before you get to the main event.

Excellence Requires Time

Can you imagine an Olympian saying to his or her coach, "I would really like to workout today, but I have to clean the house and then there is a sale at the mall I must go to and well I've been wanting to redecorate and.... and.... and...."?

Let me tell you something that no one else has probably told you about excuses. Even if an excuse for not writing is valid, it is still hurting your writing effectiveness.

I can say, honestly, that there are many times I don't write because I have something that is a higher priority, an unavoidable circumstance or a physical ailment. I recognize that as a legitimate excuse for not writing. However, I do not fool myself into thinking that it is not hurting my writing career.
The fact is when I break my "training routine" for my writing career, I lose some of my momentum. I get behind on projects. It takes me longer to get back on track later. All that is the same whether I took a break from writing because I wanted to go on vacation or if I was sick.

The good news about this is that there are a lot of time management tools available to writers today. I'll be sharing some of these tips and tricks over the next few weeks. Also, technology has streamlined some tasks, like research and editing, which in the old days (which I remember well and never want to return) took a lot of time.

However, at the end of the day, your development as a writer will correlate directly with how much time you spend developing your craft.

Excellence Requires Prioritizing

How important is writing to you? Right now, I could be watching a rerun of Franklin and Bash from earlier in the evening. Writing this blog is more important to me. It helps me to develop my writing. It is part of an effort to market some of my books and writing services. It also makes me feel good to share my knowledge with others. Paying it forward, as they say, is important to me. All of that is more important than watching a show I can catch later "on demand."

The athletes that make it to the Olympics have made their sport a priority. It may not be number one, but it is very high on the list. Where is writing on your list of priorities? On mine right now it comes in third after my service to God (which often involves writing) and my family. However, even my family knows to cut me a little slack for my writing because we all benefit from it just in different ways. At one time, it had to come in fourth, because I also had a full-time job which I loved and took a lot of time.

Now, some people say, "Well, my family is a priority and they take up so much of my time." That can be true, but let me ask you this: "If writing were your 9-5 job that you went to an office everyday to perform and got paid a salary for, would you leave it to take care of family matters as you do your writing at home?" Seriously, would you leave the workplace and tell your boss you have to take the rest of the day off because you need to help your daughter pick out her dress for the prom? You would probably wait until you got home from work to do that. Just because family is your priority, doesn't mean that everything your family wants from you needs to be a priority. We understand this with work that takes place at an office or store or worksite, we need to be able to apply it when working from home.

Excellence Requires Coaching

You see the athletes on the field performing. What you don't see are the coaches behind the scenes helping them develop their skills. Coaches help the athlete take raw talent and shape it into skilled performance. As with any other skill, you have to learn to write well. You may have a way with words, but you need to learn how to use that knack to create stories, articles, books, plays or whatever. You can find that type of coaching in many places. You can find it in night schools, community college enrichment programs, online, in writers groups or from personal mentors. It is important, though, that you choose your coaches (you will usually have several over time) well. First, can they do what they are going to teach you to do. There was a class offered by a major writing school in novel writing that was taught by a woman who had never written a novel. Indeed, aside from her book on novel writing, the only other things I found she had written were a couple of essays and a short story for a little literary magazine.

Secondly, can they teach? Not everyone who can do something well can teach it. Do you know other people who have taken this course or read these books or went to these workshops? What do they have to say? Can you get a sample lesson or a copy of the syllabus? If you can't understand what they have written in a syllabus why should you believe they can make their lessons clear?
Third, are they a good fit for you? If you want to write novels, then taking a class in writing the nonfiction book, probably isn't going to help you much.

Excellence Requires Patience

I dreamed of writing and publishing a novel when I was 11 years old. I was 58 when it happened. Okay, I had done a lot of other types of writing in between. I wrote everything from newspaper articles to magazine pieces to documentary videos to nonfiction books. Meanwhile, I had been practicing my fiction writing skills, wrote a few short stories that people seemed to like and finally took the plunge and wrote a novel. That took two years to write and another six months to edit. It takes time to learn any skill. You just have to keep plugging along and not give up along the way.

Finally, Excellence Requires Sacrifice

We have built a culture which tells us we can lose weight without diet or hard exercise, that we can get rich overnight without working, that by reading a book and applying a few simple rules we can find the person of our dreams, raise great kids, and become the perfect manager at work. All this will take place without having to give up anything.

The truth is you cannot have it all. The art of living lies in managing the trade offs. You may have to give up an hour of TV with your family, watching the game with your friends, catching that sale downtown or taking on some optional household project in order to pursue your writing.

Yes, excellence takes time, effort and sacrifice, but it pays off. For the athlete it is that medal hung around the neck and the cheers of the crowd. For the writing, it's a bit quieter. It's seeing one's name in print, getting an email from a fan or seeing your book on the shelf at the local bookstore. And when that happens, you know the hard work and discipline has been worth it all.