Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

Goals, Behaviors and the Writer's Mind

Had an interesting conversation this week with a friend from work about the alignment of goals and behaviors. While we were speaking in a completely different context, it occurs to me that this is often an issue for writers, both aspiring and working. (Apparently I'm in a pop psych mood tonight.)

First off, what goals does one have? Before I'd ever sold a story, I swore to all who would listen that if I sold one, just one, story, I'd be happy. Then I sold one. I wanted to sell to a major publication. Then I did that. I wanted to sell a novel. Then I did that. Now I want to be a rising mid-list novelist on the road to bestsellerdom.

See the pattern? For my personality, I'm only as good as the next awaited-for accomplishment. Remember when you were a teen ager? You worked for years to get to and through high school. That diploma was quite possibly the largest goal in your entire life. One day you graduated, and a within a week, if you're like me, you were saying, "oh, yeah, high school. I did that." My writing goals work that way. I don't look back, only forward.

I also have tactical objectives. "Finish this novel draft by such-and-such a date." "Write three stories this weekend." "Get this batch in the mail." Those are sub-goals, if you will, supporting efforts to my larger career ambitions.

Note that my objectives are things which I control through my day-to-day actions, while my goals are not directly within my control, but are only possible if I meet my objectives.

There are so many writers I know who have high minded goals, but don't align their behaviors with those goals. "I'd like to be published by the time I'm [age]." "I'd like to sell this novel." But they don't write consistently, or submit consistently, or seek out paths to improve their work. Almost all of us writers have an astonishing capacity for self-deception, and it gets deployed to great advantage in this arena.

My suggestion is if you feel you aren't achieving your goals as a writer, examine your behaviors. If you want to be published, are you writing consistently? Sending those stories out? If you want to be a novelist, are you working on novels? It doesn't matter what your goals are, only that you understand them.

Of course, if you don't understand your own goals, or how they translate into objectives, it might help to sort that out first. Do you want to be a working, recognized short story writer? Figure on several hundred rejections before your first short story acceptance. Figure on a 10:1 or 7:1 ratio of send-outs to acceptances once you start selling decently. Figure on needing to have enough inventory to fill that pipe if you'd like to appear in print often enough to build any name recognition. That's a minimum of a dozen new stories a year if you hope to sell two a year. (See where my story a week thing comes into play here?)

It's a damned tough business at the very best of times. Don't make it harder by wishing for one thing and doing something else entirely. Unless, of course, that's your goal.
Tags: personal, process, writing
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