?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2007-02-09 17:32
Subject: Goals, Behaviors and the Writer's Mind
Security: Public
Tags:personal, process, writing
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.
Post A Comment | 24 Comments | | Flag | Link






(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-02-10 02:14 (UTC)
Subject: Re: I've been thinking about this for a while.
Is it possible to be a causally-published writer?

Sure it is. Obsessives like me place writing at or near the center of their world, but there are plenty of folks, some of them highly successful writers, who produce irregularly. The key is understanding your ambition. "I want to focus on my career, and I will write when time and interest permit" is a reasonable goal, if you're happy accepting it likely means irregular or infrequent publication.

As for "needing to write" -- that's a behavioral tic, one I happen to share, but by no means a requirement of being a working writer. I think different people mean different things by that phrase as well. It covers everything from existential angst to the twitch of a well-formed habit.

Knowing what you want is the heart of the matter. Everything else follows from that.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2007-02-10 03:12 (UTC)
Subject: Re: I've been thinking about this for a while.
>>Knowing what you want is the heart of the matter. Everything else follows from that.<<

Oh, so *that's* my problem. :(
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



(no subject) - (Anonymous)
Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-02-10 21:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yer welcome. Enjoy the book.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-02-10 20:08 (UTC)
Subject: Re: I've been thinking about this for a while.
I would consider myself a "casually-published" writer in that it is not the main focus of my time--I teach and run a biology lab and so do the 50-60 hr/week university thing.

But...having a creative outlet is extremely important to me, whether it be art or writing. I probably end up writing 20-30k words a year worth of short fiction. I am goal-oriented ego-driven enough that I do want to get my work published, and happily enough some of it has been, enough stories that, even if the next story I write turns out to be shit, I know that I will come up with another one that will stand up for me when I reread it sometime later.

A few things have helped with keeping this aspect of my life moving. First, my wife and I don't have kids so that frees up some time. Second, being involved in genre-based fiction, there is a community of other writers out there to bounce ideas and fiction back and forth with (if you are friend with writers and artists, you are more likely to write and make art). Third, with the web there is more opportunity to find out how other people respond to a published piece of work; one of the biggest ego boosts is having a stranger comment positively about your story. Fourth, you have to care enough to make it worth your time.

--Eric Schaller
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



Leah Bobet
User: leahbobet
Date: 2007-02-10 02:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is all true, yes.

What I'm finding tricky right now is being in a place where I don't even know what goals to set, or how to go about them. This neopro thing is scary shit.

Further, I just want to say that the seat-of-the-pants neopro industry blogging thing? I have come to appreciate how ballsy it is. Thank you, and please keep on keeping on.
Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-02-10 02:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In reverse order, you're welcome. There's a few things I don't talk about (financial particulars, for example), but otherwise I try to be very open. Before blogging, this kind of experience was damned hard to look in on unless you happened to live with or next door to the writer, so I'm trying to pay forward. I'm glad it helps.

As for how to go about setting goals, in simplest terms, what do you want? To be a novelist? Something else? The answer to that question will find you, and it will change with time, but everything else flows from that.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



Andrew
User: carnwrite
Date: 2007-02-10 02:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Right now I'm working on short stories, and I've just started making some sales. While I can see a definite improvement in my work over the last few years, progress seems to be pretty slow. Aside from just writing more and critting often, are there any other things you've found helpful for getting to that 'next-level'?
Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-02-10 11:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, "write more" is pretty indisputable, I think. "Write faster" is disputable but works for me. The main thing is to keep moving, keep practicing, because that's how you keep getting better.

On a more nuanced level, you might be mindful of the critique you receive (and give out). Does it serve your needs? My expectations and needs from critique have changed substantially over time. Being aware of that shift has been important for me. Also, reading stories you think are very good, as well as stories generally recognized as such (like the award nom lists) is very helpful, just to see at least one version of the "state of the art."

I think the main thing is to write what you want to write. Passion will come through as voice, and voice sells.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



anghara
User: anghara
Date: 2007-02-10 04:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
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.

Oh God, yeah. Except for the blond hair and the fact that you happen to be the opposite gender, with that statement, you're ME...
Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake: jay-selfish_attention_whore
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-02-10 09:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:jay-selfish_attention_whore
Since you have some of the prettiest hair of anyone I know, I'll take that as a compliment. :D
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-02-10 04:31 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Great post, Jay! I totally agree. A lot of this is a combination of behavior and visualization. I've found that basically if you put in the work and you can properly visualize your goal, you can do just about anything. Most people put all kinds of limitations on themselves before they even start moving toward a goal. I'm not saying don't focus on something specific, but I am saying don't put unnecessary impediments in your path. It may sound hokey, but anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

JeffV
Reply | Thread | Link



mevennen
User: mevennen
Date: 2007-02-10 09:42 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm completely with you and Jeff.

>I've found that basically if you put in the work and you can properly visualize your goal, you can do just about anything.

Especially this. From some perspectives, this is the basis of magical practice, snd I'm sure that will raise some eyebrows. However, it's the way I've worked since I was in my early twenties and I'm in the sometimes disconcerting position of having had everything I ever said I wanted. That's not just writing, either. (Sustaining it is another matter and that's where the work comes in and, I find, an almost constant watchfulness).

But at the end of the day, with writing, it's head down, finger out, and get on with it.
Reply | Thread | Link



karenthology
User: karenthology
Date: 2007-02-10 12:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I agree with this. I've had a lot more success when I treat my goals like you said -- not 'have a novel published by 28,' but 'write 400 words tonight on the novel and have this short story done by Tuesday.'

It's one of those common-sense things we forget All The Time. Thanks for the reminder.
Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-02-10 21:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I feel that same way about the common-sense stuff. "Wow *and* duh." You're welcome.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-02-10 14:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Just to provide anecdotal evidence, when I was in my teens I sat down and I did in fact create macro goals for myself. One was, "In five years I want to be published in Asimov's and other pro magazines. In ten years I want to have a book out. In fifteen years I want a book out from a major publisher." Etc. I broke it down into five-year plans as a kind of joke (because of the Soviet Union's five-year plans. But within each five-year span, I then created a series of micro tasks, things I should be doing on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. At the end of each year, I would evaluate how good I'd been at keeping those daily, weekly, and monthly goals, and adjust accordingly. At the end of each five years, I would reevaluate the macro goals: based on what my behavior had been during the time span, did my behavior actually support my goals? Or did my goals need to change if the behavior didn't?

These, of course, were career goals. Which sometimes but not always have to do with the quality of the work. So I also had a set of goals for the writing itself. And these goals were pretty much the same every year: concentrate on strengthening some aspect of my writing that I thought was weaker than the rest (this year, for example, I'm focusing on aspects of dialogue), write from some new perspective or style or approach, double check problem spots I'd solved in the past to make sure I hadn't lapsed into bad habits, etc.

I found this was all very helpful in staying focused even during rough patches. I had this kind of vision in my head during the whole time, and that was the vision of my books eventually being right next to some of my favorite authors on the bookshelves.

Now, I can tell you that once I reached that goal, there was a moment of "Now what?" that lasted about a year, but I have since set goals for the next five years, and they're less practical and more exploratory, and I really like that.

Underlying all of this, from day one, has been the combination of ego and humility that you have to have, in which you say to yourself, "Yes, this stuff I'm writing is not perfect, it is flawed, but it fails in a way unique to me and it succeeds in a way unique to me, and therefore it's worth it to continue writing."

JeffV
Reply | Thread | Link



User: blzblack
Date: 2007-02-10 15:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What do you think of my goal? Am I being unreasonable? Please be frank (well, be Jay, but feel free to be honest).
Reply | Thread | Link



User: blzblack
Date: 2007-02-10 15:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I hope my newest post doesn't look like I'm picking on you. It's the word. Besides, it was a minor point you made about other people's opinions.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-02-10 19:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Give me some context here, dude...
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



User: claredudman
Date: 2007-02-10 16:26 (UTC)
Subject: Creativity and goals
Just come here from jeff V's blog. I've just been reading a lot about creativity recently and find what you all have to say here very interesting. One thing I read is that for (visual) artists their best work (most creative) is when they feel compelled to finish the work for its own sake and that working to a commission results in less creative work. I'm just wondering if goals might interfere with this...I mean it is a bit like writing to order - or is that somehow different?

Anyway, thanks a lot for this post - it has really got me thinking.
Reply | Thread | Link



kenrand
User: kenrand
Date: 2007-02-10 17:27 (UTC)
Subject: goals and milestones
I've known some writes who impose goals on themselves--set the bar too high out of enthusiasm or whyever--and fail to reach their goals and then quit the game prematurely. I've made a point of telling students to stretch it but don't break it. And I've advocated eschewing the terms success and failure in favor of thinking of writing as a process, where there will be milestones--first sale, first big sale, first award, firrst novel, etc., and there will be setbacks (rejection is part of the game, and health and other factors can trump lots of fancies) and where success and failure are nebulous concepts at best. The trick is setting the bar high enough to be chellenging. (Too low is as bad as too high.) And forgiving yourself when feces occur. Start over at zero instead of trying to make up lost time. And so on.
Reply | Thread | Link



Kristine Smith
User: kristine_smith
Date: 2007-02-10 21:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
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.

My version of this is that the top rung of the ladder I'm on is the bottom rung of the ladder I want to climb next.

Which must be why my shoulders hurt.

Good post.
Reply | Thread | Link



J.K.Richárd
User: neutronjockey
Date: 2007-02-11 06:48 (UTC)
Subject: The PoAaM
One of the "good things" I kept in my skills basket post military was the PoAaM (po'am)...or Points of Action and Milestones.
It's a fancy way of saying, "I'm going to make goals and keep metrics."
Simple goals and metrics are setting word counts or draft/revision completion dates. Milestones aren't necessarily quantifiable, though generally are. Milestones can be: Draft Completed, Revision Completed, Query Letter Sent, ACT I Completed etc etc... I keep an Excel spreadsheet and a master Excel sheet (that sums up total projects and a percentage of completion, number of action points and milestones made). Being able to wrap up a day and watch the boxes go from red to green keeps me motivated.
Sometimes metrics isn't enough. Sometimes the internal motivation to apply AIC isn't enough. On "bad days" I usually guilt trip myself into working by reminding myself that there are many, many people who would love to be in my position (not working, not sweating bills, freelancing full time---regardless of published status)...and I owe it to those that don't have it as good.
Reply | Thread | Link



elen_sentier
User: elen_sentier
Date: 2007-02-11 15:07 (UTC)
Subject: goals & things
Jay, this was useful in making me put my own thoughts down in print - out there, rather than in here :-) You say ...
"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. Ummmm! What’s my pattern then?"
- My goal has ever been to be a bestselling novelist ! No intermediate stuff :-). Perhpas this is not such an easy goal to work to as it doesn't have itsy bitsy steps on the way - at least I don't have them so much in the forefront of my brain! So what's my pattern then ??? :-).

"You worked for years to get to and through high school. That diploma was quite possibly the largest goal in your entire life."
- this felt weird for my as I hated school, never worked for the reasons you give but only if I wanted to and the teacher and/or subject inspired me – did NOT go to a big uni nor get a 1st class hons :-). And didn’t want to. So I don't have that "progress pattern" in-built.

"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."
I hear you ... but I also find, if I do this too much, I write mediocre crap rather than stuff which makes the reader unable to put the book down even though it’s 3am and they have a big breakfast meeting at 07.15 :-). My first novel had these sort of comments from several people BUT it was very hard work as I had to be completely focused, visualising every step of the way, feeling every damn emotion from every blasted character, de da, de da, de. Tactical goals might well help me and, to some extent, I'm learning to have them in my current progress. Now is perhaps the time to try to balance the tactics and the good writing, so it don't become crap writing ??? :-)

You say, "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." Ummm! OK – I think! but it's twisting my head, probably due to complete lack of practice in tactical goals !!!

"Almost all of us writers have an astonishing capacity for self-deception ..."
Agreed on the self deception, I call it “getting a round tooit”, in very short supply, although a friend once told me about a shop which said they sold them … again, they were always out :-).

"My suggestion is if you feel you aren't achieving your goals as a writer, examine your behaviour. … It doesn't matter what you're goals are, only that you understand them."
Not only, you also need to act on them, which I think is what you’re saying.

"Figure on several hundred rejections before your first short story acceptance. Figure on a 10:1 …That's a minimum of a dozen new stories a year if you hope to sell two a year."
Useful stats, thanks. Do you have them the novelist too?

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. Agreed !!!

You seem to be a much more experienced writer than myself so I'm listening :-). thanks again.


Reply | Thread | Link



User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-02-12 18:23 (UTC)
Subject: Goals? Goals?
What amazes me in thinking about this post and my own goals is that goal setting is a life skill that people don't necessarily learn and certainly aren't always taught. I consider how many people can make it all the way through their childhood without ever learning how to choose a goal and implement a plan. Much the same way that I think that a lot of kids are tossed from high school where it was easy into college without having learned how to study and learn.

These are simple enough skills but the time to teach them is when they are the most easily ignored. When you are too smart for your teachers to notice that you don't know how to actually study a book. When your parents are making your goals for you and so no one notices that you can't make a plan.
Reply | Thread | Link



browse
my journal
links
January 2014
2012 appearances