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Be bold, set a goal

Fortune befriends the bold. – Emily Dickinson you have long-term goals for your writing?

I’m listening to a recording of the Bob Mayer workshop I missed while I was in California a couple weeks ago. A lot of his advice is centered around facing your fears and moving outside your comfort zone, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

But what really struck a chord with me is his suggestion that we should all create a plan for what we want to accomplish, with clear, measurable goals. Not just measurable, but visible, just like the goals we create for our characters.

Whoa, talk about getting uncomfortable.

Sure, I have goals. I have goals for things I have direct control over. Like how many words I write per day, how many query letters I send, or when I want to have a manuscript finished.

But he thinks we should go beyond that and think sales and money. Money, people!

I have no control over money. How can I possibly know what I’ll make in one, two, or five years? How can anyone plan for such a thing?

But if I don’t set a goal, how will I know what I’m shooting for? How will I know if an opportunity that comes along supports my vision of success or hinders it? How will I know if I'm a success or just spinning my wheels?

This is where the fear sets in. I feel silly picking a number, but it’s really fear talking.

What if I say I want to be making $50K/year on my writing and teaching activities by the end of 2015 and I fail? My number might be too unrealistic, just wishful thinking. But now that I’ve asked myself the question, what seems silly is worrying about not reaching my number. If I don't, so what?

Will I likely be better off than I am today? Will I have made decisions that move me toward what I want instead of away from it?


And if I end up making $70K, then I’ll really know it’s time to party.

So, great, you’re convinced. Me too. I’m setting a goal. Several of them.

The next step is to share it with those who have a stake in it—family members who have to put up with you closeting yourself away to write and spending money on conferences, books, and workshops—so they’ll understand why you’re working so hard. They’ll see that you’ve thought about it and you’re serious. Hopefully, they’ll support you. (Just tell your spouse you want to make enough so he/she can retire. Might help.)

But spreading the word is scary, because now you’re committed. Tell your mother you plan to be a New York Times #1 bestselling author and she’ll ask you how that’s going. Every. Time. She. Calls. See if that doesn’t spur you on.

Finally, a goal doesn’t really have meaning if you don’t have a reason behind it (and this helps you sell it to your stakeholders too). Like Bob points out, just as our characters have a motivation for everything they do, so must you. It’s great that you want to make $30K on your self-pubbed books next year. But why $30K? Why next year?

Wouldn’t you be more likely to stick to your plan for achieving your goal—another topic for another day—if you kept in mind that the money means your graduating senior can go to college? Or you can take the trip to Australia and New Zealand you’ve always dreamed of. Or you can quit your day job to write full time?

Now there's something to keep you motivated.

I challenge you write down your goals and the motivations behind them today. Even better, since the goals should be something visible/tangible, see if you can find a picture to represent each one and put them somewhere you’ll see them every day.

Take control of your fear, figure out what you really want and why, and get to work on making it happen.

Be bold, and may fortune be your friend.

Photo credit: J147 [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Joe


    Goals are great! I find there is a lot of correlation with many aspects of life. For example, I often sign up for a run or Triathlon 3 – 4 months down the road. I pay the money and then I am committed. It is like telling everyone you are going to do it. It spurs you on even if it is not much money! Sure, sometimes I have to eat the money and not do the race (due to injury etc) but not often. I think, hey I paid the money, so I have to get ready and do the training. Goals work!

    • Reply

      Paying for a race is a great example of committing yourself. You’re raising your own stakes for not following through, and creating an added motivation to get it done. 🙂

  2. Reply

    My favorite story I like throw in when the discussion turns to “let’s make the dream real. Let’s set a goal” starts. The readers digest version. Writers conference. Protesting participant to conference leaders encouragement to set goals. “Do you know how old I’ll be by the time I get a novel written? Her bring the house down response. ” The same age you will be if you don’t write it.”

  3. Reply

    Excellent post, Gwen. I’ve set goals many times and it’s been hit or miss as to whether I stick with them. Telling them to others makes a huge difference. I’ve never set a real financial goal, though, Mine have been mostly word/page count and/or submission related. It’s time to show myself the money! Thanks for the motivation. 🙂

    Curtis – love that story! It reminds me of what I’ve heard at Weigh Watcher meetings when folks complain about how long it takes to lose weight. The time is going to pass anyway so you might as well spend it working toward your goals, no matter what they are.

    • Reply

      Maura: I’m great with word count goals and time goals (or at least pretty good) but I realized recently that even though I was writing 1000 words or more per day, I didn’t have a good reason to do it other than habit and pride and the vague goal of finishing another book. I’ll talk more next week about my specific goals and how they’re changing what I do already.

  4. Reply

    Great post, Gwen. I have goals in my head of what I want to do, but should probably write them down and look at them daily. And Curtis – I love that response!

    • Reply

      Hey, Kathy, thanks! I’m the same way. And I have daily goals for productivity, but I didn’t have an overarching goal for my career other than vague notions. This exercise helped me a lot because now I know what I’m working toward every day and why. Keeps me in line. 😉

  5. Reply

    Great post. Goals are tough but I set them anyway. Action is my mantra now. I downloaded Scrivener this week and bought your book. Also signed up for two writing classes that I’m enjoying very much in spite of the hard work. They are teaching me to think outside my box. Looks like my goals need to be tightened up a bit.

    • Reply

      insearchofitall: I’m definitely reworking my goals. Mainly making my daily goals more specific to accomplishing my long-term ones. Writing 1000 words a day is great, but not if I’m working on the wrong book. 😉

      Good luck with Scrivener and your writing! I hope you find my book helpful.

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