Keynote: Make Your Dream Into a Goal, and Ways to Create Success in the Struggle
When I talk with writers who are seeking to make the transition from unpublished to published, I’m asked a variety of questions: Do they need an agent? How do they finish a novel? Where do they get ideas? How do they tackle a sagging middle?
Though the questions crisscross the lines from business to artistic considerations, mechanics to creativity, they all seem to come down to one query, “How do I succeed as a writer?
The answer to this is varied and multi-faceted, but there are a few considerations that writers may want to keep in mind.
1. Understand the difference between a dream and a goal.
It’s great to wish to be a published writer, wonderful to dream of what it might be like to walk into a bookstore and see your book on the shelves. But — and no disrespect intended — dreams can only take us so far. The dream of a writer needs to be turned into a goal, which means it’s going to take energy, sacrifice, discipline, and perseverance. Which means, you need to have a realistic idea of what “being a writer” will mean for you.
Pursuing the goal of being a writer is not a small task. Getting up and writing when we’re not feeling particularly inspired takes enormous energy. Sending out query after query (and on the heels of rejection after rejection) takes perseverance.
And those accomplishments deserve to be celebrated.
Yes, it will be great to reach the milestone of being a published/agented author, but don’t undervalue yourself or your achievements. In shifting from a dream to a goal, you’ve already become a success.
2. Set goals that are in your control.
I’m always reading books on the craft of writing. One time, I came across a book that encouraged writers to set realistic goals. The example the writer gave of an unrealistic goal was, “I will get an agent in six months.” Unrealistic, said the author, because agents often take eight months to a year to turn around a manuscript. A more realistic goal, they went on to write, would be, “I will get an agent in two years.”
I closed the book.
Getting an agent isn’t in our control, because it’s up to the agent to offer representation. Our choice lies in whether to accept the offer.
And sometimes, the factors that play into the offer are out of our realm of influence. Yes, you need to have a great story that hooks readers. But there are business and market factors we can’t always control. (Is the industry over-saturated with a particular genre? Did the agent/publisher just offer representation/a contract to someone whose book is similar to yours?)
A goal that IS in our control would be something like, “I will submit to twenty agents by the end of the year.” Or, “I will do my research and have a list of agents I want to query within six months.”
Setting goals that put us in the driver’s seat can go a long way to helping us feel successful because the completion of the goal lies within our power.
3. Take stock of what your goals truly are.
Many writers would like to be agented, but do you need an agent? What about the choice between independent/self-publishing and traditional publishing — which one best fits you?
Figuring out what *you* want means you’re already ahead of the game. It will help you navigate the twists and turns of this industry and help you make the choices that best suit you.
4. What will the cost of your goals be?
Perhaps there is a writer out there who is able to find time to write, but to date, I haven’t heard of them. The writers I know are people who make time to write. They’re waiting at the doctor’s office and scribbling notes, using their lunch hour to get in their pages, and carving out the time they need.
It’s not an easy thing, making time to write. It means declining invitations to events, getting up early or staying up late, and keeping our butts in the chair when we’d much rather be in the living room with our family and friends.
However, whenever I think of what defines the successful writer, it’s not whether they have an agent, or how many books they’ve published. It’s about whether they respect their manuscript enough to make time for it.
5. Break the big goal into smaller ones.
There is an idea that we need to devote a day or a weekend to write. That *real* writers write for hours on end, every single day, rain or shine.
Some writers, yes. But most writers, by virtue of carving out the time, carve it out a little at a time. For some of us, breaking it into tiny goals is what will help us achieve success. Fifteen minutes during the commute on the train. Half-hour at lunch time. It may not feel like a lot, but that time builds, and the words create a manuscript.
On a final note, through all of this, keep your self-care in mind. Things change and life happens. It’s okay to stop and catch your breath, it’s okay to take stock and shift your goals. It’s okay to put down the pen for a while and recover your energy. It doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t mean you don’t respect or have passion for the craft. It means you’re a human being and you respect your writing enough to understand when taking a breath is your way of carving out your success.