Okay, so you’re going to write a novel. Great idea. Most people have at least one idea in their minds for a story they’d like to tell. Why not write yours. YOU SHOULD!
But wait a minute. Let’s not just sit down and start writing. Been there and done that, and it wasn’t the best idea I ever had. Some might argue that most of my ideas aren’t all that earth-shaking, but that’s another topic. We’ll take that up the second Tuesday of next week.
There are actually a number of things we need to do before we begin to write our story. I’m not talking here about picking a genre or figuring out who our market is. Even more basic than that is hammering out our goal.
Goal? We want to write a novel. That’s our goal. Not so fast, Kimosabe. We need to decide what we want to accomplish by writing this novel. Do we just have this story burning in our guts that can only be quenched by writing it out? Just get it written, file it away somewhere and be happy that we finally put it into words?
If that’s our goal, that simplifies everything. Whom do we need to satisfy with this work? Only ourselves. We don’t need it critiqued. So what if we misspelled half the words? So what if the plot doesn’t make sense and the characters all look like what we see in the mirror? We wrote it to satisfy ourselves.
But what if we really want to impress Aunt Nellie and Cousin Sammy Joe and maybe a few other relatives? That’s a slightly different goal. They may be a fairly easy bunch to please, but we don’t want to appear totally ignorant to them. Let’s join a writers’ group and at least get some feedback on spelling and sentence structure. Maybe they’ll decide we’re a lot smarter than they thought.
No, wait. We want to be PUBLISHED. Okay, that’s a little tougher goal to meet, but we can do it. There are publishers out there who aren’t too picky about what they publish. In fact, if we’re willing to put up a few thousand dollars to offset their initial costs, it won’t be difficult at all. Just take that novel we wrote for Aunt Nellie and shop it around a bit. Surely we’ll find someone willing to publish it.
Sales? No one said anything about a novel that sells. We just said we wanted to publish it. Get it bound in a pretty cover with maybe some clever artwork and a publisher’s name on it. It’ll look impressive sitting on our bookshelves, and we can impress some of our friends and relatives by giving them copies of a PUBLISHED book.
All of the goals mentioned above are legitimate. If one of these is YOUR goal, don’t let anyone tell you there’s anything wrong with it. Just be sure ahead of time what it is YOU want to accomplish.
No, David. You misunderstood. We want to write a NY Times best-seller. I want to climb the mountain and see my book at the top of the list.
Okay, fair enough. Every single author with a book on that list started out with no credits to his name. That’s where we’re starting, so why can’t we do the same thing.
If this is the reason we want to write, we must firmly understand and establish this in our own minds BEFORE we get started. We can’t do things like the writers in the examples above. They are legitimate writers, because they write. But they’re not likely to be best-selling authors without firmly established goals, marketing plans, and homework in getting ready to produce their novels.
We’re going to have a lot of homework to do before we start writing if we’re going to be best-sellers, and we’re not going to make ourselves stick to the homework if we don’t have a solidly established goal in mind. Not only that, but anyone who helps us—a friend who knows something about being an author, the leader of a critique group such as Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp or whoever—needs to know our goal in order to know how to help us and how hard to push us.
Getting from square one to best-selling author is a steep hill and a long climb, but, like any other journey, we take one step at a time. Our first step—setting our goal and planting it firmly in our own minds—will get us started in the right direction.
Once we set our overall goal, if we want to be professionals, we must set intermediate goals.
ü Are we going to blog? What subject(s) and how often?
ü How are we going to build the platform to make us attractive to publishers?
ü What preliminary steps are we going to take before starting to write manuscript?
ü What deadlines will we set for ourselves to attain these intermediate goals.
No army ever won a war by just sending men out helter-skelter and waiting to see what happened. A successful battle must have a battle plan, and a successful war must move from one successful battle to another in an orderly manner.
Ø Do you know what you want to accomplish with your writing?
Ø Have you set a firm goal for yourself?
Ø Have you set intermediate goals?
Ø Have you enlisted someone to help hold you accountable to your goals?
Great post! I had to laugh (ruefully) when I read it. I always swore I wouldn’t write fiction. Then I wrote three novels “just to see if I could”, without telling anybody I was writing.
Then the goal evolved to, “it just has to be good enough for family”.
Now, suddenly, I’ve written another novel, a fifth one is begging to be written, and they’re going to be published. I’m blogging and getting critiques and editing and polishing.
I guess my next goal will be sales.
Apparently, my goals are a moving target. As a general rule, I agree with your comment above, “action without goals is a nightmare”. But on the up side, I’m not feeling a lot of pressure… 🙂
You must be doing something right, Diane. I know you write good blogs. Thanks for the comment.
This was outstanding – very thought-provoking. It sounded like each direction, writing for the sake of writing and writing to be published, both had its ups and downs. I personally enjoy writing simply to make myself happy – that’s my success. I will try to shop it around eventually, because it’d be nice to make money off it, but that’s not how I’ll measure success. Great post, fellow David. 🙂
Thanks, David. Part of the point is that your writing is just as valid for your goals as Stephen King’s is for his.
Some very good advice here. I like the idea of arranging to have someone to account to.
You’re right, Peggy. If we don’t account to someone, it’s easy to make excuses for not achieving – which I’m the poster boy for.
This is a very thoughtful blog which reflects a great deal of work and learning on your part. Kudos to you.
David, this was a great post. You are so right… if we don’t know exactly where we’re going, we won’t travel in the right direction. There is a ton of support! What I found helpful are writers’ conferences in the seminars where authors who have studied the craft will teach you how. Or… you can study the craft for years yourself. I say… learn from others!!! Thank you for inviting me to your wonderful blog!
Thanks for coming and commenting, Karlene. I look forward to hearing more from you.
David, great blog on goals. I am a huge goal setter and believe in mission statements too. I have a main goal with minor goals. My main goal I took from Edgar Allan Poe. He said he’d first decide what he thought his readers wanted to read. That was his goal then – to write for his readers. And that’s my main goal.
Thanks, Max. I just read the statement “Goals without action are daydreams – action without goals is a nightmare.” Sorta sums it up.