Vicki Hinze © 2000-2011
As the year draws to a close, we make resolutions and look forward with great promise. Too often we fail to carry through on those resolutions and promises we make to ourselves. That makes us stopping and taking stock of ourselves–all of ourselves–imperative for our own well-being.
Let this be the year you do something for you. Something that is truly in your best interests and for your greater good. I hope the review of the Goals and Why We Need Them article that follows will be of use to you. This can be our year to accomplish the many things we hope and dream to accomplish. But we must take those thoughts and hopes and dreams and apply action to them to make them happen.
I’ve been getting a lot of Urgent and private messages regarding peace. It’s that reflective time of year, as well, and over the years I’ve been doing the Aids4Writers program, I’ve come to expect them. That isn’t to diminish the importance. Actually, Peace is so very important to the human being and the writer that I’m going to address it in my next article to you. I think I should wait until I’m without the flu to do it. I’ll probably be a wee bit more positive and constructive, which you totally deserve. 🙂
In the interim, please give the Goals article your full attention. It’s so important for you to be content and feel fulfilled by what you do. Setting goals and working to meet them works wonders for your overall position, and also for your soul, and we all know “soul food” is the food that lasts!
Before we get to that, though, I want to tell you that I’m constantly amazed by the growth of the Aids4Writers program, and I want to thank you for your kind notes and emails expressing appreciation and your messages of good wishes for me and my family. It’s a privilege and an honor to do what I can to help other writers. I have often said that to you; I’ve always meant it, and now I say it again with total sincerity.
As many of you know, I started this program as a self-improvement new year’s resolution–giving back, helping others for goodness’ sake. I posted daily, with a few necessary exceptions, and intended to run the program for a year. That was five or six years ago. Members asked that I continue the posts and continue to have questions, and so I have continued and tried to keep on answering those questions. Admittedly, I don’t post as often these days, due to heavy commitments and the number of URGENT private posts I answer each day. In truth, I have difficulty posting more than once a week since I’ve taken on a third publisher. But I do still answer URGENT messages as soon as I see them. That hasn’t changed.
So if you have a question and you need an immediate response, just email me and I’ll answer as soon as I see it. I check mail several times a day. Be sure to put “URGENT” in the subject line.
Now, a suggestion I’ve found to be positive, uplifting, and productive: Setting Goals.
Don’t groan. I promise, it’s worth the effort. 🙂
Each year, during the month of November usually, I typically take some quiet time to reflect on the past year. To look at what I’ve done with my writing–both on craft and on the business–and to choose whether or not these actions were constructive. I don’t focus on errors I made, but on how to avoid them in the future, on lessons learned, and ways I can do things better and more effectively.
Each year, I develop a Mission for the new year. A few years ago, that mission was “doing good for goodness’ sake” and the Aids4Writers program was a vehicle for fulfilling that mission. So define a mission for yourself–something you consider worthy of your time and your effort. After all, this is no small matter we’re discussing. It’s your life–and then define a vehicle for fulfilling that mission.
Neither the mission nor the vehicle must be complex or consuming. Remember, you choose, and you’re not doing this to impress anyone. You’re doing this out of respect for and to honor yourself.
I’ve found that by setting Goals, directing focus on what I’ve done, what I want to do, where I’ve been, where I’m going, where I want to go, and coming up with concrete steps to get there, I feel I have a little more control over my life. I know that many of the goals I’ve set and accomplished, I accomplished only because I focused on them.
I also know if you focus on nothing, that’s exactly what you accomplish–nothing. And you deserve better. We all do.
So this us what I’d like to suggest you do: Focus on what you want, need, and what steps you’re going to take to achieve those goals. I know from experience you get farther when you know where you’re going than when you just drift along.
Here are some suggested topics I use year after year:
Mission Statement: What is the most important thing to you that you wish to accomplish in the coming year?
Virtue: Each year, I chose (and often have to repeat!) a specific virtue to work on that I feel will build my character. In 1996, it was Patience. In 1997, Compassion. Most recently, I’ve focused on Judgment, Patience (again!), and Respect. Choose a positive influence and focus on it all year. (Warning: you’ll often curse yourself for this. “If only I wasn’t focusing on patience this year, I’d give so-and-so what for for doing such and thus.” 🙂 But come December, you’ll be glad you stuck with it.
Writing: often we get so caught up in selling, we forget that we can’t sell that which isn’t written. So what exactly do you want to write next year? Be it a specific book(s) or article(s) or poem(s). Write it down. It makes it more real, helps you to visualize it written more easily. The added bonus is that you have this listing to remind you of what you hoped to achieve and why you wanted to achieve it. That’s powerful stuff that can help carry you when that new flush of enthusiasm fades.
Sales: What do you want to sell next year? Make a list, and be open to recognizing opportunities to market these listed projects. (Writing the list gives you focus. You are paying attention to this, and when opportunities arise, you’re more apt to see them.)
Promotion: Published or (as yet) Unpublished, what concrete steps are you taking to get your name out there? Do you produce a personal newsletter, send cards, write articles for organizational newsletters?
Business: What aspect of the business are you most unfamiliar with? Which facet of the publishing industry would you most benefit from studying intently? Is it publishing itself? How does your industry work? What happens to a book once it arrives at a publisher’s house? What about retail sales? Negotiation tactics? Wholesalers? Distribution? Marketing? Advertising? What about publishing contracts? Pick a topic and invest–in yourself!
Craft Education: What aspect of your craft are you least comfortable with executing? Theme, character, plotting, pacing, style, dialogue, subtext, symbolism, voice? Choose one, and next year work at developing your skills in that area. If you doubt that this focus has benefits, I can assure you it does. For proof, look at the PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY reviews on my novels. You can tell what aspect of writing I was focusing on when I wrote each of the books–the reviewer consistently noted something positive about that very aspect.
Reading: Too many writers stop reading. Don’t! It’s a terrible, terrible mistake, because not only do you stop seeing successful authors’ successful craft and technical methods, you also get out of touch with what’s being published. So make a commitment to yourself to read. Books like yours, those unlike yours, articles, periodicals–fiction and nonfiction. Read opinion essays–and not just those written by people with whom you agree. You might change an opinion, and if not, you’ll gain great villain fodder. Set a number on these things you agree to read to deepen your creative well. Make a monthly commitment that is realistic for you, and honor it.
Outreach: What are you doing to reach out to help others? Are you doing critiques? Sponsoring or supporting a benevolent project? Writing a how-to article on something with which you’re extremely familiar that could help others? Serving on a writer’s organization committee? It’s important to feed the mind and the soul. Many writers forget that–feeding the soul. It’s unfortunate for them as human beings, but I sincerely believe it’s also the reason so many writers turn to alcohol and other destructive habits. We can never forget that we are three-dimensional human beings–physical, emotional, and spiritual–and each dimension is equally important to the others. Nurture them all.
Make your goal list as detailed as you like; whatever feels comfortable. Some people find a detailed list helpful, others harmful. You best know yourself and what is constructive is what you are after on this. The important thing is to think about these things–what you want, what you don’t want; what matters to you and what is a waste of your valuable time. Choose and decide rather than just drift and feel frustrated because you’re not satisfied with your personal progress. There are few things worse than waking up one day, realizing a decade has gone by, and you have everything you never wanted. This will help you avoid that.
I have a copy of my list on the wall near my computer in my office. Another copy in my Daytimer, and a third in my top center desk drawer. For years, I’d tape one to the mirror in the bath, so I’d see it first and last each day, and review it when brushing my teeth. This constant reinforcement may seem unnecessary. But I credit it with helping me enormously at staying focused on what I want and how I’m going to achieve it. Constructive reinforcement is a good thing. Positive and empowering, and especially in the early years, when writers hear “no” a lot more than they hear “yes,” we need positive empowerment.
Oh, and one more thing. Spare five minutes to let someone who has helped you in some way know they’ve helped you and how. Consider it an outreach program. You’ll let them know that their outreach program is working–and that what they are doing is making a difference. That’s important–the stuff of life!
One last thing I want to share: You’ve often heard me say that we writers impact lives. We have the potential to open doors in minds that were closed. Yet we sometimes get bogged down in our writing and wonder if we’re making any difference at all.
We do. In large ways to some, and in small ways to others. But those small ways are not insignificant–to our readers or to us. I knew this, of course, but it came home to me on Christmas eve last year, when I received one of the most cherished gifts a writer can get.
On the front page of our local newspaper there was an AP photo of a young soldier sitting in his tent in Kandahar. The caption under the photo said he was reading a copy of ACTS OF HONOR.
I confess, I got weepy. Here this soldier is halfway around the world, away from family and friends at Christmas. Yet I knew for fact he felt appreciated. I knew because I wrote that book and in it our military are appreciated. Their sacrifices are acknowledged and my gratitude for all they do is expressed. So maybe, just maybe, he felt a little less lonely on the holiday, and a little more respected for what he is doing. I hope so. And I hope the gift of the book did for him what seeing him reading it did for me.
We never know the full impact of our work. This is why it is so incredibly important that we create works that are important to us. Works infused with purpose. Purpose takes effort–it’s not easy or cheap–but boy does it offer rewards. Rewards that begin as little goals.*
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