“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right!”
— Rudyard Kipling, winner of the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature, first native English-speaker to attain that prize.
The above is taken from a poem entitled ‘In the Neolithic Age’, which is a piece of comic poetry. Kipling was good at comic poetry. For that matter, he was good at a number of styles of writing. Look up the Nobel committee’s motivation for giving him the prize to see what they thought.
The reason I led off with this quote, though, is because, comic or not, it is a solid truth about writing. You’ve probably gathered that already if you’re a regular reader here at Fictorians: there are many different ways of practicing our craft and art.
What does this have to do with this month’s theme of goal setting and attainment? Only this—I don’t do the whole goal setting thing. So I’m writing today from the position of heretic, or at least Devil’s Advocate.
Do I have no goals at all about my writing? Of course I do. That’s not what I mean when I say I don’t set goals. I agree that everything living has at least some goals in their lives, even if it is nothing more than to survive until sundown. But I follow goals in a personal manner.
I do not set out at the beginning of a year (or any other regular time period) and establish a defined set of goals to keep in the forefront of my mind. I do not try to shape my productivity and my behavior to attain those goals. I don’t have a list of bullet points pinned to the wall above my desk, nor do I have them serving as wallpaper on my laptop or tablet or phone. I don’t have yellow sticky notes with hand scrawled encouragements stuck up in my workspace. I don’t review my performance daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly to determine how well I am performing in attaining the ‘current’ goals.
Why not? Well, I’m not really sure. I haven’t really thought about it much. One possible explanation is that I am by nature an introvert, and the establishment of a rigid structure of goals feels to me like something imposed from outside. Artificial, you might say.
Another explanation might be that I am a seat-of-the-pants (or organic, if you prefer) writer, given to much flexibility in my compositional styles and processes, so that I would find a lack of flexibility in other areas of my writing career somewhat distasteful.
A third explanation could be that I feel that all the brainstorming and monitoring sucks up energy that I would much prefer to pour into the creative processes.
And last, let’s not ignore the fact that I am a champion procrastinator, as well as just a smidge on the lazy side.
So if I have goals, but I don’t do the detailed specific kinds of goals that are very measurable, what are the goals I do have?
- Write. This, more than anything. Just plant my posterior in my chair, put my fingers on the keys, and start flowing words. If this doesn’t happen, nothing else is of import.
- Tell good stories. Tell stories that make people feel the emotions of my characters. Tell stories that make people laugh; tell stories that make people cry; tell stories that make people say, “Damn, I wish I could have seen/heard/felt/experienced that!”
- Keep my promises. If I tell someone I’m going to write something for them, then do it.
- Have some fun along the way, even if it’s just imagining the look on the face of my alpha reader when he gets to this scene.
- Finish what I start. I can’t sell incomplete stories. I can’t present my craft and art to readers if it hasn’t been brought to fruitful culmination. And, not-so-incidentally, I won’t get paid for unfinished work.
Those are my goals. I may come up with more as I mature in my craft, my art, and my career, but that’s what they are today.
How well am I doing in following them?
— Since 2004, I have written and sold over 400,000 words of short fiction, all but one story of which have been published.
— Last year Baen Books published a story collection and a novel. Let’s just say that sales are good.
— My co-author and I just turned in to Baen a novel in an established series which should be published next year. (Approximately 175,000 words.)
— The one short work which hasn’t been published? A 33,000 + word novella sold to a hardcover anthology.
I currently have four projects in progress: one on the front burner, one simmering on a back burner, and two have been started but are waiting for my limited mental creative space to open up for them to be further developed.
My approach seems to work for me.
Remember Mr. Kipling’s words above, “. . . every single one of them is right!” If the rigid detailed goal setting doesn’t work for you, that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you, just like it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you if you write organically rather than by outline. It just means you need to explore other approaches until you find one that will work for you.
But goal #1 always has to be “Write.” Otherwise, the whole exercise is worthless.