A big part of being a successful author is being able to set goals and manage your time well. It gets really hard when there’s no guarantee that the project your working on will ever…well…publish. So, that got us talking about how to set realistic goals both short-term and long-term/career. And we invited some of our friends to participate so we’d have experiences ranging from writers about to query for the first time to writers with whole series out already. And this roundtable was the result! (We also just had one BIG question that everyone discussed)
Note: This post is done in a roundtable style where members of Writer’s Block Party discuss a topic together.
KAT: I used to make more organized goals (like 1 year, 3 year, 5 year, etc) when I was in medicine because it was easier to predict. I had goals for grad school and for job milestones, but now that I’m in publishing, I just make general goals that I want to accomplish “short term” and “long term”
AKSHAYA: Yeah that makes sense. It’s easier to make goals when they don’t depend on other people. Like selling a book vs. finishing a book–you can control when you finish it but there’s only so much you can plan for if/when it will sell.
TARA SIM: So, whenever I go on my annual retreat we do a thing where we set manageable goals, things we want to happen but that are beyond our control, and then a 5 year and 10 year goal/desire. I’ve found that saying that stuff out loud has really helped me every time I’ve gone.
AMANDA HAAS: Since I started writing mine down everything has gone haywire in a good way so definitely write them down and read them often! If it’s something out of my control, I say I will be ready for the opportunity. And after I make an initial goal I then rewrite it to what a dude thinks he deserves.
KAT: I wrote mine down just so I can practice being positive about my career and asking for things I want.
FOODY: I’m trying now to motivate myself on enthusiasm. Like reading more, going back to why I love to write, working on whatever strikes my fancy, etc. The types of motivators that propel me to start, not the sort that propel me to finish, if that makes sense.
AKSHAYA: Amanda, I love what you said about being ready for opportunities. I was listening to a podcast where someone said they believed the objects of their goals were “in transition” to them when referring to something out of their control. That really spoke to me because you still want to acknowledge and work toward those goals, but sometimes it can feel frustrating to include them when you know that ultimately the final product is out of your hands.
MARA: My method of goal setting is that if I feel a bit adrift I write down what I want my life to look like, allowing myself to be as unrealistic as possible. And then I think about steps I can take in that direction.
TARA: I feel like all of my goals have come about from being unhappy. So the things I work toward or hope for are things that’ll help bring me closer to the type of life I want, if that makes sense. So I don’t have as much advice for how to make goals when you’re lost. When I make a goal it’s always reaching for a better opportunity or putting myself in a position where more doors open.
AKSHAYA: I love that. I used to feel like if I didn’t know each and every step I would take to reach a particular goal, I was doing something wrong. But I’ve realized that if it takes 10 steps to reach a goal, steps 2-10 actually don’t matter, at least not right away. What matters is step 1–what can I literally do next? And then allowing myself the flexibility of figuring out step 2 from there.
KAT: I honestly put a lot of importance on mental health and quality of life at this point. I’ve forced myself to take or stay in jobs I knew would make me feel bad about myself saying it was worth it for a paycheck or to just feel some kind of job security. And in comparison every time I’ve taken an unconventional route that guarantees better quality of life but less secure paychecks, I’ve been happier. Like being a full time writer with freelance gigs is the happiest I’ve been in awhile.
AKSHAYA: Yes definitely! Mental health and financial stability are so important to think about and center goals around. We often talk about how the idea of the “starving artist” gets romanticized and how there’s no truth in that–it’s way harder to be creative if you’re worried about financial stress or struggling with a mental illness.
ALEXIS CASTELLANOS: I find this conversation to be really interesting because I’m a little goal averse? I have nebulous goals that I would like to achieve but I really don’t like setting goals and writing things down. I don’t know if this is because I’ve changed my career a couple times and my work goal seems to be a moving target I can’t predict. The only thing that keeps me moving and growing is the need to improve and learn. For me I assume forward progress will come with my personal growth. I’ve fallen into most of my opportunities through chance and just figured it out from there.
I think maybe I am a very chaotic person. My trajectory can change at any moment and I don’t take failure well, so setting a goal feels like an opportunity to let myself down? So I keep goals nebulous but I do create a strict regimen when it comes to learning and educating myself on new things, which in my mind begets new opportunities?
JANELLA ANGELES: Alex you and I are the same person because I am also chaotic hahahaha. I used to set publishing goals a few years back and it was just wildly unhealthy for me personally. When I have a project that needs to be done, I’ll set goals for how I’ll finish it. So I guess I’m more comfortable mentally setting goals on a micro level than a macro. Because when I think so far ahead of myself, I tend to lose sight of what I actually need to be doing atm which takes priority. And I also don’t like feeling restricted by something that could very well change on me at the drop of a hat. It’s also very imp for me to manage my expectations this way with both my full time job and writing because if one imbalance bleeds into the other, then my mental health just goes out the door.
AKSHAYA: That does make sense because goals sometimes can feel restrictive. There’s something to be said for being flexible and giving yourself the freedom to explore opportunities that you might not have anticipated, but you find really matter to you.
ALEXIS: Yeah same, I’m balancing full time work, freelance work, and publishing stuff. I value all three of these careers, and I know at some point it might change, but right now it’s important for me to strike a balance for the three. I like what you said though, Janella, I am very much a micro goal setter and not a macro goal setter.
I assume it will be like piecing together a puzzle, I work on these small projects and wherever they take me is where they take me, I put the work in and that’s all that matters. Right now anyway.
AKSHAYA: Definitely! Sometimes, too much focus on goal setting can mean you’re living too far in the future. Like yes okay you can get there but you still have to hustle now to make it happen. There’s value in just being in the present and focusing on what you’re doing now and doing it well.