How Dogs Can Save Authors from Poorly Written Goals
At a writer’s conference I attended recently, a speaker asked her audience of authors how many of them regularly met their writing goals. I didn’t even think much about the question. I raised my hand.
Now the large room was full. There were over a hundred writers there.
And I was the only one with my hand up.
That shocked me. It shouldn’t have, but it did. I knew that writers in general understand little about proper goal setting, and I should have recognized that fact when mine was the only hand in the air. Yet, it caught me off-guard.
Why am I able to meet my writing goals? Am I just super organized and driven, staying up late into the night to meet lofty word count goals?
Not at all.
I know what many writers don’t. I know the difference between goals and dreams and how to set proper, obtainable, useful goals that become stepping-stones to meeting those dreams. And I learned it through my participation in dog sports.
Video of dog agility with author and her dog, Asher.
What Dogs Can Teach Writers
See, I compete in dog agility. I’ll throw an agility video into this blog for those of you unfamiliar with the sport. I came to sports late in life, and after I began to compete, I ran head-first into the importance of a strong head game. You need one in dog agility. It doesn’t look like it, but it’s hard to handle a fast agility dog. If a handler’s foot is off just a few degrees, she can easily send her dog off-course for a non-qualifying score.
One of the biggest parts of having a healthy head game—a mental mindset that leads you to success instead of failure—is to learn how to set proper goals.
Goals Versus Dreams
So, bring on the concept of goals versus dreams.
This is huge.
People constantly confuse dreams with goals. Goals are future actions you wish to see happen that YOU HAVE COMPLETE CONTROL OVER. Dreams are those future things you wish to happen that YOU HAVE SOME, TO NO, CONTROL OVER.
This is huge. I already said that, but it’s worth repeating.
Just today I read an author on Twitter say she had set for herself the “goal of getting published someday.” Oh girl. This is not a goal. It’s a dream. You have no control over whether a publisher will ever want your book. You have no control over the market trends. You have no control over an editor’s personal taste. By making this a goal, you have set yourself up for failure.
I have never set the goal of getting published. I have said, and often, that it’s my dream to be published.
Big deal, you say. It’s just semantics.
Words are power. We know that. We’re writers. If I call a dream a goal, I will feel like a loser if it fails. But my problem wasn’t failing a goal, it was improperly knowing the difference between a dream and a goal.
Dreams Can't be Failed
You cannot fail dreams. You may not reach a dream, but it is NEVER a failure to try. It is never wrong to go for it and come up short. It is only failure if you don’t make the stab.
That’s why it’s important to know how to write proper goals—because you can fail a goal. And when you do, you put another checkmark under the “botched writer” column in the stats about yourself you keep in your head. And that leads to a disastrous head game, which can lead to a lack of confidence, poor writing, and possibly even quitting altogether.
Every single day on Twitter, I see writers set word count goals like “My word count goal for the week is 10,000 words.” I cringe.
That’s not a goal. Ten thousand words is a lot of words, unless you’re a speed writer. What if you get sick? What if there’s an emergency at work, and you have to pull eighty hours that week? What if you get stuck on a plot point and have to spend hours thinking and outlining your way out of it?
The “what ifs” go on and on, and “what ifs” are things YOU CANNOT CONTROL. So, a lofty word count is not a goal. It’s a dream. Your chance of leaving the week feeling like a word-smith failure again is high.
Some authors have picked up on this, and they don’t set word count goals. Instead they have sit-in-the-chair goals. This is better. You can say, “I will sit at my computer to write, edit, or outline five days out of the week.” Notice, I’ve not placed time limits in there. You can, of course, but that moves you further away from something you have full control over to something you don’t. Life eats time.
More Examples of Poorly Written Goals
When the New Year turned, I saw many authors make resolutions and goals on Twitter. The large majority of them were incorrectly written. Let’s look at some.
“I will get published this year.” Nope. This not a resolution or a goal. It’s a dream. This, unfortunately, is out of your control, unless you are self-publishing. Then, it might be a goal, depending on how close you are to publication.
“I will find an agent this year.” Again. Not a goal. This is a dream. Unfortunately, agents choose whom they represent. You can’t force agents to pick you as a client.
“I will finish my WIP (work-in-progress) and write my second novel and self-publish them both.” A great dream, but a dream none-the-less. You have just laid out a massive time-chunk of writing, editing, production, marketing, and more. Don’t make unrealistic goals. They are empty things.
“I will write every day.” Doomed to failure. Sure, someone COULD meet this goal in a year, but life would have to be very, very good to them. A flu, a vacation, a death in the family, writer’s block, etc. You get the idea. This is a dream, not a goal.
Properly Written Goals
Well-written goals from the recent writers’ New Year’s resolutions lists include things like:
“I will create a schedule blocking out time for my writing.” Okay. This is a great goal. Notice, it doesn’t say that the schedule will be met every single day. It says a schedule will be set.
“I will work to bring the highest quality writing I can to each short-story I create.” This is a goal. It’s a daunting one and could be argued, but if you understand that to meet this goal you will need to edit the bejeebers out of the stories, then I’d say it’s a goal. No time-limit. Just an understanding that you will work hard to bring your A-game to your writing.
Good Goals Make Dreams Come True
Why is this important? Because not only will meeting your goals increase confidence, but setting attainable goals gives you manageable stepping-stones to reach your dreams. Sports competitors know this. Sports psychologists preach this. Focus on small goals within your control, and before you know it, your dreams can become reality.
When I go to the start-line with my dog to run for the ribbons in agility, I’m not focusing on winning. I have no control over that dream. I’m not focusing on my dog running clean. He could slip and drop a bar. I have no control over that. I am focusing on the little things within my control: getting my cues out on time, setting a good line between obstacles, keeping my voice light. I have found if I focus on these little goals, the dreams, like earning an agility championship, magically fall into place.
Again, this isn’t something I came up with. Sports psychologists have taught this for years. Listen to Olympic athletes in interviews. When asked if they plan on winning the Olympics, they will invariably say, “I will focus on doing the best I can.” In other words, I have no control over the judges, over the other athletes, over a cramping leg, over the million variables that go into my sport. But I do have control over meeting each little goal that makes up my best effort.
And, you, dear writer, have the same ability.
Pay attention to the semantics. Goals versuses dreams. Let it change your goal-writing and lead you to your publishing dreams.