In July I gave a fun workshop on writing at San Diego Writers, Ink. (Love the name!) It was a great group with a variety of mixed backgrounds, all of whom came to see different ways they could move forward with their travel writing. As the workshop went on, I realized that not only do the writing goals I offered them apply to writers everywhere, of all stripes and colors, but even more broadly, to “How to Achieve Your Dreams.” Creative types everywhere might be able to tweak these and make them work for them.
1) Realize that deeply and fundamentally, only YOU are going to make yourself a writer. There’s a mistaken idea out there that somehow someone will “notice” you and then poof, overnight your amazing unrecognized work will go viral. Perhaps that even happens sometimes, but for the vast majority of us, writing will be about YOU making time to write or YOU putting it off for tomorrow.
So take ownership of this path. You’re the one who will make it happen and if you don’t get there, you’re the one to blame.
2) Set short-, medium-, and long-term goals. I can’t stress this enough, especially when you’re in that awful doldrum of not knowing if your work is worthy, is good, is worth your time, let alone anyone else’s. Set those goals.
The Short-term goals have to be definite, concrete, achievable steps that move you forward. Not esoteric leaps. Good: “Complete Chapter X by the end of the ____.” (And the blank isn’t filled in with the word “decade.” Week. Month, tops. If you’re in the middle of December, you can say “year.” But not longer. These are 3-6 month (tops!) goals that you will work towards starting TODAY.
The Medium-term goals are 1-2 years out, and need to be the result of your succession of short term goals. Get the novel finished. Get your portfolio together. Get the first 20 pages out to agents X, Y, and Z.
Long-term goals are where you dream big: Mine was (and still is!) to “Win the Nobel Prize in Literature.” Though it’s looking ever more like that may have to be a posthumous honor, I’ve still got that in mind, simmering…and have for much of my life.
3) Now, the beauty of 1 and 2 is that it makes 3 easy: When you’re given a choice of A or B option, choose the one that brings you closer to those goals. That may sound easy, but it may mean some hard decisions. Either way, the answer of “A or B?” comes down to one thing: which will bring you closer? If you have the short-term goals, and those are moving you closer to the mid-range goal, and that’s on the road to that dream out there…probably you know which is going to be a step forward and which will move you away.
Far too often people move away from writing (or their creative path) without realizing it because the goals haven’t been defined. You want to “be a writer” (or an artist, or a musician, or a…) without ever concretely knowing what that is. So when other opportunities arise (and they are opportunities, often ones with immediate value (like having a girlfriend/boyfriend, or getting a comfortable, decent-paying job) appear, you choose them thinking you’ll get back to the writing. That it will be a stepping stone.
Instead, stone by stone, you leap further away from writing as a career, as your primary means of income, or your primary form of self-entertainment. A decade or two slips by with that novel you’ve “been writing” always there in the back of your mind, but as far from done as it was when you had the initial muse-whisper. Because you can always “put some time aside and get it done” you find that other things always take priority.
This is where those short-term goals help get you back on track. Achieve one, make another. Achieve that, make another, like going up a flight of stairs…and you’re back on track to make your mid- and long-range dreams a reality.
Well, maybe not winning the Nobel Prize. But at least making your creativity a big part of your life again.