Setting Realistic Goals

I started trying to write my first novel seven years ago. I was fresh out of college with a Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics. I had moved to Illinois and was working at a long-term acute care facility. I was dating someone (now husband) and we got to talking about it. He was trying his hand at a story, and I mentioned that I’d always wanted to be an author, and his response was, essentially, why not? I don’t remember the exact conversation, but he encouraged me to give it a shot if I truly wanted to do it.

So, I started a novel. I didn’t make it very far. I didn’t plan anything out, just had a basic idea, and I soon hit a wall. I thought a little about getting published, but at the time it caused me significant stress and panic. It was too big. If I was going to start this journey, I needed to think smaller.

Going smaller goes against conventional wisdom, I know. In a world of “reach for the stars” and “go big or go home”, we’re encouraged to set goals as big as we can imagine. Maybe that’s okay for some people. It wasn’t okay for me.

I decided to set a stepping-stone goal, something realistic for me. I wanted to write a novel. That’s it. No plans to publish, absolutely no thought to the future.  I didn’t allow myself to consider anything more. I wanted to write a novel to prove to myself that I could do it. If I did, then I’d consider taking the next step.

I had a few false starts. The first one I already mentioned. I gave up on that story quickly and started a new one. I tanked the new one too. I didn’t plan well for either of those stories. I had very few characters, a limited plot, and no idea how to expand them into a full-length book. They just needed…more.

I started my third story, and Origins was born. It wasn’t easy. I was working full-time, and finding the time to write was tough. I also struggled with working from a computer. I still don’t like writing into a Word document, and I use Scrivener instead (which I love, but that’s a topic for a different day). The entirety of Origins was written by hand in a series of notebooks, then transcribed into Word. It took a long time. I got discouraged often, and would set the whole project aside for months at a time.

When I finally finished, the whole thing had taken me about 3 years to complete. That’s a major reason I had to set it aside and couldn’t bear to work on it further (more about that in this post, Letting Go).

But, I achieved my goal. I wrote a novel. No matter how hard it had been, or how many mistakes I made getting there, or how often I’d given up completely, or how much the finished product might suck, I still did it. That’s an achievement I will always be proud of, finishing that first novel.

Now, I need a new stepping-stone goal. I’ve proven that can I do it, now I just need to do it over and over and over again. I’ve started setting myself deadlines, with definite plans and timetables for the projects I’m working on. I think my next goal will be: secure an agent or self-publish. I’m not really in charge of that one. I’d love to have my work represented, but if it’s not, I’m more than willing to follow a self-publishing route.

I accomplished the little goal. Now I can move forward toward the bigger, scarier goal of getting myself published. It’s still scary, and I still stress out about it, but it doesn’t seem so impossible anymore.

As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. I know the comments section doesn’t appear on the homepage (I’m working to fix it, I just don’t know how yet), but comments can still be made by clicking on the title of the post. Also, I’ve set up an option to subscribe if you’d like to receive notification of new posts.

5 Replies to “Setting Realistic Goals”

  1. Me, too. Me, too. Me, too.
    Recently I went to an AA meeting. Not because I am an alcoholic (though I had been at one point, but was delivered from it), but to support her. One guy there spoke in the circle of people who were all welcome to speak. He made the point that he felt most comfortable at AA because it seemed to be the only place where he could say, “Me, too.”
    So now, with you, me, too.
    Thanks!

  2. Hi, Jessica. Feel free to delete this if it’s too public. I notice that most of your sentences are structured Subject-Verb-Predicate, at least in your post above. That sets up a hypnotic rhythm for many readers. If you look at the writing style of most professionals, they vary the sentence structure more, which keeps readers on their toes. I try to shoot for variation at least every third or fourth sentence. It becomes second nature after a while. (Just one more of the dozens of techniques we have to learn before arriving at the place where we’re competitive. I know, I know, sometimes it seems insurmountable. But if you’re a learner, you can do it.)

    1. I’ve never heard that before. Honestly, I don’t know how to fix it, but I’ll do some research and see if I can’t figure it out. Thanks for the tip.

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