Tuesday, July 17, 2012

41 Owning Your Goals as a Writer and a SKYLARK Giveaway from Meagan Spooner

We're thrilled to have Meagan Spooner do a guest post for us today. Meagan Spooner won our very first contest here on the blog. Her wonderful book, SKYLARK, is coming out August 1 from Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Books. She is also the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion in Fall 2013.

Meagan currently lives and writes in Northern Virginia, and in her spare time, she plays the guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads. You can find her on her Website or her Facebook. You can also follow her on Goodreads or on Twitter.


Owning Your Goals
 by Meagan Spooner

I’ve never been a particularly organized person. I never made lists, I didn’t keep a calendar, and I never made concrete goals. Now I do all those things—not necessarily by choice, mind you. I think given half a chance I’d run off into the wilderness throwing my pages of to-do lists into the air, cackling madly. But in this business—because writing, if you want to be published, is a business—you’ve got to treat it like one.

A big part of that is the way you set goals. Ask an aspiring writer what their ultimate goal is and 9 times out of 10 it’ll be something like “Get published” or “Make the NYT Bestseller List” or “Castle it up like JKR.” But really, those are dreams, not goals. Dreams are good—they motivate us, keep was wanting things. But they’re not concrete, achievable goals. They tell you where you want to be—not where you need to go next.

And, if you’ll permit me to mix all kinds of metaphors in the same post, writing is kind of like walking through an unfamiliar wilderness. You may know where you want to go—civilization—but if you don’t have a map or directions or a compass, you ain’t gonna get very far.

So here are a few tips on how to set goals in a way that’ll actually get you moving, rather than daydreaming on rainy days about what you’d be doing right now if you were where you wanted to be.


Be in control of your goals.

You should only set goals for yourself that YOU can control. Ultimately, you don’t decide whether you get (traditionally) published, a publishing house does. You can do everything right, and still never get there. (I think it’s pretty unlikely, if you stick to it long enough, but that’s another blog post.) One of the most frustrating things about this industry is that there is so little that you, the author, can control. Like whether an agent will like your book, or whether the acquisitions team at Publishing House Alpha thinks you’re a good investment. It can be scary to contemplate, but instead of letting that stop you, give yourself manageable, controllable goals within a specific time frame.

Example time! Don’t say, “I am going to sell a book.” Instead, say, “I am going to finish my novel and query thirty agents by the end of the year.” See the difference? You can’t control whether someone buys your book, but you can control the amount of work you put into it. And make sure you set a (realistic) deadline for yourself.

Keep it bite-sized so you don’t choke!

Big tasks scare me. When I have something huge I have to get done I procrastinate like it’s my job, because just starting is overwhelming. And when it comes to big, overwhelming tasks, I can’t think of many that are bigger and more complicated than “get published.” But ignoring it the way I ignore my dirty dishes isn’t going to get you there. (It doesn’t make my dishes clean themselves, either.) So what I’ve learned to do is break big tasks into smaller pieces.

Example time! Using the example from the first tip, let’s make it even easier to swallow. Instead of saying “I am going to finish my novel and query thirty agents by the end of the year,” let’s look at some of the steps to achieving that goal. Make a list of smaller pieces, and give yourself deadlines for those, like so: “Write every day.” “Share with critique partners by the end of the month.” “Research a dozen agents this summer.” “Write first query letter draft next weekend.” It’s better to err on the side of smaller, obtainable goals, rather than more ambitious ones that risk overwhelming you. If all you can do right now is brainstorm for twenty minutes a day, then do that until you can build to achieving the next step on your list. 

Be specific.

I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but I’m really, really good at lying to myself. If I give myself any wiggle room, my subconscious runs away with it. If you tell yourself you’re going to work on your book every day, what does that mean? Does that mean writing? Does that mean researching? Does that mean looking up inspiration pictures on Pinterest? Technically all those things could be “working” on your book. But when you lift your head three hours later and realize you’ve been staring at pictures of brownies on Pinterest for the past half hour, you’re going to feel a bit defeated. And probably hungry, to boot.

So get specific. Narrow your goals, tell yourself exactly what you’re going to do and when. If working on the book, for you, means all of those things, make those separate goals. Don’t put actual writing with concept art research, because they’re not the same.

Example time! Taking our previous examples, we’re going to narrow them down further and make them even more helpful. Instead of saying “Write every day,” say, “Write at least 250 words of my current WIP every day until it’s finished.” Instead of saying “Research a dozen agents this summer,” say “Each week, make a list of the following info about at least one new agent: response time, genre specialty, other clients…”

 Most importantly, make sure you really want to move forward. I’ve had writers come to me asking for advice on how to get moving, only to realize as we start making plans that they’re not ready, that they actually want to be where they are—that they have dreams, but not goals yet. And that’s fine. That’s good. It means you’re self-aware, it means you know you’re not at the right point in your life. But if you are, when you are, setting goals like this will help you get there. Even if you’re not Type A (which holy goodness, I am NOT) trust me, it works. Even if you’re like me, and the very thought of making lists makes your skin crawl.

Finally, I’ll leave you with one last tidbit of advice. Find someone you trust to hold you accountable, when you set these goals. Eventually they’ll become habit, but until then, it’s okay to need some help. Willpower and determination doesn’t just grow on trees. And if you slip up and miss a day or a deadline? Don’t drown yourself with guilt. Tomorrow, if you’ll forgive the cliché, is a brand new day.



Meagan has graciously offered a signed copy of SKYLARK to one lucky winner. Just comment on this post to enter. Sorry, folks, this is only open to U.S. entries.

Meagan is also having a BIG giveaway on her blog, and that's open internationally and everyone who enters will win something. Here's the link: 


41 comments:

  1. Great post! Love the bite-sized goals idea. Will definitely be trying that out :)

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  2. Great advice Meagan. I so agree that it's important to focus our goals on the little bits we can control.

    Don't enter me in the contest. Meagan is sending me an ARC for her interview at Literary Rambles. Can't wait to read it!

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  3. Ugh, that control issue! Somehow I think that if I keep hitting that refresh button on the email while I'm waiting to hear back on a manuscript, that somehow that action helps. So I do it a lot. Your approach sounds healthier.

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  4. This is such helpful advice for me, thank you! I'm another to-do-list-hater. :o) I'm working on an English degree and just starting to get my feet wet when it comes to fiction writing. Breaking large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones sure makes sense. Everything seems so overwhelming right now!
    Thanks again for the great ideas.

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  5. Thanks for great pointers. Specifics help. I was able to do this with small-scale writing assignments, where someone depended on me to submit via a deadline, but never held to my own novel writing deadlines. I actually just made new deadlines for myself this week. I kept seeing agent pitch opportunities on blogs and twitter and had to pass them by because my story wasn't done and edited. Working toward a specific event (contest, pitch opportunity) really helps. If you're not ready by then, hopefully you've still made progress!

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  6. Great post!! I'm terrible at setting my goals! I always cheat and that leads to me not doing anything lol.
    Looking forward to the opportunity to read the book! Thanks for the giveaway opp :)

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  7. Big tasks are really scary. They can be overwhelming. I like it better when I set smaller goals, and make to-do lists. Because crossing things off feels so good!

    Vivien
    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

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  8. Great advice, especially about being specific enough to eliminate the wiggle room. :)

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  9. Loved the post. I needed to be reminded of taking bite-sized chunks--and not choking!

    Thanks for the chance to read this book.

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  10. Excellent post! I particularly like the differentiation between dreams and goals. Like you, I've found it helpful to break my goals down as much as possible. Luckily, I like lists and goal-setting, so I haven't run screaming into the woods yet ;).

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  11. Wonderful advice. Now, if I can just get started following it!

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  12. That reminds me, I need to block out my time this week for accomplishing specific goals! Great post, and would love to win the book!

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  13. Fantastic post, Meagan. I think creating a sense of what we can control in this business is important so we're not discouraged when we face some of the (many) challenges. Congrats on your books!

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  14. Great post! I've used the idea of small goals for writing but was feeling overwhelmed at the thought of my new goal: get agent. Glad you reminded me to break this into chunks, as well. Thanks!

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  15. This is such excellent advice--and one I am constantly being reminded of when I make goals! It's easy to stretch yourself thin with goals, so keeping them bite-sized is good!

    also: I'm really excited for Skylark!

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  16. All great advice! As an un-organized person myself, I think these are all things that can help me better myself. Or at least to be able to find the lists that I make....!

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  17. Staying dedicated to overwhelming projects is such a problem for me. Small goals in increments are definitely the only way I can get anything accomplished. Great post!

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  18. Fantastic advice, and definitely something I struggle with myself. Congrats on Skylark! It looks fantastic - I've been waiting ages for it to finally get here!

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  19. Thanks so much for this post—I needed to read it. Specificity, especially, has always helped me finish things properly, and it's really nice to hear it.

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  20. Great post - and excellent advice! And thanks for the giveaway! :)

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  21. I'm always on the hunt for goal advice. Seems with each project, I need a new approach. This helps! Thanks!

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  22. I'm always on the hunt for goal advice. Seems with each project, I need a new approach. This helps! Thanks!

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  23. Great advice on keeping goals small and doing one at a time. I can't wait to read this book. It sounds very good. Please enter me in contest.

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  24. Thanks for breaking it down with some real examples. I am such a dreamer - I really needed this push to control the dream and break it into more manageable and realistic chunks.

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  25. I've always been in favor of small goals ;]
    @ARoomWithBooks

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  26. Your post is a keeper, Meagan. Awesome.

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  27. Fantastic advice. I am a Pro Crastinator too and could get nothing done without small goals strung together.

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  28. It's like writing a thesis statement! Go from a broad statement to a narrow statement. Love it!

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  29. Meagan is part of the Kindness Project blog ring with me and it's just wonderful to see her book taking off!

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  30. This book has been a sourse of drooling for me ever since I read about it on Goodreads! I'm crossing my fingers for...me! Thanks for the giveaway!

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  31. Thanks for the giveaway!

    -Momo
    booksoverboys at hotmail dot com

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  32. Really looking forward to this one. Great cover and the blurb's pulled me in.

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  33. Great post and advice! I've struggled my entire life on staying on track with my goals. I often see myself as a Labrador - you know the puppy who stays a puppy until it's 12 years old, never quite mastering the ability to focus and stay when told to do so because there is too much in the world to get distracted by and play with... I have found in the past few years that I, like you, need to stop making big broad goals and make little ones I can achieve. When I'm able to succeed at meeting those smaller goals I get motivated to keep going on setting more rather than failing and running to the freezer for ice cream(which is fodder for a whole other post...).

    Gratz on your book!

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  34. Great advice!!! And thanks for the giveaway!!!!

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  35. That is some fabulous advice. THANK YOU :)

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  36. I found this advice extremely helpful and will put some of these points to good use! Thank you :D

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  37. Ugh this is one of those things that I know I should be doing but don't... Procrastination is so so tempting!

    This was a lovely and helpful post, though!! :)

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  38. This is fabulous advice. I'm a total flake who'll definitely be using some of these tips. :) Thanks, Meagan!

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  39. "... but I’m really, really good at lying to myself."

    oh gosh, that is me right there! I am a flithy liar...even to myself. *hides in shame*

    Lilian @ A Novel Toybox

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  40. I am now very intrigued and would love to read Ms. Hopkins' YA novels.

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