Monday, November 19, 2007

Goal Setting Workshop Lesson !

Session One: Introduction -- Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

We all love goals. In fact, it's been proven that people who regularly set goals and "check up" on themselves accomplish something like fifty times more than people who don't. It amazes me when I hear someone say he or she doesn't set goals because I know they work.

But, my friends argue, that's exactly why they don't set goals. Their goals never seem to get accomplished the way mine do.


Being a person who apparently has too much time on her hands or who is maybe a tad too curious for her own good, I wanted to know why. But, I also had to admit that not all of my goals were accomplished either, and that made me doubly curious.

So I analyzed which of my goals were accomplished and compared them to the goals I had which were not accomplished to see if I could figure out why one goal comes to fruition yet the one right beside it, maybe even one that should have been simpler, doesn't. And I made an odd discovery.

The goals I accomplished "fit" my life. The goals I did not accomplish did not fit my life.

What the heck do I mean by that? Well, I reached the goal of getting published and earning a few extra thousand dollars each year when I desperately needed it. I reached the goal of selling enough that I could write full time, quit my day job and stay at home with my kids when they became teenagers and refused to have a baby-sitter anymore.

Conversely, I haven't reached the goal of keeping off my twenty pounds of yo-yo weight. I haven't ready any of the classics. I really don't know anyone who has, so I wouldn't have anybody to discuss them with anyway. So (aside from personal fulfillment) there's no "reason" for me to accomplish either of those goals. Which means that as soon as my doctor tells me that twenty pounds is causing a health risk, I will lose it and keep it off.

When I came to that conclusion, I realized that was the answer to my little study. I accomplished what I needed to accomplish, exactly when it needed to be done -- and that means success or failure in goals setting all boils down to motivation.

Motivation (or need of a specific result) is what keeps you working when you would rather be watching Wheel of Fortune. It nudges you to read an hour a day when you think you don't have time. It causes you to think creatively about your time, to find little blocks you didn't realize you had and to use them. Because, let's face it, we can all find blocks of time ... but do we always use them?

So if we do what we are motivated to do -- what we need to do -- then why do most of us set goals then try to manufacture motivation? Or, worse, we set goals with no thought to motivation at all?

Good questions. And questions that I can't answer except to say that's why we fail. We don't "need" most of our goals and a goal is only as good as the reason behind why you want to reach it.

Let me tell you a story that proves that. (And btw, here comes my usual disclaimer. I use stories about myself, not to promote myself, but because I don't want to be sued. Please don't think I'm an egotistical nutcase, just know that I'm someone who would rather not have to call her brother-in-law the lawyer and get a lecture about talking about other people on the Internet!)

Okay, here goes...

Years ago (a little over a decade, actually, but who's counting) I went to my first writer's conference. The trip was one of those last ditch efforts. I had been writing unsuccessfully for four years and I was depressed and defeated. Something either happened for me at this conference or I was quitting. So I packed my bags and left for the airport more depressed than excited. I felt I was walking through the last chapter of my writing career story. I was sure nothing good would happen and come Monday morning when I returned I would no longer be a writer.

Pretty darned said, huh? I get misty just thinking about it.

Anyway, on Saturday morning when the workshops began, I made the mistake of attending LaVyrle Spencer's session on description. For those of you who don't' know, LaVyrle Spencer was the master when it came to description. She read passages from her books to illustrate her points and I swallowed hard. I could not write like that. In my first workshop I had found the answer to my write/don't write dilemma. I had no place in this world and no business calling myself a writer.

So I went back to my room in the hotel, drew the drapes and started repacking. (In the dark. When I get depressed, I pull out all the stops.) About fifteen minutes later my room mate found me repacking. She was shocked. And a tad angry. She couldn't believe I was leaving when I hadn't really given the conference a change! I explained that I had but she said I hadn't and the next thing I knew I was promising to go back downstairs.

But I couldn't face another workshop. So I took my cigarettes (back then I was a chain smoker. I no longer smoke.) and sneaked to the lobby seating area and settled in to "be at" the conference, but not really go to another workshop.

I sat next to a woman who (immediately after I said hell0) gently told me she was tired and on a break and didn't want to talk about writing. To her surprise, I said, great. I'm sick of writing too. Feeling I had found a kindred spirit, I proceeded to chain smoke while we chit-chatted about nothing in particular. After about fifteen minutes of discussing anything but writing, she asked if I wrote. I told her I used to. I explained that coming to this conference I realized I knew nothing about writing. I didn't know all the "rules" everybody kept talking about...Heck, I didn't even know there were rules. All I knew was that I read two books a day for five years and loved them so much I wanted to write them, but apparently I couldn't because everything I sent in got rejected.

She said, "Hum...are you writing what you know?"

I told her I was writing what I liked. Marriage of convenience, secret babies and larger-than-life heroes. She said, "Can you somehow take the stories that you like and infuse them with your life experience?"

I said I didn't know, but what she said made sense.

We chatted some more about my kids and husband and her family and what it was like to live in NYC, then she rose. She really had to get back to things. But she also handed me her card. She said, "I'm Lucia Macro from Silhouette Books. Send me your next manuscript and we'll see if you really should quit."

I was surprised, but my friends almost fainted. I was so out of the loop that I didn't realize Lucia was an exceptional editor with whom most writers would love to work. I wasn't even going to send her anything. I thought she was just being kind by asking me to send her something.

Well, technically, she was, since she had never seen my work. But through out conversation she recognized that I loved the genre and love for any genre frequently translates into good writing for that genre. And she had a reasonable expectation that if pointed in the right direction, I could write good books.

So, that night my friends and I set about to figure out a plot for a new book. (Since all my others had been rejected.) And that Tuesday night, after work, after the kids were in bed, when I could have been watching television, I was back at my computer.

I had a reason to write. I had someone willing to give me more than a cursory glance. If I was lucky, I had someone who was willing to help me. If I didn't send her something, I would miss the chance of a lifetime.

That's motivation.

Now, the rest of the story is that I couldn't use the plot my friends and I came up with because it wasn't "me". It was a reflection of my friends' life experiences, etc., and as Lucia said, I had to figure out a way to take the well loved story lines and infuse them with my experience. I did that and set in the book. Silhouette had it for over a year and I was again on the verge of quitting when I got the call. Then I had to throw out the second half of the book and write a new one, but the end result book was very good, very "me" and launched a career that I love.

Motivation, I think, is the promise of something good or the fear of something bad that compels us to take action. Without action, we don't reach our goals. So when you're thinking about setting goals, you should be trying to figure out the things that you are willing (or eager) to take action to receive.

And that means that when you set goals, you should be looking at your life. Not just randomly deciding that within the next year you would "like" to publish a mystery or learn to rock climb. You should be looking at your life thinking: I need exercise so I'm going to...

You fill in the blank. Learning to rock climb might be the answer, but it might not. Rock climbing might not be a realistic way to get the exercise you need and might actually prevent or preclude you from accomplishing the goal of getting exercise.

Conversely, if you're a person who bores easily and likes to do interesting, exciting things, you may have missed the mark of your goal of "exercising" every year because running, video aerobics and floor exercises bore you. So, "learn to rock climb" might be exactly the kind of answer you need to your exercise dilemma.

There must be a link between real life, your personality type and your desires. And, that, I think is where most of us miss the boat.

And that's also the end of lesson one, as well as today's assignment. Since we're close to the end of the year, you may have already made some "new year's resolutions" or goals for 2008. If you haven't, dig out last year's resolutions. Do they fit your life? Do they fit your needs? Are they YOUR resolutions or things you think your husband, your mother, or your writer's group want you to accomplish?

What do YOU want? What fits YOUR life? Who are YOU?

Next answer the question: What do you NEED? You cannot leave behing parental responsibilities, marriage responsibilities, or your day job just yet. There are things you want and things you need. Responsibilities you must meet. Make a list of both.

Don't language them as goals. Just write two lists of things you want and things you need a/k/a responsibilities that you can't ignore.

Think tht through until the next lesson!



JT said...

Thanks for posting that lesson! Great stuff.

Susan said...

You're welcome, Jennifer!

How's the book coming?