Since it's the last day of January, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about goals for the New Year.
(This article previously appeared on Writing Hacks, my subscription newsletter for writers. Subscribe today if you'd like articles like this as soon as they are published.)
Do you set goals? I do, but this year, I decided to make my number one goal a bit different.
#1 Goal: Work less; enjoy more.
I worked so hard last year that I nearly burned out. This happened because I forgot a very important aspect of goal setting. The reward. Oh, I'll work just as hard, but by "work less," I mean I want to work more effectively. The "enjoy more" is a reminder not to forget about the reward.
You see, I set goals, and I give it everything I've got. I do whatever it takes to achieve my goal. Does that describe you? Yes? Then good for you. So let's talk about how you reward yourself when you've achieved that milestone?
Uh oh. Too many just shrug and look blank. I was like that last year. I thought just achieving the goal was reward enough. I was too busy to stop and smell the coffee or treat myself to something as a reward. This is just a blueprint for burnout.
Self-Employment Requires Self-Motivation
In any self-employment endeavor, from writing to art to a home bookkeeping service, the work is often solitary, arduous, and, on many days, unrewarding in itself. The payoff for all you do may be on down the line. This is true for any entrepreneur, but for those in the arts, the reward may be so far out into the future that you can't see a glimmer of it. Sometimes, you may work faithfully on a project that never pays off.
It's only human nature, after a lot of this goal seeking and goal achieving-- with no reward--to lose the fire of your ambition. Too many times, you may find yourself subject to apathy which is just a symptom of burnout.
Goal setting usually means: get the damn book written. Okay, you get it from your brain to the computer. Now what? You try to sell it to a traditional publisher or you epub it and try to market and promote it, hoping it will find an audience.
With traditional publishing, you may get turned down flatly by everyone. Next step? Write another book. Full speed ahead. It's finished. It fails to find a contract. No reward again. Okay, now what?
With digital publishing, you may put it out there, but in today's ever-increasing competitive market, it just won't move--no matter what you do. Okay, now what? You must write another and hope it catches fire with readers.
You find yourself hesitant to try again, reluctant to start the process all over. Yet you do. Only this time, you're not so pumped. You aren't dedicated to the goal of getting that book contract or selling X number of ebooks. The evil voice of rationalization jumps in. Why bother? It won't get a contract either. It won't attract readers who will buy either. Just go watch Justified on TV.
This is where I'd yell like a Hollywood director. "You've got the scene wrong. Cut." Some flunky would come out and slap a black and white clapboard together.
What's Wrong With This Picture
First, you're working hard to achieve a goal without allowing yourself a reward. Now, don't tell me the reward will be getting it published or selling 1,000 ebooks this month because that's something you have NO control over.
Second, if you're setting a goal of getting a book contract or selling 1,000 ebooks this month, you've totally got it wrong.
Always remember: the goal you set must be something you can control.
You control the writing.
You control the submission process.
You control the epublishing process.
You will NEVER control the acquisition process. You will NEVER control the reader purchasing process. All the positive thinking and positive imaging in the world won't change that.
Lots of good books don't get published. Lots of questionable books do. Lots of good ebooks don't sell. Lots of bad ones do. In other words, book publishing and selling is a bit like a crap shoot that you can't predict. So if you're writing manuscripts and waiting for publication or sales as the reward, you're doomed to lose your fire. Worse, your motivation to write will erode like a sand dune in a hurricane.
What YOU Control
YOU set the goal. YOU achieve the goal. YOU reward yourself. And a corollary to that is: reward yourself every step of the way from little achievements to large.
Goal: write 4 pages a day. Result: you did it for 1 week. Great. What reward did you set? The purchase of that book you've been wanting to read? A banana split from Sonic?
Goal: finish a chapter in a specified amount of time. Result: you did it. Reward: anything you previously decided was appropriate. That's right. When you set goals, set up a reward system for every step of the journey toward goal achievement.
Goal: finish the book. Result: yes! Reward: dinner and dancing or a weekend at a B&B or anything that makes you feel rewarded for all your hard work.
So that's the deal. If you're a writer - or any other kind of entrepreneur who must be your own motivator - design a system of rewards for every step of your journey. I won't have to tell you how to celebrate and reward yourself if the outside world smiles on you, i.e. a publishing contract with a big, fat advance or making an Amazon Bestseller List. We all have our own ways to howl at the moon.
Whether it's a smiley-face sticker or a sports car, make sure you celebrate the milestones from the seemingly insignificant to the magnificent.