Not So SMART Goals

SMART Goals: The holy grail of getting things done. Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Timely goals. It’s a corporate mantra, spoken at every HR review. We want to set goals which can be achieved – vague language is for mission statements.

For writing, a SMART goal sounds like this:

  • Complete second draft of three (3), 5000-word short stories by November 28, 2019
  • Submit three (3) short stories to top markets by December 31, 2019
  • Finish planning revision structure for novel by January 31, 2020

Each is very specific and measurable. They are achievable and realistic (notice it says nothing about getting any of the works published) and it does have a timely deadline. That’s great. But it’s also about the mechanics of the process. Deadlines. What to get done when. None of it touches on the why.

This is where writing deviates from other businesses in quite a few ways. One of my favorite YouTube channels features a carpenter who demonstrates different Chinese, Japanese, and Western style joinery. You can see the how behind it all right there – you watch him measure and mark the wood, scoring and penciling in every cut. And then he picks out specific tools to build the joints – chisels, drills, planes so sharp they create long wispy films of shaved wood when run down the length of a plank.

I’ve never seen him address why he does it – why does he take so much time and effort to do what some would do with machine tools and CAD programs? I can only imagine, but I think it would lie between “I do this because I enjoy creating something from a simple blank of wood” or “I enjoy the process, the use of the plane and saw to build something” or “I get a great deal of satisfaction from a job well done.”

Right now, I’m having trouble finding reconnecting with what gave me joy in writing before now. Once upon a time, I’d sit behind a word processor and just type away, picturing the story, following the characters through and imagining how people would react while reading the tale. My goals were big hairy ambitions:

  • “I want my reader to feel something after reading my story.”
  • “I want folks who read my stories to think about creating their own, in a positive way! Fanfic or art or deciding they want to write.”
  • “I want my readers to want to read more stories with the characters.”

Those aren’t SMART goals. They’re impossible goals. At no point can I assure some invisible authority that I’ve made an emotional impact on a reader or create milestones to I can meet while getting someone to make fan art. I have to follow another path. A different way of seeing my work.

I have to stop seeing this a well-planned hike, where you know the end point and know the exact paths to get there. There are no GPS markers, or well-maintained paths with signs saying, “Next bathroom, 20 yards.”

This is a rough trek. A wander. This is navigation by trail signs and the sun alone. You walk in the general direction of your destination, work on becoming a better hiker, glean what you can from the folks along the way (and learn when to ignore the ‘ya kant get dere from here’ guys’). All goals you can set are to try and make you a better hiker, a better navigator, and a better trail reader.

You can still fail. You cannot reach the end of your trip. You can be amazing as a hiker, great as a navigator, and yet still run into an obstacle you can’t cross. You can burn out, too, getting sick of the sweat and bugs and people constantly telling you how awful the road is up ahead. Oh, and that town you wanted to visit? Yeah, filled with the worst kind of people.

What do you do, then? When SMART goals don’t get you where you want to be, and the end goal seems so distant, you’re wondering why you’re hiking?

You stop, and take a breath. You try to enjoy just being in the moment. You reconnect with what got you hiking in the first place.

And that’s what I need to do. I need to sit down, close my eyes, and listen to the wind in the trees. Because I’m having a hard time walking any further, and I’m feeling lost.

So I Turned Myself to Face Me

First, because he caught the sentiment in a bottle:

Another year has clicked away. This one starts with a few changes for me.  But there’s one, regarding my writing, I have to announce now. As far as the IRS is concerned, I am a freelance writer.  Yep. Self-employment taxes start if you earn $400 or more. I’ve earned around $420 from short story publication. It’s not much at all – I’m not going to do without a day job based on this income.  But it feels like I’ve accomplished something. What was Ambassador Kosh said?

OK, maybe not appropriate. But I’ve wanted to share that portrait for a while now. And while pebbles do get caught in the avalanche, pebbles are how avalanches begin as well. Small actions and small changes. A little more rain than usual. A wildfire which takes out just the right stand of trees.  All of these items build into something bigger, until it keeps rolling along. I’m hoping this will start a personal avalanche.

This will take more than a few short story sales and residuals. I need to keep working (and, yes, I do mean the day job) but on other projects as well. So, here’s my 2018 punch list:

 

  1. Write Another Novel – I’ve gotten out of the novel-writing habit as I’ve focused on short fiction. That has to change. I’m working on a book based on a short story wrote last year, and I think it’ll be an interesting story I haven’t seen in the market before.  But, I’ve got to put the work in. The first part of this year will be planning. All planning.  That way, during the second part of the year, I can just dig in and start grinding out the word count.
  2. Submit Stories – This has to continue.  I’ve got six short stories in various stages of planning and writing. I’ve got to work on more, and work on increasing the quality of the stories. If writing a novel is practice for cross-country running, the stories are how I keep my sprinting skills intact.
  3. Get Serious on Education – 2018 will be a learning year for me. I’ll be retraining myself in quite a few skills, but I need to throw myself into a more structured way of improving my writing.  Books on writing books are lovely, but I can only go so far down that road. I’ve been traveling it since I was in high school…
  4. Network – Last year, my wife challenged me: “Have one conversation with someone at a conference that you don’t already know and did not publish you.” It’s her way of saying I need to network more. And it’s true. How many opportunities do I lose because I’m shy? Or I just don’t say, “Oh, why the Hell not?”  Time to say yes, despite my fears.
  5. Photography – To say my photography has suffered in the last year is being kind. I spent most of my energy just surviving. I focused on writing. But I need to make sure I find time, at least once a month, to go and take photos, then post them. Even if it’s nothing fancy – even if it’s just me trying lighting set-ups.
  6. Podcast – This actually combines with photography. I’ve been told I have a decent voice. So I’m planning on a small podcast named after this site. It’ll likely be something thrown up onto either YouTube or maybe my Flickr account, but I figure it can’t hurt to be heard

Yes, this is a lot. Yes, it may be overly ambitious.

But compared to others, I’m in a good place. I’ve got family, friends, and funds I can rely on.  Now, I have to capitalize on my good fortune and see where I can go from here.

Have Yourself An Upgraded Christmas

IMG_20171211_192305_827Once again, I reach a time of year where I’m reflective. Luckily, the day job has been doing its level best to keep me busy, making sure all my energy is spent there and not on frivolities like everything else in the world. But, moments of introspection still creep into my head.  I need to remind myself I’ve actually accomplished a few things:

I’ve been published in two anthologies now. The latest is The Death of All Things and I had the distinct honor of being edited by two authors I admire: Kat Richardson and Laura Anne Gilman. I learned more than I can say working on that story, and have been working on applying those lessons in all future stories.

I’ve got five stories out on submission, and three more in various stages of completion. And, I’m diving back into planning a novel, based on the character from my short story.

My photography has not expanded much this year. I need to change next year, and actually get back to creating and posting images as well as text. But, speaking of images, I’ve made my first AMV in ages. That and a test recording I did had folks suggest I create a podcast which only a few isolated folks will listen to. I think I might mix the two: have the podcast style ramblings but with images I’ve taken, or art by my friends.

But I have to invest more in my writing. And that means moving away from comfort into areas of fear.  It means trying to come back from conferences speaking to at least one person I had not met before. It means making contacts, networking, and all the things my introverted nature hisses at. It means pushing my boundaries. I must improve. I must adapt. I must upgrade.

2015: The Year They Return

The time is now. After five long years, the Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov will return from its voyage to Jupiter. This harrowing journey across a vastly altered solar system marks the half-way point in a decade which changed us all.

Er, no, wait. Wrong world. Sorry.

But I can think about the future, even if it lacks interplanetary spacecraft for human use. And to do so, I need to look at the past.

Last year, I set down a few goals. They could be summarized this way: “Complete novel, Ivre. I have about 32,000 remaining. This year, I’m going to focus on the short story market and try to submit several stories. My goals will be commensurate with those efforts.”

Well, I have completed Ivre. After giving it a bit of rest, in November I broke down the long “scroll” of a manuscript into individual scenes, chapters and parts. I’ve begun reading through and making general notes on what to trim & change. Keep forgetting how dialog heavy I can become – dangers of learning writing via screenplays.

And I have completed 4 short stories which are almost ready for submission. That’s one a quarter. I just need to get them in manuscript format and start shopping them when everyone returns from the holiday. Time to see if my stories have any legs.

And I (still) have a massive number of photographs from the UK trip. Many are posted on Flickr. And they’ve gotten me some compliments from a professional photographer, so I think I did a good job capturing the sense of place. Still have to dig around and finish things.

You’ll note, I’m not going on about the things I failed to do. I focus on failure far too much, usually as an excuse to pummel myself. But contrary to years of programming, this is not an effective means of negative re-enforcement. It just drives me to be less ambitious, to try for less and hope for little more than crumbs off life’s table.

So what of next year? What will 2015 hold for me?

  • Focus on Photography: My creative joy this year, my highlight so far, was creating this photo for ChuckWendig’s Awkward Author photo contest. Spending the time with Lisa creating thescene & the photo was a wonder. Seeing the finished product go out into the world was a thrill. But, alas, I did not get as many photos taken as I’d like this year,dispite the travel. And certainly didn’t get as many photos of people as I’d like.So, I shall come up with one, maybe two, themes for photos and see if I can get folks to participate after I make a proof of concept image.
  • Ivre– The Revision!: Basically, in the first quarter of the year I want to completely revise my novel, chop it down, and get it to a readable place. I’m hoping an early year focus on this will help me get my revision skills up to snuff.
  • Short stories, flash fiction & revision: right now, I think learning to revise my work in a timely way needs to be my a core focus. I won’t stop creating new things – no one wants me that crazy – but the more I revise, the better my initial drafts will become.

So what is the final hope for 2015? For my creative projects, I’m going to try and follow the commandments in my 2nd place prize in the Awkward Author Photo contest.

Art Harder Motherfucker.

She’s Gonna Dream Out Loud

The line is from an under-appreciated song by a band who’s seen better days. Waddling through rewrites, trying to get perspective on the gaggle of stories I have siting on my virtual desk, it’s important to remind myself of the stories I’d love to read:

  • I want a mecha story with a woman in the lead. Something like Zeta Gundam with Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck in the lead. Or Armored Trooper VOTOMS starring Jenett Goldstine’s Vasquez.
  • I want a massive, weird space epic which captures the feel of old Metal Hurlant artwork by Moebius & Druillet
  • I want a trope ripping D&D style fantasy… but actually, I have that now. Have you read Rat Queens?? Why not?
  • I want a story where the H.R. Giger style biomechanoid is the hero

I think we write from a lack. We feel like there’s a story out there we want to experience, but we haven’t found it yet. The frustration can bubble into a desire. But it’s an uphill fight to make the desire reality. After a bit, you feel… numb.

But you have to push on. You have to dream of the world you want to live in. Otherwise, how will it appear?

Haiku Project

Remember training?
All three sessions of training?
No, you don’t.. do you…

My dayjob focuses on client services work. Alas, this means interacting with some unpleasant aspects of human behavior. The best way I had to deal with it was haiku and tanka, posted on my Twitter account. I’ve collected quite a few. Apparently, they are rather popular amongst folks who deal with similar issues.

Why yes I, the small
cog in our machine can totally
change legal language
in our standard renewals
I’m so godlike that way

As a lark, I thought “What if I made a book of the haiku and tanka? I could tie them into photos I took for each of these haiku. I should carve out some time to pick through my haiku, collect them, and see which ones will work best. I’ve got at least two friends who have offered layout skills to make an ebook.

This should be interesting.