Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Michele Dunaway on Goals

Michele Dunaway
Publisher: Harlequin Enterprises
Pub date: September 2008
Agent: Jessica Faust

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Author Web/Blog links: &

It’s now September, and I bet all those resolutions have long ago fallen by the wayside. That’s why I refuse to make New Year’s resolutions. Yet anyone who knows me knows I’m a firm believer in goal setting. The principal of the high school where I teach is also a big believer.

So why do so many fail? Because the goals they set aren’t SMART. I’m not sure where this SMART goal stuff came from, so I claim no ownership. It’s probably from a book my principal bought, for he taught it to all the staff and we help our students set class and personal goals. (By the way, I did a Google search, and more information can be found here:

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Here is a goal: I will write 10 pages by the end of this week.

Note that this goal is stated simply and makes a specific statement. It’s clear and not paragraphs long. It’s also measurable and manageable, which means you can create steps to get it done and it has clear parameters on what you want done. It’s also realistic and relatable to your life, and it has a time limit. Too often we forget that goals need time limits. These limits are not set to make you fail, but rather to force you to reassess why you didn’t meet the goal, or if you did, to celebrate your achievement.

Here is my current writing goal: By Sept. 30, I will revise and complete Recovery, Inc. (my single title) and send it to my agent.

Your goals help you define how you spend your time. What do you need to accomplish each day? Plot action steps to achieve your goals. To complete this book, I will need to get my rear end in the chair on a daily basis. I will need to write X number of pages per day (or X a week), etc.

However, if goal setting is so easy, why do we fail so often? Because other things steal your attention. I call these villains, and these can be emotional, like rejection; social, as in it’s more fun to talk with friends than sit in your office and write; physical, as in illness or laziness; and monetary, as in you must work at the day job. You also have your family and your home, which are often your biggest priorities and in turn your biggest unintentional villains. For example, driving your family around eats into your writing time. Yet your family is important. So the guilt arrives when you don’t get your book done and so does the stress.

I suggest evaluating how you handle stress. I eat. My hero in my 21st novel exercises. There are all sorts of things we do to compensate. However, some strategies are much more productive than others. Oftentimes, since we are focusing on the external compensations (like eating, drinking, exercising, etc.), our villains don’t go away.

The key to defeating the villains ultimately comes from within. Ask yourself the questions: Why am I doing what I am doing? Why is this goal so important? How do my actions and my compensations help me meet my goals? Have I set unrealistic goals? What can I do to help myself? Are my priorities out of whack? How can I make adjustments to meet my goals?

These are sample questions just to get you thinking. You’ll have to be introspective and listen to yourself. I had my priorities out of whack last year and by asking myself those questions above, I was able to regain my focus. I can also tell you that goal I told you above will probably not be met. I’ve just come up with another idea that is bigger and better, and getting that project to Jessica is a much more important priority. So I’ve set another goal, and come Sept. 30, I will revise the other one regarding Recovery, Inc.

A big villain for writers is jealousy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but really, what it comes down to is the fact that you are dissatisfied with the time frame of your goals. You aren’t where you want to be. Someone has something you don’t. If you are feeling like this, reassess all your goals and priorities. Ask yourself why it is you want it so bad. Does never making contest finals mean you are less of a writer? Does getting fifty rejections mean you’ll never find an agent or publisher? No. Some aspects of timing we can’t control. It’s not meant to sound trite, but rather freeing. So shed those villains who keep you down, set those goals, and monitor them often. I hope it works for you as well as it does for me.

Tailspin is Michele Dunaway’s 19th book for Harlequin. Michele is currently writing her 22nd novel, all while balancing teaching full-time, organizing a November charity auction, writing an article for Communication: Journalism Education Today, and most important, being a mom. She couldn’t do it all without prioritizing or goal setting. Twins for the Teacher, her 20th book, debuts in March.


Anonymous said...

Great post Michele! It means so much coming from an author that works full time and still has twenty some novels under her belt. Very encouraging to those of us that have jobs and are trying to work on WIPs.

Thanks for sharing your "secret to success." :-) Your system of goal setting is very simple and attainable. And thanks for the link, too!

Suzan Harden said...

Great post, Michelle!

Dealing with your own jealousy is one thing (I do it by acknowledging my feelings and reminding myself how long it took the person I'm envious of to reach THEIR goal).

How do you deal with other people's jealousy toward you?


Michele Dunaway said...

HI Suzan,

I simply just don't have time to worry about someone being jealous of me. I always say someone stole my normal, quite, sane life and I want it back. So the grass really isn't greener. I could tell you stories...

So simply, I remember that someone might envy me, but that's because they only see the gloss. Not that I'm a troubled celebrity, but that's the closest analogy I can find. Just because you have your name on a book cover doesn't mean all your problems immediately vanish.


Jessica Nelson said...

Dang girl! With all those activities you MUST know how to prioritize!
Thanks for the tips!

ccallicotte said...

Great post, thank you! You are an impressive woman with all that you do!

I learned a lot about setting goals as a physical therapist - for our insurance documentation, goals have to be specific, realistic, attainable, measurable - just like your "SMART" approach. It has definitely helped me in setting goals for writing.


Spy Scribbler said...

That is a great post! I love studying and talking about goals. To the point it's one of my villains, LOL! :-)

I did read that people are motivated by different size goals. Some people need easy, baby-step goals: anything else overwhelms them. Some people need achievable goals: anything too big and they quit before they try; too small and they don't bother. And some people need way out there goals: an achievable goal bores them, so they won't bother.

I'm a way out there person, but my problem is I need to learn to plan achievably, and set goals way out there so I'll work the plan.

That didn't make sense. Oh well. :-) Great post!

Natalie Whipple said...

Thanks, Michele, for such a great reminder. Realistic goals really are so important. Now that I have found goals I can meet, I've become a much more productive writer.

Julie Weathers said...

This is an excellent post.

Thanks for sharing this.


Robena Grant said...

Thanks Michelle. I love your energy level and your priorities, it's important for we aspiring authors to learn from someone whose life is working. Your goals and your success speak for themselves.
This was very timely. I looked at my goals for '08 yesterday and had a sense of satisfaction that most had been met.
Writing down your goals is key, and I agree that knowing why you want them is important. I do set my one year goals each year, but divide my year into quarters and find achieving the smaller goals easier and I stay on track better. I can scroll down and check the upcoming goals and they remind me of my big picture.
I think it's also important to understand not reaching a goal doesn't mean failure because often times we learn on the journey and we grow from that learning.

Michele Dunaway said...


I agree. It's important that not meeting your goals is not failure, but rather a chance to reassess. Oftentimes a goal we set is really nothing more than something we wish would happen.

I like to think that wishes are something you make; goals are something you do.

One thing about having a time limit is so that you can change things as necessary.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post.

My biggest villain is lack of confidence. That's been a real goal killer.

Also, I'm someone who thrives on external deadlines. But as an unpublished writer who doesn't have an agent or editor waiting, it's so easy to tell myself, "Well, this is just a hobby right now, so if you don't meet that word count goal this week, no one but you will care." I need to figure out a solution to that problem!

Janet said...

I've just started implementing this policy of weekly, bite-sized goals again, and it has been very effective. My revisions are now moving smoothly, instead of getting mired down at every little obstacle.

Good stuff! Thanks.

Kate Douglas said...

Definitely a great post, and timely, Michele. The nice thing about setting goals is that they help you narrow your focus--if I look at my calendar and see that I have a gazillion things that HAVE to get done, I end up accomplishing very little. If I prioritize those things and give myself time limits in which to complete them--or at least get a healthy start--they're suddenly more manageable.

T. M. Hunter said...

For a long time, I've been a firm believer in goal-setting in writing. Glad to know it's not just useful for those of us striving to reach the big time.