Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Michele Dunaway on Goals

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

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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.