Friday, April 6, 2012

Building your goals (and building ON your goals)

Working in any field of creative endeavor, particularly if you take them on as a profession, will eventually mean finding a balance between the creative efforts and the practical realities. After all, as Seth Godin says "Real artists ship." (He may not have been the first to say it, but he's the one that caught my attention with it.) I've sometimes said that I'd like my career to reach a point where I can spend the day in my studio and people just crawl to the door and pay me for whatever I bother to slide out underneath it. And the response is usually - "Ha!" And rightly so.

But until I find an undiscriminating patron of my arts, what I've done instead (and I hope you've done too) is set myself a series of goals. Reasons?

1. I accomplish more with a deadline.
2. I want some way to measure success.
3. I want to track improvement or growth (or find out if there's even any to track).

I suspect I have a stronger latent nerd streak than some artistic types but it feels good to me to check things off a list or to know I've accomplished something in a certain time frame.

When I began doing this, I started very small. Why set yourself a goal you can't reach? I was a mom of young kiddos, and felt lucky on the days I found time to brush my teeth more than once. So in wanting to work my way back to writing on a regular basis, I didn't even know if I could find time, period.

So my goal was to try to write for 15 minutes, 5 days a week.

I got a desk calendar and every day that I managed to write for at least 15 minutes, I made a note of that on the calendar. Small potatoes. Eat-em-whole-new-red-potatoes small.

I once heard said, "Battle plans are excellent up until the first shot is fired!"

There were some blank weeks to begin but as the days and weeks went by (and the kiddos grew), more and more days had a writing note on them. Then the time chunks got bigger each time. And by the time I reached the end of the year, I had a visual reminder of the increase I had accomplished in my writing time. I'd even venture to say I saw an increase in the writing quality because the longer segments gave me time to revisit and review work I'd written earlier with a fresh eye and an eagerness to polish them. And the practice of regular writing provided a polish of its own to the first drafts I was putting together.

From those writing times, I also realized that I had a collection of work ready to submit. And with that began a straggle of cheques. Articles sold, royalties paid ... so I set a new goal. I put a dollar amount - I think it was $50 a week - on my writing, and I gave myself 5 years to start turning a profit.

And I realized I was in business. (Tax records, business expenses - more nerd stuff to learn.)

From there, it's been a rinse-and-repeat process. At the end of every year, I've seen growth in both time spent writing and income. I wouldn't say I've hit the behind-the-studio-door ideal yet but my goals have become increasingly more ambitious. And so far, it's been working. Where I am is not necessarily where I envisioned being but it's eminently satisfying nonetheless. New opportunities mean revising the battle plan occasionally, but it's been a process that is consistently moving me forward in this business of writing.


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