At about this time last year, I read Jeff VanderMeer's Booklife (with comments here, if you care), and found it pretty helpful for thinking about the parts of being a professional writer that don't involve fiction, per se. Blogging (without being a jerk about it, which is hard!), scheduling, setting goals, managing your work and handling administrative tasks, all things I'm pretty bad at! Guidance is good, or even just the beginning of guidance. I wouldn't know where to begin, especially with the 'blog nicely' part.
Since I'm not published or in the process of, most of these have nothing to do with me, excepting as an educational look at things I will have to think about later. The one thing I can do anything about up there is making goals.
many of my colleagues have daily, weekly, or monthly “to do” lists that help keep them focused but also keep them stuck in a tactical mode, which makes it hard to engage in strategic thinking. Yes, you know what you want or need to do for the next thirty days, but what about for the year? What about for the next five years? How do your daily/weekly/monthly tasks feed into short-term goals, and how do your short-term goals feed into your long-term goals?
He asks this question, and I'm like... oh, huh. Goals. You mean like "getting published?" Yeah, that's kind of the only one on my list.
To be honest, while I would like to write novels and have people read them, I'm not sure if that's a thing I will ever accomplish. Not because I can't or won't, but because the more I learn about the process of making a book, the more I want to cower over here at my desk and just write stories for whatever reason, and who cares if anybody reads them. It's a lot of work to make people care about what you're doing. Consider some occasion you may have presented your original fiction to your fanfic friends; they like your writing already, right? And they're interested in you, and your ideas. But how many of them are interested in reading anything you do at length? Have you ever put any original fiction up on your blog and heard the crickets cheeping, because nobody gives a shit? I have! Many times! And these are people who are already invested in you to some extent. So if it's hard to make them fans, how about everyone else?
So anyway, planning my professional career from here seems silly. But I can try to plan my practice, story schedule, etc. up to the point where I might have something to send out, so that's what I did. Vandermeer talked about having several plans; keeping the monthly and weekly to-do lists, but also planning year-long, two year, and five year plans. My one year plan started in October 2011 and ended this year, today. Here's what I learned!
I really, really suck at meeting goals. It burns. Year-long is too long.
My priorities changed significantly over the course of the year, and I didn't modify them along the way like I was supposed to, because I forgot I had written it down. (One of my goals for the next year should be get all that shit off your desk and keep it off.) But my biggest mistake was probably to write my plan down like this:
a. send Youth story out to a few magazines (And I fail at this, instantly, because it's too terrifying to put in writing.)
b. write Eve--Lilith story.
c. write librarian story.
d. write steampunk dragon story.
e. write automaton story.
f. write the Meiji diplomat story.
I can write this many stories in a year if all I care about is getting them down. For a while I was writing one a month by doing only basic research and planning, and then just hacking it all out in one go. But if I'm making an effort to fully develop anything? Well then, suddenly having a plan like this dooms me to being derailed over and over, because having that many stories on my plate in one sitting means that I can't work on just one - I have to taste all of it, and I WILL, because the moment B gets hard to deal with I'll move to C, and when that gets hard... you get the idea. Also, this list is underestimating how many drafts I have to write of anything before I can leave it alone. At least three of those require significant research, which I can't do on a schedule of a story every two months.
GOOD JOB. I failed at that pretty hard. But I do finally see what a bad idea it is to allow myself to work on more than one story at a time, even if I'm only actively writing one, while only picking at details for the other.
New Goal #1: do not put specific stories in the plan unless we are already writing them. (I can win this one instantly!)
New Goal #2: you're only allowed to work on one story at a time.
But we can't just set down goals, oh no. No, we have to have high level and low-level goals, apparently-- can you tell how thrilled I am about this? I suppose polish Story A could be considered a high-level goal, which has tons of lower-level ones that feed into it, like one: outline new scenes; two: write the first new scene, etc.. I'm still not sure I like thinking about it this way. It's much easier to think of the "low-level" as a to-do list, which I have a better chance of finishing during any given week, and the "higher level" as real goals. Plan as far as a month in advance and it's touch-and-go.
So... not sure how this is working out for me, because I screwed it up the first time. But I guess it does help to have goals. Saying to myself that I have to have a draft of Novel #1 at the end of five years is infinitely easier to deal with than thinking I have to do it now - but eventually, five years in the future will be now, and it'll be terrifying again unless I can dredge up some confidence from where I left it back in 2008.
I'm starting to think it'll take me ten years to get published just because I can't keep a schedule or set of goals to save my life. I have no idea why that's so hard for me.