And it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass.
–Counting Crows, “A Long December”
A few years ago, I gave up on making New Year’s resolutions because I always broke them and ended up feeling like a failure. This past year, though, I noticed another more serious problem.
My life has become triage.
Instead of acting, I spent most of my time reacting. Fires kept cropping up, and I survived by dealing with the biggest and badest first. Everything else tanked. I gained 20 pounds. My husband began to complain that he didn’t get any time with me anymore because I’m always working. I don’t remember what a day off looks like. Lisa and I are scrambling to prepare for the conference we’re headed to in New York this month.
I want this year to be better than the last.
Part of my problem goes back to my failed New Year’s resolutions, and why I was consistently breaking them. To make this year better than the last, I need to care for myself as well as I care for my characters. You see, I give them goals, but I mostly only had ambitions for myself.
If you remember the post I wrote about Creating Three-Dimensional Characters, I explained the difference between an ambition and a goal.
An ambition is an abstract, high-level concept. For example, “I want a well-behaved dog” or “I want a happy marriage.” Two people can have the same ambition, but the way it plays out in their lives can be diametrically opposed based on how they define that ambition. Goals are how you reach your ambition. Without them, you can float around for years never certain if you’re making any progress toward your ambition.
If all you have is ambitions, you’re bound for disappointment and failure because you don’t have any direct control over whether an ambition is reached or not.
For example, “I want an agent this year” or “I want to lose 20 pounds.” Those are ambitions because nothing you do will guarantee they happen. You might change your eating habits and hit the gym, and only lose 10 pounds because you gained muscle as well. Or because that’s the healthy weight your body wants to be at.
Goals, however, are in your control.
I do a lot of work for non-profit clients writing grant proposals. One of the things that separates successful grants from unsuccessful ones is that the successful ones set goals (they call them objectives) that are SMART.
S – specific
M – measurable
A – attainable
R – realistic
T – time-bound
So if your ambition is to land an agent this year (it’s one of the ambitions on my new list), set SMART goals to reach it.
For example, “I will query one new agent every week in 2012 except for the weeks of Christmas and Thanksgiving.” (Noah Lukeman suggests querying 50 agents before you give up on that particular project.)
Specific – You’ve given the number of agents (one) and what you’re going to do (query). You also specified what you’re not going to do.
Measurable – You either did or you didn’t send out a query each week.
Attainable– You can query an agent a week. That’s within the realm of what’s allowable when it comes to agents. You couldn’t talk to an agent on the phone every week any more than you can probably call up Suzanne Collins or Daniel Craig and expect to have a chat.
Realistic – This really depends on you. Maybe that isn’t realistic for you depending on what you know your personal limitations are. Maybe what you can do is query one new agent every two weeks. But you get the point. Don’t set an unrealistic goal like “I’m going to query 50 agents every week.”
Time-Bound – You have from Monday to Sunday each week to complete this goal. You have from January 1 to December 31 of 2012 to complete this goal.
If you reach your goal, you’re that much more likely to also fulfill your ambition.
I’m not just working on my goals and ambitions for my career, but also for the rest of my life. As writers, it can be easy to become a slave to our work, but some sacrifices are too great.
You see, I don’t just want to be remembered as a great writer at the end of my life. I also want to be remembered as a great wife. As a great friend. As a great daughter, and sister, and cousin, and niece. Perhaps one day as a great mother and grandmother and aunt.
To do that, I need to make this year better than the last.
What’s one ambition you have for this year, and one of the goals that you’re setting to try to meet it?