Goal Setting 101

Business Writing CoachIn my career as a business writing coach and a coach about the business of writing, I’ve come across some interesting statistics about setting goals:

  • 78% of Americans wish they were more productive
  • People who set goals are 13% more productive than those who don’t
  • People who write down their goals are 1000% as productive as those who don’t

And perhaps most interesting…

  • Only 4% of Americans explicitly define and write down their goals. 

Short version? Setting goals is important. Writing them down is even more important. Writing them down in a way that helps you meet them is even more important than that. Here are two key rules to doing just that.

Have Perspective

Dave Kovar, a mentor and hero of mine, once told me that most people set their short-term goals to large and their long-term goals too small.

In the short term, we fall into a cycle of excitement. When we set goals, we’re excited and motivated. We feel full of energy and we’re usually in a space where we have a little extra time (otherwise we wouldn’t be taking time to examine our goals, we’d be working on other projects). The end result is overcommitting on our short-term goals. We promise ourselves we’ll write ten new books in three months, lose 10 pounds a week, and other impossible tasks.

The result of promising ourselves the impossible is failing to keep those promises. After a couple of repetitions, we become discouraged about our ability to meet goals at all. That leads to the second half of this problem.

In the long term, we lose sight of the power of doing small things every day over time. Remember: if you write a page a day, you’ll have a complete novel in one year. Another mentor of mine, Tom Callos, had made me do 55,000 pushups and run 1,000 miles per year for two and a half years now. That’s possible because I don’t try to do it all in the first month. I spread the load out over an entire year, making the task manageable.

When you set goals for your writing, keep both of these common mistakes in mind and review your plan to make sure you avoid them. With my business writing coaching clients, it’s part of the process.

Use SMART Goalsetting

smart goal setting for business writing coach You’ll find different definitions of the SMART acronym for goal-setting, but this is my favorite for the small businesses that most writing operations are.

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.

This rule helps you to form and express your goals in a way that makes them more likely to actually turn them into reality.

 

  • Specific goals clearly define what success looks like using unambiguous language and exact detail.
  • Measurable goals attach definitions, and metrics whenever possible, to make it clear when progress is being made.
  • Achievable goals are possible to complete with the time and resources available.
  • Relevant goals are checked to make sure that the success condition actually brings you closer to your definition of success
  • Time-Bound goals set a finish date, with large goals setting benchmarks for defined points of partial completion

Bad Example: “Be more active on social media”

Good Example: “Post ten times each week on Google+ for the next three months.”

One point about how the good example is achievable. Note how it says “post ten times each week” instead of “post twice every day.” The reason for that is you’re going to have a bad day at least once in the next quarter. If you promise yourself you’ll post every day, you have failed in your goal when that bad day happens and you don’t post. Promising ten posts a week means you can double up your posts the day after something goes wrong.

 

What are some experiences you’ve had with setting, attaining and falling short of your goals? Tell us about it in the comments below or come chat on G+.

 

 

Interview Series: Alex Hughes (Part Two)

business writing coach Last week, we started our interview with Alex Hughes, author of the Mindscape series that starts with CleanClean is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I recommend you buy and read it immediately.

Seriously, follow that link to Amazon and buy the thing before reading the rest of the interview. I’ll wait.

Got it?

Good.

Here’s the rest of the interview.

 

4. Could you talk a bit about why you opted for a traditional publisher as opposed to indie or self-publishing?

Back when I was trying to get into the writing world originally self-publishing wasn’t a real option. It was the mid- to late nineties and the traditional publishers were the only game in town. I dreamed of walking into my big-box Barnes & Nobles and seeing my book there. A decade later, my husband and I were beginning to talk about self-publishing when I got the call. I knew that I was finally ready, but as it happened the publisher called me first. I’m still incredibly honored and proud to visit my book at the bookstore, and my publisher has been a partner I’m proud to work with. But there are still many options out there.

 

5. What’s next for Alex Hughes, and for Adam?

Alex is currently working on book #4 in Adam’s world, where Adam is called in on an FBI case outside of Atlanta. There’s a short story in the world I’ll release sometime in the next few months as well. I’ve also got a few fun projects I’m working on, which include both a novel in another world on my own, and a collaboration project with Kerry Schafer, one of my writing partners. I’ve recently had stories accepted into the Thunder on the Battlefield anthology and The Sea anthology, and had my first invite to an invitation-only anthology, which was a huge personal milestone. What’s next? I try new things and be creative. I *love* this stuff, and I love the readers. They’re awesome, and I want to keep them happy.
6. What question do you wish more people asked you?

Well, I used to wish people didn’t ask about pets. I don’t have actual pets (hubbie is violently allergic), and they treat me funny when I talk about my imaginary cat. But lately, I’ve been considering a small dragon. So I like the question a lot. People like to weigh in on my dragon choice.

I also wished more people asked about my super nerdy academic obsessions. For some reason, that’s not a common cocktail party question, go figure.
7. What’s the answer to that question?

Ooooh! Thanks for asking! I was a history major in college, and I *love* early modern European history, especially social and cultural history. Reading about people who thought and acted differently from anyone I’ve ever met… well, it makes my brain happy. War of the Three Henries? Best named war ever. Plus Cardinal Richeleu was just as conniving in history as he is in the Three Musketeers by Dumas. Oh, I am a major biology nerd. And physics. And brain and behavior. Ask me about The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. And brain surgery. And historical plastic surgery–definitely ask me about that! Or don’t… I can go on for awhile. 🙂

</nerdrant>
8. Tell us about any appearances or new books coming in the next few months, so we can all mark our calendars.

Book #3 in the Mindspace Investigations series is called Marked, and it’s out in April. (Already available for preorder!) Book #4 should be out end of 2014.

I’ll be at the Georgia Literary Festival in November, Costal Magic Convention in February 2014, and Dahlonega Literary Festival in March. (All reader events – come say hi 🙂 )

And like I said, I’m currently working on a few extra projects, so stay tuned for those sometime next year or so.

Thanks again, Alex. This has been fun. Fans with questions for Alex should contact her via her website, or leave comments below. I’ll make sure she gets them. 

Interview Series: Alex Hughes (Part One)

Business Writing Coach Regular readers already know about my writer-man-crush on Jim Butcher. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in his Harry Dresden series, as are most good people I know.

While waiting, I met Alex Hughes at the Willamette Writers Conference. She told me about her Mindscape series — PI stories about a telepath detective in a cyberpunk future. They’re kind of like Phil Marlowe meets Blade Runner. Great stuff.

Alex was kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions for us.

1. Let’s start with the numbers. How many books did you write before writing “Clean?” How many queries did you send for “Clean?” How long had you considered yourself a writer before making the sale?

Clean was my third completed novel. Clean was also my learning novel, on which I learned revision, scene structure, story structure, description, pacing, and a whole mess of other lovely and difficult things. By the time the final revision was done for the publisher, I’d taken it through eight drafts. Only a few small scenes survive from the first draft, and those heavily edited; the rest was rewrites and restructures.

I sent many queries for Clean, but more for my previous novel Valence. I believe everyone in the known universe turned that one down. I also got hundreds of rejections for short stories over the years–I sent my first one out to a magazine at age 15, and got a personal rejection note. This encouraged me to send many more stories but for years I made no sales whatsoever. I didn’t get a major project published until age 28, thirteen years later.

2. I’m not the first person to notice similarities between Mindspace and Harry Dresden. What are some other influences and inspirations that helped you create the Mindspace books?

I actually hadn’t read Harry Dresden until after Clean, and then only because people were remarking on it. I grew up on cop shows and Star Trek, and didn’t really see a difference for awhile 🙂 In college, I read a classic cyberpunk book called Catspaw by Joan D. Vinge, in which a tortured telepath struggles to make his way in a dark future world. I wanted to write something like that (I’d fallen in love with the concept), but I knew my guy had to be a detective because of the cop shows. I also had a close friend at the time who was a recovering anorexic who was very open about her struggle, and I know I wanted to talk about habits and addiction. For this kind of project, though, a substance seemed a simpler thing to understand and deal with. So the basic tenets of Clean were born.

As a note, though, Cherabino was originally named McNally or something, and was Irish, blond, and much meaner. My writer’s group in college made fun of me so strongly for that (apparently a cliche) that everything about her had to change.

3. Tell the story of your journey from query to publication. How long did it take? What were the best, worst and most surprising parts?

From the first idea in college to the draft that got the publisher’s attention was maybe seven years and as many drafts. I submitted draft five to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards in 2009 and got back a review that the book was “mediocre.” I was so angry! I’d been working my tail off! It couldn’t be mediocre. So I went out and started finding the classes and teachers and resources I needed to be so amazing they couldn’t say no. I went to writing group after writing group, and I took classes online. I worked. I connected up with people from a Willamette conference, and we worked together. I took a massive online novel revising class. I worked some more. And then I applied in January 2010 to the Odyssey Writing Workshop and submitted the new draft to the ABNA that year on the same week. I got accepted to Odyssey, and the first day there I got the call from the publisher. I nearly had a heart attack.

The best part for certain was that call, as unexpected and out of the blue as it was. Followed closely by the day I heard the voice auditions for the audiobook of the novel. Hearing someone bring my character to life was *amazing.* It made it real.

The worst part is the uncertainty. It turns out that there’s more to publishing and being a successful author than just writing great books. Some of it–like marketing, and social media–you have to learn as you go as best you can. And some of it–like sales numbers–is completely outside of your control. Obsessing about a lot of things you can’t control (or might control, maybe) is a recipe for anxiety and disaster. I’ve had to learn to let things go and focus on the writing, which is what I loved in the first place. I’ve picked up knitting and yoga along the way as well. Yoga is *amazing* for mental focus and stress control.

What’s the most surprising part? I found out I’m a lot better at business sense than I thought I was. My gut is pretty good. And I found out I could write and revise a really good novel in four and a half months. Challenges bring out the best in you sometimes in a surprising way.

Check in next week for part two of Alex’s answers. She had so much to say I couldn’t fit it in just one blog post. Meanwhile, head over to Amazon to buy Clean, book one of the Mindscape series. 

How to Have Three New Clients Next Month

My Favorite way to get new business writing clients Business Writing Coach

If you’ve read my book “Mastering the Business of Writing” you know I spend a lot of time there talking about setting goals. I recommend promising yourself you’ll get X number of new clients (or new assignments) each month to reach your goal of Y.

One of the chief objections/challenges I hear from my business writing coaching clients comes at the very beginning of the process. It takes a many different forms.

  • How do I start?
  • Where do I find that first client?
  • What must I do to get the new client?
  • How do I meet new people?

No matter how they phrase it, a lot of new writers aren’t sure where to find a first business client. Here’s my nearly foolproof, 100% guaranteed to probably work, method for getting yourself three new clients by this time next month. Ready?

Step One: Join the Chamber of Commerce

Your town has one. It’s a meeting place for local business owners. People with small businesses who live near you. People who need a blog, but don’t have time to do the writing.

Step Two: Offer to Teach a Class on Blogging for Business

You know how to write. If you don’t already know how to blog for business, spend this week learning. The basics aren’t hard, and I guaran-damn-tee you already know more about it than the people at your local Chamber.

Step Three: Build an Awesome Presentation

It should describe why blogging and good writing helps business grow, and give five or six tips to help a business owner do it herself. At the end, include one minute about how — if they’re not sure they can do it alone — writing is what you do. If you’re not sure how to make this presentation, shoot me a line. I’ll be happy to help you.

Step Four: Practice the Hell Out of It

Practice the presentation until you catch yourself doing it in your sleep. Work on timing, gestures, different tones and pitches of voice. Practice in a car wash and at a movie to work on dealing with distractions. Master your talk.

Step Five: Give the Talk

Be excellent. Show how much you know and how great you are at presenting ideas. Arrive early and make sure all your tech is working. At the end, stick around to answer questions. Cement yourself in the minds of everybody attending that you are the writing resource in your community.

Step Six: Stalk Your Prey

Identify the five or six most likely clients out of the people who give you business cards at your talk. Touch base with them that week and find out how you can help them. Offer to analyze their existing web presence and show how you’ll improve it. Then collect the payments for your first business writing clients.

 

Some Chambers of Commerce have a class list scheduled a few months in advance, so you might have to wait to pull the trigger on this. That doesn’t mean you should wait to start your life as a freelance writer. Look for meetups, small business advocacy groups, community centers…anywhere that would host and help you promote a class. Use this model over and over again to establish yourself. Once you wow those first clients, their word of mouth will bring in even more business.

Trust me. This kind of thing is why I haven’t had to get a real job since 2008.