Sunday, October 21, 2012

One Step at a Time

In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it. — Robert Heinlein 

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who set goals and those who fly by the seat of their pants. I've always been a pantser.

I know some writers plot out everything they write in advance, but not me. When I was in school and we were required to do outlines, I always wrote the outline after I wrote the paper. I just turned in the outline first. Other writers set daily word count goals, but my brain doesn't work that way. Ticking down the 50K words of NaNoWriMo can be a lot of fun, but most of the time word counts are just daily trivia that gets in my way.

Oh, sure, I have goals:

  • Have children. (Check √√√√) 
  • Write. 
  • Get people to read my writing. 
  • Get my books published. 
  • Spend six months a year living and writing in Italy.
  • Become rich and famous. 

It wasn't until I started my Kickstarter that I finally began to understand the most important part of that Heinlein quote: "clearly-defined goals". I definitely didn't have those.

Goals are fine, but only if they're supported by a plan. For example, I always knew I wanted to have children. It took some doing to get ours here happy and healthy. But beyond that initial success, I failed to define my goals clearly, so now I'm dealing with questions like:

  • How long do you actually have to feed them? And must they eat every day? 
  • How (and why) do boys turn a clean bathroom into a total disaster in less than five minutes? 
  • Will my teenagers drive me completely batty before they come of age? 
  • What's wrong with flood pants? I just bought those for you last week. 
  • What is the exit strategy? Will they ever move out and live on their own? 

So when we decided to run a Kickstarter campaign, I knew we needed goals and a plan. My brother helped me develop a detailed (21-page) business plan before we began our campaign. I should have consulted him before we had children.

I've always been terrified of the idea of being a salesperson. The threat of having to meet quotas scared me right down to my toenails. As we worked on our Kickstarter business plan, my brother tried to convince me that quotas work in favor of salespeople, because they will do anything and everything to make that goal. If it takes 100 phone calls to get five orders, and your goal is 50 orders, it stands to reason that you need to make 1,000 phone calls. Simple math. Terrifying numbers (at least to me).

Once we researched our vendors and knew where the price points fell and figured out how much money we needed to raise to do what we wanted to do, the plan came together: $10,000 in 31 days. Right from the start that goal seemed both completely doable and utterly impossible. But it worked. On day 30, we made our goal (thanks so much to everyone who contributed).

It was miraculous to see how closely the daily results mirrored our plan. If we had drawn a growth chart for the business plan, it would have looked identical to the chart of our pledges. I couldn't believe it. We made a plan and it worked … exactly as we planned it.

That was (almost) as big a success as actually making our goal and getting to publish our book. It has completely changed the way this pantser is approaching life and business these days. Now I'm looking over those vaguely worded goals I mentioned earlier and trying to find ways to define them more clearly:


I do write. I write all the time. I'm probably writing too much. What do I really want to write? What projects are speaking to me? What writing do I need to do to help sustain our family? Which projects, if any, can I let go? Which project should take priority?

Get people to read my writing. 

Which people? You're reading this post. You totally count. How many readers will make me happy? How will I know who has read my work and whether they like it? (Comment below, and then I'll know.)

Get my books published. 

I have a lot of published writing. Most of it is online. Some of it is ghostwriting. I'm self-publishing the Animal Store Alphabet Book. Is that good enough? Do I need to be validated by being picked up by an agent? Will I only be happy if I am "traditionally" published? As Laura Munson once told me (as someone once told her), the only difference between being a published author and an unpublished author is that your book is published. You're the same you.

Spend six months a year living and writing in Italy. 

Really? I have been to Italy exactly twice, more than 20 years ago. For vacation. I have no idea what it would really be like to live and work there. I don't speak Italian, and haven't made an effort to learn it. So is this a goal or a fantasy? (Who are we kidding? It would be great to live in Italy for six months a year. Specifically here.

Become rich and famous

I have revised this last goal. I no longer have any interest in being famous, just rich. Still, what does that rich mean to me? Would being debt-free and living modestly be enough? If I could get my kids through college and into the world debt free, would that count? Would being able to do the Italy thing make me happy with my financial situation? I've always wanted a gardener. And a personal stylist. And a housekeeper/cook. But I could give up the gardener. And maybe the stylist. But not the cook! I definitely want the cook.

I have begun to understand that unless I clearly define my goals, I have no possibility of reaching them. Maybe the idea is to set smaller, realistic goals. Have big ideas, but smallish goals. Make the dream come true one step at time.

There is a caveat to the whole goal-setting thing. Once you set a goal and commit to it, you will do anything and everything to make that goal. That's the whole reason for setting goals, so perfect, right? Right, unless you have an obsessive-compulsive personality (as I do at times) and a family or other commitments. In that case, stock up on lots of frozen pizza, set a reasonable time-limit for reaching your goal, and tell your friends and family that you'll see them on the other side. If you're lucky, they'll still be there.

I do worry a bit about becoming a reformed pantser. The 12-step goal-setting program is starting to seep into other parts of my life. I feel an almost overwhelming need to make amends. Almost. I have a feeling that there will always be a bit of the pantser in me.

Goal-setter or pantser: which are you? Click here to leave a comment.


Victoria said...

Goals? No, we don't do those in this head. But what about that new story I'm so excited about? Will it get done otherwise?

I'm so happy you met your Kickstarter goal! Even better I can't wait to get my paws on the final product.


Susan Bearman said...

Thanks, V. This whole goal setting thing is new to me, too. I hate to think it might actually work, but evidence is pointing in that direction. Good luck with that new story you're so excited about.

Rossandra said...

Wow! I am totally impressed, Kickstarter, fabulous book, and NaNoWriMo. I too am a pantser, pretty much. I plan like mad only when I get stuck.

Susan Bearman said...

Thanks, Rossandra. How does it work to plan when you're already stuck?

Deborah Batterman said...

I recently had a few pro bono sessions with a life coach, who certainly helped me see the value of identifying and setting certain quantifiable short-term and long-term goals. You make a good case here for a more strategic approach to getting what you want. . . .and modifying, as needed. And you do it with great humor. Here's to feeding our kids on a daily basis ;-) Not to mention feeding the spirit that spurs us on as writers.

Susan Bearman said...

Deborah, I feel like strategy has to play a bigger role for me now, otherwise I'm going to run out of time before I get everything done that I hope/want to do.

Margot said...

I love this post. :)

I am a goal-setter with a incorrigible pantser hidden within. I often layout gorgeous plans only to discard them wholesale in the moment and just run with it.

Susan Bearman said...

Margot, I think a hidden pantser could be trouble. Or maybe a great way to revitalize a plan already in place. Thanks for your comment.

Kim Moldofsky said...

Ugh. I'm a pantser who needs to be a setter.

Susan Bearman said...

I hear ya, Kim.