Friday, 4 December 2009

Dangerous goal setting

Goals should be something one wants to achieve. They should be specific and they should be attainable.

I am pretty sure now that I am NOT going to achieve my goal number 36: To have written 50,000 words for my novel by 31st December 2009.

It absolutely is and was something I want to achieve. It is specific and at one point, at least when I wrote down my 100 goals, it seemed attainable.

BUT, while it may have seemed and even been attainable, my actions since 30th October have made it less and less so and, compounding this, it was probably not a wise goal to set.

I remember roughly working out how many words I would have to write daily to achieve this goal, around 355 words a day. There have been months this year when I have exceeded that and I hoped that having finished studying for the winter I would be able to easily achieve this.

However, I have been more tired than I expected after finishing studying (for some reason I never expect to be tired after a long period studying... but reality usually kicks in pretty quick). Also, I started taking my son to Judo classes which has eaten up another evening. Another evening I have used up by helping my church get our new building project finished. Throw in a desire to spend more time with my family after being so isolated the last nine months and I have had no more time to write and feel like I've had less energy too.

If I had been working towards a new daily goal of 355 words a day, I would have written 8875 words since the end of October. As it is, I have only managed 3714. That is an actual daily word count of 148.

I am disappointed I am not closer to 50,000 words. That will be a major milestone for me. I set such a high target because I have signed up for an intensive 60 credit level three course next year that will take me within 60 credits of completing a degree. (If you're curious, check out the course: Managing complexity: a systems approach). I am expecting it to be quite complex. Reality is I am not going to be able to set high targets for any other goals until this course is finished in October 2010 and as I've already identified another 60 credit course I want to do immediately after that, probably finishing summer 2011.

So, should I have written down goal 36? Probably not. If I had honestly evaluated whether I could achieve it or not, I should have concluded no. Writing 14,000 words in two months is achievable but for me at this time, it was a stretch target, something I hate when used in a work situation as it usually means an unrealistic goal that can only be achieved by sacrificing other equally important things such as time spent with family.

On the other hand, had I not set an almost impossible goal, I might not have had the focus I needed to identify and begin dealing with a major problem with the pacing of my novel. I still have a lot of work to do on the plot and pacing but I've made some good progress this month and even reached a stage where I was able to ask a few friends to give feedback on the first episode.

What do you think? Have you been able to learn from mistakes when setting your own goals?

Friday, 13 November 2009

Writers block, not always a bad thing

Realised a few days after starting this blog that it conflicts with my current main goal of writing a novel. I was hoping it could compliment it and maybe it will but the last fortnight I have suffered the dreaded writers block and am only now beginning to work through it.

Still, I have wanted a vehicle to give progress updates and so here goes...

(For a detailed look at my progress, check out the web page for my novel:

Goal 36 was to complete 50,000 words by 31st December this year. I'm now thinking that was just too ambitious and that by end January 2010 is more realistic.

The reality is that I have only written 1300 words in the last two weeks. Over a third of that today! If I have 30 writing days until the end of the year, I would need to write 429 words a day to meet my original goal. I may manage that but my problem this month has been that I've realised I can't continue writing unless my plot is mapped out in more detail. Quite simply, I've been worried the pace is too slow and the sections I've been writing are in danger of becoming disjointed.

And to get on track, I've needed to spend more time thinking and less writing. And, I suspect for the next month or two, I'm going to continue to need to spend time plotting and developing the story line in detail if I'm going to achieve my other goals of writing a novel that will be enjoyable to read.

Verbalising so many goals for this novel has forced me to think whether I am working towards them or not. Until I published my 100 goals, I had been aware that I was not satisfied with my daily word targets but uncertain what to do about it. Now I feel I have set a completely different type of goal which has forced me to take a step back and examine why I want to write this novel and think about what sort of novel I want it to be. Not to say these things had not crossed my mind before but I am now beginning to place them as higher priorities and hope this will be a better read for it.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

I wanted to be a writer

I can remember at age eight that I wanted to be a writer, fascinated by the adventure and science fiction stories I had begun to read. I spent many enjoyable hours as a child dreaming up worlds and stories.

But, as a goal, it was only a vague notion. It was only in my early twenties that I wrote and completed my first short story. I made one attempt at publishing it and despite receiving a rejection letter that, with hindsight, gave good advice, struggled to see how I could improve on what I had written.

I have always been driven to write though and in my mid twenties completed over half a dozen short stories. But, I did not have a plan for how to write in a way that would get me published.

I tried signing up with a course by The Writers Bureau and have to credit them with giving me some good insight into how to get published. Through that course I did end up being paid for several short articles. My main mistake though was choosing during that course to focus on non fiction writing which was never my original goal. I also allowed another goal to take priority and I felt that to work on that other goal I would have to give up my writing ambitions temporarily.

Several of my heroes are authors, either because their stories have been immensely enjoyable or the story of how they became published has inspired me to never give up.

One of my heroes is Orson Scott Card. His novel, Enders Game is my all time best read. When I disovered he had written a sequel and that the sequel ended with a cliff hanger, I wondered if he had written a third book and started searching on the Internet to find out. Card has his own website a fascinating section where he has answered readers questions. The article on whether a writing career must mean writing novels has contributed to my current goal: Quite simply, Card places a strong argument for any aspiring writer to aim to write novels.

In 2007 I resurrected one of my oldest story ideas from childhood as I had always conceived it would be a novel. I began writing and discovered that I had finally begun to understand that story telling is primarily about relationships and how characters develop. But, once more, I had no actual goal, no deadline, no targets and when another idea popped into my head, I found myself switching tracks and concentrating on the concept for Fallen Warriors instead.

I'm sure I have always known that I would not be able to write a novel unless I stuck at it but I have always found the creative spark intoxicating and enjoyed the rush that comes with a new idea.

My work took a lot of my energy in 2008, from designing some new systems to eventually embarking on a new role early autumn. Starting at a new company, I was allowed access to some online libraries and actually given an allowance to download some eBooks. I downloaded some techie books I thought would be useful but one non techie book has literally transformed my life: 100 ways To Motivate Yourself by Steve Chandler. Since it was an eBook, I was able to download it onto my phone and read the two page chapters anywhere, even on the bus, or while sitting with my youngest daughter as she went to sleep.

Many of these chapters spoke about goals and how to go about achieving them but he mentions one technique in particular which resonated with me, four circles. I have to admit that it was weeks after first reading about the technique and while half daydreaming during a church service that something our pastor said clicked and I decided to actually use the tecnique to enable me to finish my novel.
  • In the Leftmost circle I wrote my ultimate goal and target: to complete my novel Fallen Warriors in four years and to be at least 100,000 words long
  • To achieve this I would need to write at least 25,000 words a year, and this I wrote in the next circle.
  • To achieve this I would need to write at least 500 words a week, and I wrote this in the third circle.
  • To achieve this, I would need to write at least 100 words every week day. This went in the fourth circle.

I now had a definite goal and a way of achieving it that was possible. All I have to do is write 100 words every week day. I then made myself accountable to a close friend and asked them to check up on me.

Since then, at the time of writing this, I have written 35,000 words in less than a year, have created a website that makes me publicly accountable: and have begun to expand on my original goal while still maintaining the deadlines I have set.

Looking back through my 100 goals ten of them are directly related to the goal I describe above.

1    To write an enjoyable, bestselling novel
2    To change and influence people through my writing
7    To write and sell a screenplay (I orginally conceived of Fallen Warriors as a screen play)
36    To have written 50,000 words for my novel by 31st December 2009
37    To write characters that people can identify with
38    To create emotional connections with readers
81    To direct a movie
83    To own the screenplay rights to successful novels
84    To earn a living as a writer
100    To publish Fallen Warriors

I know that I am only on the beginning of a journey but the more I learn about goal setting and apply it in my life, the faster I am achieving my goal and the more excited I become.

What goals have you set for yourself and how have you gone about or are going about trying to achieve them?

Friday, 30 October 2009

My 100 goals

Here are my 100 goals. I intend to write more about some of these later but it is maybe worth saying that these are mostly personal. There are some work goals included but only a few. Also, you may notice that some of these are very similar or closely related. That is intentional in that I wanted each goal to be quite specific and acknowledge that it may be possible to achieve one goal but not another, even though the relationship is close.

Some of these goals I have had for almost my whole life, some of these I am actually making progress towards now. Anyway, enough waffle...

100 Goals
1 To write an enjoyable, bestselling novel
2 To change and influence people through my writing
3 To save enough to be able to retire
4 To see the Grand Canyon
5 To learn to fly
6 To visit Australia
7 To write and sell a screenplay
8 To climb the (lead climbing) overhang in Glasgow Climbing Center
9 To get Oracle iBots/Scheduler working in live environment
10 To enable all managers to use the Act As Proxy functionality
11 To become skilled and experienced as a Data Base Administrator
12 To be a Systems Analyst
13 To own an orchard
14 To visit Rome
15 To take my wife to Beijing and stay in a 5 star hotel
16 To be a millionaire
17 To drive a porsche
18 To be a dan rated Go player
19 To be a good father for my eldest daughter
20 To be a good example for my eldest daughter
21 To be a loving father
22 To be a good father for my son
23 To be a good father for my youngest daughter
24 To be a good example for my son
25 To be a good example for my youngest daughter
26 To be a loving and faithful husband to my wife
27 To learn Spanish and speak it
28 To play spanish guitar
29 To play lead guitar
30 To be able to play the saxaphone
31 To be and do all that God wants of me
32 To be able to speak German
33 To be able to speak Italian
34 To finish and complete my degree
35 To run in and finish a 10 Kilometre race
36 To have written 50,000 words for my novel by 31st December 2009
37 To write characters that people can identify with
38 To create emotional connections with readers
39 To finish the little DIY jobs in the kitchen
40 To decorate the bathroom
41 To install a shower downstairs and decorate room
42 To own a JoLoMo painting
43 To visit Skye, Lewis and Harris
44 To visit Iona and Mull
45 To get a Kyu grade in Judo
46 To take my son camping every year
47 To teach my son how to defend himself
48 To learn how to defend myself
49 To have earned £40,000 by the end of this year
50 To be able to swim 10 lengths of a normal sized pool
51 To be able to dive
52 To visit New Zealand
53 To build or buy somewhere to store our bikes
54 To double my lung capacity
55 To get the highest grade pass for the next Open University course I am taking
56 To implement Tony Buzan's techniques in Use your Head
57 To write my own Go client and Server
58 To do ten fun things with my family
59 To give £200,000 to charitable causes
60 To heal someone
61 To be able to support all my kids through university
62 To play Go in Japan
63 To play a gig in a rock band
64 To be the change I want to see happen
65 To read the classics
66 To be a confident and well received public speaker
67 To sell these goals! To the Times newspaper for £500
68 To have my neighbours round for a meal
69 To tidy the garden and grow vegetables in it in 2010
70 To finish reading the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People and apply it
71 To finish reading Goals! And apply it
72 To speak at my old school
73 To master flying my remote control helicopter
74 Teach my son to be a better Go player than me
75 Successfully and Safely parachute jump (thinking I may leave this goal till last:)
76 Stand on a new planet
77 Win a fight
78 Be earning £100,000 a year within 5 years (Originally wrote to earn £40,000 in 2010 but realised this was not a goal)
79 Own 100 acres of land
80 Study and emulate my heroes
81 To direct a movie
82 To meet the monarch
83 To own the screenplay rights to successful novels
84 To earn a living as a writer
85 To pay off all my debts
86 To invent something useful or successful
87 To paint a painting that I would want to hang on my wall
88 To lead climb outdoors
89 To change laws for the better
90 To be a successful manager
91 To learn the salsa
92 To sail around Shetland
93 To visit the temples in Peru (Machu Pichu?)
94 To see the Northern Lights with my family
95 To solve/complete a rubix cube puzzle
96 To stand on top of Ben Nevis
97 To finish writing these goals! Tonight!
98 To weigh 10 stone – mostly muscle
99 To teach
100 To publish Fallen Warriors