A letter to myself written after an uncomfortable debate about my 2020 goals.
|Word count: 1187
It was a dark and stormy night when I heard a gentle rap, rap, rapping at my front door. I jerked out of a doze, nearly dropping my Kindle. From my living room recliner, I could usually see the front step through the window. Instead I saw thick, falling snow blowing sideways just a few feet away. It obscured the step. I couldn’t tell what crazy person was out there in this dangerous blizzard. Being home alone, I was also frightened to open my door to a stranger. What sinister villain waited for me to naively offer them a chance to shove their way in? Then again perhaps this was a hapless traveler seeking aid for a vehicle stuck in a drift. Pushing my recliner upright, I snatched my smart phone from the end table. The apparition my doorbell camera showed, shocked me, and filled me with dread. Leaping to her aid, I let myself in.
Soon, a hot mug of decaf tea warmed the hands of my shadow self. We sat at the kitchen table, not speaking. I hoped this manifestation would remain silent. I knew I couldn’t bare its words to come. But come they did.
"How's your book coming?" it said.
"I'm about half way through, and I think I've already figured out who the villain is."
"Nice dodge, but I'm not talking about the book you're reading. I'm referring to the novel you pretend to be writing."
I got up so quickly my chair screeched backwards. At the sink I rinsed my cup again and again. Please, I prayed, be gone when I turned around. Nope. Still there.
"Look," I said, "we've had this discussion before. Nothing helps. Nothing changes."
My shadow said, "That's because you don't have a plan. This year will be different. We're setting goals and making a project plan!
"Great! Something else I can fail at."
"Oh, for pity's sake. It's this very display of self-doubt that is stopping you. I know you feel overwhelmed. But an emotion like that can be overcome by a project plan. You have done this at work. Just pick the next pending task, and start working."
The smile on her face made me angry. I was always so quick to believe a message of hope. But whether it was a diet plan or some multi-level marketing business that would make me rich, I'd always failed. I shook my head. "No. Go away."
My phantom rose with a huff and disappeared into the living room. I hoped I'd made it angry enough to go away. Nope, seconds later it paced back into the kitchen. "Look, I know you're discouraged. We've made New Year's resolutions, and hung encouraging self-talk signs on the bathroom mirror. But I'm telling you, this time will be different."
Sometimes I, or in this case it, can be so exasperating. It wanted me to ask why. Fine.
"Why?" I asked.
It looked so smug. "Because," it said, "we are going to make a detailed project plan with dates. Now, go get a piece of paper."
I knew better than to argue with myself. I always lost.
Back at the kitchen table, sitting with my hand hovering over the paper, I asked "Now what?"
Leaning over me, my specter said, "First we create a few SMART goals."
I knew what those were. I wrote them every year at work as part of the corporation's employee performance planning.
"Second we will create a project plan to act on the goals."
I'd done that task every year too. I slapped my forehead. What I had never done before was apply my corporate job skills of project planning to my effort to write a murder mystery.
Twisting my head to look up at my doppelganger, I could see through it. It smiled down at me, winked, and was gone.
Knowing what to do, and having years of job experience doing it, I had my SMART goals and project plan done in a few hours. It's pretty vague at the moment. But iterative projects usually are initially. As I learn my own velocity of task completion, I'll be able to update the plan with accurate estimates.
The goals and plan below are my keys to a productive year. I'll still have my self-doubts. Negative emotions will still roar about inside me. This was often the case at work too. But as a project team member, emotions don't matter. Action does. You just take a task card off the project wall and start working.
I lean back in my kitchen chair, and close my eyes. I can see my mystery novel's project wall. I see myself walk up to the Goal 1 section. I take a task card. It says, "Create a high level outline of the story." Hey, I can do that! So here goes …
Follow this project plan to achieve your vision and goals for 2020.
Vision: to write a historical mystery novel about a British colony on the Iowa prairie in 1886. Have a copy available in every Iowa high school library.
Goal 1: Detail the plot outline. Mix in historical facts about the setting, people, conflicts, and real murder with my fictional mystery resolution.
Goal 2: Write draft 1 and edit it. Goal words 90,000. 6000 words per week.
Goal 3: Write draft 2 and edit it. Goal words 90,000. 6000 words per week.
Beta readers provide feedback.
Goal 4: Write draft 3 and edit it. Final word count between 80,000 and 90,000 words.
Goal 5: Engage an agent.
Goal 6: Engage a publisher.
Goal 7: School libraries in Iowa have a copy in every high school.
My SMART goals will be:
Specific - the goals will become more specific as each goal is worked on and details uncovered. Actual writing velocity is unknown. It will be exposed as actual writing occurs.
Measurable – Words - initial estimate is 6000 words per week for 3 drafts in 48 weeks. Time - work on the novel for 2 hours per day for 4 days a week. 750 words per hour.
Attainable goals – learning the writing craft has been my focus for 6 or more years. I've read books and blogs, listened to podcasts, and joined writing groups. I'm ready. But this estimate may be too aggressive for a first novel.
Relevant goals - they are focused on creating a published book and nothing else.
Time bounded - as an iterative project, I'll learn about my personal writing velocity as I work through each draft. Both my estimate for a task's duration and my actual velocity should improve with each iteration. I may need to write more hours per week at first to maintain the goals.
Quarterly project checkpoints:
April 1 Goal 1 completed. Goal 2 in progress. 54,000 words.
July 1 Goal 2 completed. Goal 3 in progress. 78,000 words.
October 1 Goal 3 completed. Goal 4 in progress. 78,000 words.
December 31 Goal 4, 5 and 6 completed.
As the velocity of progress towards the goals is determined, the estimates above will be updated to reflect actual results.