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Goal-setting in Creative Writing

Smart goals for writersGoals require ACTION

We all aspire to being successful, or dream about one day coming into some kind of abundance, or hope to enjoy good health in our old age, or wish the world could be at peace. But have you ever noticed how dreams, hopes, wishes, desires, or ambitions seem imaginary and, therefore, remain beyond your reach? That’s because they’re vague concepts and by their very nature don’t produce tangible results. Goals, however, can turn your dreams into reality and change your life. A goal has a specific purpose: it refers to a defined outcome that an individual, group or organization wants to achieve within a given timeframe. An effective strategy for goal-setting requires a measurable course of action that specifies each step of the process, together with set deadlines, from start to finish.

Goal-setting for WRITERS

Writers should set long-term goals for their careers that define their intended level of productivity and the financial and emotional success they desire. In addition, they should give some thought to the type of writer they’d like to be based on the type of books they wish to produce. In day-to-day operations, it’s good practice to start each writing project with a big-picture idea and identifiable steps for developing that particular manuscript all the way to the book’s completion. A similar plan should be devised for both the publishing and marketing phases of every work-in-progress.

Goal-setting is also a LITERARY concept

Not only do goals motivate WRITERS to be productive and creative but they inspire the actions of STORY CHARACTERS too.

Over the next six weeks, I’ll be discussing the following goal-setting tips as they relate to both writers AND story characters:

  1. Ecology - a desired outcome must meet certain conditions to produce a positive result;
  2. Negations – the desired outcome must be stated in positive terms;
  3. Sensory evidence – the progress toward a goal must be measurable;
  4. Control – the goal must be initiated and maintained by the person who wants the outcome;
  5. Positive intention – the positive results of the situation that’s being changed should be retained to ensure an optimal outcome;
  6. Context – not all action is appropriate under all circumstances and not all outcomes are wanted in all contexts, so the pros and cons of goals should be considered carefully;

I intend to demonstrate the value of these goal-setting tips in the context of creative writing as it pertains to character development through a review of Lionel’s Shriver’s novel: So Much For That.

Shriver is a prolific novelist whose previous books include Orange Prize-winner We Need to Talk About Kevin and several others. She is widely published as a journalist and often writes book reviews for the New York Times and various other publications. The author is frequently interviewed on TV, radio and in print media. Shriver has lived in Nairobi, Bangkok and Belfast; she currently has homes in London and New York.

Shriver is one of my favorite authors. She’s a gutsy writer who doesn’t hesitate to tackle contentious social issues. Her stories tend to feature dark subject matter and characters who are hard to love. In So Much For That, the author explores the human costs of American health care. The story elucidates the profound transformation of a troubled marriage thanks to illness presenting an unexpected chance for tenderness and renewed intimacy.

Goal-setting in creative writing

Published by HarperLuxe
March 9, 2010

Book description: Shep Knacker wants out of the rat race. He has long saved for “The Afterlife”: an idyllic retreat to the Third World where his nest egg can last forever. Traffic jams on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway will be replaced with “talking, thinking, seeing, and being”—and enough sleep. When he sells his home repair business for a cool million dollars, his dream finally seems within reach. Yet Glynis, his wife of twenty-six years, has concocted endless excuses why it’s never the right time to go. Weary of working as a peon for the jerk who bought his company, Shep announces he’s leaving for a Tanzanian island, with or without her. Just returned from a doctor’s appointment, Glynis has some news of her own: Shep can’t go anywhere because she desperately needs his health insurance. But their policy only partially covers the staggering bills for her treatments, and Shep’s nest egg for The Afterlife soon cracks under the strain.

The  book reviews vary from ‘admiring what Shriver has done in the name of a pressing national debate: America’s cruel health care insurance,’ to ‘feeling ill at the ghastly parade of physical ailments and inadequate medical responses.’ I highly recommend this book as a great example of how goals inspire the actions of story characters and how, on the flip side, their actions might lead to the breakdown of their goals.

Follow my blog to learn more about CREATIVE WRITING as well as the dynamics of BEHAVIOR CHANGE and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT and how to implement these concepts in storytelling. Please watch out for the publication of my creative writing guide (title and publication date TBA soon), which will offer a more comprehensive discussion on Story and Character Development based on a Life Coaching Model.

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24 thoughts on “Goal-setting in Creative Writing

  1. Aht the very beginning of this post you said:
    An effective strategy for goal-setting requires a measurable course of action that specifies each step of the process, together with set deadlines, from start to finish.
    Whilst that may often be the case it cannot be exclusively so. Many of us like to be able to respond to changing conditions we encounter en route to our goals. We can be context driven equalklky as much as preprogrammed and often this is a more effective way of achieving the goal, particularly in unfamiliar territory where outcomes can be unpredictable.
    What achievement of the goal under these circumstances does require is an agile and open mind, ine capable of adapting strategies and creating new opportunities that lead in the desired direction. This implies the ability to see beyond the horizon, to imagine the unexpected and be ready to respond whilst maintaining total commitment to the goal.
    There must be some emotional commitment as this provides the drive when things appear not to be going right and the imperative than ensures the goal will be pursued and achieved.
    Without that emorional hook and the flexibility achieving goals becomes nothing more than slavishly following a formula. As a result the overall achievement, whilst it may encompass the goal, seldom excels.
    I have applied this principle in training and development courses for over twenty-five years and produced many extraordinary results, often with people who were previously unachievers. I know it works.

  2. Hi Ian,

    Yes, and I said that in the context of the statement regarding the contrast between ‘dreams’ and ‘goals.’ I can, however, assure you that this series of blog posts in its totality will address various aspects of goal-setting, including the need to be flexible in the course of working toward any predefined outcome.

    You say that outcomes can be unpredictable especially in ‘unfamiliar territory,’ but I propose that in our fast-changing world flexibility is a prerequisite under all circumstances.

    The book I’m referring to in this blog project will demonstrate exactly the conflict between emotional commitment and external interference.

    Thanks for your participation. As always, it’s nice having you around. I hope all’s well in your world of writing, publishing and marketing your books :)

    • I look forward to seeing how you develop this.

      Still working hard and have just had the next manuscript accepted by my publisher. Sorcerers and Orange Peel should be released in October.

    • I always look forward to receiving your blog posts. Like the crosswprd I do over a bowl of cereal each morning they wake my brain up and challenge a load of constructive thoughts. Thanks.

  3. Belinda, I just ordered SO MUCH FOR THAT and am looking forward to learning from you about the impact of goal-setting on the characters. Goals can be so illusive in real life unless one is willing to be accountable to them in specific , measurable ways. I’m excited for your series. I’m sure it will stimulate lots of conversation and enlightment!

  4. Kathy,

    As always, your support is hugely encouraging – thank you for that. Even though she’s quite a controversial writer, I’m a huge fan of Lionel Shriver. In another part of my book that relates to Logical Levels of Change, I refer to “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” my favorite book of all times because it’s such an excellent example of how a family’s values/beliefs shift over the course of the story … but more about that later. For this series, I’ll focus on “So Much for That.”

  5. Belinda, I tend to agree with Christy’s comment. I like the idea of goal setting for characters. Sounds so useful; something I never thought of. Can’t wait for the series to start. It was so good to talk the other day. Nothing like real time conversation, is there?

  6. Hey Sherrey, talking live was great; we should do it more often.

    I’m excited about this series. It makes up the middle section of the book – this is a rough outline of the guide:

    1st part: Logical Levels of Change – which relates to both character and plot development and provides an overview of this ‘novel approach to story structure’;
    2nd part: Goal-setting – principles that are useful to writers in the creative writing process AS WELL AS govern the ‘burning desire’ of a story protagonist/antagonist;
    3rd part: Conflict resolution – as it applies to both the ‘obstacles’ that the protagonist faces and what is expected to happen at the arc of a story.

    I proposed this concept as a three-part creative writing workshop at one of our local art centers yesterday, and my proposal met with great enthusiasm, so please hold thumbs that I get to teach the program soon.

    • That lloks like a crackling good course. To whom do I have to send e-mails to ask them to get you teaching this program? I’ll send in multipole requests if it’ll help!

  7. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #1 | My Rite of Passage

  8. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #2 | My Rite of Passage

  9. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #3 | My Rite of Passage

  10. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #4 | My Rite of Passage

  11. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #5 | My Rite of Passage

  12. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #6 | My Rite of Passage

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