“New Year’s Resolution.”
You hear those words and you either perk up because of the adrenaline rush of the challenge, or you chuckle under your breath because you know the whole prospect is futile. People have a tendency to shake out into those two camps.
Here’s a deep principle to consider, though. There is a difference between a ‘resolution’ and a ‘goal.’ A resolution is simply a general idea of what you want to accomplish, stated in such a way you make it visible to yourself (and / or others) that you intend to accomplish something. Nice, but kinda vague. A goal, on the other hand, is a tangible result you want to work toward, with deadlines and commitments and steps laid out so you can measure your progress. Much more detailed, and more likely to meet with success.
Deciding Upon a Target
This is the ‘big brush strokes’ part of the project, the resolution, the goal-setting. Take a moment to decide what it is you want to attain or accomplish. In archery, this is the equivalent of determining which shooting range you’re going to visit. Indoor / outdoor; leisure sport / competition.
Let’s take this into the writing venue. Are you planning to write the next Great American Novel? Then what genre will it fall into? Literary, Historical, Biography, Memoir, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller, Romance, Detective, Urban, Self-Help, Graphic Novel, et cetera, almost ad finitum, with so many new cross-over styles to choose from. What do you LIKE to write? Does a particular genre open the sluice gates of your creativity? Then why not let the Muse serenade you for a while, so you can sing the song for your Readers?
Once you’re in the right area—your frame of mind for the story you want to write—then you can work on the specifics.
What Are You Aiming At?
Goal-setting is actually a good thing. It solidifies a vision you want to attain; it gives you something concrete to shoot for. In scripture, this idea is presented this way: “And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Habakkuk 2:2-3) Notice it is imperative to write down the goal upon tablets of paper for long-term safekeeping. It gives the person trying to accomplish the goal a quick-reference memory jogger if the details become hazy. Since some goals take time to come to fruition, one has to be patient and keep at it until every piece is settled and in place.
In common parlance, the idea can also be rendered this way: “An archer cannot hit the bullseye if he doesn’t know where the target is.” (Anonymous) Imagine going to an archery range to gauge your skill, but the judges don’t tell you which target—of a hundred—is the one you can score points on. Or if you were only allowed to shoot at a target stationed more than a mile away. Or perhaps the competition entailed taking only a single shot at a thousand different targets in a 1-hour time limit. These scenarios are hyperbole, yet they help you understand their counterpoints. Namely, your target (goal) should be specific, attainable, and not cluttered with too many other obligations.
The main thing here is to write down as many specific detailed steps as you can muster, so you have a roadmap to follow. You can gauge your progress—not necessarily via “percentage until completion”—but at least by being able to check off each phase of your writing project as you move through it.
Tools and Equipment
An archer needs to be outfitted with the correct gear for the task. A quiver, either slung over a shoulder or set at the feet within easy reach. Arrows: straight and true, proper fletching and nock, each with the correct head for the type of target. A style of bow suitable for the engagement; since target shooting is immensely different than trying to take down a deer, or for use in an actual battle. Sights, strings, grips, gloves—these and a number of other items play a role in success.
What tools and equipment do you use? Pencil, pen, paper? Laptop or desktop computer? Do you sketch out characters or scenes, or pull pix from the internet, in order to have a visual reference? Have you considered using a spreadsheet to keep track of your daily word count, or do you simply check off your ‘beats’ (specific aspects) of your story as you conjure them into being? How do you know you’re on-target to complete your work if you don’t have some structure, some accountability, some proof to yourself of the progress?
How many different ways do you save your story files? Do you keep a Journal file, filling it with your spontaneous ideas, referring back to it for those lost threads you want to weave together into a new and incredible tapestry? Do you keep reams of printed versions of a story, or just the first and the latest? How many thumb drives do you keep tucked into your desk, your nightstand, your lunchbox, your pocket, and how many versions of the same tale are on each one? Have you uploaded your compiled works to the cloud, or have you opted to stash it all into a hermetically sealed container, buried in your back yard, exactly seven paces south of the old elm tree?
Using Good Form
Archery is not simply point-and-shoot. Ultimately, the archer has to be in the right frame of mind. There’s a wealth of practice that goes into preparing for shooting. One must understand the capabilities and limitations of the bow and the arrows being used. There are fundamentals, basic skills, components that play a huge role in how to shoot.
One must be mindful of stance (body position relative to the target) so the space is aligned and used properly. There’s a key element of time (seeing the future, the perfect end result) so the aim becomes the bull’s-eye. Bow grip, finger grip on the string, divergence of focus, breath control, and clean release. Gauging distance, gauging windage, gauging the draw on the string, gauging the timing.
As a Writer, you also have to train your mind for this work of telling a story. Try out your plot design, paint it in big brush strokes, add a little detail, then try to punch holes in it. Have sit-down dinners with your characters and let them tell you about their personal history and preferences. Take a walk in the landscapes you create—sketch pad in hand—so you can draw the fauna and flora and folks you encounter. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the actors, then step back and see if they follow, or if they find an alternate path to get to The End.
And if you really want a “check-up from the neck up” to put your mind at ease, get someone to critique your work and help fix the grammatical errors. Yes, other people are part of your tool set, as well! Consider them as leverage toward rolling over your manuscript so you can check it from all angles. It pays to be circumspect before you attempt to publish, so your story is clean, tidy, and flows with the ideas you imagined.
Hitting the Mark
At a range, an archer fires a series of arrows at a target. Then the archer has several ways to gauge the accuracy of the shots. Looking downrange to get a general sense of the placement and grouping. Or asking the range official to use binoculars to give an account of where the shots landed. Or the archer can wander downrange and examine the target firsthand.
Writers face the same sense of anticipation when they let fly their published work. Are the stories being noticed? Are they being read? Have they hit the target audience? Are they selling well enough to provide some revenue?
You can have a vague sense of whether or not you’re making a mark with your writing, “looking downrange” and simply hoping you’re making an impact in the world of stories. Or you could “use binoculars” to check the statistics provided by your publisher and the flow of revenue into your bank account. Or you could “wander downrange,” actively engage with Readers at a convention or a book signing, asking them questions to find out what they liked or what they thought could be done better.
End of the Tournament
The main take-away from this blog? It’s better to be more specific with your goals, your efforts, and your follow-up when it comes to your writing career. Be creative, yes! Dream the dreams, write the amazing prose that captures Readers’ imagination! Along the way—from start to finish with the process—be as specific as possible in planning, execution, and taking stock of the results. After all, your stories are packed with specific intimate details, beautiful descriptions, characters with depth, events that tug at the emotions. If your writing is this good, then you can set detailed goals, ride herd over the process, and check back on the outcome of all your effort.
Enjoy this New Year and all the new triumphs you’ll see along the way!
Most of the Archery photos courtesy of:
Steven Scurry & Jonathan Hart
Noketchee Creek, Athens, GA
Header Image by:
kellepics on Pixabay