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Taking Stock of 2012: Goals vs. Outcomes

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
Nearly 10 years ago now, I made the leap from being a full-time employee in someone else’s office to being my own boss. When I was in the midst of making that transition, I read as many self-help, entrepreneurship, and creative kickstarter books as I could, mainly because I was looking for real-life examples of people who had taken risks and ended up just fine.

In almost all of these books, the authors insisted on the importance of writing down goals. Not just having them in your head, but writing them down and putting them in a visible place. The reasons? Writing them down made them real, articulated desires. Plus, they made you more accountable. These authors also insisted that it was important to be specific with the goals, not vague.

For years, I blew off this advice, even once I was well–and successfully–into my writing career. To be honest, writing down my goals scared me because so much about writing success seems out of the writer’s control. My reasoning went like this: If I wrote down my goals and then, at the end of the year realized I hadn’t “achieved” them, I’d feel deflated and defeated. Better if I just kept my list of dream publications and assignments in my head. I suspect that sounds familiar to many of you because you’ve done (or still do) the same.

For some reason, I broke this pattern at the beginning of 2012. Maybe it was because I felt I’d built up a substantial, respectable body of work, so I felt a bit stronger about facing the possibility of unmet goals (read: a pile of rejections). Maybe, also, it was because I felt I had nothing to lose by writing down my goals– why not just try and see what happened?

So I did.

In the front of my 2012 agenda, I made a list: “Where I Want to Be Published in 2012.”

2012 Publication Goals

2012 Publication Goals

Since 2012 is winding down and I’m starting to think about my 2013 goals, I flipped to the front of my agenda to see how I’d done. The answer: Not so well. Of the places where I wanted to see my work published in 2012, it looks like I’ve only got one I might be able to cross off the list (a long-form interview pending publication at Outside’s online division).

Of course, I would have loved to have crossed off every magazine on this list–or even just a few of them. But I’m not as disappointed as you might expect. Writing this list at the beginning of 2012 was still an important exercise in many ways, and I’ll be doing it again in 2013.

First, writing down the publications helped me concretize my topical interests. I knew I was interested in food, technology, art/culture, social justice and politics, business/small enterprise/entrepreneurship, and literary nonfiction, but it wasn’t until I wrote down my publication goals that I was able to visualize how those interests might be developed as well as I’ve developed my interests and bylines in the area of travel.

Second, once I wrote down the publications, I knew I had to take some steps to move toward those goals. Even if no one else saw the written list, and even if I didn’t write about it here, something about writing the publications on paper made me feel that I had to take action.

Third, having written down the publications and referring to the list regularly, I went about listening and experiencing the world in a more conscious way. I wasn’t just looking for travel stories anymore; my net was cast much more widely.

This weekend, I’ll be sitting down to write my 2013 publication goals. Most of the 2012 items will be on the 2013 list, and a few publications will make their appearance on my list for the first time. Do you set publication goals for yourself each year? If so, what form do they take (written?) and how do you track them? Is the experience of setting goals a positive one for you? Share your experiences in the comments.


13 responses »

  1. Like you, I’ve only recently started writing down goals, even though I’ve been writing professionally for a few years now. Having that list in front of me comes with a few unspoken caveats – I feel more compelled to take action toward completing the goals, and as you said, once the goals are visible on paper, it creates a psychological responsibility of a sort. I have overall goals that I write down – many of them don’t materialize in a year’s time, but I also break them down into weekly to-do steps that at least help push more goals toward the finish line. Yes, there are rejections – plenty! – but we have to keep on keeping on! Good luck in 2013!

  2. I’ve written down goals before, but not specific ones. I like that idea. Though I may not achieve them, it will make them more tangible (and attainable) by just writing them down.

    Sorry you didn’t complete your 2012 list, but that’s great they helped you see what you needed to.

  3. My version of this in 2012 was a number. I figured out what it would take monthly to make an annual income goal that seemed way out of reach but perhaps not totally insane if I just worked my tail off—far more than I’d ever made but an amount I hoped to earn within the next year or two. I wrote the monthly number down and tacked it to my bulletin board so that I’d see it all the time. (I’m not sure anyone besides my husband knew what it meant, which was why I didn’t mind having it hanging in plain sight.) Most days, I’d see it and think, “Ok, I just need [x amount] more this month.” I thought it’d keep me motivated, eyes on the prize, all that.

    In one sense, it worked. I saw it often, and it helped me keep the money goal in mind. But it also helped me think about what could be possible versus where I still need to go. If memory serves me, I only earned the monthly goal during one particularly busy month. Now, I still made good money every other month. My two rather low income months were intentional, and December will be a bit slow by design as well. But I still made more this year than I ever have, and by that I mean several tens of thousands more than previous years. (Keep in mind I was making what I consider to be total crap in previous years.)

    But by looking at this relatively big number all the time, I got to think about my work in terms of both bylines (what seemingly drives me most) and actual financial payout (what makes me very happy, even when I’m reluctant to admit it). It helped me keep that balance in mind, and I learned that I was just as proud of a new natl pub byline as I was the month that I hit my goal. It helped me consider that even not earning the suggested amount was ok, that earning close to it was still really, really good for me. And that one month I did make it… well, I know what I did to earn all that cash. And the months I didn’t do that, I believe I made a decision to not bust ass in the name of several hundred more dollars. I made good money, and the trade-off of some sanity and health was good too.

    I’m getting ready to do my 2013 planning too, and I think in addition to keeping the same monthly number (since it isn’t yet so easily attainable as to be a silly goal), I’ll make a publications list too. That probably won’t be prominently displayed on my bulletin board, but I like the idea a lot. Esp after the trip I just took, I have a lot of new contacts in my rolodex and a lot more colleagues to talk to about breaking into some new places (and as you know, my own info to share in that regard). So I think 2013 will be as much about hitting a new income goal as it will be about landing in a few new magazines. At least, that’s my hope, personally and for my friends, too 🙂

    • Brittany-

      Thanks for this. I don’t think it will surprise you to learn that writing down a money goal has been even more terrifying to me than writing down my publication goals, but I think I might finally have the cojones to do it this year. 🙂 I’ll keep you posted and report back.

      • I definitely hope you do it. Writing down pubs is way scarier for me than admitting what I want to make, so how about we trade? Public pact. Now everyone knows we’d better make good on it. 😉

  4. Thank you for this encouragement. I have not launched my own writing career as of yet, but subscribed to your blog in hopes of precisely this kind of inspiration.

    • Julie Schwietert Collazo

      You’re welcome, Jane. Thanks for your kind comment. It’s always my goal for this blog to inspire and inform readers about aspects of the writing profession that aren’t necessarily talked about openly and transparently.

  5. I just finished my business plan for 2013, and the whole thing is driven by an overarching professional goal and a mantra by which I plan to work. Next is my financial goal, and following that are smaller goals to reach my five year goals, which lead to my overarching professional goals. I’ve never thought to make a list of dream publications, but I really like that idea. May do some thinking on that one.

    • JoAnna- I think I’m working backwards. I started with publications and now am moving on to the business plan. Looking forward to following along for your 2013 successes!

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