Setting specific goals makes it more likely they’ll be achieved, whether the goal is finishing a novel, improving relationship skills, or taking a trip around the world. That’s why I’m big on setting goals. To get to them, I use lists and schedules. (I like lists. I'm one of those people who adds a completed unscheduled task onto a list just so I can cross it off.)
What’s hard for me is how closely to stick to the lists and plans when the unexpected occurs, as it always does.
In the past, my answer was to say “I will work harder,” much like one of the animals in George Orwell's Animal Farm. (Was it the horse? Maybe the mule, not that I want to compare myself to a mule.) I’d put my head down, cancel every non-work activity, and stick with it until I crossed off every item on the list and met every deadline.
That approach worked well in a lot of ways for decades. It's why I was able to finish law school while working full time, write novels while billing the required hours at a large law firm, and later publish my first three novels while starting and running my own law practive.
It's also part of why I got burnt out and often felt stressed and frustrated despite that I was doing work, both at writing and law, that I really enjoyed. Even when I was the one setting the deadlines, I resented working late every night and every weekend.
I was my own boss, but I felt as if my life were not my own.
My fear about being more flexible, though, was that if I deviated too much (okay, at all) from the list or schedule I’d eventually become someone who never finished anything and instead made excuses.
Recently, with the launch of my latest book, I ran up against this same challenge, though I'd tried hard to avoid it. One of my major goals this year was to release The Illumination—the fourth and last book in my Awakening supernatural thriller series. When I set the release date of May 15, 2017, I tried to plan well. I built in time for other efforts, as I still wear a lot of hats. I teach a writing and research class at my law school, I am a graduate-student-at-large at University of Chicago—which means I can take classes that interest me for credit though I am not pursuing a degree—and I still have a limited law practice.
My U of C class ended in March. My teaching semester ended in April. My law practice is down to a small number of cases.
May 15 should have been perfect.
First, I discovered that, contrary to my understanding, I couldn’t extend the university health insurance I'd bought through summer without taking another class. Because the Winter Quarter end date didn't match the policy start date if I bought an individual policy, the only way to stay covered was to take a class in Spring Quarter. So I did.
The two major written assignments for the course were due within two days of my book release. The first assignment involved reading a book and writing an academic-type review of it. The second was writing a 20-30 page research paper.
Neither would have been too big a deal, even with the weekly required reading, if that had been the only thing. But of course it wasn’t.
I'd been waiting for nine months for a decision in an appeal I'm handling. Happily, when it issued, it was in favor of my client. Unhappily, my opponent decided to petition the Illinois Supreme Court to review the case. I had two weeks from when I received his petition to write my response.
When was it due? The same week as the book release.
My To Do list for the week before the book release now included:
- verify that all The Illumination files were uploaded properly to all five ebook platforms;
- schedule ads and promotions for the first book in the series, The Awakening, which is free in ebook format (it provides a good way to bring new readers into the series);
- prepare and send a New Release announcement to my email list;
- update my author website with Illumination links and the new covers I'd had designed for the previous books;
- post on Facebook and Twitter periodically to let people know The Illumination was coming;
- write a post on my author blog about the release (which also would appear on Goodreads);
- arrange an in-person book release party for the paperback edition;
- schedule a Goodreads giveaway of the paperback edition;
- release a paperback edition of my standalone supernatural suspense novel When Darkness Falls in time for a free day on the Kindle edition (I wanted to run WDF free the same week as The Illumination release on the theory that each drew a slightly different audience that might cross over, and I wanted the paperback available to show a comparison price);
- do the same for my non-fiction book Super Simple Story Structure;
- write my book review for class (happily, I’d finished reading the book the week before);
- finish my research paper (I was about half-way done);
- write my answer brief.
Also, Mother's Day happened to fall the day before the book release. For personal reasons, I wanted to write a post on my author blog about my mom, as it was the 10th Mother's Day without her.
And, expecting it to be a very quiet week, I’d planned three dinners out with friends, one of which was an already-belated birthday dinner (for him, not me).
Had I cancelled all my social plans and worked fifteen-hour days, including through the weekends, I might have gotten all of that done.
But this time, rather than saying “I will work harder,” I stopped and looked at the big picture. Yes, one goal was to release The Illumination. But what was my larger goal? That answer was pretty easy–making a decent living writing books that other people enjoy reading.
Then I asked myself why. Why was that my goal?
The answer caused me to change my approach.
How and why? Check out Part 2 next Sunday.
Until then, best wishes for a productive and not-too-stressful week.