Warning: long post ahead. The TL;DR version is "this is a writer's blog and everything is TL, learn to skim or GTFO you nincompoop."
A bunch of writers out there have recently been enumerating their goals for 2013. I don't normally do that kind of thing: I got bad vibes about two years ago when I tried to set a daily word goal, and since then, I've avoided goals for my writing. This year, however, things are a little different. I learned the hard way that life can make you drop your dreams pretty easily: I started school, and I stopped writing for nearly four months. And just imagine: my life is super easy! My job doesn't have many demands after normal work hours, I don't have children, my family and my girlfriend are all in good health. What if something serious changed in my life?
I decided some time ago - when I 1) got a job that I liked, working for a boss that I like, and 2) saw various writerly income numbers like the ones posted by Jon Scalzi and Jim C. Hines - that writing would be a hobby, and not the bread-winning activity I once dreamed it could be (although, of course, if I ever become a James Patterson-calibre best seller, I will happily resign from the world). But it's incredibly important to me in a way that, say, my videogaming hobby is not. Writing is a self-actualizing hobby, and, as such, one that makes me feel good - whether or not I succeed at it. For that reason, I want to keep doing it; and to keep doing it, I need to make sure little perturbations like the one felt this autumn can't turn Writer-Ben to stone.
Also, even though I love writing in and of itself, I feel decidedly better when I succeed at writing. There's not much as sweet as getting paid for something you made up for fun. And, in the future, I would like to make even more money doing things for fun. To do this, I need some kind of goals - a vision that will keep me from slipping the way I did this autumn, and some objectives that will keep me moving toward what I want to accomplish as a writer.
I saw a discussion recently where a writer pointed out that other writers setting goals for themselves were actually setting milestones - the difference being that you have control of goals (like daily word counts), but not milestones (like being published in your favourite magazine). I personally think it's best to start with those milestones - or, in other words, with a vision. After all, it's those milestones that define why you're setting goals in the first place.
For me, there's two milestones I'd like to reach at some point:
Milestone 1. Make a prestige short-story sale: This would be a sale to a magazine I consider prestigious. I kind of thought I did this with Weird Tales, but... who knows if those stories will ever get published, since they seem to be lost in the limbo that sprang up when the publisher and editor were swapped out. (Selling stories to Ann VanderMeer was still pretty cool, mind you.) So, I'd like to do it/do it again. The list of prestige markets is inside my head: it contains both pro and semi-pro markets, and some professional-level 'zines don't make my cut. It's my list and I like it just so - although it would probably generally resemble the prestige lists of many other genre writers.
Milestone 2. Sell a novel: No other writer has ever thought to do this before, and I'd like to be the first one.
To reach these milestones, I'm setting up two objectives for this year - though they're probably not the most obvious ones:
Objective 1. Track everything: I've begun tracking stuff. My daily words of new fiction, revised fiction, blogging, reviews, non-fiction, and "other" (a bunch of those categories are still empty so far this year); reading (books, short stories, and critiques, though not blogs, news, etc. - just the meaty stuff that will help improve my writing); and, finally, income and expenses from writing.
I figure tracking what I read and write will help keep me, er, on track. There's really nothing more or less to it than that. If there's a trend of some kind, I can identify whether it's because something serious happened in my life, or because I got addicted to a new videogame, and react accordingly. I'm also just generally always impressed by Rahul Kanakia's writing statistics, and dream of a day when I can post spreadsheets with such gusto.
However, I'm almost even more interested to track the income and expenses. This interest springs entirely from the recent flurry of writers who claim that Duotrope's new subscription model is too expensive, whereas I see the $50 cost as one semi-pro sale (which Duotrope will undoubtedly earn me). But I have to ask myself: is this correct? How much am I really making from writing? And how much am I really spending - on Duotrope, on my web domain, on paper, envelopes, and stamps? What's the proportion of my expenditure of my writing income, and, proportionally, what do I spend the most on? Come 2014, we'll have some idea.
Objective 2. Submit every short story I write to a critique group: Yeah, this is going to be tough, for two reasons: 1) I have to critique other people's work to get my own critiqued (which I like doing, and which is helpful for my own learning, but which takes precious time nonetheless); and, far more importantly, 2) I have to apply the things people suggest. That takes even more precious time. For example, I've got three critiques in my inbox for a 4,000 word story I just finished, and I know it's going to take me at least 2 hours to apply the (very good, very intelligent, absolutely guaranteed to improve my story) changes that my critters have suggested. Then I've got to sit on the new draft for a week, revise, and, at last, submit.
But this, I think, is the key to becoming a better writer. Not too long ago, I thought I had already written a million words. Looking at it a little more closely now, I don't think I can have written more than 650,000 in my writerly lifetime. But I don't believe that churning out 350,000 words this year would make me a better writer. I'd rather, actually, write 50,000 quality words, than 100,000 words of which 50% are quality. Why waste the time on typing, revising, and submitting crap, turds and pooh? I believe that spending the extra time getting my work critiqued, and subsequently revising my stories, will help me level up, acquire new proficiency slots, get an extra spell per day, and another 1d4 hit points. Maybe 1d4+1: I have pretty good Constitution.
Anyway, that's it. This was TL even for me. It's videogame time.