Saturday, January 16, 2010

Turning Dreams into Goals

In my last post, I talked about how important it is to think carefully about what your goals are as a writer so that you take the right approach to publishing. But as I was riding the train home the other night, I realized that despite my key goal of just getting my book into the hands of readers who might like it, I also have a special dream that before now I didn’t even realize existed. It’s not to be on Oprah, or to see my book in Borders, or to be on the New York Times bestseller list. Instead, I realized that my secret dream is to be on the train one day during my regular commute and to see a stranger reading a copy of my book. I fantasized about how amazing it would be to look up and see the cover of Rising Shadow staring back at me, the reader deeply absorbed in it, tuning out the noise and bustle of the rush hour crowd, escaping into the world of The Soterians that I created. I’m not sure whether it even matters that they’re enjoying the book. Indeed, when I pursue the fantasy, I ask the person how they’re enjoying it, and they say “it’s pretty good.” And that’s it. That’s the whole dream.

So is this just a dream, or can it become a reality?

When I took time-management classes from FranklinCovey several years ago, one quote the instructor used that really stuck out for me was “A goal is a dream with a deadline” (Napolean Hill). We learned how to take our dreams and turn them into a series of tasks with deadlines, which suddenly turned a lofty “some day” kind of dream into something that was actually achievable. For example, we looked at how your dream might be to travel to Europe, and then we broke it down into tasks like researching where to go and how much it would cost, setting up a budget that would allow you to save enough money, getting a passport, and getting approval from your manager to take the time off. Suddenly, we had a set of achievable tasks that would allow us to make the dream a reality.

The instructor said that just about any dream you might have is achievable this way. But we were also cautioned that before you turn a dream into a goal, you need to evaluate why you have that dream and whether it’s really aligned with your core values. Because it’s our core values, she explained, that must drive everything we do, or else we are wasting our energy and our lives on things that don’t actually matter. And as you’ve probably noticed, when something doesn’t truly matter to you, you’re much less likely to do it.

So take a close look at your core values—anything from “I am a loving wife and mother” to “I work hard to hone my skills as a writer” and see where your dreams fit in. In my case, one of my core values is “I enjoy the process of writing and get satisfaction simply from getting my books into readers’ hands.” When I analyze my dream more closely, I realize that it doesn’t represent having become a great writer or making a sale on the book—it’s purely about having completed the exchange of writing the book and getting it into someone’s hands. Understanding this motivation goes a long way in helping me figure out how best to turn this dream into a goal and the tasks I need to complete to achieve it. I might set up a booth outside the train station and sell copies of my book. Or I might simply leave some copies on the train with a note on them asking people to take them home, read them, and then leave them on the train for someone else to read. Either way, I know I’ll achieve my goal some day, now that it’s no longer just a dream and I’m clear on why it matters to me. The next task is to figure out the steps I need to take and then assign deadlines to them.

What are some of your dreams, and how do they fit in with your core values?


  1. Great post! And I love the idea of leaving copies of your book on the train. Your dream reminds me of the time I had dinner with Clive Cussler at the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference. He told all these stories about seeing people reading his book. He would ask if they wanted him to sign the book for them, and they would look at him like he was a dirty old man and walk away!

  2. Hahahaha! That's too funny. Maybe when it happens, I'll just enjoy it from afar.