Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Writing Goals: What Are Yours?

Photo By: John O'Nolan

It is a rare day that I will do a post about writing.  I have not been published and I have no advice that would have any sort of merit, because I have no authority or experience on which to advise.  However, I have been thinking about something...I've been thinking about what I'd like my career as a writer to be like.  It may sound presumptuous because I haven't actually published anything yet--like putting the cart before the horse--but, hey, I'm human.  I can't help but fantasize.  However, when I'm not imagining how cool and charming I'd be on my book tour speaking events, or how I'll deal with the hearing loss caused by the adulations of my many fans, I also think about what I'd like to do with my actual writing.  For that, I look to one of my favorite writers, John Scalzi.

Photo By: Laura "Sunidesus" of Flickr
John Scalzi was one of the first people to self-publish a novel.  He published both Old Man's War, as well as his follow-up novel, The Android's Dream, online. Eventually, they both got picked up by actual publishers.  His description of how he approached writing a novel was something along the lines of "Okay, I'm going to write this.  It'll be crap, but I'll look at what I need to improve on, and the next time I'll do better."  That's part of what I admire about Scalzi--his combination of self-awareness and confidence.  He knew his first novel would be a wash.  He wrote it, and put it away, fully aware of what it was.  Then, he wrote a second, largely improved novel, and understood that it was good enough to be presented to an audience.

Hearing Scalzi talk about his decisions about writing is a look into the mind of a true professional.  With each project he undertakes, he does it with some goal he wants to accomplish beyond "I want to write this."  For example, when he wrote Fuzzy Nation, he did so with the idea that people reboot movies all of the time, but books aren't often rebooted.  He wanted to see if it was possible.  He picked Little Fuzzy, a well known, well enjoyed novel from the Golden Age of Sci-Fi that showed also showed its age.  He updated it, rewrote it, reconfigured some of the ideas, and it became Fuzzy Nation.
Photo from:  the Nerd Patrol of Flickr

When he wrote Redshirts, he worked from the idea that there are often disposable characters in science fiction television shows that are only there to die in service of the plot--a joke so synonymous with the original Star Trek series that the term "redshirt" has been applied to all presentations of that character-type, whether connected to Star Trek or not.  He looked at that idea and decided these people must have lives, too, and proceeded to write a book from that idea.  However, that joke would get old quickly, so he took that idea and progressed it even further, making something that could be seen as a one-off joke a genuinely engaging, interesting, and emotionally investing read.

With his newest project, he is doing something different once again.  His newest book, The Human Division, is taking the idea of a television series and applying it to a book.  Where each episode of a TV series is self-contained, they also often have an overarching plot for the season.  Therefore, The Human Division will be a book of short stories set in the Old Man's War universe. Each story will be self-contained, but there will also be an overarching plot to the book.  You can catch individual "episodes" as he calls them, or read the whole thing through.  Either way, you understand what's going on.

This is super cool to me.  That got me thinking about what I'd like to accomplish with my writing career.  I feel each new project should be a challenge to me in some way, like Scalzi challenges himself.  This is the list I've come up with:

Photo By:  Andrew Storms
  1. I would like to write a novel.  (Obviously)
  2. I would like to publish a book of short stories, possibly with an overall theme, but not necessarily.
  3. I would like to write a novel that combines fantasy and western elements because it is a genre of which I've seen very little.  If I can write something that doesn't basically feel like a rehash of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, I'll consider it a success.  (I'm using western in the American Old West sense, not the "Western World Culture" sense).
  4. I would like to write an original screenplay.
  5. I would like to write a screenplay adaption of someone else's novel.
  6. I would like to write a screenplay adaption of one of my own works.
  7. I would like to write a script for an original comic.
  8. I would like to write a script for a pre-existing comic book series, like Superman or Batman or Spider-man.
Many of these would probably only be accomplishable if I become a big success, which I am, of course, not vain enough to expect.  However, these are just things that I think would be interesting to do.  Each thing requires a different way of approaching the conceptualizing and writing of the project.

So, if you are a writer, what are you expecting to accomplish with your writing career?  If you're some other creative type--aspiring director, sketch artist, painter, comic artist, musician--what types of goals have you set for yourself?  What would you like to accomplish?


  1. Great post! I've often heard people say, "Fake it 'til you make it." In other words, treat the writing like a job, act like you ARE a professional writer before you ever get published, because that is the kind of mindset that WILL get you published. It sounds like you're on the right track. I can't wait to see where your career takes you!

    My writing goals (I can't have too many at once - I don't multi-task well):

    1. Finish my current book

    2. Write the book for my next idea

    3. Finish my current book

    4. Write a sci-fi novel


  2. Thanks! I really do take this very seriously.

    I think I surprised my wife with this post because she didn't realize how seriously I take it.

    I love your goals. I should have more immediate goals like that. I can dream big, but I also have trouble finishing things.

    1. YES! We should start a "Dream Big, Trouble Finishing Things" support group. DBTFT Anonymous.


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