January 10, 2017

Writing Goals: Discovering What Works for Us

Dirt path through trees and ferns with text: Discovering Our Path

In the years that I’ve been writing, I’ve seen several debates come and go on the publishing landscape. Plotters vs. pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants). Self-published vs. traditionally published. Etc., etc.

As many of my posts here can attest, I’ve never been a fan of those debates. I’ve always said that people should find whatever works for them.

A good friend of mine jokingly worried how I’d react to her experiments with outlining. Now granted, I’m a pantser for the most part (some of my projects are pants-ier than others), but that doesn’t mean that I think one way is superior.

I started off as a plotter but learned that a different process for discovering a story worked better for me. That’s all.

Others’ brains don’t work the same as mine. (Lucky for you. *grin*) So what works best for anyone is going to be individual and unique—and that means we each have to go through the work of discovering what works best for us.

Every Aspect of Publishing Is Unique for Us

Just as how there’s no “one right answer” for the plotting vs. pantsing question, the same goes for non-craft-related debates too, such as self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. As I mentioned last week, writing is a mental game, which means our comfort level with situations is important.

If we’re struggling with our publishing schedule or our editors—or feel uninspired by the cover or marketing for our books—that can affect our motivation for promoting our work or for writing in general. So no matter what aspect of the writing and publishing process we’re talking about, we still need to think about what will work best for our needs.

Figuring Out What We Need

Yet it’s often difficult to figure out what’s best for us. As my Fiction University guest post touched on, a big part of deciding on our publishing path comes down to making sure that our decisions match our goals.

So I want to touch on this issue from a philosophical point of view to get across just how important it is to truly understand ourselves.

Only by understanding ourselves
can we really know
whether our goals are right for us
and not just something we’re copying
from someone else because they sound good.

Do You Know Your Worldview?

A few years ago, I wrote about identifying our worldview. The context of that post was about knowing our worldview so we could recognize it in our stories and write stronger themes.

However, a similar idea applies to our worldview and the publishing industry in general. Our worldview applies to everything, our careers, our relationships, our goals, etc.

“Certain ideas and beliefs resonate deep inside us. Our view of the world—optimistic or pessimistic, God does or doesn’t exist, true love is possible or not, people are basically good or selfish, technology will help us or kill us, etc.—is so deeply a part of us that we might not consciously recognize it as a construct of our mind.”

What Resonates with You?

In Step 2 of that post, I pointed out how we can identify our core beliefs from a story perspective:

  1. Think about what stories—especially the specific scenes, reveals, or turning points—have felt the most powerful to you. Really powerful, not because they were surprising, but because they “spoke” to you. Books, TV, movies, whatever, they all count.
  2. Now think about what those scenes have in common. Are they all about love, loyalty, betrayal, friendship, loss, etc.? Do they share a theme? Do they share a certain perspective? Do they share a type of twist?

“The commonalities between elements that speak to us—that resonate deeply within us—can reveal our core beliefs. Our favorite stories will often have themes in common with each other and with our world view.”

When we’re talking about our worldview outside of stories, we can think about what ideas or thoughts resonate with us, even in circumstances unrelated to storytelling.

For example, years ago romance author Carolyn Jewel tweeted something that resonated with me. (And I apologize for not being able to quote it directly, but this was years ago.)

She said something to the effect of:

My goal is to make it easy for my books to get into the hands of readers. I don’t care if they’re boycotting Amazon or only check out books from the library. I don’t care about print vs. ebook. I don’t care about judging reader preferences. My job is to deliver my books into my readers’ hands.

Again, that’s not anywhere close to an actual quote, but that’s the gist of what resonated with me. *smile*

What Can Those Resonances Teach Us about Ourselves?

Recognizing how much that perspective resonated taught me about myself:

  • What matters to me
  • What doesn’t matter to me
  • How I might define success
  • How I won’t define success
  • What shape my goals might take
  • What shape my goals wouldn’t take

In other words, even if we can’t see how a resonating idea teaches us anything directly about what we should do, we’ll likely still learn about what paths we should avoid.

Apply the Ideas that Resonate to Publishing

Because Carolyn’s idea of being delivery-agnostic resonated with me, that led to me understanding some of my core beliefs as far as publishing…

For example, readers’ preferences weren’t to be judged, so I wasn’t going to avoid Amazon or make it hard for my readers to avoid Amazon. That is, regardless of the effect on my income, I wanted to keep my books highly available at multiple retailers and not enroll in Amazon’s exclusive Select program, thus leaving out non-Amazon customers.

I also offer my books in every version I can afford. For now, that means ebook and print, but I hope to offer my books in audiobook or in libraries eventually.

There’s nothing special or enlightened about those decisions, however. Those are just what work for my worldview in how publishing should work: putting readers first.

Just like with my view of pantsing vs. plotting, that opinion about readers’ place in the publishing landscape isn’t sacrosanct. It’s perfectly valid to have other opinions.

Also, others might have the same opinion and yet reach different conclusions about what that means for their publishing path. There’s no one approach for how to reach a goal.

My point here isn’t to convince anyone that my way or opinion is best (actually it’s the opposite) but to emphasize that paying attention to what resonates can teach us about ourselves. With that information, we can then better develop our measures of success and what goals will help us reach that success.

Use Our Core Beliefs as an Anchor

Just as I mentioned in that post years ago about how those resonating ideas can point to our core beliefs and act as an anchor during revisions, they can also act as an anchor when determining the path of our career.

In addition to our beliefs potentially illuminating how we might approach self-publishing versus traditional publishing, truly knowing our core can help us with our branding, our social media usage, and our marketing as well. In other words, knowing ourselves can help us with every aspect of our career.

The internet can be a great source of information, sharing tips and advice about writing and publishing, but it can also be an overwhelming flood of information. Knowing ourselves better—what really matters to us—can help us tune out the messages that won’t get us closer to happiness.

So here’s hoping that a little self-understanding will help us find our happiness in this career. With a little luck, that happiness will give us strength for the mental game of writing. *smile*

Do you know what matters to you in your writing career? Or are you still struggling to figure out what your goals are? Have you encountered ideas that resonate deeply? What ideas seem to resonate with your worldview? How might those ideas apply to publishing?

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Donovan Quesenberry
Donovan Quesenberry

Interesting post.
Have had the “core beliefs” discussion with other writers. The general conclusion was … be careful. Our country is in a state of flux. For example, if a writer’s core beliefs impact the political realm, be circumspect, because 50% of the country is just going to get pissed off. One writer/film director whom I know here in the Raleigh area, Eyrk Priutt, cautioned us to almost never post political comments on facebook, if social media is used as a type of story/book promotion and marketing. Of course, Eyrk does anyway, but it’s subtle.
Point being the core beliefs may be different enough to cause enough division that we may never connect with readers.
On the other hand I guess readers like the content or they don’t. FIDO (Forget It, Drive On). 😀
Stay Well,

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

To comment on the previous commenter’s post:
Science fiction has long been a medium to discuss politics. Even from behind the Iron Curtain writers were able to criticize the regime provided they set the story on another planet. The writer can extrapolate likely outcomes of following a path or reflect upon how paths were trodden. A reader can take the time to look behind the story and see allegory, or not, but the seed has been planted.


[…] Gold reminds us that one writing goal for 2017 should be to find what works for us as […]


[…] as I’ve said so many times here about our writing goals, we’re all different. What some of us value or need from our writing career is different from […]

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