Sunday, July 19, 2020

Goal Setting for Writers

Are you familiar with the story of Jim Carrey writing himself a future check for $10 million when he was poor and unknown? If not, here it is:

I never did that. Money has never been my goal. Or at least, not my ultimate goal. I did something simpler.


This is a picture of me in 2005. I am holding a cheque for $60.40, for a small column I had in a monthly newspaper. Not a large sum. Those are Canadian dollars too, so even less than you might have thought. But that is the first cheque I ever received as a writer. I had won a poetry contest the previous Spring--and was paid in books. This was the first time anyone had ever given me money for my words. Pittance though it was, it felt great.

I gave the money away.

I had been thinking about first fruits, how the Israelites were to dedicate the first fruits of the harvest to God, and trust Him for further blessing. So I made a donation in that exact amount, and prayed that this would be the first of many.

Now, I could be accused of trying to manipulate God in my quest for publication. Granted. I don't smoke or drink, so most of my vices tend to be of the "character-disordered" variety. Motivations aside, however, it still seemed like a worthwhile practice.

It was another nine years before my first novel, Caravaggio: Signed in Blood, was published. That felt like the BIG TIME! A trade publisher that even gave me an advance on royalties! (I won't tell you how small the advance was, because that would be in poor taste. I will tell you, though, that I blew the whole wad on books that I sold at events over the the next couple of years. I probably made more that way, but when it comes in $13 dribbles over several years, it doesn't feel like much!)

At the time Caravaggio was published, I was 42. I had spent six years writing that book. I felt old. I felt like other writers younger than me had published more books (and better books, and in several genres, and, and, and...). I didn't write myself a cheque like Jim Carrey, but I did set a goal: I would have three books published by the time I was fifty. Three seemed like a brag-worthy enough number and, most importantly, it seemed doable. Vow made, I started work on another novel.

I hate writing novels.

I mean, I love them when they're done, but they are all-consuming. Plus, I teach full time, so I will go stretches of months where I write nothing, instead correcting other people's writing (that of my students). And sometimes, in those gaps, I'll write shorter pieces for younger children, just to have something to send out.

Fast forward to last year: I was still working on that same novel when one of those short pieces was accepted by Owlkids Books, a Toronto-based children's publisher. They liked a picture book I had written and wanted to publish it. We talked about the story, went back and forth a bit, and finally in August I got to talk to the editorial director. During the conversation, I mentioned an idea I had for a mystery series for beginning readers. She liked the idea, and had just wrapped up a mystery series and so was looking for something new. We hung up, and I got to work.

Today I received the contract for that mystery book. I should say "books." It's a two-book contract, a beginning of a series with more to come, hopefully.

The picture book comes out in the fall of 2021, and then the first mystery book comes out in the spring of 2022, at which time I will still be--you guessed it--49 years old.

This isn't some mystical "law of attraction" nonsense. Just old-fashioned goal-setting, hard work, and a little bit of lucky timing. I'll take it.

Now I just need to come up with a goal for when I'm sixty!