Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Goals versus Strategies

I've seen so many blogs this week about resolutions or goals, and I thought maybe my life as a scientist might shed some light on what's what. (you're going to be serious?) Mostly. You know me... even serious will have silly moments. (but I look GOOD as a teacher, yeah?) *cough*

When we submit a grant with the GOAL of the funder giving us MONEY.... They ask for things like a HYPOTHESIS, SPECIFIC AIMS (GOALS) and STRATEGIES. So lets apply those to writing. 

Null Hypothesis: The null HYPOTHESIS is the idea that DOING SOMETHING will be statistically the same as DOING NOTHING.

So in writing, this would be the claim “Working my butt off to improve writing, improve queries, and sending queries to lots of agents will have the SAME effect as doing NOTHING.

Now nobody really BELIEVES the null HYPOTHESIS. If they DID, they wouldn't be doing the darned study, ne? What their HYPOTHESIS really is is that if they work their tail off they WILL find an agent and then a publisher. And REALLY you only use NULL HYPOTHESES in school (at least I only ever did)--for a grant or a manuscript we use the ACTUAL HYPOTHESIS.

So I reiterate: If I work my tail off, I will find an agent and then a publisher.

Easy Peasy, right?

WRONG! How the hell do you operationalize 'work my tail off?' What does that MEAN?

Well we started to get at it up above...

Improve the writing. Improve the query. Send to the right agent. Right? THESE ARE GOALS.

But neither are these magic. (and if you thought they were, I apologize for disillusioning you. I am on day 4 of the 2011 eating plan and it is making me mean and rotten. I am also in my 3rd month of basically marathon level writing production and it is making me loopy. Cranky and Loopy make for twisted bedfellows)

But if to each GOAL you add... say 3-4 STRATEGIES, THEN you might be at a PLAN!!!! (HA! Did you hear the evil cackling?! That is my plan fiend, who I believe you've met.)

GOAL: Improve My Writing


1.  Write 5000 words every week
2.  Find 3 critique partners willing to give me feedback
3.  Read my final draft out loud before sending

GOAL: Improve my Query Letter


1.  Find blogs with the RULES
2.  USE a resource that gives query feedback (there are several websites if you don't have a passel of writers to ask.
3.  Write a couple 3 and TEST them.

GOAL: Send queries to agents


1.  Identify agents who are currently accepting your genre
2.  TIER them. TOP, medium and lower among acceptable
3.  Send queries about 10 at a time to a set that include all tiers.
4.  Follow ALL the agency guidelines when sending.

See... the strategies are actionable and measurable.

So you end up with this:

I think (hypothesis) and to test it I am going to (goal) by (strategies).

FLEXIBILITY: This one is NOT official. It is about your ability to DO IT. Stuff comes up. I know that is news to a lot of you. Life should just fall in line, yeah? But it doesn't. Children need things. Spouses need things. Jobs need things. I have several times a year that LIFE throws a monkey wrench in my best intentions. Now if you have RIGID plans, then suddenly you've failed through no fault of your own.


My tricks?

Set your goals in large enough timeframes that you can absorb... a 5000 word a week writing goal is REALLY a 1000 word a DAY writing goal with padding for LIFE to happen. I TRY to do it in the first 5 days, but I have room to adjust if it doesn't happen that way.

Recognize OTHER people have lives. When I am recruiting critique partners, I generally try to recruit one or two more than I think I need. If the request is for NOW you may not need to because people generally know their immediate obligations, but with my writing group, I try to give a heads up: If I need 2 readers each for initial feedback and then a polished read then I ASK for 3 each. (because SOMEBODY will surely get a life between now and then). Try to also give them TIME. (says the person who only gave Rayna and Cruella 4 days recently *shifty* I guess the key there is TRY...

When something big comes up, be willing to just rewrite the schedule and call it good. When I was in the midst of my LEGACY edits, I got AGENT feedback that was bigger than I thought it would be... that is a DEADLINE. I HAD to drop Legacy. But that didn't mean I had to call Legacy a fail. I just had to set it back and come back to it.

So there.  Goals a la Tart


Anonymous said...

Excellent.Made my day in many ways.

Rachael Harrie said...

Must say, what a great post!!! (And think of all the guys who'll be reading this one!) (*chortles*).


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I think you've summed it up perfectly. We're increasing our odds by things we can do and make sure we're flexible enough to handle (and expect) set-backs. Tweeting this today!

Melissa said...

Okay, this post is amazing! I'm bookmarking it!

CA Heaven said...

Your intro reminds me of the time when i worked in an independent research institute, applying for grants and begging industry for money all the time. I must admit I don't miss the money-part of it.

I've never thought of goal and strategies in the way you do, but very interesting.

For me goals is something workers (like me) are dealing with, and strategies are obscure ideas that bosses come up with >:D

Cold As Heaven

Hart Johnson said...

Ian-Welcome! I love new faces around here! And thank you!

Rachael-yeah, I'm not quite an equal opportunity eye-candy supplier, but I can at least try to be proportional to my readers...

Elizabeth-THANK YOU for the TWEET! And yeah, I find that flexibility thing is what keeps me from being discouraged if I miss--sometimes you do GREAT but it isn't quite... flexible lets you enjoy what you DID manage.

Melissa, thank you!

CaH-These may not the same internationally on grants... I know they were a little different in business, though not a lot (then again, I've blocked much of that part of my life...)

Cruella Collett said...

Excellent post, Your Tartness! Without a strategy, how would one reach a goal, ne? I'm gonna firmalize (which is totally a word, right?) my goals and strategies once I reach Japan. You can hold me to that! ;)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Now that makes sense! One must be specific.
And cats with no tails are weird.

Old Kitty said...

I went "awwww poor kitty" at the pic of the cat without a tail!

Anyway!! I am most impressed with your goals and strategic plans!!! If war was declared with some alien race from the outer galaxies you should be made Supreme General in Command of all Earth's forces!!! We'd win, no problemo!

Yay for you!!!

Take care

Deb and Barbara said...

Very tartful goals. Am adding them to my list.
The Middle Ages

Will Burke said...

That makes a world of sense, and I've recently gotten a fire lit under me to write, but no plan. I'll need to post on this soon.
Thanks for the feedback on FAOCT. Very helpful, as always.
And thanks for the teacher pic. Now, I'm in the mood for detention! ;)

M.J. Nicholls said...

This post is so butt-squelchingly sensible that I must repost it. I really must make a proper strategy of this ilk for myself. Right now.

Anonymous said...

I like how you broke them down to measurable goals. Hypothesis, oh that brings back college memories. LOL

Carol Kilgore said...

Ha! I sorta blogged about this today, too. It must be Wednesday - LOL.

Hart Johnson said...

Cruella-I suspect you are using PLENTY of strategies just to GET to Japan!

Alex *nods* (yeah, they do look a little strange)

Jenny-he's a Manx, so he was born without (didn't ACTUALLY work it off...) *giggles at aliens*

Barbara-Thank you!

Will *snort* Detention... careful--you may end up supervised by Snape or something... and I'm ALWAYS happy to dish my infinite wisdom *shifty* (but I am ahead of you on the parenting curve...)

Mark-sensible?! I might just have to post extra riduculum for that! Thanks for the repost!

Ciara- yeah, right? Only I went into a field that still uses them--when I got here I was like "What? I thought this was just a class thing".

Carol-HA! Funny--I will have to check it out. Either something is in the air, or we are sharing a brain...

Lola Sharp said...

But I'm So much better at winging it....a la Lola. ;)

Happy 2011, Hart!

Sarah Ahiers said...

ugh, for my job we do null hypotheses all the time which we believe. It usually involves fixing some sort of defect and then someone complaining about something and then us having to prove that what they're complaining about makes no statistical difference. Whiners.

Also, i totally LOVE the idea of breaking down the goal into strategies. I usually list those in my head, but actually writing them down would totally help

Anonymous said...

Excellent goals. I very much like your strategizing, the points you make about the necessity of them, and am going to do my best to implement something similar as well. Although, right now I'm solidly in the camp of not making such goals until I can get my kid to sleep through the night again. No nap, early bed time is not working as I wanted it to. Yet. Thanks for the inspiration, Hart!

Meredith said...

Love this! I need to focus on my strategy, not just my goals. Thank you!

Carolyn Abiad said...

What a great post! Goals, strategies, null hypothesis, AND a kitty who worked his tail off. You are so right though: Strategize, plan for flexiblity and you might reach the goal! Thanks for the reminder :D I'm going to say Crabby and Loopy lead to Genius. :)

Colene Murphy said...

That is really awesome advice!

Jim Hill said...

Great post with detail about setting appropriate goals and managing them. Awesome!

j said...

Well said. No point in having a goal if you can't come up with a way to do it!

Hart Johnson said...

Lovely Lola-and you DO wing it well. I just would never get anything done (except a lot of facebook fun)

Sarah-I TOTALLY had never thought of that use for the null hypothesis! Thanks for the edjumakation! Seriously... I just thought it was a lot of scientific silliness... and YES! Write em DOWN!!!

Kimberly-yeah, that kid thing is that LIFE stuff, and you really do need to be gentle planning around that when they are small because they interfere a LOT! Hope he gets sleeping again soon!

Meredith, THANK YOU!

Carolyn-HA! I've been called a genius! I'm going to use that in my marketing if you don't mind--you don't suppose an agent reading a query letter would believe it, do you? I'll add it to my strategies!


Jim-Welcome! I don't know if I haven't seen you or it's just been a while, but I appreciate you stopping in and commenting!

Jennee--I know, right!? It's like a goal to lose weight and then just waiting... Never works...

I Must Be Off said...

Excellent advice. Go, Team Tart!

Anonymous said...

Best wishes for your strategies and goals. 2011n is going to be a great year for us! And why is Van Halen's Hot For Teacher blasting through my head?

Cheeseboy said...

Solid advice. But I must say, it's very ironic because that first picture is the exact same outfit I wore to class today!

The Man-Cave said...

Hart, at least your goals, strategies and advice are beneficial and life fulfilling...unlike my goofy randomness :)

Terry Odell said...

Yep. It's all about measurability. Do things you can count.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Hart Johnson said...


Stephen--I THOUGHT that looked familiar! You've been tagged as a recovering metal head.

Abe *snarf* I bet you looked even better in it. I dig a guy in a French Maid outfit...

Geof-Oh, normally I'm goofy--though you are a league ahead of me.


Helena said...

Hey Hart, you're so smart YOU can be organized and clever about goals and strategy as a writer. Me? I'm kind of a literary mess... but a very well intentioned one.

Helen Ginger said...

Who are you? You're much too organized to be a writer.

If I work my butt off, I'll lose weight.

Southpaw said...

Nicely delineated. I stared at the cat picture for a moment or two before I realized what it was missing.

Julie Musil said...

Wow, goals AND strategy! Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

This is very inspiring work you have created for us. Some people need to know that these things can ensue to anyone. You have shown me a better view now.