From Planet Opinion, Published in Planet Weekly, Thursday, October 28, 2008

24 Jan

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When I lived in Tuscaloosa, I was fortunate enough to write a column for The Planet Weekly. The paper was actually a bi-weekly, and of course I wasn’t paid a penny for my columns, although I was allowed to retain all rights to the essays so long as I acknowledged they appeared first in The Planet Weekly. My time with the paper was a good time, and I did benefit from the experience in that it kept me writing consistently about topics I normally would never have considered if I hadn’t had a deadline for a byline.

So as I go forward this year, I thought I’d post some of those essays as I am working on combining them for a book. Since this is January, I couldn’t think of a better one to begin with than this one on Goals. It is neat to read this now and to see the goals I have achieved and the ones I am still working on, as well as the ones I either gave up on or shifted my focus to other areas. Then again, when setting goals, flexibility is important. But I do believe for aspiring writers there are work habits espoused in this essay that can help.  I hope this makes a difference in your writing year, and that you will share that difference with your CommentsJPEG BookCover God'sNWCD AutographingTBIBjpegalligatorstewfrontcover96dpi1.jpg

 I do not believe in New Year’s resolutions. They are too easily made and too easily broken. I do believe, however, in carefully setting ……


C.D. Mitchell


     I do not believe in New Year’s resolutions. They are too easily made and too easily broken. I do believe, however, in carefully setting and planning goals. Every January I look in my journal at the goals I set for myself on New Year’s Day. I believe in short-term and long-term goals. So each year I reset my short-term goals and assess my progress towards my long-term goals. For my long-term goals, I usually set five and ten year benchmarks. This past year I was blessed to achieve my ten-year goals that I had set back in 1997.

     It is time to start over.

     We need to have a vision of ourselves and what we hope to achieve. After we set our goals, we must have faith in our ability to make our goals reality. Because only hard work and dedication will ever pay off, you must have a work ethic. Tenacity and honesty go hand-in-hand. Your will to achieve your goals must outweigh your resistance to those goals, and only you can assess that will.

Honesty with yourself is vital when setting your goals, whether long or short-term. Your goals must be reasonable and attainable, yet they must be a challenge. You have to be honest with yourself both when setting goals, and then later, when you assess your attempts to make your goals reality.

     A thin line separates the gray area that exists between confidence and arrogance. Success will be seen with bitterness and jealousy, and you will learn that your friends will be eager to claim your success has fallen into your lap. They will fail to acknowledge the hard work you have done to achieve that success.

     I measure my success by how closely I come to accomplishing my goals. Here once again is where honesty with one’s self becomes vital. If you did not attain your goals for the year, you must ask yourself why. Is my failure due to my effort, or circumstances I cannot control?  If the failure is due to my lack of effort, is my goal that important to me after all? Have I set a goal that really doesn’t matter? If missing my mark is not due to a lack of effort, then have I set a goal that is unattainable? Or have other factors that were unforeseeable intervened — factors that are not likely to occur again?

     Once again, you must be brutally honest with yourself when assessing your efforts to achieve your goals and when assessing whether your goals are attainable. Perseverance is the one thing we have absolute control over. If after assessing your efforts you decide the goal is still important to you and worth the effort, then perseverance comes into play.

     Goals are unattainable without perseverance.

     There must be a relationship between your long-term and short-term goals. They must work together. One of my long-term five year goals is to win a major writing competition. In order to achieve this five-year goal, I have set an annual mark of entering at least thirty contests each year. Over the course of five years, that will place my writing in 150 contests. If at the end of five years I can look back and say that I faithfully entered my writing into these contests and still did not win, then the fault is mine. I will need to do something to improve my writing, or give up altogether.

     But I will have made a reasonable effort towards accomplishing this goal.

     So after all this preaching, what are my short and long-term goals?

     My ten-year goals are to be a tenured professor in a creative writing program of national importance and to own my own home. I also want to have at least four books of fiction and nonfiction published by that time. My writing income should be enough to sustain me at that point although I will continue to teach because I love teaching.

For my five-year goals I want to be employed in a tenure track job in a creative writing program of national importance in a town where I will feel comfortable completing my life and career. I want to have an agent and have my first books of fiction and nonfiction published and my second books of fiction and nonfiction written and in the hands of my agent. I want to have won at least one major national competition with both my fiction and nonfiction. I want to be debt-free.

For the coming year I have set my annual goals that I hope will help me achieve my long-term five and ten-year goals. I will submit my stories relentlessly to contests. To document my efforts, I will record each submission and make sure that I have entered at least thirty contests before the year is out. I want to have my first book published this year and to finish my memoir. To achieve this goal I have submitted my fiction manuscript to several publishers and contests and will aggressively submit this manuscript the rest of the year to contests, publishers, and agents. I will attend writer’s conferences where publishers and agents are present and available for manuscript consultations. This will put my work in the hands of people who will either buy it or tell me what I can do to make it more marketable. While attending these conferences I will study with some of the best writers and teachers of writing in the country in order to continue to improve at my craft.

     I will work diligently to finish my memoir and to submit the essays and the finished manuscript for publication. After I finish the memoir — which is over half-written — I will begin a new novel that I hope to have started before the end of this year.

     In order to find a tenure track job in five years and to be tenured in ten, I will aggressively apply for tenure track jobs listed with the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Higher Education Jobs Web-site. I will send out at least fifty job applications every year. I have already met this quota for the coming year and will likely double my effort before the month of May has arrived.

Once again, here is where honesty and perseverance pay off. In order to land a tenure track job, I will have to have at least one book published. I cannot just go out and publish a book. Having a book accepted for publication isn’t like saying I will go outside and cut down the fifty trees that line my backyard. The act in itself depends upon someone else. However, if I persevere and diligently send my work out for consideration and constantly strive to make myself a better writer by studying my craft, by reading the works of other great authors, by attending writer’s conferences and visiting with agents and publishers, I know I will achieve my goals.

     In 1997, I was tired of building houses for a living. As a goal, I decided that within five years I would return to graduate school, and that within ten years I would be teaching at a major university. In 2002, I began graduate studies that culminated with a Master of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Memphis in May of 2006. I began teaching at the University of Alabama last fall.

     I did not achieve these goals without hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice. And these goals are not something that will ever win me a national award for effort or achievement. But they were goals I set for myself and worked hard to accomplish, and I can look back now with satisfaction at the past ten years. Once again, honesty is the most important quality of all. You must be honest in setting your goals; you must be honest in assessing your efforts to achieve those goals, and you must be honest with yourself when assessing your willingness to sacrifice in order to achieve those goals.

     I have adopted some lofty and difficult tasks for myself over the next few years. As I said earlier, there is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. I believe arrogance is expecting your goals to occur without making the necessary effort. Confidence means having faith in the old adage that good work habits will outdo talent every time. It means that I have carefully thought out my goals and the steps necessary to achieve those goals, and that I am well on my way to making sure my goals become reality.

     I am not a dreamer. I set a goal and chart a careful path and do everything I can to stay on that path. That path will lead to success, and that success is defined by me.

     So you may laugh at my words today. I wouldn’t blame you if you did. After all, the goals I have set would challenge many writers with far more talent than I have. But I haven’t set my goals based upon my meager talents. I have set my goals based upon my willingness to do the work and make the sacrifices necessary to make those goals reality. You still may not be convinced, especially if you don’t know me personally. But those who do know me will be coming to my home in five years to get an autographed copy of my first book.


CD Mitchell can be reached for comments or questions at:

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