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Everyone should have a dream: something fun to think about, an imagining to lose yourself in, that helps motivate you. But dreams are not goals, and if you confuse the two you risk drying up your motivation and falling down a gloomy well.

How can you tell the difference? A popular metric is using the acronym S.M.A.R.T.:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic
  • Time-based

(Many people use different definitions, but this represents mine.) Here’s what I mean.

DREAM #1: be a published author

It’s vague (what does that even mean? Novels? Short fiction?). It’s not measurable (if one story is published, does that count? Does it have to be a pro-rate magazine? What if it’s only semi-pro?). There is no single “action” associated with being a published author. As for realism, that’s a hard call to make, given a lot of extenuating factors (the state of publishing, trad vs self-pub, whether you come from money, if you have connections). And how long do you think this process will take? A year? A decade? A lifetime?

I will also add that I think SMART, while extremely useful, could benefit from an extra Y: YOU.

Are these actions, this timeline, these specific results, do they stem from YOU? Or are there a myriad of gatekeepers between your actions and your desired results?

Dream #2: publish a short story in a pro-rate magazine by the end of the year.

I’ll level with you: I’m guilty of this one. It was on my Wall of Goals for 2019 and remains there for 2020. Why is this a dream, and not a goal? It certainly looks very goal-like, doesn’t it? And it fits neatly into SMART, right? So what’s wrong? Why isn’t it a GOAL?

  • Specific: sell a short story to a pro-rate magazine
  • Measurable: one short story sold for pro rates
  • Actionable: submit to pro-rate magazines
  • Realistic: I sell to semi-pro magazines so why not try pro ones
  • Time-based: by the end of the year

What’s missing? What’s not accounted for by the SMART metric alone?

Other people’s decisions.

I could very well be capable of selling a pro-level story. Let’s say for the sake of argument that I am. I could submit consistently, I could pay close attention to guidelines and write professional cover letters. I could even know some of the editors personally. Do everything ‘correctly’ and professionally.

But it’s still not my decision, my actions, that make the difference.

Sure, all of those things help make this dream more realistic, but at the end of the day it’s someone else’s decision that stands between whether I can achieve this goal or not, and, believe me, there is nothing more demoralizing than doing everything right and still not succeeding.

That’s why I add the Y.

Goal: submit to 50 pro-rate magazines

  • Specific: submit short stories to pro-rate magazines
  • Measurable: submit once a week
  • Actionable: send a submission
  • Realistic: Based on previous years experience I should be able to find 50 pro-rate opportunities over a year
  • Time-based: If I stick to one a week by the end of the year, gives me 2 murphy weeks for vacation/illness
  • You decide: it’s me hitting ‘send’. They might send back a rejection, but the outcome of each submission doesn’t matter as much as the act of sending it.

At the end of the year, I might not have any stories accepted, but I can still succeed in my goal, as well as greatly increased the chance that a story does get accepted at a pro magazine.

So don’t be a dummy, be a SMARTY, and let’s all join the submissions party!


SMARTY is, incidentally, why I changed my practice from setting a rejection goal to setting a submission goal. The Rejection Challenge is AMAZING, and I recommend everyone do it for one year, if they have any aspirations of being a submitting writer; it is fantastic for teaching people how to deal with receiving rejections, and banishes self-rejecting. But it still focuses on responses from other people (if half your submissions end in acceptances, does that mean you ‘lose’ the challenge?) while the submission challenge accomplishes all the same ends, while centering the work that you do, that you’ve done, the decisions you’ve made, and gives the sense of accomplishment not matter what editors may decide.

Good luck, faces! What is your goal for 2020? And are you being a SMARTY about it?

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