February is the month by which most people have given up on their New Year’s resolutions. By that time of year the folks who intended to lose weight have formulated at least ten excuses for why they can’t get to the gym or stick to a restricted diet. Those of us resolved to write the great American novel still face blank pages or have given up. Why do our resolutions fail?
“I promise to do better” or “I promise to write a book” or “I plan to lose weight” are statements that have open ends, and anything so ephemeral is bound to fail. What has worked for me, instead of weak hopes, is making specific goals. As Napoleon Hill said, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.”
Around 2003 I sold the first edition of Write In Style to a publisher based on a proposal and two sample chapters. The publisher gave me three months to submit my full and final manuscript. Although I thought the timeline was impossible to meet, meet it I did, and why? Because I had a goal.
We don’t have to wait for a publisher to give us a goal. We are our own pilots. Instead of saying, “I want to write more” or “I want to finish my book,” create, say, and write down a date by which you plan to finish that book, essay, or proposal. You then have a goal. A goal! And by that date, your dream can come true.
I use the same method when an author sends me a book to edit. I tell the client the date I will be finished, and then I set out to meet or beat that date. The date may mean nothing to the author, but it’s everything to me. It’s what drives me to complete each project, and it works. I’ve been setting goals like those since I started my business in 1992. Sometimes I am a day or two late, but who cares? I have a goal, so the project gets done.
Authors have told me horror stories about editors who never returned a job or didn’t return it for as long as six months. One absconded with the only copy the author had, in the days when we used typewriters. When I began Zebra Communications I was determined to be the editor people could trust, and it has worked. In November I celebrated being in business—totally self-supporting—for thirty-two successful years.