“Start with the end in mind.” — Aristotle
“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else.” –Yogi Berra
I love motivational quotations, even funny ones, and I’ve heard one more that says it all, but I cannot find who said it. It goes like this: “If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?”
When I speak at conferences, as I did this past weekend at the Florida Writers Conference in Lake Mary, Florida, I often mention the importance of knowing where you want to go. Goal setting is vital to writers. We may write because we enjoy the act of writing, but we need to know what we want to happen after we finish writing.
For my award-winning book, Write In Style, I wanted to reach as many English-writing people as possible, so I could teach them easy tips to find words in their manuscripts that, once found, could lead to stronger writing. After editing books for many years, I had a list of words and phrases that most writers put into their manuscripts that, if deleted or changed, would lead to more powerful prose. I didn’t care about profits; my goal was to educate the public. I wanted thousands of people to know about my findings, so I set the goal of finding a traditional publisher who would and could get the book into every bookstore in America, Canada, and Australia. Once I set that goal, I was able to achieve it, even though it took me a few years to do so. I knew where I wanted to go, and I would not compromise or give up. As a result, the book has been on the market since 2004 and still sells briskly, even though few stores have copies still on the shelves. They can order it for you or you can order it from any Internet bookstore.
When I wrote Purge Your Prose of Problems, I had different goals. I wanted to have something to offer writers who couldn’t afford a couple thousand dollars to pay a professional editor like me. I wanted to teach writers who wanted to edit their own manuscripts or edit the manuscripts of others. I did not, however, want that information to get in the hands of every Tom, Dick, and Harriett. Rather than sell thousands of copies of that book and make a few cents per book, I wanted people to pay me a thousand or more dollars to edit their manuscripts. In other words, I did want to make a profit off the knowledge in that book or from editing manuscripts. For that reason, I self-published Purge Your Prose of Problems, creating only a limited supply. I knew my goals, and I’ve met them. You can order a printed copy of the book through my Web site or as an e-book through BookLocker.com, but I have not printed many copies, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.
When conference leaders began sending requests for me to speak, I set goals in that regard as well. I have very little sense of direction and a low tolerance for inconvenience, so I envisioned being flown to new cities to speak, being picked up by a shuttle or limo, and being driven to my comfortable hotel. When it came time to leave, I wanted to be picked up and dropped off at the airport, too. If a conference offered me those services, I’d consider speaking there. I set my goal.
The Florida Writers Association did all those things and more for me this weekend. When my plane landed and I could turn on my cell phone, my limo driver had already left a message telling me where he would meet me and what sign to look for. He had already picked up one other speaker, a publisher from Tallahassee, and the two of us had a great conversation in the car while being driven to our hotel. As a result I already had a new friend before I stepped out of the car at the conference center. The accommodations were grand, the food–even the banquet food–was great, and I felt pampered and treated like royalty. I also had dozens of people stop me to say how much they enjoyed my workshops and learned a great deal from me, so I had a sense of accomplishment and pride in being able to help other writers.
While the limo driver drove me back to the airport after three and a half delightful days, I had another educational conversation with yet another publisher, a husband-and-wife team, and we exchanged business cards.
On the plane ride home I vaguely recalled having set my goal for conference speaking years ago, and how it all has come to fruition, and why? Because I knew where I wanted to go. Best of all, I knew I had arrived.