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Why do I think this is important? We already make six-month and one-year goals in the class. The goals are S.M.A.R.T., which is also crucial. S. M. A. R. T. means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. For example, I talk to my students about having a goal, such as, "I will finish my 30,000-word middle-grade novel in six-months by writing 5000 words a month," as opposed to: "I will write three picture books and send them off in six months." We make plans for how we will achieve each goal and make sure it will actually work in the lives of each individual student. This is important for our mental health! And if you have never done this, I encourage you to, AND share these goals with the people you live with, so they can help you achieve them.
But the five-year plan/vision is something different. It makes you imagine your life as you REALLY want it in five years, but only focusing on the things you can actually control .So for example, a lot of writers want to write: "In five years, my novel will be published and on the New York Times Bestseller List." This is a fine dream and one that should never be squashed. However, it doesn't belong on a five-year career vision because you can't control getting on the New York Times list.. A better five-year plan would be: "In five years, I will have a published novel. I will either publish it traditionally or self-publish. I will be busy marketing by having a blog on the topic, visiting other blogs, working on speaking engagements, and writing freelance articles on the topic. I plan to support myself with my writing in five years OR have a part-time job that allows me to write in the morning when I am at my best."
I ask students to be optimistic when turning in their five-year plans, but to try to include only things that they can actually control. This is hard--again, I'm not trying to hurt anyone's feelings or ask people not to dream. But I do think it's important when thinking of your writing as a career that you are realistic with a bit of hope and optimism thrown in.
In my opinion, part of writer's block or even writer's apathy comes because you have set too high of expectations for yourself or even goals that you cannot control. (As much as we try, we can't control those agents or editors or even readers whom we want to buy our book!) Also, if you don't envision your life as a writer, in my opinion, it's easy to let other things take over--other hobbies, family commitments, part-time jobs, volunteer positions, and so on. If you keep the ultimate five-year vision in mind, then you will have an easier time saying no to some of these extraneous things.
If you've never done a long-range vision for your career, I encourage you to. Share part or all of it with us in the comments! We'd love to hear. :)
If you are interested in Margo's class: Writing for Children: How to Get Started and Take Hold of Your Career, which includes a critique on a picture book manuscript or 10-pages of a novel, then you can find more information here. Margo is the author of Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg and edits most of the e-zine articles for WOW!