For the last two years, I’ve been on what I could only describe as a personal journey. Almost like a Hero’s Journey (or a Writer’s Journey 😉 ).
The beauty of the Hero’s Journey model is that it not only describes a pattern in myths and fairy tales, but it’s also an accurate map of the territory one must travel to become a writer or, for that matter, a human being.
I have this goal that plagues my to do list, but I NEVER get around to completing it. It’s my fault and not because of laziness, but because it wasn’t properly set. The SMART technique is a realistic goal setting system that can benefit writers or anyone. BUT there’s an awesome variant that you may not be aware of. It’s called SMARTER!
All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.
– Orson Swett Marden
What does S.M.A.R.T.E.R mean?
S.M.A.R.T.E.R. stands for Specific Measurable, Achievable Realistic, Time-bound, Evaluate, and Re-do (whew!). It’s a variant of “S.M.A.R.T.” which is a criteria that helps make your goals accomplishable. The “E.R.” (Evaluate and Re-do) is what you do after putting your goals into action.
To make a goal S.M.A.R.T.E.R., you need a general goal.
General goals get a bad rep for putting too much focus on the result. They seem harder than they really are, and we feel like crap when we haven’t completed them. They’re just too darn broad.
But… you need a general goal before you can make it S.M.A.R.T.E.R.. Also, break your goal down into smaller steps so it’s not result focused.
A specifically stated goal mentions what you plan to do, how you’ll do it, and the due date. We can’t do much at this point since all we have is a general goal, so the first order of business is to make it S.M.A.R.T.. Then we’ll make it S.M.A.R.T.E.R..
I promise this will all make sense.
How do you know when you’re done? How can you track your progress?
You can track the progress of your writing project by word count, page count, chapters, and so on. Just make sure you have a number in mind!
My goal: I want to write a 5,000 word short story.
Do you have the resources necessary to achieve your goal?
A resource could be something tangible, like a USB flash drive, notebook, or organizer. It can also be something intangible, like a word processing software, commitment, or time.
Also, take into account every responsibility or distraction that could affect your goal (work, family obligations, school) and decide if it’s still achievable. If it’s not, you may need to adjust something.
My goal: I write in Scrivener (not affiliated), back up my work via a USB flash drive, and use a planner to track my progress. That’s pretty much all I need for writing. I always write in the morning when I’m not too busy, so time isn’t a problem. Writer’s block may wear down my commitment, but I can fight against it by outlining my short story ahead of time or relying on good ol’ fashioned grit and filling my creative well with reading.
Why did you make this goal? Is it relevant to the life you have or want?
There needs to be a point to your goal or else it’s just valuable time wasted.
My goal: I want to be an author and writing something, like a short story, will help me get there.
When do you want to complete your goal?
Set a due date! This keeps you motivated and prevents procrastination (hopefully).
My goal: I want to write my novel during July’s Camp NaNoWriMo. That’s 161 words a day–easy! In case life is a jerk, I can stick to my original plan of getting it done by the end of the summer, but I’m aiming for July 31st.
Now you can specifically state your S.M.A.R.T. goal.
My General Goal: Write a short story.
My S.M.A.R.T. Goal: Write a 5,000 word rough draft during July’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m going to do this by writing 161 words a day and keep track of my progress via Scrivener and my planner. The due date is July 31st (or September 1st) at midnight.
Do you see the difference? The reason I did the “Specific” step last is because I wanted to flesh out my original goal first.
This step only happens after you’ve tried your S.M.A.R.T. goal. Take some time to analyze what’s working and what’s not. Check your performance. What did you struggle with? Do you need to lower the stakes or increase them?
For example, you may want to decrease your word count goal or extend the due date if you’re having trouble keeping up. Or maybe the hours in your job have changed and you have to adjust something.
Detect a problem? Go back through the S.M.A.R.T. criteria and make a new goal. Put it into action and then evaluate how things are working for you. Going bad? Re-do it. Going good? You’re golden.
WARNING! It may tempt you to use the Evaluate and Re-do steps as excuses for procrastination. DO NOT DO THIS EVER! I suggest limiting yourself to one (OK, two) re-tries.
The SMARTER system takes into account that we’re human. Sometimes we stretch ourselves thin or we discover that we’re capable of more than what we thought. Whatever the case, it’s an adaptable oopsie button that prevents us from throwing in the towel.
I’m here with Crystin Goodwin to talk about her fantasy series The Blessings in Myrillia. Make sure to check out her books UnBlessed, Fire Blessed, and Ice Blessedafter you’re done reading the interview.
Lets get started!
Crystin, can you give us a quick synopsis of your Blessings in Myrillia series?
In a world where magic dictates everything, one young girl struggles with her status as one of the distasteful unBlessed. Kisara is considered the lowest in Melior society, but at least she’s still superior to the savages that roam the wilds of Myrillia … or so she thought. Soon, Kisara discovers that not all is as it seems in her world, and the true source of the conflict between her race and the beastly Transeatur has been forgotten over the ages. She must uncover the truth and expose the dark secrets of the past before her people find themselves at the mercy of a monster.
Your series features a large cast of vibrant, complex, characters. Can you discuss this? What were some difficulties or lessons that you learned?
Well, originally I started out with three main characters – Kisara, Lucien, and Sebastian – who represented specific roles in society: the elite, the outcast, and the prejudiced. However, as I developed the world and plot surrounding my little trio, a lot of my supporting cast took a life of their own. Lucien’s friend Marius started off as a simple sidekick, but thanks to a few changes I made to the end of UnBlessed, his role ended up being much more important … and complicated. The Transeatur shaman, Dominic, is another character who grew to be more influential than originally planned with his calm wise outlook. And don’t even get me started on the villain! Their story is fleshed out a lot more in Ice Blessed, and I honestly think it’s some of the best writing I’ve done to date.
While I might have a large cast of characters, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve managed to create such a diverse pool of personalities. It makes it a lot more fun to write! I especially enjoy exploring how each character interacts with the others – especially when there are strong feelings involved.
As for difficulties or lessons, yes, I found a few. I started telling Kisara’s story when she was quite young: thirteen in fact. While I still feel this is important (it allows the reader to better understand her character arc) I also realize that almost no one wants to read about a thirteen-year-old, especially when they appear to be pretty typical, normal thirteen year-olds. Another lesson learned is to be very careful with your character names. I have a side character named Silvester as well as my main character Sebastian. I sometimes find myself switching the names by accident when talking about the characters. (Thank goodness I never make that error when writing!) However, it’s a good idea to try and keep names different.
I just have to ask this: which of your characters is your favorite?
Hands down, Marius Caleo. I know, I know: I shouldn’t have favorites, but seriously, Marius is my absolute favorite. Arrogant, sarcastic, handsome, wealthy … yet he still manages to do the right thing – good things – by accident. I like to call him my loveable jerk. Plus, who wouldn’t love a guy who can control fire?
I’ve read gushing reviews from readers who adore the elemental magic system in your series. Some say that your magic system is more captivating than the complex systems usually found within the fantasy genre. Can you comment on this? How do you feel about magic systems in general?
I love magic. My preferred reading genre is fantasy (of all types), and I appreciate the magic found in all sorts of media: cartoons, movies, video games … even the magic of Disney theme parks!
When creating the magic systems for Myrillia, I wanted to incorporate some of my favorite elements to create something new. The elemental magic system my race the Melior use, is loosely based off the elementalist class and the shaman class from several video games I’ve played. In Myrillia, a Melior individual is gifted with an affinity with a specific element: fire for example. Fire Blessed are capable of conjuring flames out of nothing, can extinguish flames around them with a thought, have a higher tolerance for heat, and so on. There are multiple elements, many of which I haven’t fully explored in the existing books, but include Fire, Air, Earth, Water, Magic, along with many others.
On the flip side, my other race – the Transeatur – are shapeshifters. They possess a guardian Animal Spirit and can change into that form at will. They’re not quite werewolves, as there isn’t any tie to lunar cycles and they don’t lose their ‘humanity’ while in animal form … but they are physically stronger and faster and possess keener senses than Melior. So again, I took the aspects of the magic I liked and adapted it for my own world.
The world of Myrillia is so rich and surreal. Can you discuss the inspiration behind it?
Ooh, good question! Honestly, it’s a lot like my magic systems: I took all the things that make up my idea of a perfect world and made it the setting. I love unspoiled nature, so there’s a lot of woodlands and pastures … lots of greenery and peaceful settings with minimal technology. After all, if you can do almost anything and everything with magic, why would you need gadgets to do the same? When it comes to the cities and settlements in Myrillia, I’ve always been fascinated with ancient Rome and medieval England, so I worked aspects of those cultures into Melior society. The Transeatur way of life is loosely based on Native American lifestyles and beliefs.
So basically, it’s a hodgepodge.
Is there a hidden message or theme present in your series?
Oh yes, many. Some aren’t hidden at all; at least, I feel they’re pretty obvious. Like the prejudice between the Melior and Transeatur: I use several characters to explore both the cause and effect of prejudice. In Fire Blessed, I have a character who embodies the self-esteem issues many teens face. And all throughout the series – in fact, the theme that drives the entire plot – is the message/saying: things are not always as they seem. I have dozens (honestly, I’ve lost count) of scenes that have vastly different meaning when reread through the eyes of another character.
I love working in hints and foreshadowing reality versus what a character wants or is taught to see. I’m the type of reader that loves to reread books, and my favorite stories are the ones that feel like a different book the second time around. Sort of like the Sixth Sense – the movie with Bruce Willis. The first time you watch the movie, it’s just a thriller. But when you watch it a second time, knowing the crazy plot twist at the end, you notice hundreds of little clues that were there all along! I wanted to try and do this with my books: because in my opinion, there’s nothing more flattering than having someone read your story twice.
If you could give three tips to aspiring authors, what would they be?
Three tips, hmm?
Don’t be afraid to experiment, even if it’s in the middle of your manuscript. Two of my most popular scenes came from my messing around when I didn’t know what to write. Stuff that I thought was really stupid and cheesy, but fun to write. At the time, I was aiming for daily word counts and I couldn’t figure out where I wanted my story to go, so I decided to just play around. I discovered that when you, the author, have fun writing something, it transfers to the reader. (I used this knowledge to my advantage with my second novel: I loved the central characters of that book so much and had a blast inventing things to put them through … and my enthusiasm shows in the writing.)
Get a reader to look over your work before you send it to an editor or critique group. It can be a friend or random stranger (depending on your comfort level) but make sure they like to read your genre! You don’t want to ask someone who reads crime fiction to judge your romance novel … or vice versa. To add to this tip: make sure you invest in a quality editor. Trust me, next to a good cover, this is the most important thing for creating the best book possible.
Finally, take the time to network. Connect with readers, with blog visitors, and with other professionals. The creative community, especially the indie community, is full of generous and wonderful people. You might be surprised at who you might discover: I found both my editor and my cover designer through my blog comments. Not only that, but I’ve developed wonderful friendships with both of them, and with countless other visitors. There are lots of people out there willing to help you succeed: you just have to reach out to them.
“Our united opinion is entirely against the book. It is very long, and rather old-fashioned.”
F. Scott Gitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:
“You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”
Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga:
“I didn’t plan to start a new career when I did this, and it took a lot of courage to send out those query letters. I sent 15, and I got nine rejection letters, five no responses and one person who wanted to see me. If it’s something you enjoy, put the determination and will behind it and see what happens.”
Rejection stinks worse then a cow in the summer. But, just like cow funk, they’re out there. Don’t be deterred! Stay strong. In fact, these authors were rejected by publishers. To bad for them…the publishers I mean…
Jules Verne’s rejection for his Paris in the Twentieth Century:
“…If you were to reread it one year from now, you would surely agree with me. It is tabloidish, and the topic is ill-chosen.
I was not expecting perfection–to repeat, I knew that you were attempting the impossible–but I was hoping for something better.”
Stephen King’s Carrie:
“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”
William Golding’s Lord of Flies:
“…an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”
The case of of the Monomyth…it sounds so Sherlock Holmes-y!
Well, my dear Watson, the monomyth says that every hero’s journey is a variant of a single journey. That means that Frodo, Hercules, Katniss, Harry Potter and [you name another] all had the same journey (…more or less). In fact, they may all be variants of the same hero.
Since Camp NaNoWriMo is only a month away, I thought it appropriate to share this semi-outline semi-philosophy with you.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
Of course not, in fact, “burning out” comes with the territory! It’s a fact of writerly life. I read a post by Chuck Windig that I thought was really helpful. Be warned, Chuck is very…colorful. 🙂
Problem: You flared up and burned out and now you’re naught but a crispy charcoal briquette. Your internal creative space looks like what’s left after a house-fire. You’re tired. Exhausted, even.
Solution: Jeez, take a break. Step away from the story or I’ll Taser you right in the naughty bits. Go reward yourself for working so hard. Have some ice cream. Go for a walk. Build a Lamborghini from the bones of your enemies. Don’t go away from your story for too long. A few hours. A day or two or three. We spend a ton of IEP (Intellectual Energy Points) on our work and our life, so go, recharge, let your creative juices once more pickle your headcheese. Then get back to work with fresh eyes. Bring coffee. Because coffee.
I may not be doing all of the…interesting suggestions that Chuck talks about…but I still have to find a creative outlet during my “burn outs”.
So I play on my violin (which may drive my neighbors nuts), go read, or play tons of video games. There’s something about each of those activities that really loosens me up. Maybe it’s because I’m focusing all of my “IEP” on something else. WHICH is the overall mission!