December 4, 2009


When I go running, I find myself facing two things: growing fatigue and growing discouragement. And when I run and I start to feel tired and discouraged, I find myself lowering my head. Pushing through. I started running with my head down even when I wasn't tired or discouraged. It just became the way I usually did it. Now, I don't mean my head was bowed and I wasn't looking where I was going, but generally speaking my face was angled down. My eyes were looking ahead maybe half a block, if that.

When I noticed this at one point when I was just not feeling like I was going anywhere, and I lifted my head and fixed my eyes on a point down the road. It seemed to me that this SHOULD be more discouraging. It was a LONG stretch of road ahead. (Actually sidewalk, but who care.) But instead, I found a bit more energy. Looking ahead of me, I was able to run with more purpose. I had a destination. I wasn't focused on where I was; I was focused on where I was going.

If you are creative artist, you've got approach things in much the same way. You can't just focus on where you are, you have to be looking ahead at where you're going.

Doing this can requires having a destination in mind. With a run, I know my destination. Down the road, around the corner, and back home. But if you are a writer or artist, the destination is not nearly so well defined.

That means you've got to define it yourself!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1. Personal Goals. Personal goals are just that: personal. These are somewhat abstract goals, and some of them may never really feel like they've been attained because they are really a work in progress. These can be goals like "learn something new today" or "be the best I can be".

These personal goals are goals that help you become more self-aware. They are goals that cause you to take a look at who you are and how you do things and, hopefully, push you to be better. Because they are abstract, I debated not putting them on this list, but I think that as you strive to be a better, successful creative artist, you also need to strive to be a better human being. These are spiritual goals.

The success of these goals can be hard to measure. "Hmm, I'm a 7 in 'be a better person' today." it just doesn't happen, does it?

In writing and art, it is just as hard to measure. Saying you'll "write better" is difficult to measure, yes, but setting goals like that will cause you to take steps toward achieving them. You may not be able to see how much better you are in your chosen art on a day to day basis, but you will be able to see if you've worked toward bettering yourself or not every day.

These goals are abstract, as I said, and as a result are somewhat amorphous. That's okay. As you grow and change, these goals should grow and change with you.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

2. Professional Goals. Professional goals are hard, because success is, honestly, out of your own hands. You can set a goal like "get an agent in two years" or "get published before 2012", but the success of these goals lie in the hand of agents, editors, and publishers. And frankly, they don't have the same enthusiasm for your goals as you do.

Still, it is good to set these goals. Use them as milestones you can point to as you grow as a writer or artist. For me, in the past, one of my professional goals was to be published by someone other than myself (Community Comics, a comic book publisher, was run by myself and three other men -- being published by Community didn't count) before I turned thirty. And when I was 29, Image Comics published The Hedge Knight. My current professional goal is to have another project lined up before my current project is finished. The first of these goals was about my career, the second of these goals is tied directly to providing for my family.

But do not let them get you down if you do not make those goals. These goals are meant to help you move forward, not stop you in your tracks. If you find a goal becoming unattainable or if you do not make one of these goals, adjust them. Or use the failed goal as an opportunity to assess what you are doing to meet the goals. If "get published before I turn thirty" is a goal, and on your thirtieth birthday you still haven't been published, take a look at what you've done to meet that goal. Is it because you didn't write anything? Or is it because you just never found the right connection with a publisher, even though you did try? Do you need to get some help with your cover letters?

Success with these goals means moving on to the next goal; failure means assessing what went wrong and addressing it for the future. Either way, you're pushing yourself to become better.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

3. Practical Goals. Practical goals, unlike professional goals, are completely in your hands. These are things that can range from the tiny to the enormous. And they provide the most encouragement, I think, when things get tiring or discouraging. Challenges like NaNoWriMo, in which people set a goal to complete a novel in a month, or the 24-Hour Comic, in which people write and draw twenty-four pages in twenty-four hours, are extreme examples of a practical goal. There's a timeline (one month or twenty-four hours) and at the deadline there's a tangible product (a novel or a comic book). Practical goals can include things like "1000 words a day" or "half a page of art a day" or "three submissions this month".

A practical goal is a goal that you can easily measure. It is a goal that gives tangible results. And, as a result, it is a goal that will often times encourage you as you look at your other goals.

As with the professional goals: success means moving on to the next goal; failure means assessing what went wrong and addressing it. You should have both long range and short range practical goals, for immediate accomplishment and satisfaction and to have as a destination to strive toward.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There is a fourth type of goal-setting. It is one that I didn't think of until just now, and it is one that many people do not think is valid. It is one that other people put too much stock in. Me? i think it is important. However, I think that you can't build your career on it.

4. Dreams. These are those big idea, crazy wishes. For me, an example would be that I have a dream to write a Man-Thing story for Marvel Comics or an Aquaman story for DC Comics. It's a dream. It fits into my career nicely, but it's not a practical goal by any stretch. Marvel and DC have plenty of amazing writers at their beck and call. The likelihood that they might be interested in someone like me writing a C-List character like Man-Thing and Aquaman (although Aquaman SHOULD be an A-List character!) . . .

Well, let's just say it's a dream. It's not bad to dream.

Some people say "there's dreamers and there's doers". I disagree, I think we need to be a little bit of both. But don't let your "dream" of selling your science fiction novel idea to Steven Spielberg get in the way of, you know, actually writing the novel!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So keep your head up! Keep your eyes on the road ahead! With each step, with each day, push yourself to be not just the BEST you can be, but to be BETTER!

~ Ben


Josh said...

Great post Ben!

One of my dreams has been to be a guest star on the Muppets...

And to name a Ben & Jerry's flavor of ice cream...

There's more ;)

n0t0fth1s34rth said...

Good advice here! Any ideas on how to implement accountability in accomplishing these goals?

Ben said...

Accountability is an important element. Great question. I'll give that some thought. Your ideas?

Ben said...

Awesome avatar Josh!

And awesome dreams!