Yeah, I know writing is all about The Art, and worrying about goals and milestones is all beside the point. Lately, though, I’ve been focusing on some objective goals, rather than the vague stuff.
I think it’s a waste of time to set goals that I can’t directly effect. For example, “I want to get published soon” is perfectly fine as something to hope for, but as a goal, how do you make that happen? You can’t make it happen, because it involves decisions that are out of your hands. All you can do it create a situation that makes it more likely to occur than otherwise, such as writing more stories, improving those stories via revisions, sending them out to editors, and resubmitting them as soon as they come back.
So, it’s these last things I can focus on. I can set a goal of writing a certain number of days per week, or a certain number of words per day. I can set a goal of starting one new story every three weeks, and it’s not up to anybody but me whether or not that happens. I can make sure my finished works are circulating among editors who may be interested in them, and I can set the goal of resubmitting any rejected story within a short time, like a day or two.
I was already tracking most of this stuff, like which stories were sent to which markets at what time, plus which stories are pending resubmission at any given moment. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about:
MONTHLY SUBMISSIONS (TOTAL CUMULATIVE)
2009-12… 1 submission
2010-01… 1 submission (2 total)
2010-02… 2 submissions (4 total)
2010-03… 3 submissions (7 total)
2010-04… 10 submissions (17 total)
2010-05… 1 submission (18 total)
2010-06… 7 submissions (25 total)
2010-07… 2 submissions (27 total)
2010-08… 11 submissions (38 total)
This makes it look a bit like I’ve wavered between hyperactivity and heel-dragging, but some markets reject your story right away, while others sit on them for weeks or even months.
In April 2010 I submitted ten times, but at the time I only had five finished stories in submission, so that means I probably hit several of the faster markets (F&SF, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed) more than once, in order to average two submissions per finished story that month.
Conversely in July 2010 I only submitted two stories, but that doesn’t mean I was letting rejected stories rest. It was just a time when certain markets were holding onto stuff for longer periods, so there was nothing to send back out.
Because of what happened in July, I can’t really set a goal as to how many submissions I’ll make per month. What if I don’t get any stories rejected in September? In that case, the only stories I could submit during September would be any new stories I finish. I do try to make sure I finish roughly one new story every month, but not on a strict schedule. I don’t want to get into rushing a story out before it’s really done.
Periodically I’ll report numbers like this, in case anyone’s interested. Right now, the rejection count stands at 31 (that is, the 38 submissions, less the 7 stories currently under consideration), still a very small number compared to many other writers. That number will curve upward faster and faster as I complete more stories, and diligently keep them out there in front of editors’ eyeballs. A little quick math tells me by the end of 2011 I’ll have over 150 rejections if I continue at the same pace of finishing stories and submitting them to similar markets. That sounds like a lot, but I can see how a lot of writers end up with hundreds of rejections before they get their first publication.