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Thursday, July 26

WINNING WAY: Establishing Professional Writing Goals Worth Pursuing

By Damon Suede, @DamonSuede

Part of The Writer's Life Series

As writers we have the best and worst job in the world. We get paid to make stuff up. We are captains of our own destiny. The tools necessary are simple and ubiquitous.

When it comes to my career, I treat our industry as a giant, elaborate game because genre publishing really does have rules and roles, strategy and struggle, touchdowns and trophies… No matter how intense the conflict or dire the stakes, no one gets jailed or murdered because they didn’t hit the USA Today list. That perspective helps me keep my nuttiness and anxiety to a minimum no matter how vile or harrowing the experiences of a given moment.

Because I tend to think of writing as a game I'm always keeping the prize in mind. Every game has a goal that allows you to develop a strategy. If you're not the type of person who examines your personal goal motivation and conflict this can present a giant problem. The truth is we are not all the same and we don't seek the same rewards. Different players in different contexts seek different rewards and play radically different games. Some of us love brutal conflict. Some of us gravitate towards gentle, cooperative d├ętentes the human heart is simply too complex to boil down to a single identity or path to happiness.

When I finished my first book, many helpful souls rushed forward to point out all the necessary objectives I needed to pursue all the dire fates I had to skirt. Not surprisingly, much advice proved contradictory and confusing, because everyone seemed to believe that their path was the only possible path for every other person in the industry. When I’d sold my first romance novel, that confusion made me bananas, because I didn’t want to screw up and I didn’t know the “right” way to proceed. To my everlasting gratitude, 25 years in show business had made me skeptical and practical when it came to bromides and blandishments. On top of that I’m a contrarian by nature, so I used what worked and ditched what didn’t, full stop. The thing that got me through every time was keeping my goals in sight.

For my part, I think many authors labor under the delusion that there really is one way, one truth, one path, one prize that deserves the pursuing. Balderdash! How can we think that, when we know that every character has their own intention, action, and GMC? We are not insects and we trivialize our real strengths, goals, and hopes to our detriment.

The trouble is that monolithic solutions and one-size-fits-all wisdom is the easiest stuff to promote and promulgate. Once you're willing to issue subtlety, complexity, and real human attention most advice tends to turn into monosyllabic blather. Frankly, that stuff is easier to sell on Kindle Unlimited as professional advice to panicky writers. A lot of well-intentioned advice larded over authors ends up tormenting and paralyzing them. "Of course you want that award – review – publisher – agent – contract – advance! Who wouldn't?!" In practice, that stuff is toxic, deceptive, and corrosive to a healthy writing career.

The first, best, and essential thing to ask yourself at the start of any task: what is your measure of success?


Everybody wants success. But what precisely does that success look like to each of us. Shouldn’t you know the rules and the prize before you play? What matters most to you? What keeps you up late and gets you up early? Fame, fortune, favors, and fans sound great, but what is the Big Shiny Trophy™ you play for every time you get up and get in the game?

I'm not suggesting that we don't want all of these things, but rather that one of these things inspires you more than the others. That's your prize. That defines your measure of success as you understand it currently. Over the course of your career at goals will change in your focus will shift, but the only way for you to take action moment to moment is to aim yourself at the right target.

Know what you’re playing for, or else you’re playing for nothing. Any prize that you pick will radically shift your strategy and your efforts in all that you do. By pinpointing that prize you set yourself up for success because all of your efforts bend towards the goal before you...nudging you towards your own professional HEA.

So then… How do you know when you have succeeded?


With every single professional task, I establish a measure of success that allows me to gauge my efforts and the results. Articulating a clear metric for progress before beginning the process tips the scales in my favor. Not only that clarifying a measure of success also helps your rep team, your publisher, your colleagues, and your fans to boost your professional goals as well. Essentially, your entire career is an interconnected measures of success leading from prize to prize in an unbroken chain.

A few years back, management guru Peter Drucker popularized a George Doran technique now known as S.M.A.R.T. planning. The best measure of success will be:
Specific: with a tangible goal with clear limits and definition.
Measurable: with a concrete, calculable indicator of progress.
Achievable: within reach of your current skills and resources.
Relevant: important and appropriate to your current objectives.
Time-based: using a firm start and finish to focus your work schedule.
That measure of success will make it clear why and where you fell short and when you nailed it. Any time you fall short, you’re better equipped for the next round. Hold yourself accountable and tailor subsequent decisions based on those results. Molehills can build a mountain; aim for progress, not perfection.

Think of each measure of success as an expression of active intention by using the phrase “in order to…”
  • I am joining this anthology in order to support two young writers I admire.
  • I am attending this conference in order to connect with readers in a new market.
  • I am giving this workshop in order to attract savvy members to my chapter.
The next time you’re redesigning swag or popping onto a panel or accepting a conference invite, establish a measure of success that holds you accountable and gives you plenty of actionable intel on the back end.

Full disclosure: I establish a measure of success before every book, class, speech, genre event, swag design, or Facebook party just to keep myself focused and honest about the eventual results. I need to know how I’m doing, and that requires assessment unmuddied by emotion or personality. Each measure lets me keep track of what works and why so I can keep improving and evolving.

Get serious and specific. What do you want and why do you want it?


Here’s the deal: like it or not, you are the protagonist of your own professional story. Just like every author. If you suss out exactly what you’re playing for, you can nail down a coherent strategy that addresses your unique goal, motivation, and conflict so that your authorial story can arc towards its own HEA. Yay, independent thought! Yay, narrative structure!You make the choices, you do the work, you scoop whatever loot ensues.

Then once things are done, actually do the dissection. Measure your success with brutal specificity.
  • Pinpoint the possibilities, problems, the people who stepped up/in/on you.
  • Ask yourself where you fell short and what might've help the situation.
  • Make a list of allies and resources you might have gathered beforehand.
  • Consider uses and misuses of what you had on hand so that you can leverage them more mindfully the next go-round.
  • Credit your allies because they deserve your thanks.
  • Note your opponents and obstacles because they aren’t going anywhere.
  • Give yourself credit for the hard work and clever moves, but also pay attention to the lucky (and unlucky) breaks that factored in the final outcome.

Publishing is a vast complex ecosystem and all of us have to work with the weather we face in any given moment.

A word of advice: Negatives undermine, positives underline. Grousing about failure or obsessing over mistakes doesn’t actually fix anything. For best results, cast yourself as the active, focused protagonist of your own adventure. You have the power to tell the story of your own career, but only if you decide what matters most to you.

Before you make a significant professional move, weigh the strengths and flaws, opportunities and threats. For best results, make sure that your measure of success is unique to the project to clarify your path and independent of external influence, because it’s all too easy to let raves and praise derail your personal GMC unless you nail down the endgame.

Articulate a smart goal and you’ll always be playing to win.

Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen almost three decades and just released his first craft book: Verbalize, a practical guide to characterization and story craft. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year.

Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter |

About Verbalize

Verbalize: bring stories to life & life to stories

Fascinating fiction starts with characters who make readers care. This Live Wire Writer Guide presents a simple, effective technique to sharpen your hook, charge your scenes, and amplify your voice whether you’re a beginner or an expert.
  • Most writing manuals skirt craft questions with gimmicks and quick fixes rather than plugging directly into your story’s power source. Energize your fiction and boost your career with
  • a new characterization method that jumpstarts drafting, crafting, revision, and pitching.
  • skill-builders to intensify language, stakes, and emotion for your readers.
  • battle-tested solutions for common traps, crutches, and habits.
  • a dynamic story-planning strategy effective for plotters and pantsers.
  • ample examples and exercises to help you upgrade fiction in any genre.
Blast past overused tics and types with storycraft that busts your ruts and awes your audience. Whether you like to wing it or bring it, Verbalize offers a fresh set of user-friendly, language-based tools to populate your pages and lay the foundations of unforgettable genre fiction.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound |

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