Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Monday, January 16, 2017

Your plan for success is not another person's reason for failure

If you want to achieve a goal, you have to have a plan. You have to have a strategy. You do need to have a very clear idea of what specific kind of goal you want to achieve, yes, but you also need to make sure that you have a plan to get there. Sitting around and twiddling your thumbs while you just hope you will magically achieve your goal without any effort is not going to do it. You need to have a plan for things to do to achieve your goal and you actually have to put in the time and effort to get there.

Last year, for me, it was to write a short story every week. Of course, there were many times I was tempted to flake on my plan of writing a story each week because of one thing or another. I was sick, I was too tired, I had an eye injury and could only write with one eye open, or I was too busy. Or it was the broken keyboard or writer’s block.

But you know what all of those things were? EXCUSES NOT TO WRITE! And this year, my motto is, “I want results, not excuses.” That was pretty much the status quo for last year, and I followed through on my plan. Because I took those excuses and threw them out the window, I accomplished my goal to write a short story every week. It was hard and of course I realized nobody gave a shit if I accomplished that goal or not so why bother, but I did it for myself and I made it to the end. I knew I would be disappointed in myself if I failed that goal, so I didn’t give up!

But if some writer came to me whining that they can’t do the same thing because of this reason or that reason, I’m not going to get on my soapbox and scream at them, “YOU’RE JUST MAKING EXCUSES!” No, I’m going to talk to them and figure out what is going on.

In my opinion, that is the right thing to do. I’m not going to look at what I myself used to accomplish my goal and think that just because someone else can’t do it, they aren’t doing what I did. No, things are different for everyone. It could be any number of reasons that is keeping them from accomplishing a goal. It’s not because they’re not doing what I did. Really, it could be anything!

I was reminded of that this morning as I read an editorial in which a successful freelance writer was claiming another freelancer was not doing what she did to achieve freelancing success just because that person hadn’t accomplished their goal. I had to disagree with this claim, because that’s EXACTLY what I was doing for the 10 years that I worked as a freelance writer – five days a week and for at least 8 hours for those 5 days – and I didn’t achieve the same goal that she had. I don’t know why I failed. Sure, I could chalk it up to being deaf and therefore unreachable by phone. Or maybe I didn’t have such a good enough idea for their current needs. Maybe I didn’t query the right person or they already covered that topic or they thought I was a spammer. Or maybe they just didn’t like my name! Who knows??

The point is, I had done exactly the same thing for all those years. I achieved mediocre success and I was happy for that. I was writing for a national newspaper and I was happy for that, too. But I did not accomplish my goal: To break into the glossies. I tried for 10 years and I was consistent and I doubled up my efforts, but nothing came of it. I either got a rejection or no response at all.

But do I look back on that and think, ‘Oh, gee, if only I had tried harder and been more consistent?’ Absolutely not – because I did and I was. I gave my efforts my all. (I believe that if you are going to do something, you should do it 100%!) I just couldn’t accomplish that one goal.

And that is one of the two writing goals I was unable to accomplish. I am grateful I have been able to accomplish other ones.

But if a writer came to me upset that he or she just couldn’t do something that he or she was trying to do – write a book, sell a short story or get a job writing for a newspaper – I would want to go over everything that they have tried so far. I would want to know their background, their plan and what happened when nothing else was working. I wouldn’t automatically assume they weren’t making time to write or that they weren’t sending their stories out or getting the training they needed in journalism first. I would want to know where they came from and where they are now.

I think this is a better thing to do rather than automatically assuming that they aren’t practicing the same strategies as me. And I think it would be ideal if a lot of other successful writers out there who are adopting a high and mighty attitude would come back off of their soapbox for a minute to realize this importance. It’s just a lesson in humility. Maybe those writers out there ARE doing the same thing you are doing. Maybe they already tried your strategy for several years already.

It would just be nice to not automatically assume they are not even trying!

Maybe I would have accomplished my goal if I had tried longer. Maybe it would have taken me 11 years or 15 years to finally break into the glossies. I don’t know. But I don’t regret walking away from it, because I just got to a point where I was done. I wanted to move on to other things. I did try going back to freelancing for a while there, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore, and that’s when I knew I had to give it up because if there is no passion – no fire or no drive – to keep doing a creative endeavor, then it is best to not try doing it at all. The passion has to be there. But at that time that I did try to work in freelancing again and I just didn’t feel that passion anymore, that was when I knew I would have to accept that perhaps freelance writing is NOT the way for me to break into those magazines. I DO still want to accomplish that goal, but there are other ways to do it. Perhaps some other strategy is in order.

The bottom line is that all of us – successful and newbie – needs to understand that it’s not a good idea to automatically assume another writer isn’t on your level just because he or she isn’t doing what you’re doing. Maybe they are! And maybe what they need from you is just a little bit of encouragement or new ideas to help them keep going.

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