When I turned 30, I made a bunch of goals to meet before I turned 40. I wanted to, in no particular order:
run a marathon
learn a second language
travel to another country
publish at least one novel
I have done exactly none of those things.
I'm not alone. Thousands of people set and forget goals every single day. It's practically a universal part of the human condition. We hope that by setting goals we can force ourselves to change into what we imagine is a better version of ourselves.
I doubt I'll ever run a marathon- at this point I'd settle for running a 5K rather than walking most of it (I have never been a great runner).
Unless you count insurance lingo as a second language (it counts, right?) I doubt I'll ever have the time to learn a second language.
I'm still holding out hope for travelling to another country, but I don't even have a passport yet.
As for publishing a novel, well, that's a lot harder than the publishing world naive 30-year-old Allie would've believed possible.
First you have to finish your novel, followed by doing a second (third, fourth, fifth, six thousandth) draft. You send it to beta readers, or you hire an editor, and have them read and provide feedback. Hiring an editor is difficult too- what kind of editor do you want? One who will go line by line for grammar issues? One who will read the entire novel and provide feedback on the overall structure? Cost is a consideration too- often they're paid by the page, which gets expensive fast.
After you finish all of that you send out query letters to agents and wait. And wait some more.
I've spoken before about how the hardest part of writing is waiting, and that is true. I still, almost 9 months later, have a story on hold at one market.
I've revised my thinking on the hardest part of writing though. I no longer think it's the waiting, I think it's the lack of control. You can't force an editor to like your short story submission (especially if you're up against 500 + other submissions). You can't make a market that was open a few days ago reopen if they suddenly close. You can't make an agent even respond to your query letter. Of the 30+ I sent out for my last novel, only 7 of them gave a response. The rest expired on QueryTracker.
So what can you do?
You can keep writing and set realistic goals.
Rather than making goals on what I can't control, I'm making goals for writing about things I absolutely can. My new goals:
Finish one short story every month.
Submit a short story to markets or anthology calls once every two weeks.
Attend two write-in sessions a week and work on my novel.
Send my second draft of the novel (well, the wholy rewritten novel) to a beta reader by September.
Incorporate feedback from beta reader and do a final pass of the novel.
Create a query letter for that novel in October.
Create the following packages so they are ready to go if I get an agent response:
* A summary document that describes each chapter with one to two lines.
* The first ten pages document.
* The first fifty pages document.
* The first one hundred pages document.
Review Querytracker and Publisher's Marketplace and send out at least ten queries by end of October.
Work on my NaNoWriMo novel in November (yes, I'm crazily returning as an ML again this year).
Are these goals reasonable? Maybe I'll find at the end of the year that they weren't. After all, life has found many ways to keep me from meeting my goals so far in the last six months.
Even if the goals are unreasonable, what's important is they're all things I can control. If I need to, I can move around the timelines and still accomplish parts of the goal. And when it comes to writing as a business, you need all the illusion of control you can get.