I’ve been thinking a lot about goal setting, something achievers swear by and life coaches encourage and everybody from athletes to business tycoons practice: determining what you want and the steps it might take to get there. Without goals, you can feel like you’re working hard and never getting anywhere. Every journey has a destination—a goal—even if the goal itself is exploration, and playwriting is the craziest journey I’ve ever been on. Because it’s crazy, I don’t always find the goal setting easy.
Some goals you can control. If I, say, want to exercise thirty minutes a day six days a week, I’m the only person who determines whether or not that happens. If I don’t meet that goal, I have nobody to blame but myself. I can ask why I failed and determine that it’s because I wasted too much time or made too many excuses, but the bottom line remains the same: I am the one who didn’t do it. The playwriting equivalent is writing: I will write two hours a day minimum.
And then it gets tricky. A couple of years ago, my son’s baseball coach made each kid on the team write three goals on a baseball: 1) how many games he wanted the team win that season 2) a team goal like make it to three semi-finals in tournaments, and 3) a personal goal, like hit a home run. Some kids said the team would win every game and for them, the idea of goal setting was lost. Because if the goals aren’t realistic, it’s not goal-setting, it’s fantasizing. (Playwriting equivalent: I’ll be on Broadway next year.)
I want to point out that none of these goals are truly in any of these kids’ control (more about that later, but for now, suffice to say the coach should have followed up with a set of goals that increase the odds of achieving those desirable outcomes), but for the kids who set achievable and realistic goals, there was at least, in those moments, the belief that they could make three semi-finals, they could hit home runs, or make six double plays. That belief, ideally, in turn, gave them long-term vision and short-term motivation. Even if they didn’t meet the goals, they were striving for something, and there can never be success without striving. Striving, then, is determining the steps it will take to meet the goal. For the baseball team, batting practice, double play drills, etc. For a playwright, writing, yes, but what else?
That depends on the goals. Each year, I usually have three that don’t change:
1) Complete at least one full-length play.
2) Get at least one full-length production.
3) Earn more money from playwriting than I did the previous year.
Notice that the first goal is completely within my control, the second one less so, and third not at all. Sort of. I mean, presumably, there is no way I can make somebody give me a production. I can, however, take steps that will give me the best odds possible. And as long as #3 is happening, there’s a good chance #2 is happening and then some. So to give myself the best odds, I have another set of goals:
4) Identify 10 theaters that my play is right for and make inquiries and/or set up meetings (preferably the latter). If I don’t hear back in one month, identify ten more and repeat.
5) Submit to every opportunity that is right for one of my plays (callback to #1: the more plays you have, the more often this happens)
6) Make my plays even better.
So the first two of these, I have control over. The third? More goals:
7) Read one play per week.
8) Explore one-on-one dramaturgy.
9) Form a new writers group.
After a certain point, the goals all start to feed back on each other, but I think it’s always best to have a mix of goals that you DO have control over, goals that give you the best odds of succeeding at the goals you DON’T have control over. A lot of goal setting literature talks about goals being performance related (those you can control) but I think in this business, it’s those out-of-our-control end goals (dreams?) that keep us going. I do agree, however, that each goal should be precise, measurable (money not be the best way to measure, i.e. #3, but is quantifiable), and, most importantly, realistic.
Beyond those three goals, I also have specific goals that I consider “career achievement” goals. These are things like
10) Get into X development opportunity (refer back to #5 and #6)
11) Get productions in two more states (#4 and #5)
12) Get on the List!
13) Get a domestic agent (I have an international one, but not a domestic one; how weird is that?)
14) Pursue more publications.
Those last three are bigger, requiring more specific breakdowns, networking, research—all of which require more goal-setting. Does this all sound like too much? It is. It’s a freaking full-time job, but when it’s all laid out in little pieces, somehow it seems more manageable. I know this is only the tip of a gigantic iceberg that is goal-setting and achievement, but I wanted to get the conversation started.
How do you do it? What kinds of goals do you set?
P.S. Just writing this blog post was a goal!!