On Peter M Ball’s repeated recommendations, I’ve just finished reading Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer, by Jeff Vandermeer, attempting to read it both as a writer and for its potential for application to illustrating (Artlife?).

Print

Of the whole dense and informative book, the part which stayed with me was the section on goals.

Curious personal hang-ups

Now, goals and five-year-plans are not news, but I never saw the point. “A plan is a basis for change,” after all, and “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. Also, “man plans, God laughs,” and serendipity has always been quite good to our family, while “saying ‘I wish’ means you aren’t happy with the way things are,” and if you admit you aren’t happy with the way things are, then you fix them. If that sounds like an odd combination of military principles, hippy survivalist mentality and Puritan work ethic, welcome to my upbringing.
So I have never set official goals, and nothing went horribly wrong (except for accidentally becoming a lawyer).

The blindingly obvious

Reading Booklife, it finally clicked: The idea of goals, not primarily as a destination but as a template for making decisions.

The casting vote. The deciding principle. Something to be regularly referred to, not for motivation but for course-correction.

The paper in my pocket

So I have made a list, dividing it into three columns: one for writing, one for art, and one for more general business/financial/support goals. Then I have a row for the 5 year goals, the 1 year goals, and then twelve months, with the current one broken into weeks.

As per the book, the intention is to refer to this when making decisions about what to do, or concentrate on, or stop doing. Does this get me nearer to a goal? Does it also support one of the others? Is the effort:result ratio reasonable or is it pulling me away from other things? Does this thing which is taking up all my evenings this week and has nothing to do with a goal really matter? And if so, should I revise the goals?

Past form

The odd thing (or alternatively proof that it is largely semantics, and that semantics matter) was that, for all my goal-aversion, I was already doing this in two respects:

  • I had stopped making New Year’s Resolutions several years ago, and started making lists of New Year’s Aspirations, being things it would be fun to achieve/do/eat. (I recommend this approach).
  • I had been keeping an illustration wish list of jobs or techniques I wanted to try, which both gave me a guide of jobs to chase/accept and a sense of satisfaction when I was able to tick something off. Although I still haven’t done endpapers.

Digression on ducks

Making the list, I found it interesting to note the apparently necessary differences between the art and writing goals (Write a Big Thing vs Draw a Duck), and the shape of reaching them (Plan/Draft/Revise/Edit/Repeat vs Draw a Duck). Writing (even short stories) is often long-term, large-scale, with a high threshold to audience appreciation, and creator-driven. Illustration consists of many small projects, at a smaller scale, easily seen and reacted to, and often pushed/pulled forward by art directors and deadlines.

I’m curious to see how the two diverge or converge over time, and whether I can more deliberately adapt approaches and mentalities from one into the other.

A Duck with a Plan

DuckWithPlan