2018 was a banner year in productivity and growth for me. I finished 15 books, my most ever by a long shot. On top of that, I also completed and launched three courses, which meant I completed 18 total projects in the year. I have never pushed myself harder than I did in 2018, and I was only able to do it because I set a big goal for myself at the beginning of the year and then worked to achieve in every day.
Before 2018, the most projects I ever finished in a calendar year was four, when I wrote three books and finished a graphic novel in one year. In 2018, I increased my output by more than 400%, and in doing so I pushed myself further than I ever have in my life.
I am a firm believer that you can do anything for a short amount of time without burning out. From 2015-2018 I exhibited at over 100 conventions, which pushed me to my physical and mental limit in a different way. Back in 2008, I wrote 10 scripts in six months in order to get over my crappy early writing habits. So, I’m well versed in compressed timelines to achieve an extraordinary goal, but 2018 was far and away the most I have ever pushed myself.
Why did I choose to complete so many projects in one year? Because I wanted to get to the next level fast. I’m not content to wait around and let life happen to me. When I see a goal I want to attain, I just want to get there quickly, and if it means a ridiculous amount of work to accomplish my goal, I’m fine with doing it.
In doing so, I learned quite a bit about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. So here are my best takeaways from this year of pushing myself to the limit.
Find the One Thing that can push yourself to the next level if you want to achieve a big goal
Gary Keller and Jay Papasan wrote an amazing book called The One Thing. In it, they talk about the benefits of finding the one, single thing which could change your life forever, The Big Domino, and putting an inordinate about of time and effort into tipping it over. In order for the domino to tip, there are all sorts of smaller things that need to fall into place, but your mind should be laser-focused on The Big Domino, and make sure 85% of your effort is focused into pushing it over. If you need help visualizing what I mean, check out this video.
As you can see, knocking over the smaller dominos allows you to push over the bigger dominos. The smallest domino could never knock over the biggest domino by itself, but it can push over a slightly bigger domino, which can push over a slightly bigger domino still, and so on down the line.
Becoming a successful novelist who sells well on Amazon and other outlets, instead of having to rely on shows and Kickstarter, was my big domino for 2018.
In order to do that, I needed to have enough books to rapidly release novels for a long time. In order to break through the Amazon algorithm, traditional wisdom says you need to rapidly release several books within a short timeframe of each other. I chose 18 books, which would allow me to release one book every three weeks for an entire year. Unfortunately, I only had a couple of books to my name at the end of 2017, which meant I needed to write a lot of books.
If you want to see more about this concept, this article will fill you in on the secret to self-published success and became the backbone of my plan, and of my Big Domino.
With my Big Domino in place, every book became a smaller domino, which would help tip The Big Domino over. There were other things, like mailing list size, Facebook group size, and many other factors that were also smaller dominos which would help push my bigger domino over. While I worked on all of them over the course of the year, I knew writing more books was the key to it all. If I didn’t have the books, nothing else mattered.
Before you embark on a big goal like the one I set for myself, you need your Big Domino. In order to find one, you need to start with a question.
“What can you do in the next 12 months that would revolutionize your life and make sure you were never the same person again?”
The answer to that question is the seed of your Big Domino. However, it needs to be an actual event, like finishing 12 books in one year, or something else which you can feel, not an idea or concept which is not tangible. I mentioned above that my Big Domino was “becoming a successful self-published author”, but my tangible goal was to make $100,000 a year on Amazon.
You can do more than you ever thought possible when you set a big goal
Another way to talk about the Big Domino is to call it a Big, Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). When I made my BHAG, I thought it was impossible to accomplish. I remember laughing when I first wrote it down. My wife just shook her head when she heard it. I thought I would get maybe six books done in 2018, even though I set my goal at 12, and figured I would be so gassed that I wouldn’t be able to speak by the time it was done.
However, I got it done. Not only that, I got my goal done by October and was able to complete three more books in 2018. While it was difficult, I was still able to work a full convention schedule and launch 3 courses, along with writing 15 books instead of my goal of twelve.
Don’t beat yourself up if you fall behind your big goal
When you are doing something audacious and huge, you are bound to fail and falter, even if it is only for a moment here and there. Maybe you didn’t hit your word count for the day, or maybe you’ve fallen behind on your schedule. The worst thing you can do in those moments is beat yourself up. You’re trying to do something incredible, and even if you fail, you’ll fall higher than most people can ever dream.
If you beat yourself up, you won’t be doing yourself any favors, either. The more you let doubt creep into your mind, the more likely you are to fall even further behind, and then it become a perpetual cycle. I lived by a 24-hour rule when I was writing all those books. If something horrible happened, I would allow myself to sulk for 24 hours, and then I would have to move on, because there just wasn’t time to feel sorry for myself. My big goal was going to take a long time to complete, and I needed to push forward, no matter what happened.
By doing this, it allowed me to develop more mental toughness and fortitude than I ever had before, and find solutions to problems rapidly so that I could avoid or break through any roadblocks that came up along my path.
Have an end goal in mind
I’m a firm believer that you can do anything for a short period of time, as long as you have an end goal in mind. During my 100+ show convention run, I told myself that I would do every event that presented itself for three years. However, by the end of 2018, needed to take my foot off the gas, because I never intended to attend tons of conventions for the rest of my life.
In the same manner, I set 12 books as my goal because I knew I needed an end goal in order to push myself to my limit. When I got to October, and had already completed 12 books, I decided to push myself and complete 15, which I did, but only because I had a lot left in the tank, and felt good enough to continue onward. If I had not, I would have stopped at that point. After I met my initial goal, I set 2018 as the end date for my 15 book stretch goal, because again, I knew that I couldn’t do it forever.
Setting an end date helps push you along on your hardest days, because when you want to give up, you tell yourself that it’s only for a few more months or books, and then you can take a break. For me, this helped keep me going, because I wasn’t committing to my grueling schedule forever, just a finite amount of time.
In order to accomplish your big goal, you have to be willing to abandon everything you know
One particularly trying thing about 2018 was that I didn’t know the world of novels very well. I had written five before 2018, but none of them were successful financially, at least not on Amazon. Frankly, I didn’t know how to make them successful on Amazon and other platforms. Before 2018, I made all my money at shows and Kickstarter, two avenues that don’t work that well for novels.
That meant I had to learn about writing books successfully which appealed to a wide market. I had to break my old habits and form new ones, fix my time management issues, and rethink everything about my business. Otherwise, 2018 was not going to work.
I had a six-figure business in 2017, so changing everything wasn’t easy for me, but I knew in order to grow for the future, During 2018, I had to abandon things that worked for things that worked better. Somehow, I was able to add lots of new avenues of revenue to my business, and still make six figures in 2018. Actually, I made more in 2018 than I did in 2017, even though the ways I made revenue in 2018 was vastly different than the previous year.
Photo by Ruffa Jane Reyes on Unsplash
You will burn out if you don’t build in rest time while trying to achieve your big goal
When you push yourself past your theoretical limit, you risk the chance of burning out. I would have burnt out a couple times in 2018 if I didn’t build in rest time for myself. Every time I finished the book, I allowed myself time to relax and recharge. At the beginning of the year, I thought it was a waste of time to take a break, but I thoroughly appreciated that rest period in November, when I only had one more book left to write, and I needed that little bit I had left in the tank.
Don’t go it alone when trying to achieve a big goal
When you are setting BHAG goals, make sure you aren’t working in a bubble. You will need encouragement along the way, and you will need scolding along the way. Mostly, you will need accountability along the way, and you can’t get it by relying on yourself. Find accountability partners that will help recharge your energy when it’s depleted and keep you on track. I had so many people through 2018 that acted as my accountability partners when I felt like throwing in the towel. Some of them only showed up for one month out of the year, but they were all critical to me keeping me going.
Don’t go it alone when trying to achieve a big goal
Develop a system in order to achieve your big goal
The only way I was able to get books in a consistent manner was because I set up a system for my books that started at the outline stage. I knew exactly what had to happen at each point in each book to keep it on track, and I made sure to hold tightly to my plot points. You would think that a system would constrain you too much and make things boring, but I found the constraint liberating. It meant I could do anything, as long as I hit certain beats at certain times in the book. It also allowed me to move onto the next book quickly because I didn’t have to worry about the structure of the books, only their execution.
I used this post from Ghostwoods as a basis for my outlines, and then I tweaked them into their final form, which you can find in the files section of my author Facebook group. It’s important to look at other people as a model for your system. Do not try to build something from scratch. Other people have walked your path before, and you need to learn from them and model their success.
The system I developed worked for me. By the middle of the year, I was sending books back to my editor the same day she was sending edits back to me, and we were running like greased lightning. I fell into a rhythm, and that rhythm kept me going on days when I just wanted to lay in bed because the tasks in front of me were so daunting.
Don’t let your big goal go to your head
When you have a BHAG goal, and you tell people about it, they will be impressed with your resolve. Who wouldn’t be? Your goal is huge, right? Make sure to thank them for their kind words. However, don’t let their adulation go to your head. The truth is, the only victory comes in successful execution. and arrogance is the enemy of productivity. The minute you start thinking you’re great is the moment you’ll stop pushing yourself.
I would tell people who complimented me that anybody can say they were going to write a bunch of books, but writing good books was a different matter.
Photo by Raphael Koh on Unsplash
You will grow in ways you cannot even imagine while trying to accomplish your big goal
I became a better writer by the end of the year than I was at the beginning of it. Writing so many books so close together allowed me to see the flaws in my work and improve quickly. In previous years, when I only wrote one book, it took me a long time to see my flaws. It was a lot easier to do when I was getting books back from my editor with the same notes every few weeks.
Rapid prototyping is something that they talk about a lot in the tech world. It is the idea of failing fast and often so that you can build a better product in less time. I had something similar happen during my book writing marathon of 2018. Because my books were written so close together, I saw what quirks and habits I relied on as a crutch, and was able to break them quickly. Previously, when I was only writing one book a year, it would take me a long time to improve, and it was hard to see my weaknesses. Seeing my books laid out end to end though, it was easy to spot my flaws and correct them.
I did something similar at the very beginning of my career in 2006. Back then I wanted to be a screenwriter and was told that the first ten scripts that I wrote would be garbage. It became my mission, then, to write 10 scripts as fast as humanly possible in order to get the garbage out of the way fast. Because of how fast I iterated on those scripts, I was able to grow as a screenwriter very quickly, learn structure, and become a good writer. It was the fastest growth of my entire career because I went from horrible to good in a matter of months instead of years.
I was already a good writer before 2018, but I still improved drastically by the end of the year. I’m a different writer than I was last year, in all the best ways. It’s the kind of growth you only get from deliberate, consistent practice. The change is hard to explain, but it’s almost as if I can see a book before it’s written in a way I just couldn’t before, and preplan to avoid mistakes that would have tripped up my younger self.
Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash
So, do I think you should try something big and audacious? Absolutely, I do. It will allow you to grow in ways you can only imagine right now, and in ways I was only able to scratch the surface of in this article. If nothing else, it makes you imagine a world where your life is different, and the more you live in that world, the more real it becomes, until you grow into the person who could live in that world.