Comic Con Insights Part 1 – Goal Setting and Achieving

by Dan on July 24, 2010

Thanks to the readers of this blog, I was able to obtain a pass for this year’s Comic Con.  I was only able to go one day, but wanted to share some of the insights I got from this great event.  If you live anywhere near San Diego, I highly recommend you check out Comic Con.  It comes every July, and tickets sell out six months in advance, though there are some open seat sales just a week or so before the event.

One thing that’s really cool about Comic Con is the classes and workshops available.  One that I made sure I attended was “From Fan to Creator: Goal Setting for Creative Types,” featuring Doug Neff, proclaimed to be the “Tony Robbins for the Geeks.”   It’s definitely a much needed class for the Comic Con crowd.   Everyone could use some education in goal setting, but for the creative types, it’s even more important.

Comic-Con fans are known for their self-defining geekdom, but there’s a lot more to the crowd that will fly thousands of miles for this convention.  It’s a sea of dreamers.   They don’t just want to hear the backstory of why Wolverine’s costume changed over the years.  They want to be the professionals who decide what his next costume will look like… or draw it themselves.  Or maybe they want to write a screenplay or TV series.

But they don’t.

Year after year goes by and they keep dreaming.  I’d say it is better to at least dream and hope than to work at your 9 to 5 in a state of gray apathy, but why settle for just dreaming?

Some of the people in line for the class shared their stories with me:

“I can’t get enough discipline to actually work on the project.”

“I have this whole TV series in mind but can’t get the whole story fleshed out.”

“I have about a dozen potential stories in my head, and I don’t know which one to go with.”

That last one is a favorite for me, because I have the same syndrome.  One thing I do is put summaries of the potential stories in a Word document or online file, so I can save them to go back to later.  There’s a dozen or so paragraphs that summarize plot lines I’ve come up with.

Only recently have I started converting them into written, completed stories.  Some have been short ten-pagers, and one is being fleshed out into a screenplay as we speak.

Doug took us through a delightfully dorky power point presentation with plenty of metaphors from Star Trek, Batman, Superman, The Green Lantern, and Super Mario Brothers.    I was happy that I was at least “non-geeky” enough to not catch the Green Lantern villain references.

I’ll sum up the main points for you right here, which he calls the “Magic Coins” (each had a Super Mario Coin attached to it).

1.  There is no magic

In other words, the key to success is very pragmatic and simple.  You don’t need a special guru, or the right book, or any magic ritual.  All you need to do is take action and do the work required.  This was a statement I didn’t fully agree with, but it was a good start.

2 & 3.  Make your goal specific and make it measurable.

Doug gave us an analogy with Aladdin’s lamp.  He asked, “What happens if you rub a lamp?”  We answered, “A genie comes out!”

He then asked, “And what happens if you make a wish that’s really general and vague?”

Someone shouted, “The genie takes great delight in finding ways to screw you over!”

We all laughed, and I think this wasn’t exactly what Doug had in mind, but it worked.  If you make really general goals, you don’t really get what you want.

In fact, if you make vague, general goals, the genie usually doesn’t do ANYTHING.

Doug said:  “If you set a goal for ‘I want to lose weight,’ you’re automatically on the 60 year plan.”

He’s right.  Whether it’s more money, a smaller waistline, or a completed artistic project, you need your goals to be defined and measurable.  You need to know how it’ll look when you’re done.

Make your goal specific.  Make it a 6 issue comic series, a completed screenplay, a completed novel, or a 10 piece art portfolio that’s “review ready.”

4.  Make it Attainable

This one is pretty difficult.  After all, a lot of us creative types have dreams that include being selected by a top five media company for a national release.   Having a goal to complete a movie script, in a decent time frame, is attainable by anybody.  But what about the goal of selling your script to Warner Bros.?

When you need someone else’s approval to make your goal happen, you remove some of your power to achieve it. At the same time, you do want to actually sell your work.  So to help balance out the “outside approval” factor, I would at least make your end goal something that doesn’t depend on a single person or company.  So if you’re an inspiring hip hop artist, make your goal to secure a major label record deal, instead of to be signed to Aftermath Records, with Dr. Dre personally producing your album.

Also, if you haven’t finished your artistic project, don’t set a goal to sell it right away.  Instead set a goal to finish it, complete it, and then set a new goal to sell it.

5.  Get some Help

Doug had a great system for having a supportive team behind you and your goal.

The three people to have on your team are:

Coach: A task masker to make sure you’re up to date with your deadlines.  He (or she) will push you to keep going, even if you’re feeling down, and even if you’re ready to give up.  He’ll give you the motivating talk.

Cheerleader: I wish Doug had a more gender-neutral term for this, because no guy wants to be your explicit “cheerleader.”  If anyone has a suggestion for replacing this term, please let me know.  Anyway, the cheerleader is there to just purely support you.  He or she says “You can do it!” and reminds you of all your strengths and past successes.  You don’t get constructive feedback or a hard push from the cheerleader, just unbridled support.

Scorekeeper: This is someone who knows your dream industry well enough to let you know when you’re creating good work and when you’re creating utter crap.  Maybe it’s someone who’s sold a few screenplays already.  This person is not here to motivate you, but simply to give you guidance on where you are.

Doug said you have to make sure no one person take more than one role, especially if you’re married to one of them.

6.  One step at a time

This is an important part of the process a lot of people forget.  You can’t just write a novel.  You have to write it in segments.  If you’re not able to write chapter by chapter, do it page by page or number of words.  Set milestones for when each part has to be completed.

7 & 8. Play to your strengths and do your homework

In other words, know yourself and know your industry.  If you know you get your best work done right in the morning, do it then.  If you know you can’t work while you have your kids at home, get out of the house when you want to write.

At the same time, before you start a creative work, make sure you understand the submission process for your industry.  You’re asking for a headache (and heartbreak), if you write an episode of a TV series to submit to a studio, and then realize that because of legal considerations, they do not accept submissions that use their own characters.

9.  Know your Nemesis.

I liked this point and strongly disliked it at the same time.

In comic and story-telling terms, a nemesis is the superhero’s enemy that’s dedicated to destroying him and all his pursuits.  Doug’s nemesis to him completing his goals is his Tivo.  Other nemeses include video games, alcohol, surfing the net, and any other distraction that sucks your time and energy.

Doug took an “Alcoholics Anonymous” approach and said that your Nemesis will never die.  Just like in the comics, he’ll always be there to get in your way and it’s a constant battle you have to keep going against.

I believe it’s important to know your weaknesses, but I think it’s completely different (and harmful) to immortalize them.  I think it’s very possible that with the right discipline and inner game processes that you can completely eliminate addictions and distractions that are in your way.

I did really like that in the worksheet Doug gave us, he had a space for “This is how I will defeat my Nemesis.”  Maybe you set a time for when you can watch TV, or when you can’t.  Maybe you make a deal with yourself that you have to have 100% of your work done for the week before you can have a drink.  Having rules for yourself on your time-wasters is very helpful.

10.  Never ever ever give up.

This last point I strongly disagreed with as well.  I think Doug is under the assumption that whatever dream we have in mind is appropriate enough that we should never give ourselves permission to drop it.

Doug did at least give us a lot of mobility to “renegotiate” our goal down the line, such as if the time limit is too close, or if our goal becomes unrealistic once we investigate the industry more.

However, I think it’s also quite possible you could realize that your goal might not be worth the headache even if you can do it with a large amount of effort.  You can easily get stuck in an ego-driven mode of pursuing something that you know deep down will not fulfill you, and that’s not a good place to be.

Overall, I really enjoyed the value Doug Neff brought to the table with the presentation.  I’ve asked for his permission to upload his really cool Goal Worksheet, and will find out when he’s next on schedule to speak.

Ok, now putting this into action:

My Goal:  Finish Writing My Screen Play in 6 months.

I will finish the screenplay by: March 23, 2011.

The Steps I Will Take to Reach This Goal:  Writing 833 words a week. (I got this number by dividing 20,000 words by 24 weeks)

My Nemesis for This Goal:  Forgetting or procrastinating the work.

How I Will Defeat The Nemesis:  I will set my Google Calendar to ongoingly remind me of my 833 word deadlines each week.

And… I have some people in mind for the Coach, Cheerleader and Scorekeeper.

It really is as simple as that.  Doug also suggests you draw a picture of your Goal, and write down what it will look like.  I’ll get into some cool visualization stuff that will work along with this system, very soon.

Thanks to Comic Con staff for letting me cover the event!


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 helen hawes August 14, 2010 at 3:25 pm

thanks, Dan! Very timely information for someone who needs it!

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