Tuesday, November 21, 2023

SMARTER THAN SOAP by Gabriel Valjan

Okay – time to confess…those “New Year Resolutions” you made way back in January…how well have you done?

 S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Attainable

R – Relevant

T – Timely


These letters are an acronym taught to nursing students for setting goals, whether it is for themselves or for patients in the workplace. The Irony with the capital I is there is seldom a place within clinical documentation for it, and no nurse has the time on the floor to create one. There is a lot of talk in school about individualized nursing plans. Talk to any nurse about these plans, and you will hear the laughter of the gods of Bedpan Alley.


SMART as an analogy holds water, though, because nursing is a lot like the writer’s life, except the roles change. Your ‘client’ is the reader, and you are the patient in need of motivation and self-care.


Resolutions are ultimately a form of motivation, if not a Post-it to yourself that you want to accomplish something. The acronym prevents you from setting any unrealistic goals. Put another way, SMART reads like the Five Ws of crime fiction: WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and sometimes HOW. Whatever your target, SMART puts structure around it, demanding the concrete, instead of the vague, and time is the master or mistress of us all.


In my opinion, the key is motivation. Is your goal objective, one where you want something to show for it, or subjective, one that achieves a feeling?


Once a upon a time, I desired the external. I wanted an agent. An agent is external to me. Since I’m good at research, I learned how to craft a compelling query, meaning I could write a logline worthy of Don Draper, a succinct synopsis with word count that sets expectations, and craft a brief analysis that identified my target audience.


Numerous rejections later, I concluded that, while I can put the Q in query, I have no idea what the Market wants—and I suspect most agents don’t either. Let’s be honest, talent and turn of phrase are nice, but the world of publishing is Jerry Maguire screaming, “Show me the money!” Art is nice, but green is what pays. And then there is the question of Luck be your lady tonight, or not?


My goals are subjective—what I can control.


I disclosed in the past that I have dealt with a serious illness, so physical fitness is important to me. If I had not been not fit when I dealt with that medical catastrophe, I would’ve died when I was 42. My surgeon could/would testify to that in court. I mention fitness because sitting in a chair, hours on end, is hell on the hip flexors and back. We lean into the screen like trees in some horror film. When fellow writers tell me they don’t have time for the gym, or they hate to work out, or they have the demands of a family, etc., I tell them one thing: pay yourself first because nobody else will. A simple walk will do; it clears your head and might help you solve that nit in your manuscript. If you can spare 30 minutes to watch a sitcom, you can work out. If the sitcom is that important to you, then DVR it.


Mental health. I work on it. I see others in my tribe on social media. They have agents, often the same ones who rejected me. They get killer reviews. They’ve been optioned, courted by Netflix, and I’m here with a cat circling my ankles, determined to kill me because I haven’t fed her, petted her, or given her a treat. My point is that perception is very one-sided. I know that in the abstract, and yet I’ve turned green with envy as the witch in the Wizard of Oz. Mental health, people.


What is the solution when I find myself in the thorn bushes of despair and negativity?


Turn the page and look away from social media. It’s an ongoing project, but I stop and reset.


What do I do?




What is my resolution, the goal? What is my ongoing resolution, year-round?


Be like the Six Million Dollar Man without the six million dollars—be a better writer tomorrow than I was yesterday, and remain a kind person.


I choose to be kind because it’s easier than being Eeyore.


Which reminds of another acronym from the world of nursing: SOAP.


Wash away the negative, and get to work.




Brenda Chapman said...

Great advice, Gabriel. A motivating post.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

With your outlook, Gabriel, you can't miss. Thanks for the uplifting post.

Susan C Shea said...

Kindness counts, always. My experience is that most authors in our genre are kind and supportive, so much so that the few that aren't stand out. As to making it, read the wonderful interview with Mick Herron in today's NYT. He had only sold in the hundreds of copies before Soho's smart editor, picked up the second book - notice that - of what became his brilliant Slough House series.

Gabriel Valjan said...

Thank you, all, for reading and for your comments. Gabriel