Measuring Achievement By The Olympics. How Much Can You Achieve In 4 Years?

The London Olympics are almost over and the closing ceremony will finish off what has been a glorious few weeks. (Britain seems to have done really well in the medal table too!)

London Olympics 2012 Gold MedalAt the opening ceremony I shared 10 lessons writers can learn from the Olympics, but I have also been thinking a great deal about time and achievement during the competition. I have been learning about establishing professional creative habits in the last few months and the discipline of the athletes has really brought it home for me.

Warning: This post contains homework!

I do yearly goals, I also do daily To Do lists and any number of other goal setting activities. But it’s August already and it seems that the time flies by and I haven’t achieved everything I set out to do.

And yet, I also look back to the last Olympics in 2008 and see how far I have come.

It is hard to measure achievement in just one year, and 5 years often seems too far to see. But the Olympics are a great milestone by which to measure our creative lives. Not too short and not too long a period. I’m being open and honest in this post so I hope you will be too. Let’s do this together …

Where were you on your writing journey in August 2008? (Beijing Olympics)

Beijing 2008 olympicsFirst, write down what you had achieved on your writing journey by August 2008 and anything else that might be pertinent to what you have achieved. Please do share in the comments if you would like to, but definitely keep this written down somewhere. I use Moleskine journals these days.

By August 2008, I had written my first non-fiction book, How to love your job or find a new one. I had self-published it but it had only sold ~100 copies. I had started learning about marketing from books, audio CDs and online courses. I was working full-time as an IT consultant for a large multi-national mining company. I didn’t know any authors. I had not seriously considered writing fiction.

I had a new blog but it was about my non-fiction book. The Creative Penn didn’t exist and I didn’t have a business at all. I wasn’t on any social networks and I didn’t know anything about them at that point. The Kindle hadn’t been released outside of the US and ebooks weren’t mainstream. I didn’t even know what ebooks were. There was no KDP or Nook PubIt or Smashwords or BookBaby (or I didn’t know they existed if they were there). Print on demand existed but wasn’t mainstream. I didn’t have a podcast and I had never made a video before. I basically had no online presence, no email list, no way to connect with anyone.

I was living in Australia and just about to get married. I read only print books and owned over 1500 physical books, many of which I had shipped from the UK, to New Zealand and then on to Brisbane, Australia.

Where are you now on your writing journey, in August 2012? (London Olympics)

London Olympic LogoAgain, write this down in a notebook and add to the comments if you would like to share. I hope we can all look back at this so please be honest. You can see where I was 4 years ago!

I have 2 thriller novels out, Pentecost and Prophecy, in the ARKANE series. They have sold ~40,000 copies. I have finished the first draft of the third book in the series, Exodus and I’m working on 2 other fiction books. I have signed with a New York literary agent to represent my fiction. I have 2 non-fiction books available, including a re-release of my career change book, How to love your job or find a new one. I have a fiction website and blog at has been voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers 2 years running and has monthly visitors of ~ 40,000. The Creative Penn podcast has over 130 episodes, over 70 hours of free audio on writing, publishing and book marketing. It has had over 60,000 downloads. My YouTube channel has had over 102,000 views. I am on multiple social networks, primarily twitter @thecreativepenn where I have close to 30,000 followers.

I am a full-time author-entrepreneur. I make a living from writing, speaking, selling multimedia courses and consulting on internet marketing.

I have been happily married for 4 years and now live in London, England. I read 90% of the time on my Kindle or my iPhone and we left 99% of our print books in Australia.

Reading this I am pretty happy with the progress of the last 4 years, even though the route here has been a twisty one. Building the business and starting writing fiction have been my main aims. My next focus will be seriously building my fiction brand and backlist.

Where will you be in August 2016? (Rio Olympics)

rio olympics 2016This is the tough one. You need to be visionary for this. I can also guarantee that whatever you write, the reality will surpass it (if you put in the Olympic training). Who said your writing goals have to be insignificant?

By August 2016, I want to have 10 thriller novels available and be a New York Times bestselling author. I will combine my books between traditional publishing houses and self-publishing. My print and ebooks will be available in multiple languages and I will have an email list of over 20,000 readers who are keen for my books. Financially, I will be earning 6 figures from my fiction.

I’ll still be happily married, but I won’t commit to a physical location, since I have moved every few years all my life! I love London but I won’t rule out more traveling :)

Yes, I plan on revisiting this post and seeing how we all did. I fully intend to still be blogging in 2016.

Again, write this down in a notebook and add to the comments if you would like to share.

Will you commit to the writer’s Olympic training program?

I’m all for visualization as one aspect of peak performance but you actually have to put in the physical effort as well. So, your writer’s Olympic training program for achievement by Rio 2016 should include:

Training(1) Practice.

Writing – first, last and always. If you don’t do this every day, or week, you won’t make your goals. If the athletes don’t show up, their muscles just get weaker. It’s the same for writers. Show up on the page and get writing. Do you see any of the Olympic athletes making excuses?

(2) Perform and test yourself.

For athletes, they need to test themselves by turning up for championships or competitions. For us, it’s about publishing. Whether that is self-publishing to a professional standard, or querying a traditional publisher, you have to get your books out there if you want to be a pro writer. The only way to test yourself is by having others read your work. Writing for pleasure is fantastic but it is not a professional career. It wouldn’t be an Olympic sport. So get your work out there.

(3) Skills development.

Athletes have coaches and go on training camps. They research techniques for cutting off an extra 0.001 second off their time. They are always improving. We need to focus on that too. Buy some books, pay for a manuscript critique or a developmental editor, go on a course, do an online multimedia program. Write in a different genre. Invest and keep improving your skills.

(4) Brand building and marketing

Usain Bolt has a brand and marketing manager. He needs to run but he also needs to pay the bills, now and into the future. He only has a few years at the top of his game, whereas we have a lifetime career to manage. Yes, we need to write more books but I also believe you need to invest time in building your brand, connecting with your audience and looking after your business. If you do this, you will be earning money for the long term and you’ll be able to write for your (may it be long) lifetime.

If you want to kick it up a notch for the next Olympics, this is what I recommend. What about you? Please do leave a comment below.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons eltpics gold medal, Wikipedia official olympic logos, Bigstock Photo:  Training

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  1. says

    Great post Joanna, and so timely for me.

    I’ve been making some pretty major decisions about my writing goals, and have just completed a 3 year Writing Plan setting out what I’ll be doing. By the way, thanks for your tip on Twitter about word-count goals; I’ve now included some weekly targets for myself.

    The plan commits me to writing and publishing three non-fiction books based on the work I do as a life and career coach (I’ve begun the process of blogging two of these and will be publishing the first drafts online, post-by-post, as I write them) as well as my first novel, by June 2015. I’m also going to share the whole process on my main blog, which I’m gradually re-purposing into an author site.

    Thanks to the great material I’ve found on The Creative Penn, I’ve also been able to include a manageable social media strategy in the plan. I have a full-time day job, so it feels important to set reasonable yet stretching targets, and to break these down into viable monthly, weekly and daily tasks. I don’t mind feeling challenged, but I’m determined to not inadvertently become overwhelmed….

    The idea of using this and the next Olympics as markers on the way is just terrific! :)

  2. says

    I look forward to seeing you reach your goals, Joanna!

    Back in 2008, I was writing fanfiction for a few friends. In four years I’ve certainly made a lot of progress and now I have the first book in my first series available for sale on Amazon. My goals for 2016 are to have three completed series, one of which that I feel I need more experience to write and greatly look forward to releasing, and to have some decent amount of sales.

    I’m really enjoying reading through posts on your blog that are about building an author platform as my main focus right now is to increase the discoverability of my books. I’m far from the point where I can be a full-time author, but I think that in 4 years maybe I can be!

    I hope that we can all achieve our goals and I am greatly interested in the future of The Creative Penn and the continuation of The ARKANE Series!

  3. says

    Great article.

    In 2008 I wasn’t even focused on writing. I only really started to take it seriously in 2010, so my journey has been 2 years so far. I’ve been desperately trying to stick to my writing goals but have found it very difficult lately because my day job is so tiring. I wish I could be just like the athletes in the Olympics and do nothing but train for success, but unfortunately obligations from everyday life distract us from that.

    • says

      I know that feeling Gary. I spent the first 3 years of the last 4 with a day job as an IT consultant. I know it’s hard.
      My best tips (and what I did) are
      1) give up the TV and just watch 1 show a night on a laptop – that makes the brain relaxation time about 45 mins instead of several hours which gives you some time
      2) move to 4 days a week work – I gave up 20% income for this but it was important to me
      3) do an hour before work – I used to get up at 5am several times a week for an hours writing – and those athletes are up at that time too!
      I hope that helps :)

  4. says

    To use Olympic parlance, impressive gains Joanna … the tape is coming into view. I’ll definitely be there for that NYT bestseller.

    My own goals are firstly, continue to build my children’s publishing and multimedia project. First product appearance is planned for early 2015. Second is to increase the popularity of my blog and grow the writer services there. It’s a long haul – but I’m up for it. Currently as you know I’m marooned in New Zealand, but plan to spend more time in my second home – London – as business grows.

    • says

      We’ll be looking forward to seeing you in London more Jonathan – but your career spans more Olympics than mine so far, and you’ve achieved some incredible things. What I love is that you’re reinventing yourself yet again to achieve new heights. Fantastic! See you for the long haul :)

  5. says

    I love this idea, Joanna! In 2008, I had been divorced for 4 years, working full-time and spending my evenings with my 4 yr old website where I wrote blog posts on midlife. I knew nothing about social media networking and only the bare minimum about keyword usage. I had been encouraging my mom to write her life story, as I found it fascinating. Writing wasn’t her thing, but it hadn’t yet occurred to me to write it for her.

    Now in 2012, I’ve been happily remarried for 2 1/2 years and retired for the same length of time. I decided in 2010 that I would write a novel based on my mother’s history. I’ve taken several online classes, read all the best writer’s blogs (yours was the first and still the best IMHO), and created a blog. Just recently, I finished my official author website. I’ve learned a great deal about social media and am gradually finding my niche there. I’m developing my brand and feel very comfortable with it. I had finished my novella, but lost it due to work I had someone do on my laptop. So, I’m writing it again, even better. I belong to two writer organizations, am part of a writing group, and I’m also plotting a series and a short story anthology. I’m developing the business mind-set with regard to writing, marketing and publishing. I’ll be getting a business certificate for my publishing company this week.
    In 2016, I will have written my debut novella and its sequel, a six-book series, two short story anthologies, and either two full-length novels or a second series. I will be doing speaking engagements and coaching writers. I will be earning six-figures as a best-selling novelist. And, of course, I, too, will still be very happily married!

    • says

      Wow! Fantastic Marcia :) I love that your personal story is just as important as the writing side – your Mum and your marriage. For me, going back to 2004, I had just got divorced too – and then was remarrying in 2008 – so I reckon the 4 year cycle is a great one for recoveries and reinventions. Congrats on your writing success so far and thanks for sticking around the blog for so long – I know you’ve been commenting here for years, and I really appreciate it. I look forward to us still hanging out online in 2016!

      • says

        I’ll definitely be here in 2016, still commenting and proud to know you! :) And, you’re right, there is something about a four-year period that’s magical. I’ve known many people who have had life changes, mostly for the better, every 4 years. Wishing you the best on your goals!

  6. says

    In 2008 I had gotten another rejection from an editor. This one called my writing old-fashioned. I put that book away and started something entirely new. I did a NaNoWriMo draft of a new romantic suspense book in November, 50,501 words. Then started revising. I went to a Margie Lawson workshop and she spotted what was wrong with my writing. She said, “That sounds like an English teacher.” And I said, “Margie, I was an English teacher.” I was using stilted language that didn’t work in the kind of books I was writing. So I started taking online classes from Margie and even went to her Colorado mountaintop house for an Immersion Master Class. I’m still revising that book but I know now how to do it and make it sound like it needs to sound. I’m finding a fictional voice that will work for me. And I’ve planned a trilogy, using this as book one.

    So, my immediate goal is finish revising this book. Write the other two books in the trilogy. If I decide to self-publish, I’ll wait until I have all three ready to go, or very close to it. I also have another three book romantic suspense trilogy planned, set on a Greek island. By 2016, I plan to be working on this second trilogy.


  7. says

    Love the idea of using Olympic athletes as inspiration for writing and for goal setting in 4 yearly chunks. In 2008 I was a new mum, writing a diary. Now I have 2 kids, a blog, my first novel is in editing phase and I still have a full time job and I run 3 times a week. I’m exhausted! By 2016 I hope to have improved my output on all fronts. Thanks for the inspirational post.

  8. says

    First and foremost let me say: GREAT POST!! I LOVE the Olympic accountability idea. So stealing!

    At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I had never written one word in my entire life. I had never thought about writing. Never wanted to be a writer. Never considered writing. Never even read fiction books! Seriously. I lived with my dad in Chicago, IL, worked at a temporary staff agency, drove a 2000 Honda Civic, graduated from Holy Yoga Instructor training and I was just about to enter Charis Bible College. I’d never heard of blogging or social media. I had about 2 close friends and was severly depressed. My life had no direction and I seriously didn’t know the plans God had for my life. I was single and financially unstable.

    Today at the 2012 London games, I am ON FIRE for Christ and no longer deal with depression, insecurity or lack of direction for my life. I’ve self published 2 books since June 2011 in the Love, God & Tattoos series and sold about 300 copies. I am 40% done with book 3. I live by myself in Atlanta, GA, work at the Marriott hotel, graduated bible college, drive 2012 Nissan, traveled on a missions trip to Latin America, and found my life long humanitarian work: sex trafficking. I now have a website, blog and participate in 5 social media sites. I co-wrote a screenplay with an ex-roommate. I am still single yet in a better financial position and I know many wonderful people I now call friends.

    By 2016 Rio games, Love, God & Tattoos will be a television show in which I write and produce. I will have 8 more books published in which I adapt and produce into feature films and television via my production company, Authenticity Productions. My books will be sold everywhere; available in ebook, print and audio format; and translated into multiple languages. I will be a multi millionaire, happily married, maybe a mom by then. I will have started a foundation to help the children involved in sex trafficking. I will definatley travel on more missions trips, be a homeowner and continue to connect with many geniune, like minded individuals.

    • says

      Hi Aleshia, that’s fantastic – it sounds like you have come a long way and you’re on track to do even better in the next 4 years. I like your ‘love, god & tattoos’ brand, it’s funky but also spiritual. I think having an aim for a TV show is a great one. I’d like a film deal, and I don’t think both is possible – it seems to be one or the other. I’m going to go to a screenwriting course later this year in order to look into that. Exciting times! Here’s to your success :)

  9. says


    Thank you ever so much for sharing your goals. I’ve followed your blog for about a year now and it has been an endless source of inspiration and knowledge for me.

    I’m a big believer in goals and targets, after all if you don’t know where you’re going how on earth are you ever going to get there.

    I’ve written my goals down in this honest blog post and I have given myself a couple of years to achieve them.

    By Rio I hope to be doing this for real, and actually a good measure would be to state that I will actually be able to travel to Rio to watch the Olympics live.

    Thanks for sharing. I wish you all the very best in achieving your goals.


  10. says

    Thanks for sharing this, it was truly inspiring!

    In 2008 I had no idea whatsoever about fiction writing.

    In 1971 however, I was sure I would be an author when I grew up (yes I am that old)

    In 2008 I had finished a book about real-time programming, and also I had written numerous reports and documents in my work as an engineer, and before that I wrote papers and a thesis when working in university.

    In 2011 I participated in NaNoWrimo and my fiction writing ambitions suddenly came alive again. It was a lot of fun, and it brought back my sense (from 1971) of actually having some kind of skill to continue writing.

    Currently I am reviewing my book, and I really want to publish it, perhaps using Bookbaby, and perhaps using Amazon only.

    It will be a thriller-kind of book, and it will pursue the conflicts between art and science, and bad guys in a dark organization will do whatever they can to prevent the unfit from continue to destroy the world. Its protagonist will be a somewhat whimsical professor-type, not completely different from myself.

    In 2016, I will have written more fiction books, and perhaps I might even do it for at least half of a living, still working part-time as engineer/science/teacher somewhere!

    Best regards from Sweden,


  11. says

    Excellent metaphor – 4-years of training to reach the Olympics, 4 years of writing to reach a writing goal. I will use your metaphor for my time from now to 2016. In the past four years, I’ve finished a book and then spent a year in a critique group making it better; I started another book and another critique group; I taught creative writing classes and inspired my students (and myself) to write better, and write more; I began a blog and a Twitter account and have worked on my writing platform; I’ve been studying and attending classes on self-publishing, and that’s my training goal – go for the goal/gold to publish my short stories and novels and share my craft with other great writers like you and your readers. THANKS.

  12. says

    In 2008, I was about to enter my junior year of high school and up to that point I wasn’t taking my writing seriously at all.

    Now by 2012, i’m in college, working and writing. I’ve created a writing fiction blog, in the editing phase of my debut novel which will be a four book series. My writing productivity has tripled in four years and I’m finding that the more I write the more comfortable I am with myself. Like I’m discovering the real me.

    By 2016, I would have completed the four book series, a short ebook on writing dialogue, a co-author book I’m doing with a friend, and a stand alone novel :)

    Now that I’m reading over this it sounds very exciting. I better get to work. Thanks for the post Joanna!

  13. says

    This is a wonderful, inspiring post! You have great goals and I very much hope that you manage to achieve everything you want and more! Your post inspired me to write a goal-setting post for four years, as well. You have been credited for the idea, of course.
    Thank you for writing such inspirational posts! :)

  14. Mike says

    Damn – homework. And huzzah – homework.
    Hmm- in 2008 my writing was zip. Sporadic letter to the editor, blogging every week or so, definitely a minor part of my life.
    Then in 2010 I did NaNoWriMo. Not sue why, but surprised my self when did 55,000 some words, and even liked what I wrote. So I fiddled about with editing, and started reading about writing and editing, but not that much, as I had a busy busy life.
    November 2o11 and I’m doing another novel. Nit sure if I was helped or hindered by my additional writing knowledge. They say ignorance is bliss. Had the additional challenge of my mother dying in the middle of it, but was actually a nice break to go off and write.
    December and I try writing a Flash Fiction. Then another. Start following some sites with regular challenges and by August I have over 50. One even sold, online, for $10!! A good practice with different styles, genre, voices – whatever – a variety of challenges.
    So, for 2012? Do the homework mentioned above.
    Keep practicing, with regular writing challenges, daily would be best. And another NaNoWriMo and edit the other damn books- that’s the challenging part.
    Test – get some of those short stories sent out to some sites – for cash and/ or feed back
    Skills – already follow blogs, taking an online fantasy and shift course, read non- fiction or background
    Brand- hmmm will work on that.

    All the above will be done vis ROW 80 I think, a great site and group for motivation.

    • says

      I’ve yet to try flash fiction Mike, but it sounds like a great way to get into a creative habit that is short enough to complete more easily than a novel :) We definitely all need to keep practicing.

      • says

        Yikes – just re-read my post. Looks like while typing on an iPad in a dingy pub I managed to slip in several typos. At least I didn’t get any wings sauce on the screen!
        I like your idea of a long range plan too, as Row80 is only medium range, 80 days.

  15. says

    What a great, inspiring post. Though I don’t regularly write down my goals, they’re in my head all the time. And I was planning to to a year-end blog which noted the accomplishments for the year: two short stories published in anthologies, plus commitments for two more stories and two poems to be published. And the year is not over. My major goal is to secure an agent for either my YA thriller (which is finished) or my collection of interrelated short stories (soon to be finished).

    So by 2016, both of those WILL be out, as will the five sequels to the YA book, as well as another piece of literary fiction that is just starting.

    See you there!

  16. says

    In 2008 I was s***ing myself.

    I had the trace of an idea for a new book, but there was so much going on I could not manage to write down a single line: I was about to finish university, with the daunting prospect of job hunting amidst the world’s worst economic crisis in history.

    I managed to find a job surprisingly soon and my finances drastically improved (I was a rather scruffy student…). In October 2009 I could briefly afford to switch to 4-day weeks. I used my free Fridays to write furiously, and a year later I had a first draft.

    The following 18 months went from submitting to re-writing, editing and polishing. Oh, and leaving that first job for a better-paid one.

    Now I have a fantastic literary agent and a brand new website. I wish I could tell my 2008 self that there was no need to worry; everything would turn out fine.

    By 2016 I would like to have at least 2 books out there, hopefully in glossy hardbacks. 😉

  17. says

    Wonderful post. I just got married (in an Olympic year like you) and started my blogging/writing career too, so I hope to be able to fast forward 4 years and see similar success to you.

    Loving the site and the podcast. I am in the blogging space but really as a side to what I really want to be doing: write fiction. My mother in law came up with an amazing mindset the other day: if you won the lottery, what would you want to do with your life. My wife’s answer was be a maternity nurse, mine was to write historical fiction. I’d do that forever even if I had enough money not to need to work. So I started! I appreciate people like you inspiring us to get going and succeed.

    Thanks again.

    • says

      I have also been through that lottery discussion Benjamin. It was a full time writing career for me. Then I thought that I had won the lottery in so many ways already (albeit not financially), I’d better get on with it :) All the best with your fiction.

  18. LKWatts says

    You’ve done so well Joanna – Congratulations!

    I’ve been writing seriously for about 3 years and during that time I have released two books about my backpacking days around Australia, New Zealand and Canada. With every book I write I aim to make it better than the last, and I’ve got so many plot ideas going round my head at the moment I’m in danger of going crazy!

    I wish you continued success!


  1. […] Measuring Achievement By The Olympics. How Much Can You … I do yearly goals, I also do daily To Do lists and any number of other goal setting activities. But it's . Buy some books, pay for a manuscript critique or a developmental editor, go on a course, do an online multimedia program. […]

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