Today’s post is all about goals. It’s good to have goals – without them, we’d all just be plodding along, wading through the minutiae of our daily lives, waiting to die. They give us something to strive for, something to work towards and often it is these achievements – however big or small - that define us.
I’m constantly evaluating my goals, as I know many people are, checking off those I’ve completed, adjusting those that are proving tricky, savouring the little moments of victory whilst puzzling out my next move. As long as we don’t allow our lives to become nothing more than a list of achievements through which we systematically work, this is fine. It’s helpful; it gives us a sense of achievement and gives us an understanding of our strengths and our weaknesses.
However, goals cease to be useful when they become unrealistic. I am guilty of this. I constantly set the bar too high, lining myself up for failure before I’ve even begun. I’m not sure why I do it – certainly, I’m not somebody who likes to fail. I just can’t seem to help myself ; I have a short story deadline so I’ll push myself to finish the piece and send it off but in addition, I’ll attempt to enter three poetry competitions, type up a blog post and a piece of original flash fiction. I always feel like I should be doing more, trying harder – after all, if my work isn’t out in the world, no one will see it, and so I keep working, keep writing with few pieces ever making it past the planning stages. What I’m doing, effectively, is not working hard but creating the illusion that I am working hard so that when stories don’t get picked up or I haven’t seen my name in print for a few months, I can sit at my desk with a puzzled expression on my face, wondering why all my efforts have come to nothing.
I know there will be people reading this who understand exactly what I’m talking about. This way of working is not productive, nor is it healthy. It would be better for me and for my work if I followed three simple rules:
Hit a daily word target – I can comfortably write 1000 words a day so by aiming for 1100, I am being realistic but also pushing my limits just a little.
Work on more than one project at a time – this way, projects won’t get stale and I won’t get bored. If the story stays fresh, I stay interested. It makes perfect sense.
Limit myself to two projects a day so that I don’t end up mixing notes and creating mayhem on paper.
Of course, it would be lovely to say I write five or ten thousand words a day, but with a full time job and basic human needs like eating and sleeping, those numbers aren’t achievable for me. It’s far better to set a target I can actually hit than to stress myself out trying to reach the unreachable. Maybe one day, when I’m living in a Scottish castle with 17 cats and keeping all my writing awards in one of my 34 bathrooms, I’ll be in a position to while away entire days writing but for now, this is the way to make it happen. I shall continue to build every story, word by sentence by paragraph by page and I will try to bear in mind that the journey is in the act of writing itself and not in the finished product.
Writer or not, the bad habits and solutions outlined here are universal so do yourself a favour, step away from whatever chaos you have just created, make yourself a cup of tea, and breathe. Achievable goals. One step at a time.
I’m off to take my own advice. Until next time…