Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Writing goals

*Peers out from under rock*  Is it safe to come out yet?

I don’t do New Year resolutions, and I’m not usually one for reminiscing on the year just gone, so I generally leave the blogging stage to those who like to do either or both at this time of year.

In my recent blog visits, I saw a lot of people talking about goals. This is not a post about my goals, but about goals themselves.

We hear a lot of advice about goals. Everyone says you need to set goals. If you don’t, how do you know when you’ve succeeded?

True enough. Trouble is, goals are tricky little beasts. Done right, they can motivate - which is the whole point. But done badly they can easily have the opposite effect. A poorly-considered goal can leave you feeling crushed and defeated.

No, I’m not going to start talking about SMART goals because that’s been done to death by people far more able than me. Instead, here are a few Alka-Seltzers for those January hangovers of missed targets and failed resolutions...

Know thyself: 

Some people see an impossible goal as a challenge, something to conquer. For these heroic folks, a really way-out sheer cliff face of a goal towering impossibly overhead will inspire them to efforts beyond their wildest dreams. For others, it will just give them a nosebleed.

Where do you see yourself? Choose level of difficulty accordingly.

Look beyond the goal to the outcome:  

A goal is just a means to an end, not the end itself. So, maybe your goal is to write every day. 15 minutes? A thousand words? A chapter? It doesn’t matter, that’s a measurable goal you can tell easily whether or not you’re hitting it. For some people that is enough. But if goals as such don’t inspire you then lift your sights and ask yourself why you set that goal. What is it leading to? To have the first draft of your novel by June? To have four books of a series published before you retire from the day job? To develop writing as a habit so you can overcome writer’s block more easily? If the goal itself starts feeling like drudgery, one foot in front of the other, then focus on the light on the horizon instead.

This is good for inspiration, but more fundamentally, if you have a goal but haven’t a clue what it’s leading to, then what’s the point of the goal?

Choose goals that support your outcomes:  

Related to the previous point, a goal should support the eventual outcome and not lead you away from it.

Some examples are ridiculously obvious. If your eventual aim is to finish that first draft of your novel, then setting yourself a goal of spending more time on Facebook is unlikely to get you there. Instead, setting aside an hour a day for writing sounds more like a good idea. That only works if that hour is actually used for writing. And for writing your novel. It does no good if you spend that “writing” time on endless research, or drafting and redrafting the same chapter, or writing blog posts.

Remind yourself who’s boss:  

For whose benefit are you setting goals? Who’s in charge of your life? Goals are meant to challenge you to succeed, but they are not meant to rule your life.

On the one hand, goals that are too tough, or that become unachievable as a result of unrelated events in your life, will crush you if you cling to them too tightly. Yes, they should stretch and challenge you, but not to the detriment of your health and sanity.

On the other hand, goals that are too easy will hold you back - the opposite of their purpose - if you just keep plugging away at them regardless just because that’s your goal.

Recognize when goals aren’t working and know when it’s time to revise them. Remember who’s boss.


  1. Yeah, aiming for more time on Facebook will not line up with your writing output.

  2. Golly..I've never been much of a goal or resolution setter...I'm more of a roll with the punches, go with the flow kind of a gal. Whatever the day brings, you know?

  3. I think goals lead to bad results when you have such big (unrealistic) goals and you put a lot of pressure on yourself. Smaller, attainable goals are the ticket.

  4. Alex, exactly!

    Delores, thing is, if you want to finish something that feels as much of an uphill battle as a novel, you do need to get serious about setting goals or it will forever be one of those "yeah, I'll do it one day" things.

    Chrys, that's the point - big goals do actually work for some people. Others need the smaller bite-sized ones.

  5. Hi Ian - having just a FB day .. gosh it's time-consuming - even if everyone is being so nice!!

    But we must write and tick off the list leading to our ultimate destination - success in getting to that finishing line, learning from that achievement and keeping going ...

    Cheers Hilary

  6. Hilary, I stay away from most social media. No FB or Twitter. Just blogging and various online writing forums, those are enough for me.

  7. Great advice! I definitely set myself some insane goals, but keeping that in mind, I do give myself a lot of slack when I can't achieve everything. I hope you're having a good year so far.

  8. Misha, I get vertigo just thinking how high you set your goals :)

  9. Awesome. I'll admit having been overwhelmed by goals in the past, but there's a HUGE sense of accomplishment when you can face a monster project and make it happen. We just have to be wise about only taking on what we can handle, even if just barely, eh?


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