In the motivational and educational world, people babble on about writing goals. I ask my students to think about their goals. I ask them to focus on success in their goals and picture what success looks like. We fill out papers that the state tells us we must and I try to infuse the classroom with the idea that they are capable of learning a language that sometimes swamps us.
I do the same for myself, especially in writing, Motivating myself has been one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of the craft. No one cares if I write every morning or surf Facebook for 2 hours. I don’t get paid to do this (not that I wouldn’t some day like to) and my mother recently said, “I can’t believe you do that with everything else.” She’s impressed but those kinds of comments make my doubting brain wonder if I’m not attempting the impossible.
In order to keep myself moving, I’ve created numerous to do lists, schedules and calendars. Some of them have been creative, some are simple lists in my spiral notebook.
I’ve been doing this for years now and noticed I don’t meet many of the goals I’ve set. The same thing happens for my students when we look at their test scores at the end of the quarter. It is more than a little discouraging and this is where the ‘I’m rather sick of goals’ part of the post comes in. I’m happy to report that the month after that novel draft is pulling me up from utter goal exhaustion. Here is what I’ve discovered.
Keep Goals Small and Gentle and Honor Thy Breaks
This month, I started the Artist’s Way. I have done the morning pages before and quit many years ago because I was ever so tired of listening to myself complain. I know. Morning pages are for that. But I was tired of it. Nauseated by it.
When I started again, I discovered something about my goals from the pages and from Julia Cameron’s practices. One of her Rules of the Road is to set small and gentle goals. Now, writing a novel in a month was not a small, gentle goal and I got a lot out of it but, it occurred to me that NaNo is one month. That’s the Mo in the whole deal. So….it’s fine to be ambitious but then I need a break. Setting ambitious goals doesn’t work for months on end without a pause to catch my breath.
It also matters when I set goals that I achieve. These past few weeks I’ve been setting goals that I can achieve rather than burdening my schedule with more than I can reasonable do. Sometimes it feels strange at night to think that I’ve actually done what I set out to accomplish. But it’s a good kind of strange.
Remember to Look Back in Order to Endlessly Move Forward
I also discovered the power of a rear view mirror in the space between I carved out this month. I was pleasantly surprised to see all that I’d done. Here’ s the list:
- Got short pieces published in 3 publications (OK, they weren’t paid. I am still pleased I managed them)
- Made 15 submissions
- Got three encouraging personal notes from three different editors
- Started and maintained this blog
- Started and maintained a blog for my ESL classes
- Maintained a blog for my spiritual writing group
- Researched my novel
- Wrote almost every day
- WROTE THE FIRST DRAFT OF MY SECOND NOVEL (still in shock about this one, honestly)
This week, I’ll be making goals for my next year. Doing that becomes much easier when I have a sense that all of that goal setting might actually lead to something. That it did actually lead to something this year.
ESL instructor Larry Ferlazzo sites a study here from Dominican University that shows the dramatic impact of having a person to check in with. Those with a friend who cares and says so achieved 76 percent of their goals. The numbers for those without someone who cared fell below 50 percent of their goals achieved.
Jody Casella, an author I met online this year, tells how having another writer to check in with kept her going in the crucial years before her book deal in her own review of the year.
While I don’t yet have one person to check in with, I’ve noticed that even small connections with other authors make a big difference to me. Attending writer meetings, small groups, book signings and even the online friends I’ve made all pull me into my goals. It’s also a curious and wonderful slice of life to notice that helping others makes my own efforts easier.
Remember the breaks, remember to keep the goals something you can do, remember to look back for a moment, and remember your friends. This is the medicine I would prescribe if you are as sick of goals as I have been. I wish you luck in the new year, whatever your dreams may be.