Thursday, January 23, 2014

why i sometimes don't make goals.

It's happened before, and it could happen again, I'm sure. The inspiration comes knocking, the whole world gets exciting. And then a limit happens.

It's completely and utterly all-in-my-head, I know. Goals are not limits. They serve different purposes.

In many ways, they are opposites, so what's going on? Why should a goal feel like a limit?

Short answer: anxiety. Addendum: guilt. And who could forget fear?

Turns out, I'm great at avoiding things that make me uncomfortable. In the past, goal-making has been wonderfully helpful, don't get me wrong. It will be in the future too, I'm sure. But there are just SOME DAYS.

I open the laptop. I announce a goal on twitter or on my writing group's facebook page. And then it all becomes ABOUT THAT NUMBER.

Let's say the number was 1000.

Let's say it's been a bad six months for writing.

Let's say I'm only giving myself today.

At this point in my situation, with my current writing brain, one of two things will happen:

  • I'll get to that 1000. Oh, you bet I will. I SAID I would, didn't I? (But I will I want to look at that 1000 ever again? Will it be usable? Will there be any creative progress? Usually not, if I'm this far out of the loop. Getting back in the game requires patience, self.)
  • I'll be too crippled by self-doubt to even TRY properly. I will celebrate 62 words and go eat some chocolate.

The goal, of course, is not the issue. Goals are good! You can always tell that I'm in the right place with writing if I'm making daily goals and sticking to them and actually telling people the end result (not, mind you, the opening plan).

Amusingly, let's check out my most recent tweet:

Hoo buddy, guess how much writing I actually did that day? ZILCH.

This is why my critique partners call me a hermit crab. If I don't keep certain things close to my chest at certain times, it all falls apart. And that's okay! That's what I've decided. It's OKAY to need to go about goal-making in a different way. For instance, I actually do have a LOT of writing goals, and goals for other creative endeavors. They're good. They make sense. But they're like birthday wishes.

If I tell you, they might not come true!

So, how do I get work done at a time like this, you ask? Well, I feel like it works backwards. Instead of saying "I'm going to write 1000 words today," I might just pick up my laptop and go. A good approach for me is qualitative rather than quantitative. Two out of seven days of good 400-word scenes trumps a week-long slew of creative clutter (which is often what happens when I try to go too fast).

Write first, count later.

And of course, it's contingent on where you are. I've barely been in my story since summer, so there's a lot of picking up and brushing off going on over here. Like an archaeological dig. However, in a few more months, maybe I'll be setting up my finds for display in a museum. Or, more likely, piecing together and binding broken pots. All of these stages have different needs. No two look alike.

Important self-discovery: unless it is a purely fresh, unknown draft, I write like an anxious, caffeinated sloth with no friends.

And that's okay.


  1. I feel very similarly! Quotas put me in absolutely the wrong mindset for creative work. It's like they create mental/emotional paralysis. :(

    Instead, I just try to fall in the story whenever I can, for however long I can. Period.

    On days when I've fallen out of momentum (like after travel, for example) I do find that time goals work better for me, because they're more about discipline than pressure. I might say, "Okay, I'm going to work on my story for 15 min today, no matter what." Because 15 min isn't that long -- and if I really do fall into the story, then I'll probably end up going past that. But even if I don't, 15 min is something, and something is better than nothing, when it comes to getting back into a rhythm. :)

    1. Oh, I should also add: I became a lot happier and more productive when I stopped trying to work the way I saw other people working, and instead learned how to make best use of the way that I naturally work. Going with the flow instead of against it, I suppose. Which isn't to say that I don't try to make improvements to my process -- I do! But my mindset is so much more accepting, and the shifts are so much less drastic.


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