Managed Expectations

One of the things that the contributors to this blog do, as part of a larger community of writers, is to set goals for the coming week that we broadcast to each other. The things that we need to do, or aspire to do, written there and stated plainly to the others in our writing group. The following week, we not only make new goals, but we account for our progress on the old ones. It’s been a way that we can keep in touch with the goals of others, and act as encouragement for those who need it, or to celebrate in each other’s accomplishments. Sometimes we’ve cheered as someone gets a publication, and sometimes it’s been something as simple as praising someone meeting their quota of words for the week. It’s been a great way to keep in touch with what people are doing, and what people are hoping to achieve.

In another sense, it’s a way to keep each other accountable to our goals, even if the only sanction is a sense of shame at not having lived up to the standard you’ve set for yourself. There have been times where I have cheerfully and earnestly placed a goal – say something modest, like writing a few thousand words – only to fail at it, and then have to face up to writing that accounting the following week.

Sometimes I write my rationalizations – oh, what the hell, excuses. I was busy. I did this instead. I did that instead. Et cetera. Sometimes – the times when I really didn’t have an excuse – I just didn’t say anything. A flat, inflectionless statement of the coming week’s goals, as though last week’s mark had been completely forgotten.

Inevitably that leads to a sense of frustration and failure. Wracking up week after week of missed bars is not a good feeling, and there have been times when I have felt that keen frustration that comes achingly close to just calling the whole thing off, taking a hiatus, not bothering to keep up with the accounting.

This is the wrong way to go about it. If you’re at all like me – someone who has a desire to write, but has a whole lot of life in the way of it – it’s important to keep those goals, and those reckonings. But maybe they have to be shifted. Maybe this won’t be the year that the blockbuster gets written or the screenplay gets done. But maybe, if you can block off some time, hit your small achievable goals, well, that well keep the whole thing from turning into an inescapable morass of shame and failure.

For me, I have my final licensing exam for my medical boards in May. I will not have time to do much writing in these last five months – I just wont. Afterward, we’ll see. In the meantime, what goals can I achieve? How can I do enough to justify to myself that I am a writer, as opposed to some hobbyist with an unused laptop in the corner? Maybe for the next five months it will be blog posts, and small submissions to journals that carry prose and poetry in the medical humanities field. Maybe token goals – a scene a week, or a couple of hundred words. Something that won’t detract from the very real need to study for this exam, but will make me feel as though I’m still actively engaged in this equally important passion. A managed expectation, if realistic and still aimed toward the future, can still be an important one, and one that keeps you on the path forward until you can raise the bar higher once again.

6 responses on “Managed Expectations

  1. Cygnet Brown

    I too have had “life get in the way” of my novel writing goals over the years. I’ve even said as much. Now that most of my child rearing years are behind me, I am able to focus more on my writing goals. What’s good about the good thing about end of the year reflecting is the ability to look behind and look ahead to discover where we are, where we’d like to go, and how we must redirect our navigation to get from where we are to where we’d like to go. In the process, as you’ve said, we also must be aware of our abilities and shortcomings so that we aren’t beating ourselves up because quite frankly, we are human and we do have limitations. But it this mortality which the gods envy.

  2. Evan Braun

    Being accountable to a writing group has been a lifesaver for me these last couple of years. In times when the words flowed, there was an incentive to always keep going– and yes, the immodest part of my personality looked forward to being able to have some people to crow to about my weekly accomplishments. In times when the words don’t flow, just like Dylan pointed out, accountability gives us a way to stay in the game.

    Without meaning for this to sound sappy, I honestly don’t know where I’d be as a writer if it wasn’t for my accountability group.

  3. KylieQ

    Ditto to what Evan said. I hate to admit I didn’t meet my goals. There have been a lot of Sundays where I have pushed on to make up for what I didn’t get done earlier in the week so I can still meet my goals, albeit if late on Sunday night. And when I’m not writing at all – as with these last couple of weeks leading into Christmas – I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m not progressing and that I still need to account for myself at the start of the next week. A supportive writing group is one of the best tools a writer can have.

  4. Colette Vernon

    I’ve thought about this a lot the last couple of weeks as family time has completely overpowered my writing time. I’m still hanging in there, and it’s in large part due to my accountability group. I’m anxious to actually contribute serious goals to our weekly emails again.

  5. Frank Morin

    I feel your pain. Earlier in the year I got into a great regular writing routine. Not in the last three months, though. Finding ways to push through the times when there just isn’t much time is one of the great challenges of writers who aren’t full-time writers.
    Frank Morin recently posted..Burst Writing

  6. Clancy Metzger

    Ditto to all of my fellow Fictorians’ comments. I am grateful for this group to keep me on task. As Kylie said, a good support group is a vital tool to our writing success. I hated the weeks where I was falling down on my goals, and it was the encouragement of this group that kept me fighting through my difficulties.

    Great post, Dylan! And we’re all rooting for your small writing goals along with the success of your test.

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