When Good Goals Go Bad

You’ve been there before.

Early January. A time of hope, of change. The year stretches out before you, a glittering road brimming with possibility. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you write down your goals for the year with gusto, hopped up on anticipation for the awesomeness that surely will come to pass.

Then, reality.

That was me this January, and reality came in the form of new responsibilities at my job and a new puppy. Both of which are very good things, but they came at a price. I had less mental time to devote toward daydreaming about fantasy worlds, which meant my writing sessions became less and less productive. A further blow came when it became clear the novel I’ve been working on the past two years, which I’d very very very much wanted to self-publish this year, needs a fairly substantial rework. I spent a month figuring out how to do said re-write, then realized I was too sick of it to contemplate going through with it in the near future. All of which threaten ye-olde death spiral where instead of writing I spent time angsting about writing which leads to less writing and more angsting.

But! All is not lost. Here are some principles I used to help myself rise above the gloom and return to productivity:

First, remember, it’s okay not to hit your goals. You made them in January, it’s now June, and as we know, time changes all things. Frankly, setting goals that will reflect all the uncertainty of the upcoming year is impossible. Your January goals may have been a reasonable direction at the time, but that no longer may be the case. In fact, not hitting all your goals is a good thing, because it means you’re trying to stretch. I’ve heard a good rule of thumb is to set goals expecting to hit about 70% of them on average. The number itself is arbitrary, but the idea is smart.

Second, give your goals a once-over. Maybe they don’t need to be thrown about, merely readjusted, or put on hold. That’s what I’m doing with the novel I’m sick of – not giving up on it, merely doing something else as a palette cleanser, so I’m all the more energized to dive back into it later.

Third, make sure you’re thinking long-term. For me, the best thing for my life right now is to build my non-writing career. I believe that long term this will mean more writing for me in the future, but that may mean sacrificing some writing for now. James Owen says it best: “Never give up what you want for what you want right now.”

Fourth, reflect on what happened. Sure, maybe it was due to life getting out of hand, but there often are other things that can be improved about your process. In my case, one issue is I was getting too hung up on getting the first draft ‘right’. My favorite writing tip is ‘you can’t fix what isn’t written’. I needed to remember that. I also think it’s key to try out mitigating strategies. I started experimenting with different outlining methods and both faster (and slower) writing styles to see how best to get the first draft materiel on the page.

Fifth, make sure you’re having fun. I wasn’t having fun for a while, and I decided I needed to fix that. I found a project I’d been aching to write for years but never quite found the time and declared that this summer would be that time. The amount of immediate relief, relaxation, and excitement I felt from that decision alone is hard to overstate.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t quit. Amid the ocean of writerly advice out there, there’s only one constant I’ve seen – don’t stop writing. Keep moving. If you’re an outliner, try discovery writing. If you’re a discovery writer, try outlining. If you normally write in third person, try out first. Change your genre, style, process, but whatever you do, find a way to sit down on the computer and write down something, a rambling blog post, a single sentence, even a single word. It won’t always be easy, but keep writing, and you’ll eventually weather every storm reality throws at you.

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