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.