Category Archives: Life Philosophies

Resources on Goal Setting and Quitting Goals

This month, you’ve read posts from us about when it’s okay to quit your goals, the merits of seeing your goal through no matter what, and everything in between. We’re not the first to write on the subject, and I found the following books, articles, and resources helpful in my own journey when it comes to goal setting, especially when it comes to writing.

  1. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Some writers keep this next to (or in place of) their Bibles. It’s just that important and instrumental for their process. I think I can say with confidence that this is an objectively foundational book in cementing your process as a writer. Julia Cameron guides you every step of the way in a 12-week process of deep contemplation about who you are as a person and an artist, what’s standing in your way, how to move past those things, and how to make meaningful goals to achieve what you want. I personally give the book 5/5 stars, and if you’re interested in this book, I recommend that you surrender to the process. You’ll want to fight it and cut corners. DON’T.
  2. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. Part of me doesn’t want to recommend this to people at large because it is so personally important to me. But, in my heart, I want everyone to succeed in being happy in doing what they want to do the most, so here it is. I’ve given away more copies of this book than I can remember, and I don’t mind buying more and more to give away until the day I die. If that alone doesn’t make you want to pick up the book, consider this quote: “Keep growing quietly and seriously throughout your whole development; you cannot disturb it more rudely than by looking outward and expecting from outside replies to questions that only your inmost feeling in your most hushed hour can perhaps answer.”
  3. Why You Quit on Your Goals (and How to Follow-Through Instead) by Jose Ramos. I like this article by Ramos because it goes into how not reaching our goals makes us feel. Those feelings can snowball and eventually stick us in what feels like quicksand, unsure of how to get ourselves out.
  4. 5 Times You Should Quit Working on Your Goal and Walk Away by Amy Morin. Amy Morin offers practical examples of when following through with your goal doesn’t make sense anymore. Relatable and concise.
  5. A good planner. I’ve lost this habit since college, swapping out the physical planner for a To-Do list app, Google calendar, and a Notes app. This year, thanks to inspiration from friends, I’ve picked up a physical planner. Here’s a great list from people who tested out some of the best planners on the market right now and their suggestions. 

 

What are some of your favorite resources when it comes to goal setting and when it makes sense to re-evaluate? What’s your favorite planner or app that helps you organize your daily tasks and goals?

Setting Realistic, S.M.A.R.T. Goals – A Guest Post by Shannon Fox

I still remember that day in middle school when our teacher showed up with a pile of school-issued planners for each of us to use keep track of our homework and learn good study habits. I excitedly flipped through mine, mentally vowing to use it religiously and fill it up with neatly written, color-coded tasks. The fact that I have terrible handwriting was a non-issue. With this planner in my hands, I was about to morph into one of those uber-successful adults with letter-perfect handwriting.

Imagine my surprise when I looked up and saw my classmates were less than enthused by our gift from the school. They looked even more dismayed to learn that we would actually be required to use this thing and we would need to show it to our teacher weekly. I silently cheered as I thought of all the free points I was going to get towards my grade.

Though the color-coding and perfect handwriting aspects never materialized, I did use my planner religiously. I scooped up all my free points week after week and began my love affair with planners, to-do lists, and scheduling out my days by the hour. Over the years my physical planner has largely been replaced by a digital calendar, a to-do list on my phone, and an online project management tool (I use, love, and recommend Trello). But my desire to track and plan my life has not waned.

I would estimate I meet 85% of my goals or more. If I don’t meet a goal, it’s usually because of one of two reasons. It could be because I’m busy meeting another, more important goal. Or it could be because my goal is too ambitious and almost impossible to meet.

Take this most recent goal I set for myself as an example. I’m almost embarrassed to admit I seriously thought this was at all possible. But after I finished writing the latest draft of my novel in November, I (super) optimistically thought to myself, I can have this edited and revised by February. Two months, that’s no sweat. Easy peasy.

I promise I was of sound mind and entirely sober when I came up with this goal for myself. I’m also not naïve, I’ve written and edited books before. But somehow I really believed this was doable.

You’re probably wondering how that goal is working out for me. Well…let’s put it this way, I’ve edited twelve chapters out of eighty-four total. At the time of this writing, I have about two and half weeks to finish the other seventy-two chapters.

Obviously, I’m not going to be making this. Not even close.

By all accounts, goal setting is a good behavior and is something we should all practice. So, where did I go wrong?

If you’ve worked in an office setting or spent any time reading about productivity and time management, you’ve probably encountered S.M.A.R.T. goals before. A S.M.A.R.T. goal is a goal that is:

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Relevant

Time-Bound

Most experts advocate for the use of S.M.A.R.T. goals or something similar because they help people turn nebulous ideas into results. Here’s how my editing goal looks when run through the S.M.A.R.T. framework:

Specific: I will finish editing my book.

Measurable: I will measure my goal by how many chapters I’ve finished editing.

Achievable: I will read through each chapter to make sure it is fulfilling its role of moving the story along, is interesting, well-written, free of grammar mistakes, free of plot holes and plot inconsistencies, and is as polished as I can make it. I will then finish the chapter by searching in the text for each of the items on my list of words I overuse/should avoid and make corrections as needed.

Relevant: Finishing editing my book will move me to the next stop along my road to publication.

Time-Bound: I will complete this by the beginning of February (about two months time).

So, I did have a S.M.A.R.T. goal. All the parts were there. But what I was lacking was a realistic goal.

Here’s the thing about me: although I know time and energy are both finite resources, I tend to overlook that fact when I’m goal setting. Because it’s really just inconvenient and it gets in the way of my super optimistic goals.

I also forgot to account for the fact that along with becoming an (I hope) better writer over the last year and a half, I also became an (I hope) better and more critical editor. So with both these overlooked facts in mind, I set the super unrealistic goal of editing an entire book in two months.

Clearly, it’s not enough to set goals for yourself. It’s not enough to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for yourself either. You have to set goals that are reasonable in order to have a chance at success.

Some people beat themselves up for not meeting the personal goals they’ve set (and let’s face it, unless you’re lucky enough to be a full-time writer, all your writing goals are personal goals). It’s okay to be disappointed in yourself once in awhile. We’re fallible and we make mistakes. We have to constantly push ourselves to be better. But your disappointment in yourself has to be warranted. If you couldn’t meet an unrealistic goal, there’s no reason to be disappointed in yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you – it’s the goal that was wrong.

I’m not at all disappointed in myself. Okay, maybe just a little – but only because I was nuts to think this goal was viable in the first place.

But I’m not at all disappointed that I’m still editing my book and nowhere near done. I know I’m doing my best to keep up with everything in my life and whenever I do have time to sit down and work on my book, I really feel it is getting better. And that’s all that matters.

 

About Shannon Fox:

I have a B.A. in Literature-Writing from UC-San Diego. I write novels and short stories, particularly young adult, contemporary, historical, and science fiction. I maintain my own blog of book reviews and writing advice at IsleofBooks.com. I am a regular blogger for Equine Journal and Coastal Premier Properties. I have authored over 200 articles and blogs for online and print publication. I was also a research assistant to the authors for the published novels Teen 2.0 and Against Their Will. In addition to writing, my professional background is in marketing and advertising. I run a free marketing resource for entrepreneurs and small business owners at www.MinMarketing.com.

When Chronic Illness Sabotages Goals

There are many writers and aspiring writers with chronic illnesses. These illnesses sabotage our goals and writing time when we experience flare ups. Chronic illnesses can sabotage our goals and objectives and make the smallest task seem daunting. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). CFS has changed how I function as a writer. It has forced me to choose what I do and if I do it at all. It has forced me to prioritize and focus. These things are not bad in and of themselves. They simply mean that I have had to adjust but adjusting has not always been easy or simple. Here are a few Tips to Manage Writing with Chronic Illness and achieving goals:

1) Practise Self-Care.
This is one of the hardest things ever to learn. Sounds simple enough but consider the following:

A) As writers we’re driven to tell the story and to succeed in this industry. There are shining examples of successful authors who write one, two or three novels a year, and do all sorts of marketing stuff. This is who we aspire to be and when we can’t be, that voice of sabotage in our heads tells us we are failures. Self-care here means changing the expectation, accepting what we can and cannot do, setting realistic goals for ourselves. Most important, we need to change the paradigm of success we have in our heads. There are writers with chronic illness who are successful. We can do it. On our terms we certainly can!

B) Self care means telling the energy drains in your life to take a back seat or to buzz off. Whether its people, involvement with social media (there’s a reason why I don’t do Face Book), or house cleaning (I had to resort to getting a housekeeper to come in every three weeks to do the cleaning I cannot. I had to give up something else but that was worth it). Some will call it selfish, but this type of selfish is healthy as is claiming your writing time and enforcing it.

C) Gratitude is really important. I’m generally optimistic but when I’m grateful for the things I can accomplish, and grateful for the writing however slow or sporadic at times, the world feels like a much more fun and wonderful place. Gratitude helps me get through the tough times because I recover more quickly if I’m not down on myself.

2) Know Your Limitations and Work Within Them
Many days, if I can write for an hour, it’s been a good day. Then, I do some of the other things and if I’m lucky, I can get more writing time in. First thing in the morning is my best writing time, when my brain is the freshest. This system works because now my brain and I have learned to work together. As I wake up, ideas emerge, scenes are visualized and when my feet hit the floor, it’s off to the laptop to write it all down. This works best, I think, because when at rest, minimal muscle energy is used, and the brain is less engaged with making the body function properly. Hence, there is more energy for thinking. I’ve written over 14,000 words this way this month and the month isn’t done yet! One of the reasons why this system works for me is that when I’m done writing, I take a minute to decide what I want to work on the next day. It seems my subconscious then ‘works’ on it while I sleep and the ideas come the next morning.

3) Use Spoons to Portion Out Your Energy and to Help Others Understand
Spoons are a way to explain available energy. Some days I don’t know how few I have because it varies and I don’t know until I’ve attempted my first activity. It can be a three spoon day where all I can do is make meals, eat and clean up. It can be a six spoon day were I can write for half an hour and then do the necessities. And if it’s an 8 spoon day, I can maybe go for groceries recognizing that driving each way is a spoon, getting the groceries is worth three spoons, unloading and putting away is another two spoons but by now I’m spent enough that it takes four spoons to do a two spoon job. By now, I’ve used either seven of the eight spoons (and I haven’t made dinner, eaten and cleaned up yet which is another three spoons) or I’ve gone over and used up nine spoons. Overdoing it will hamper my energy for the next one to three days.

This is on a good day and I haven’t written a word and won’t have enough energy for my brain to do the thinking it needs to. When it’s really bad and I’m in pain and the world seems to pass me by, writing is the furthest thing from my mind – it has to be. Practising self-care takes priority.

3) Set Your Goals and Objectives. Then Ignore, Adjust or Rethink
A goal is the long-term thing you want to accomplish. I want to write an 80,000 word novel this year. Goals give us direction, or a target if you prefer. Without knowing the target, we can’t reach it.

An objective is the series of concrete steps it takes to get to the goal. I will research the world for one month. I will outline the novel for two months. I will write the novel in eight months with the smaller objective of writing 10,000 words per month.

Illness will sabotage an objective. Objectives not met change the goal or part of the goal. I may still want to write the novel, but it may take a year and a half instead of a year to do so. Objectives are small pieces of the goal. By understanding that, I feel more in control of the outcome as I make adjustments. Most importantly, I can break down objectives into manageable parts which are more realistic for what I can accomplish in any given time period.

Here’s something I haven’t admitted publicly – there was a time last year when I was ill enough that the world seemed dark, and I wanted to give up writing. I cried a lot because I felt like I was giving up on part of my soul and I didn’t want to do that. From somewhere came the idea that if I could not write, I would take a course on writing. That saved me. It gave me purpose, and a new perspective on craft. My fatigue almost sabotaged my fledgling career as a writer, but a new direction, a new distraction saved me.

4) Be Honest with Yourself and Others
This was the hardest for the longest time. I didn’t want to be sick. Still don’t but ignoring the fact was hurting me and my writing.

Seriously – be honest with yourself and others whether it be friends, family or colleagues. Chronic illness is an energy suck. It can flare up unexpectedly. We have limitations. We can’t be all things to anyone. No ever again. I used to be able to do it all – work, family, write, family dinners, garden – have an endless amount of energy and be all things to all people. Now, I have to manage energy and plan. If we go see the grandchildren at Christmas, how much energy will it take and how do I portion it out for the things I want to do like make or buy Christmas presents, travel, and so on. It all gets done, differently than when I had boundless energy.

The great thing is that the family and friends who care are respectful and make accommodations when I give them, like when I need to rest in quiet for an hour. Those who choose not to understand are no longer part of my life in any significant way. They can’t be. That goes back to the first principle of self care.

Honesty has a painful angle. There was a time when I could write 3,000 words a day and have a novel written in a month! That is no longer my reality. I had to own up to that and set more realistic goals and objectives. Doing that has staved off feeling worthless, the sabotaging voice in my head and has allowed me to write again.

The Final Word
So dear reader, I have taken the time to write this blog this morning because I thought it was important and I wanted to. It’s such a relief to be able to share this. I wrote this post knowing that the likelihood of my working on my novel today is zero spoons. But that’s okay. My remaining energy will be spent on going for a walk, reading, or listening to an audio book. These things I love and they are important too as is the delicious dinner I’m making tonight.

Stay well my friends and practice self care!

Made to Be Broken – A Guest Post by Hamilton Perez

A guest post by Hamilton Perez.

I was just starting out in college when I first decided to be a writer, and I set for myself the goal of publishing my first novel before I graduated. Seemed reasonable, I thought. It’s an uncertain field, after all, I should try to break in as soon as possible so I don’t just sit on my degree afterward. Now, several years after graduating, I still haven’t finished that first novel, let alone published one.

To be a writer is to be a dreamer. But that’s only half of it. To be a writer is to be disappointed. It’s easy, in the beginning to be blinded by imagination, ambition, by the colorful worlds sprouting and blooming inside your head. You can do this, you think. It’s all possible.

And therein lays the unsolicited rub.

Being a writer, or any artist really, is essentially an act of faith. It’s surrendering any sense of control in your personal (read: financial) destiny in pursuit of a creative field that’s harder to crack than a macadamia nut.

That’s why goals are such alluring creatures to an artist. They allow us to believe (for however brief a time) that we have some control over our pitiful fates. They’re lies we tell ourselves to get us moving when the doubt creeps in. But as with art, goals are often born from an excess of ambition. You learn that quickly as you fail to write your thousand words a day, then your five hundred words, then one hundred, until that day comes when you don’t write at all and spend three hours on the couch, watching The Flash with your dog who’s clearly disappointed in you.

Once you fail at your goals, you realize that the same imagination that fuels stories also fuels your hope of what you can accomplish in the one or two hour window you’ve set aside between work, relationships, and nap time. Little did you know when you set those goals that you were setting yourself up for failure.

O cruel, twisty irony!

It’s easy at this point to be discouraged. Indeed, that part’s encouraged. Wallow, dammit. You’re an artist. But once you’ve finished your wallowing, take a look at your work. You might have failed to meet a daily word count, but perhaps you reached half of it. Maybe you found a new plot device or story title. There’s always a silver lining hidden amid the dross. You’ve made something, which is the first step away from making nothing.

Before you can be a successful writer, you have to be a bad one. Before you can set reasonable goals, you have to chase the crazy ones. You have to know what your limits are, what you can handle and what you can’t. The good news: you’re doing it! The bad: you have to fail, you are going to fail.

Embrace that failure.

But setting goals and working towards them isn’t enough. You have to recognize when those goals aren’t working and are actually holding you back. Writing 250 words a day isn’t going to make you a better writer if you’re just typing “Why am I doing this?” fifty times. When that failure comes, you need to either change the goal or abandon it. It’s better to only write a promising first chapter during National Novel Writing Month than to write a terrible novel that had some potential in chapter one.

In 2016, I tried the popular NaNoWriMo for the first time. I planned out the story a month ahead. I did my research beforehand. I calculated how much I needed to write in a day and when I could afford to take a day off. And the first week I was on a roll, churning out one to two thousand words a day. But in the second week, I started to slip. I wrote less and I was less happy with what I wrote. The dream of having a completed novel to work with and develop in December was slipping away. I had a choice: I could either slog through and try and reach the final word count, or readjust my goals and develop the parts of the novel I liked to see where the story actually wanted to go.

The exciting result: I still haven’t finished that novel… But I absolutely love the three chapters I’ve got so far. Most of what I’d written after that point has been scrapped or reworked, and the novel is so much better for it. But because of the work I did during NaNoWrMo, even though I technically failed at the goal, I now know where I want the story to go.

Like rules, creative goals are made to be broken. They aren’t for life planning. They’re for now. For getting you moving, getting you writing. Whether you meet them isn’t really the point. The point is you keep going. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quick. You keep going. You write and you create.

So set your goals. Set reasonable ones. Set ambitious ones. Just set some goals, something—anything—for you to shoot for. Then abandon them when they stop working for you. Wallow a bit. Clear your head. Set some new goals, and write.

Rinse, repeat.

 

About Hamilton Perez

Hamilton Perez is a writer and freelance editor living in Sacramento, California. When not writing, he can be found rolling 20-sided dice or chasing squirrels with the dog. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Metaphorosis, and Syntax & Salt. You can follow him on Twitter @TheWritingHam.