Reflections on Goal Setting

When I first took a class on goal planning for writers last year, the intention was to create an environment and a year where I carved out space for my writing as I would a career. Now, as we reach the end of another year (yeah, I hate to tell you, but its only a few hours away) I wanted to take the time to look back and let you know what worked, what didn’t, and what I could do better next time. Not so much a bragging post, this is more to offer you ideas of your own on how to pursue your writing career without feeling too overwhelmed.

Every great endeavor seems impossible while you’re standing at the base of it, wondering how best to begin. But journeys are not made in great leaps and bounds, they are made by singular footfalls, one in front of another. Maybe your goal is to finish your novel, memoir, poetry book, cookbook and have it ready for publication by December next year. That’s a huge leap when you’re staring at an empty page.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a planner when it comes to the creative process of my writing. I don’t outline in detail, I don’t diagram, and I sure as hell don’t employ computer programs to chart the course of my books…but–being the little virgo-seque, organizational lovin’ nerd I am, I do like a set plan for how I get from blank page to finished book.

So rather than try to eat this whole goal at once, try taking little bites. I realize it seems over simplified, but what what worked best for me was breaking down my goals by first naming the end result I wanted, then thinking about the benchmarks I needed to meet every three months to make it happen. Then I broke it down further, to what I needed to do every month to meet those benchmarks, and finally what I needed to do every week so that it was manageable within my life.

In example, I wanted to submit at least 55 pieces of work this year. That meant that every month I needed 4 to 5 submissions, or one + a week. It’s hard to think of 55 poems out for submission all at once. I don’t think I would have been able to feel capable. But one submission, every week was something I couldn’t find an excuse not to do.

I wanted to finish editng three novels and have them ready for publication. I didn’t try to cram them all into a month. I broke it down to 3-6 chapters a week, which gave me about four rounds of in-depth editing for each, including a Beta reading round.

Having defined goals in mind is essential, allowing yourself room to wiggle when life gets complicated (because life always does) is just as important. That’s why at every quarter, in my planner, I would write down a day to reassess. What was working? What wasn’t? What could I let go of? What was I ahead on? It helped me understand my work habits and held me accountable to myself more than just a post-it of ideas on the first of January.

When life got complicated, overwhelming, and sometimes down right depressing, I gave myself room to let go of what I no longer deemed as important (I didn’t read 100 books this year, but made it through about 15–plus 12 read-throughs of my own novels). I reprioritized the schedule so that the things most important to me (family) would have first dibs on my time and used what I had left to do my best.

Even while giving yourself grace, don’t give yourself the excuse to quit. I find, no matter what the task, if I’ve set a deadline on a particular project, I will almost always finish it on time or before. Having a date to work with helps boost the sense of urgency and makes you delete social media from your phone so you aren’t wasting even one minute that you could be writing/practicing/editing/researching/submitting.

So that’s pretty much it. Because I love you (of course I do!) here’s an easy bullet list reference:

  • Set defined, obtainable goals. Pick anywhere from 1-5, but don’t go crazy. You’re only human.
  • Break them down by quarter, month, week, even day if need be.
  • Schedule rewards for meeting your goals on these timelines.
  • Allow yourself room to drop/add/readjust if something isn’t working. The journey won’t go anywhere if you’re passed out on the side of the trail with exhaustion.
  • Set defined dates for benchmarks and completion of the steps toward your goal. In other words: Give yourself ‘Due Dates’.
  • Make sure you understand your “WHY”. Why are you doing this? What are you seeking? Is it fame? Closure? Justification? The “Why” is never wrong, and you will need to return to it when things get tough.
  • Set your goals and break down the schedule you’ll need a week to two before the start of the New Year. Nobody wants to wake up New Year’s Day and try to muddle through big plans. Start thinking about it now and give yourself time to figure out what’s obtainable and most desired.

Well, I’m done talking. I appreciate you giving this blog a look over and hopefully getting the gears turning about your goals for this new year ahead. Drop me a line and let me know what you’re planning to do (this is a good exercise in accountability–if you’ve told someone you’re gonna, its an extra source of drive when you don’t feel up to it.)

Happy Writing.

Giving Thanks

I’d created some pretty flashy, quiet-inspired, philosophical posts last weekend on retreat. They’re beautiful but I’m leaving them in the bank because today I want to repost something that I’d blogged about years ago that is timely and still rings true.

Have a safe and happy holiday. Be with the ones you love. And if you can’t; love the ones you’re with.

 

 

Making Do and Giving Thanks

 

One of my earliest memories was of waiting in a dark and crowded hall while my mother picked out ‘groceries’ from piles of white and black generic boxes. I didn’t understand at the time that the blocks of Velveeta-like cheese, powdered milk, and bags of rice were part of assistance programs that kept us from going hungry when the insecurity of the uranium mine had left us teetering on the edge of destitution.

 

My father is, and always has been, a hard worker. He took whatever job he could to support us, but in the unstable energy economy of 1980’s Wyoming there was always a fear behind my parent’s eyes. My mom was a teacher on and off and she stayed home with her three wild and creative kids. Anyone who’s a mother knows that each child is a full time job just in themselves, with no hazard pay given and no time off.  She was a genius at making ends meet, and squeezing out the most of everything we had, including our time together.

 

Their amazing resilience still brings tears to my eyes, especially as a parent myself. Because, back then, I never knew we lacked for anything.

 

We were always fed. We were always clothed. We had a roof over our heads and wild game in the freezer. We made do. When lay offs hit, they squeezed the most out of what we had and made do. When dad went back to college for a second degree in teaching, we lived in a small house in Laramie and made do. When Christmas came around and three kids rushed to the living room, there was always something there to be thankful for.

 

I didn’t have cable as a kid; I had books. I didn’t have a TV in my room; I had the library less than two blocks away. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t afford vacations to far off places because I could go there in my mind. Pages were like my wings, rocketing me towards new and fantastic horizons. My parents couldn’t give me designer clothes or name brand shoes. They gave me Jean M. Auel, Jack London, L.M. Montgomery, Louis L’Amour, Piers Anthony, and Jane Austen. They gave me hours and days of uninterrupted reading time. I still remember mom peeking in on me, sprawled out in bed, pouring over a book, completely lost to the world around me, asking if I needed anything.

 

Looking back now, and knowing what I do about how much it costs to raise a child (nonetheless three), I really couldn’t have asked for more.

 

We made more than just meals from small staples. We made worlds out of our love and support of one another. My parents gave us the belief in where our minds could take us. And we made do.

 

The best part of Thanksgiving, is the giving. If you find that you have an abundance, I urge you to consider donating to some of the fine folks listed below.

Remember; Money is like manure, it doesn’t do a lick of good until you spread it around and encourage things to grow.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Red Cross

Larimer County Food Bank

CASA Fort Collins

Larimer County Humane Society

Meals on Wheels

Wounded Warrior Project