Setting and Keeping Goals: An Evolving Relationship

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Today brings another guest post from Kathleen Kayembe. She has some awesome things to say about goals. We talk about those a lot on here with our yearly lists and quarterly check-ins, but we haven’t really tackled them in the long term.

Reading back through posts here on Anxiety Ink has reminded me I’d like to be better about setting and keeping goals.

Acronyms like SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, Time-bound) when setting goals are a good idea, but if that’s all there is to the goal, I won’t get it done. I need deadlines and external accountability—otherwise, I’ll procrastinate and eventually let things slide.

It wasn’t until Clarion in 2016 that I resumed my teenage practice of writing goals in the back of my current notebook. That teenage practice never got goals done though—merely took them out of my head so I didn’t have to remember them. Once out of sight, my goals list was out of mind until another one occurred to me, or the journal ran out of pages. Then I got depressed enough that the idea of a future was too much to entertain, and I stopped having dreams of a better future because each day was struggle enough.

At Clarion, we were told to make a list of writing goals: 1-, 3-, 5-, and 10-year goals—and I finally had the energy to want to. Whereas before, I would write down any stray writing dream for myself that came to mind, this time I limited my list to SMART things I really cared about. Would I like to be a guest at a convention sometime in the next decade? Yes. Was it important to me? Yes…yes it was. So: on the list! On the other hand, while it would be fun to write a comic book series, if I didn’t achieve that in the next 10 years of my life, would I be disappointed with myself? Not really. So: off the list it stayed.

I found having long-term time goals affixed to my writing dreams, rather than insisting to myself that everything happen This Year, calmed something in me. I had things I could focus on for the short term, but the long-term goals weren’t being forgotten—I had a road map for the future, even if plans to get there remained nebulous. While the shorter-term goals were higher priorities (deadline: end of 2017; see: T – Time-bound), taking steps for the longer-term goals alongside them gave me a sense of accomplishment and encouraged me to soldier on. As 2017 began and my journal ended, I looked back through my page-long list and found I’d already achieved one of my submission goals, and made progress on goals that weren’t due for years yet. Slowly but surely, I was getting somewhere.

Unfortunately, my goals to finish two existing novels could still use work and external accountability. I’d wanted to have both finished by the end of 2017, yet we’re in October and one has not been added to since I made that list, and the other is just over 1/3 of the way through—progress made, yes, but not much.

What’s helped create that progress is a roommate who likes the story and wants to hear the rest of it. Having someone excited to hear what happens next is a huge motivator for me. My writing productivity took a huge hit with the collapse of my LiveJournal communities. I’m still struggling to replicate that communal, encouraging, motivating force in my writing life, and it’s still hard.

I used to track my writing word count and what I’d written in a spreadsheet—but no more. Only since Clarion did I return to trying to track what I was writing. Now I use a Pages document (Mac’s Microsoft Word equivalent) and paste in everything new that I write on my computer. It doesn’t include handwritten or online journal entries, notes jotted in my Rhodia notepad, or ideas and story bits synced into my Evernote writing folder, but seeing the month’s word count and those jotted notes that additional things were written is, even when the total progress seems abysmally low, a reminder that I’m making progress.

Would the novel I’m currently working on be finished by now with more discipline and less exhausting day job hours? Perhaps. But I’m doing the best I can, and don’t have the physical or emotional energy to be both a functional adult with a day job and a prolific writer. I need to keep the day job, so I let my daily writing goals remain realistic, achievable, less taxing: write 1 thing a day—even a sentence is enough.

I learned the “1 sentence is enough” rule from M.J. King; it was hard for me, being kind to myself, letting go of unreasonable expectations, but it finally took. Would I prefer certain kinds of writing over others? Yes. Would I prefer a 4-hour chunk of uninterrupted novel-writing time curled up with my dog or at a cafe instead of an 8-hour work day an at office doing something completely unrelated to writing? Yes, of course. But that’s not my life, so I do what is manageable and realistic, and try not to stress myself out with writing goals I could meet if I were my ideal self instead of the version of me that I am.

I will finish the novel I’m writing, and the one waiting on deck, of that I have no doubt. Will both of them be done by the end of 2017? No, but they’re on the list, and I’m making progress, and for right now that progress is enough.

And when it’s not enough, I remind myself that I’ve been a panelist and a guest at conventions in 2017, so while I’m behind on the novel goals, I’m years ahead on some other ones. Life happens, but as long as I keep my goals in front of my face, progress will also happen—progress and, eventually, achievement.

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