I’ve always struggled when it comes to personality tests. They show such a clear-cut difference between people who create and follow plans and people who are spontaneous and take life as it comes. They don’t leave a lot of room for people like me, who are a mix of both. I love planning. I’ve always littered my workspace with to-do lists galore, and I like to know what’s supposed to be happening tomorrow. At the same time, I’m very impulsive—happiest when the list is tossed aside for a spur-of-the-moment adventure or accomplishment.
I used to think something was wrong with me, but now I see that both sides are important traits. They’re important for you as a writer, too. Setting goals will help you focus your writing and move forward, but flexibility and impulse will let you accept and learn from any situation—even when it’s not in your plans.
Here are three things to remember about goal-setting:
- You need to set goals.
Goals are an integral part of who we are as people. They’re what we use to focus our actions as we pursue what we need and want to do. How can you get into your vehicle and start driving if you don’t have a destination in mind? How can you prepare a meal if you don’t have a recipe or any idea what you’re making? You need a goal before you can even begin to act.
Goals are important in your writing, too. Where would you like to end up as a writer? Know what your long-term, big-picture goals are. Then, think about the steps it will take to get there. Does it look like publishing that short story within a year? Does it look like getting out the rough drafts of the three novels that have been bouncing around in your brain? Does it look like spending ten minutes a day on your writing, even when you’re busy? You can wish to be a writer all day long, but until you know what your goals are, you’ll have no direction to start working.
- Goals don’t always work out the way you expect or hope.
Goals can’t always take the unexpected into account, so you might not always make it there. In April, I set two specific writing-related that I thought were simple enough—one was to write 500 words of fiction each day as a part of Camp NaNoWriMo, and the other was to read and write haiku to stretch myself in honor of National Poetry Month. However, life shoved too many mandatory goals in my way: catch up on grading, heal from yet another bout with sickness, and work on a grant proposal with a tight deadline. What I needed to do left no time for what I wanted to do.
Your writing goals won’t always turn out the way you thought they would, either. Your goal might be to write every day, but habits are hard to form, so it might take multiple tries to get anywhere. Maybe your goal to find a publisher for your trilogy within the next year is way too big and uninformed, and you’re forced to go back to revising. Maybe life gets in the way and rewrites your priorities. That’s okay! Don’t worry that something’s wrong with you when you don’t end up where you thought you would. Life is full of unexpected twists, and the fact that you’re working on your writing at all means that you’re succeeding.
- You can learn and grow from every unmet goal.
We learn from what we do accomplish, but we can also learn from what we don’t accomplish. While I didn’t meet my 500 words/day goal for Camp NaNoWriMo, I did write 10,000 words towards a story that I didn’t know was going to be that long. I also gained a caring, supportive group of fellow writers thanks to an amazing online “cabin.” While I didn’t end up reading or writing any haiku in April, I learned the difference between what I truly wanted to do (take poetry in small doses) and what I thought sounded impressive. Besides, I did succeed in finding a new poet of interest when a friend loaned me her copy of Scape by Luci Shaw. Her poems are deep yet accessible, and I caught myself exclaiming out loud at the beauty in many of the lines.
I can’t tell you what lessons you’ll learn your unmet goals, because I don’t know your story and dreams. I can tell you that you’re not a failure. When you set a goal but don’t reach it, don’t give up. Look and learn from the situation. What stopped you from meeting that goal? Was it something more pressing in life? Something you learned about what your real goals are? Some area in which you still need to grow and change? When your plans changed, what did you accomplish instead? There is nothing that happens that you can’t learn from as a writer.
I might not have met my writing goals in April, but I’m content with what I learned and accomplished. As you grow as a writer, remember to follow the same steps. You should set goals, but always be ready to accept the unexpected. Whether or not you meet those goals, let yourself learn and grow from every experience. You’ll be stronger as a writer and more confident as a human being.