Guest Post by Catherine Lanser
Are you a master goal setter? If you are like me, you’ve already read all the rules of setting successful goals. Maybe you even treat your writing like a business and set goals at the end of the year or every quarter.
Goal-oriented writers are all over SMART goals and wouldn’t be found within a mile of a goal that isn’t:
But what if you are a little too focused on the outcome? Is there a way to be focused without driving yourself crazy?
A Better Way?
For years, I stalked the perfect writing goal. I found myself focusing on the “measurable” part. That meant all my writing activities had to add up. I counted everything in my head: the minutes I wrote, the number of submissions I made, pages I published, social media engagements, books I read, plus a million other activities.
Then, I subtracted all of my transgressions (rejections and time not spent writing) and graded myself on the total.
I finally realized I wasn’t being SMART at all. I was driving myself crazy. So instead, I decided to follow a new set of guidelines. Below are my new SANE guidelines for setting goals.
That’s right – S – A – N – E.
S is for Strict
Writers, are you being too hard on yourself?
Strict goals come from the idea that only hard things are worth working toward. But difficult doesn’t mean you have to be hard on yourself. An example of a strict goal I used to make would be:
- I will write five days a week, 30-minutes a day, every week for the next year
Although the number of days and the time limit may be different, that’s a goal many writers make. Still, I don’t think many writers feel good about that goal, or themselves, the first, second, or third time they miss a writing session.
Strict goals seem like a good idea because they match all the requirements of SMART goals. Except, they can miss the big picture.
Goals should also be about what you are trying to achieve. If you really need to write more, start by looking at how much writing you are doing. Next, decide what might be possible before arbitrarily picking some numbers out of the sky.
I tend to write when the urge strikes and use RescueTime to track my time. Over the course of a month I write about half the days, anywhere from 10 minutes to four hours.
On average, that means I write about 30 minutes a day per month. With a strict goal about writing a certain number of times a week, certain hours a day, I am a failure. Instead, when I look at my averages, I am doing okay.
If I did want to write more, a less strict goal would be a bit of stretch, but still achievable. My new goal might be to increase the average time spent writing time by a certain amount.
But since I’m okay with the amount of time I write, I’ll choose a different goal in an area where I really do need to grow. The next guideline helps me do that.
A is for Avoidant
What am I avoiding when I set my goals?
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
It can be easy to set goals that make us feel like we are achieving a lot even if we aren’t really challenging ourselves. Goals that fall outside of our comfort zone may be a little more uncomfortable, but they’ll also help us get somewhere new. When you’re setting your goals, make sure they are a little outside of your reach and that make you a little anxious.
One way to do this is by making goals around your fears. Rejection is probably the number one fear for most writers. Speaking in public and sharing our writing are likely close seconds. Whatever your fear is, set a goal to face it and you’ll never feel more empowered and scared at the same time.
You may find, as many have, that confronting fear lessens it. I know a lot of writers, myself included, who got more comfortable with rejection only after being rejected again and again.
If rejection is the thing you are avoiding, try setting a goal around a certain number of rejections in a certain period of time. You’ll be in good company with many other writers who have done the same and those that have turned their rejections into art. [CG1] After all, the more rejections you have the more likely you are to be accepted.
And if rejection isn’t your fear, pick whatever else really scares you. There are a million ways to face your fears, from attending a local writer’s group to speaking at a conference. You may even find a new opportunity that you never knew existed, which is covered in the next guideline.
N is for Narrow
Have I allowed enough space for the unexpected?
Narrow goals are the ones that start at X and move toward Y without any detours. That’s great when you want to get to an appointment on time, but with writing, sometimes it’s good to take a side trip.
So how do you write one that allows you to be flexible? Set goals for the foreseeable future and allow yourself to change them as you need or want to. With writing, as your wants, needs, and even talents change it doesn’t make sense to keep doing the same thing just because you told yourself you would.
In the past, I stuck with some writing goals for too long, because that was the plan. But then I realized that I wasn’t having that much fun. When I built more time for experimentation and just letting things come to me, I had more opportunity and enjoyed myself a lot more.
There are really only two questions I ask myself now when a new writing opportunity that I hadn’t planned on comes to me:
- Do I want to do it?
- Do I think I can grow from it?
- If the answer is yes to both, why not give it a shot?
For example, I didn’t plan to do this blog, but when the opportunity came up, I made room for it because I knew it would help me grow.
Connecting and accepting opportunities from others in the business is always a detour I’m always willing to take. Putting all my hopes in others is not, as you’ll see with the final guideline.
E is for External
Am I counting on everyone else?
In psychology having an external locus of control means that you attribute success to things outside yourself. On the other hand, an internal locus of control means your behavior is what determines your outcomes.
When you apply the term to goals, I want my goals to have an internal locus of control. If all of my goals rely on someone else’s actions, I don’t have much to do with them. I’m stuck waiting for things to happen to me, instead of creating what I want to happen.
Examples external goals are:
- I will be published in X Literary Journal this year
- I will get a book blurb from so and so.
They sound like great goals to start with, but they aren’t within our power. The only thing we control is what we can do ourselves.
So instead of putting all the focus of the goal outside yourself, put the power on yourself. Instead, choose goals that may help you achieve those goals, but that put you in control:
- I will complete a story and submit it to X Literary Journal for their X issue
- I will send Author Name a letter of invitation to blurb my book by DATE
Your story may still not get published and the author may say no, but you will have done everything you can to make it happen. You will also be building the skills to try again with another literary journal or the next author, which always comes in handy.
SANE Goals Help You Stay on Track
SANE goals create a little breathing room when goals are too constrictive.
In the areas where you need to stretch, SANE goals hold you accountable. They are meant to help you find some balance if your writing goals are driving your crazy.
In any case, I hope they make writing a little more fun.
For more from Catherine Lanser, check out her blog.