I was thinking about goals recently, Blog knows why. I mean, why would anyone start thinking about life goals around the time a year changes its end digit, let alone TWO end digits? It’s a mystery.
It’s possible that I started thinking about forward intentions in 2020 because I spent most of 2019 looking either back, under, behind, into, or arseways. (I’d stick more prepositions in there, but it reminds me too much of studying German grammar, and I can’t remember whether arseways takes the dative or the accusative case… if you know whether an arse is a direct or an indirect object, you might like to leave the answer in the comments, thanks.)
It’s also possible that I was thinking about this stuff because someone actually asked me this year what my new year’s resolutions were.
I was shocked. I mean, most people only tell you what their own resolutions are. What kind of monster would ask you what yours were? (A monster I live with. That’s who.)
Anyway, it occurred to me that the problem with goals is not that they’re unattainable, or that we fail: but that we keep changing them.
And when you’re talking about writing, and writers, who have the constitution of a Mayfly with a narcolepsy, this is a very dangerous pastime. Because changing goals can result in chronic writing paralysis.
The Bloggy Bit Where It’s All Me Me Me
Case in point: this time last year, without consciously nailing it down as a goal, I aimed to finish the novel I was working on at the time. That was fairly significant for someone who had a day job which ate her life, refused to leave a tip, and then asked for seconds.
Had I been consciously thinking about it, I would have realised that I was going to have a uphill battle. And I most probably wouldn’t have articulated the aim of finishing that novel enough to make it a real goal, because I probably would have been afraid of failing. Finishing a half-written novel is bloody hard, and I knew it.
But do you know what happened? I actually did it. I decided in February that I wanted to finish it in order to send it to somebody who had asked for it. And I did. I finished the whole novel only about a month after I’d hoped to get it done.
Goal accomplished, right? Well done me – right?
Because do you know what happened then? I succumbed to the Writer’s Curse, and moved the bloody goalposts.
I wanted people to love my novel. I wanted everyone, including the people I sent it to, to love it hard. And I wanted to be published and I wanted to have something to show for all the novels I’ve worked on over the years whilst doing the day job and all the other stuff that life is when you’re not writing.
The very moment I finished the first draft of that book, I dismissed the original goal as though I’d had a different goal all along. All of a sudden, the goal wasn’t finishing the novel any more. It was getting it published.
And then lots of life happened. My Dad passed away, and being level-headed got harder, and the day job got harder, and I discovered that not only had those I’d sent the novel not loved it, they hadn’t even read the bloody thing. But in the meantime the door had closed, and my new goal was on the other side.
In the process, I’d forgotten that finishing a novel doesn’t mean writing ‘The End’. An epic rookie mistake. My writing hadn’t failed. I’d failed.
By August, I realised that I did indeed have a good idea and the makings of a good story. However, I also had two characters without a motive, and a mystery without any intrigue. They needed a rewrite, and I needed a bit of cop on.
How can anyone achieve anything if we keep discounting what’s actually done, and focusing on what isn’t?
How The Writer’s Curse Works
I’m only small-time stuff, but I’ve seen this happen so much too in the writing world, when writers start comparing themselves to other people and re-setting their goals all the time. And the unhappiness is rife. It’s crippling. And social media does NOT help.
- Say you’re an unpublished writer, and you want to get an agent.
Congratulations – you got an agent!
- But wait – your two best mates are already published.
Congratulations! You got a book deal!
- But So-and-So got a better book deal, with a request for another book, and a better advance.
Congratulations! You got a 3-book deal with a stonking advance! So you quit your day job!
- But your publisher is starting to make noises about recouping the advance, and now you need the book to sell. A lot. And every time you hear the word ‘marketing’, you cry a little.
Congratulations! You made back your advance!
- But So-and-So made the Sunday Times Bestseller List.
Congratulations! You made the Bestseller List too!
- But So-and-So made the New York Times List. And USA Today.
- And now they’ve been sold into 5 further territories, with deals in progress for translation rights in another 9.
- And now they’ve been nominated for an award.
- And now they’ve won the award.
- And your publisher is looking for the 2nd novel in the book deal.
- And your editor doesn’t like the idea you came up with.
- And you’re starting to get up later and later.
- And you wear pyjamas to the cinema.
Anyone else got a headache?
The Bit Where I Attempt to Tie It All Together
I spent so much of 2019 bemoaning the goals I’d changed when all the time I should have been trying to (in the words of Samuel Beckett) fail better.
With that in mind, this year I am going to try and finish this novel PROPERLY.
At the end of the year, there will still be things wrong with it. But you know what? It’ll be less wrong than it is today, and that’s an admirable goal (in my book).
Anyone out there got some writing goals they can actually stick to?