It’s about that time of year when we take a hard look at our progress (or lack thereof) toward the year’s goals. We celebrate. We justify. We also inevitably look toward next year so we’re ready to saddle it with all our unrealistic expectations before the sun rises New Year’s day.
I kid. I kid. Humor is how I cope with things, like perpetual failure.
We all know goal setting is mucho important. Goals help us make sure our efforts move us toward what we value and want out of life. Like a good little writer, I start each year with a list of goals. The trouble? I’ve fallen short a lot these last couple years. December comes and goes while I sideways glare at a page of untouched items and choke down more failure than I care to admit.
A few super-fun highlights from Webster. FAILURE. Omission of occurrence or performance; specifically : a failing to perform a duty or expected action. Fracturing or giving way under stress. Lack of success. Falling short. One that has failed.
Another equally important factor to long-term success is honest evaluation; of our goals, self, process, situation, etc.
Too much failure is smelly, so I had to take a hard look at why I was missing so many marks and figure out what to do about it.
For starters, I didn’t quite feel like the failure I appeared to be on paper. I made an ole’ reliable have done list and (thankfully) found I’d made good progress in some really important areas.
Highlights Of The Have Done List
- Actual Writing. I write almost everyday. I keep to a schedule. I prioritize and work accordingly. I do have a few finished products to check off for the year. They’re not ready to submit, but they’re moving in the right direction, I think (hope).
- Learning – Craft. I’m trying to get this right, to learn and apply craft, and write honestly, and share things a reader will enjoy. This is the most important job I have right now, and I understand it’s impossible to stamp a due date on my learning curve, that it’s not so much a curve as a long, steep, if-I’m-lucky-never-ending slope. I have to work and seek feedback and keep moving forward.
- Learning – My Process and its weaknesses. I’m starting to realize what ideas have true story potential and why. I know a lot of the ways I procrastinate, the roiling cloud feeling in my chest that comes when I’m changing bed sheets or scrubbing the shower when I should be working. I know after so many passes my revisions aren’t adding value. I know I have to seek and incorporate feedback to improve the story and my writing.
- Honest Self-Evaluation. I try very hard to do this, like now, in this post. I try to look at when, where, and why I come up short, and admit when I’m getting in my own way, or when I need help, or when something is just not working.
I feel good, overall, with this progress, the quality of my work, and where I’m heading. I had to consider, then, maybe my goal list was a bit unrealistic.
Let Us Raise Our Hands And Justify
Why say my goals aren’t realistic instead of I’m an incompetent, unmotivated slacker who must not really want to succeed at publishing quality work?
Because of the list above, how I feel about it, and the fact that I keep to my writing schedule, and plug away on projects, and waste very little of the writing time I have, and still come up short of completing a year’s list in a year’s time.
These are all valid considerations. And still there are failures to face.
Actual Failure #1: Unrealistic Expectations
The reasons for this are many. Inexperience, fear, impatience with the teeny-tiny-wittle-bitty baby steps I’m capable of right now.
- Inexperience. It’s difficult for me to gauge how long it will take to FINISH something. Mostly because I’m still learning so much. Like how to find the story in a flash of inspiration or in that little twist of thoughts that hasn’t left my head for years. I’m still figuring out how that idea, how that persistent little twist, is connected to the world and my version of reality and how to nail down what I want to say about it and why anyone else might care. I’m still learning my own creative process, when to trust myself, when to let go, when to get out of my own way.
- Perfectionism. That is, FEAR. The pretty term perfectionism is just a safe word for FEAR. It’s like wizards saying “he-who-must-not-be-named” rather than Voldemort. This FEAR of mine, of so many, many things, grows as I get closer to submission, but I understand now that is a good sign. I’m on the right track. Putting our work into the world is a habit, a skill that must be built like any other, through tiny, annoyingly-slow-but-necessary steps that take us further and further from our comfort zone. This blog helps me with this. Publishing a post at first was agonizingly hard, but it gets (a little) easier all the time. Sending my drafts to early readers used to be an anxiety filled multi-day-him-haw-extravaganza, but now it’s something I look forward to during revisions.
- Impatience. My too-aggressive goals are also driven by this other old, unfailing nemesis. Impatience with the aforementioned lack of experience, competing family priorities (like everyone else), the varying range of time I have to write each week (like everyone else), and with the gaping chasm between the writer I want to be someday, and the writer I am now.
Actual Failure #2: Enforcing my self-imposed deadlines
I don’t miss deadlines for my day job or for projects/work with/for others. I just do not. But when I set them for myself, I tend to shift them at will, usually to avoid actually submitting work because I’m scared. (See middle bullet above.)
What to do with these failures?
Evaluate, adjust, and move forward.
More Realistic Goals for the Future
- Adjust the time span on the goal sheet to allow for longer-term achievements, like 5 – 10 years down the road longer. The someday list. This keeps them on the radar as motivators, beacons from the future, but keeps them from being repeated failures that beat me down year to year.
- Accept and celebrate the 4 – 6 things I can accomplish. I chose 4 – 6 things based on the last couple years’ achievements. I’ll include a challenge or two, those stretch goals I mentioned before, but will primarily focus on the year’s priorities.
- Continue to recognize and push against the edge of my discomfort zone, that uncomfortable, prickly area we have to rub against to drive real growth. If I’m not feeling this, then I am not pushing, and I am TRULY failing.
- Include reading for critique partners / writing friends and completing Amazon reviews and Goodreads ratings as a goals. These are important ways to give back to the reading/writing community. Including them here gives them proper priority.
Okay, so there are my justifications. What do you guys think? Total BS? Excuses upon excuses? For shame! Or an honest evaluation? A few baby steps toward growth? How do you plan and evaluate the year’s work? How do you define and deal with failures?