Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Setting Goals in Writing

Today, my writers' group is meeting for the last time this year, having lunch and relaxing (and giving back last-minute critiques!). Usually on this final day, I take along everyone's goals that they wrote down way back in March, and we read them out and admit how many of them we didn't reach. This year, we won't be doing this. Back in March, when we would normally talk about goals and then make our lists, it seemed everyone was prevaricating, saying how they didn't really want to, because they never looked at them again, or didn't do anything towards making their goals attainable.

Right now, you're probably thinking: If that's how they feel, then goal setting for them is a waste of time. You may well be right. But for me, not having a range of things to aim for, dream about, take small steps towards, would feel like having my left hand missing. I may not achieve all of my goals every year, but I know that at the very least, writing them down is an important step. Sometimes I may not refer to them again for months, sometimes I get to December and look at that list and think, Hey, I actually managed to achieve that!

This year I discovered that at the top of my list I had written "Work on finding a new method of revision for my novels". Back in February, I'd already been thinking about this aspect of my writing, and knew it was an area that needed some dedicated focus and effort. I remember reading several books on revision, and making notes that I then passed on to my students. Writing took over by July, and I wrote two children's novels in the following months. First drafts, that is. Then I embarked on Margie Lawson's lecture notes on Empowering Character Emotions, and that's where I found what I needed for my revision methods.

So when I read my list of goals, I said, "Aha, I achieved that without realising it was one of my main aims for the year". Was that coincidence? No. And that's where I feel people who dismiss goal-setting don't get it. The brain is an amazing thing. I have learned that if I put something inside it, add more material and ideas, add a firm mental commitment that this is something important and I need to keep working on it - my brain will quietly work away in the background (sometimes a very murky background!) and then come up with the goods when I'm ready.

It's not hocus-pocus, it's having faith that the instrument inside your head can actually work for you, even when you're not conscious of it. It works for solving plot problems, for finding that crucial last line of a poem, for developing your characters, so why shouldn't it work for more "practical" things? But you have to give it the opportunity and the "feeders" as well. And a list of goals, written down and reviewed every now and then, is a great starting point.


Anonymous said...

Goal setting is great in theory, but I find it really hard in practice. It is like New Year's resolutions - how many times I have had good intentions that just haven't come off. One year I just didn't write any down. Having said that though - I'm really pleased I have found your blog Sherryl as it is providing me with great food for thought in my quest to write more.

Kristi Holl said...

Great talking to you yesterday! I blogged about our chat a bit today. No, I don't accomplish every goal I set. But I accomplish a lot more than when I didn't write them down and they were just "wishful thinking." Writing the goals down seems to give the brain something to chew on. And voila! Suddenly everywhere you turn you find things (in magazines, on TV, in conversations, in a pamphlet at the doctor's office) that pertain to what you wrote down as a goal.
Kristi Holl
Writer's First Aid blog

Sherryl said...

Cathy - I think for some people goal setting could be more useful if viewed as a kind of "work method". Rather than, as you say, something akin to the old NY resolutions that we break about the 6th January!

I've been doing them for so long that I sometimes forget that others don't work in the same way. And often I see people set goals that are either way too big, or things that are out of their control. I'll think about this a bit more and write a post on some strategies.

Sherryl said...

Kristi - you are right about what happens when you actually write them down. They move from being "This is what I'd like to do, if only..." to "This is what I am going to do". The change in purpose that writing it down generates is what is valuable to me.

dannielo said...

If you'd like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web application:

You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
A mobile version is available too.

Sherryl said...

Thanks, dannielo. I'll check it out.

Sherryl said...

Thanks, dannielo. I'll check it out.