Happy New Year! I won’t share any “begin as you mean to go on” tips because everyone in my house came down with a cold late last week, so we were all sick for New Year’s Eve, and that is definitely not how I “mean to go on.” *smile*
But in a strange way, that brings me to my point for this post. The best intentions don’t always work out.
Whenever people talk about setting goals, the usual advice is to make SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals. Or to make realistic goals. Or to make goals that we have control over.
But 2016 proved to me that what we think is realistic or what we think we have control over…isn’t necessarily the case.
When “Realistic” Doesn’t Work
By most measures, my 2016 goal of editing and releasing a previously completed draft—as well as writing (or at least starting) another book—would seem reasonable.
Based on my previous experience, I should have been able to edit and release that completed story by late spring or summer, especially as it didn’t need major revisions. The rest of the year could have been spent on writing the next book, just as planned.
To my mind, those events were mostly under my control. I had editors and my cover artist lined up. I just needed to do my part. I’m the only one who could have screwed up the plan.
However, the first bad sign for me appeared right away in January of 2016 with health issues that kept getting more and more complicated and difficult. A known issue with my toe (which was suspected to be broken) turned out to be a far more complex problem of nerves and tendons affecting both feet and both ankles that still isn’t fixed.
A simple dental procedure turned out to be complicated by a rare bone infection that required emergency surgery and harsh medications with negative side effects and lots of extra surgeries. And once again, it still isn’t fixed.
That’s not even counting the vision issues I started suffering from due to stress, medication, and lack of sleep. When a writer can’t read her computer monitor, that’s a problem.
Those complications did more than interrupt my writing schedule. They drained my energy and left me feeling burned out, even though I also felt like I was slacking off and not getting anything done.
How Do We Define “Realistic”?
Years ago, I wrote about how to make sure our expectations are realistic, and I pointed out several ways to check. Here are just a few I came up with at the time:
- Goals: Are they really doable? For us? What are we willing to do to meet those goals?
- Priorities: Which activities will best help us with our goals?
- Time: What can we really accomplish during X amount of time? What trade-offs are we willing to make?
- Control: Do we have a Plan B for things outside our control?
- Energy: What if we have work-life or family-life emergencies? Would we have to push ourselves to the point of sickness to meet those goals?
- Life Balance: Will we still have time for family, friends, and hobbies? If not, will reaching our goals really make us happy?
In hindsight, several of the points I made in that post stand out as things that I didn’t plan very well for in 2016. I pushed myself too hard in 2015, suffered for it in 2016, and then had all the complications on top of the initial issues.
In thinking through everything that drained my energy last year—from multiple surgeries to destructive medications that caused bad reactions (I’m allergic to almost every treatment for both the foot/ankle and mouth issues…oh yay!)—I came up with another area we have to take into consideration when establishing our goals. We also need to keep in mind the mental aspect.
Writing Is a Mental Game
A conversation yesterday with Angela Quarles, my writing bestie, reminded me of how much writing is a mental challenge.
Many of us have needed to be “talked off the ledge” when it comes to our story, characters, career, critiques, rejections, reviews, contests, etc. Self-doubt is a strong antagonist in our writing life.
I saw this common problem take over even more when my health issues dragged out my editing over months and months, which kept me in nitpicky editing mode far longer than healthy for my mental state. Focusing only on problems for months at a time didn’t help my enthusiasm for writing either.
As Angela pointed out, I felt guilt and burnout and energy-draining health issues all wrapped up in crazy (meaning: no longer realistic) expectations. Or in her words:
“A big guilty burrito that’s smothering you inside it…”
That’s me. *smile*
Sure, my goals were reasonable…at first. But then I never really changed my expectations and goals for my new situation. On the surface, I accepted the reality, but deeper down, I still felt like I was screwing up.
None of that helps the mental aspect of writing. If we’re not feeling our story during drafting, our word count will suffer. If we’re not feeling our story during revisions and editing, our motivation will suffer. If we’re not enjoying the process of writing and publishing, we contemplate giving up.
Are We Setting Ourselves Up to Win?
So that brings us back to needing to take our mental health into account when establishing goals. And I’m talking about far more than just our energy level.
For example, yes, I was listening to the advice to take it easy and let myself heal, but that should have taken…what? A week or two, right? *smile*
With expectations like that, each push-back of my deadlines felt like a failure, and when I missed the new deadline a month or two later, that was another failure, and so on. Over the course of the year, I succeeded in cobbling together only a few productive days here and there, making every deadline a miss—and stringing together a whole year of failures.
In other words, when my whole year was eaten up by non-writing monsters, I should have reassessed my goals in the big picture, not just pushed them back a month or two.
Goals—no matter what they are—are a mental game, and that goes double for writing goals. So I should have set up other goals in the interim that I could win to get back to a healthier mental state.
What Does It Mean to Set Up Winning Goals?
Some people like to use to-do lists or checklists for their daily goals. Many of those types will go so far as to write something down—that they didn’t have on the list—after they finish it, just so they can feel the sense of accomplishment. *raises hand*
That’s creating a win. They’re adding something to their list of goals that they know they can count as a win (because they already finished it). But we can do the same whether we use lists or have already finished something or not.
To interrupt that cycle of short-term deadline thinking that gave me a string a “failures,” I should have added some goals to my list that would give me a few wins in there too.
I could have formally added a goal to set up guest posts during NaNoWriMo, for example. Or a goal of reading through my story—without editing in mind—just to recapture the enjoyment of writing.
How to Ensure Our Expectations Are Realistic, Part Two
Let’s go back to my list of realistic expectations and add a category with thoughts of how we can find successes for a healthier mental state:
- Have we added goals we know we’ll succeed at to give us a few wins? Being kind to our mental health is important too.
- Have we added “fun” goals that will remind us why we’re doing what we’re doing? For example, reading our story for enjoyment, or spending a day imagining scenes or characters that excite us.
- Have we built in time/expectations to revisit the big picture of our goals if emergencies crop up? Pushing back deadlines that we’ll miss again if the emergencies aren’t solved yet can just lead to a series of “failures.”
- Have we analyzed our goals for which ones will require more mental energy? Have we built in time to replenish our mental energy after those tasks?
- If we decide we’ve sacrificed too much or are asking too much of ourselves, have we given ourselves permission to adjust our expectations?
Several of those reminders would have helped me last year, so I’ll try to keep them in mind as we step into the new year. For me, the most important one is feeling that I have permission to change my goals and priorities if things aren’t working so I can experience a sense of accomplishment from successes too.
Whether we’re talking about our stories and characters or finding the best writing-life balance, we’re all making this up as we go along. Hopefully, by sharing my struggles over the past year, we can all learn how to give ourselves more successes. *smile*
Do you set up writing goals or a yearly writing plan? Do you struggle to complete that plan or are you usually successful? Have you ever dealt with setbacks beyond your control? How did you handle those setbacks as far as your plan? Will this reminder to take our mental health into consideration with our goals help with a better balance?Pin It