I think we all do this. I do it all the time, but I’m suffering from a decade’s worth of head trauma, so doing what I do is probably not a good idea.
We set ourselves a goal that’s out of our control, then, when we don’t hit that goal, we punish ourselves.
It usually goes something like this: “I will publish a book by the age of X” or perhaps you do it like this: “I will sell X number of books by 12/12/12.”
If we were flexible about these goals, and took it easy on ourselves, then they wouldn’t be such a problem. Sadly, expecting a writer to take it easy on themselves is like expecting a bear to eat your arch nemesis.
Theoretically possible, unlikely in reality.*
The biggest issue I have with these sorts of goals is that they’re outside of your sphere of influence. Getting published depends at least partly on someone else. You can write the best book you possibly can and still get rejected, or get it accepted and then have to wait 18 months to see your book get printed.
All we can do as writers is write the best stuff we can, then edit the hell out of it. After all that’s done then we can try and sell it. Sometimes it’ll sell, sometimes it won’t, but punishing yourself because of someone else’s decision makes no sense.** You will write, you will get rejected, but the only thing you need to do is to force yourself to try and improve your art.
Self flagellation is not self improvement.
I think the best thing we can aim for as writers is a realistic daily word goal (say 1 or 2 thousand words a day***) or a time based goal that forces you to sit in front of your computer for a set amount of time each day regardless of how much you write.
I personally prefer a word count goal as there’s no telling how long a particular scene will take me to write.
Have you ever set yourself an unrealistic goal? Did you get there or were you forced to make an adjustment?
* Meet reality half way; put a bear in their living room.
** If you write a blatant rip off of Harry Potter, refuse to edit it and then call and abuse the agents that didn’t want to know…then feel free to punish yourself all you like.
*** Terry Pratchett once said: “Write 400 words a day, even if you feel like poo.”