Writers and Unrealistic Goals

NB: This post was inspired by Chuck Wendig’s blog post here.

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.”

Be Sociable, Share!
This entry was posted in advice, Links. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Writers and Unrealistic Goals

  1. Great post. I just mentioned it on my flash fiction blog.

  2. AndrewNo Gravatar says:

    Thanks Paula :)

  3. Hear hear! Nice post.

    Such a big difference between realistic and unrealistic goals. And sometimes the only to reach them is to break them down into smaller and actually attainable bits.

    It’s truly scary how much depends on timing, networking, and just plain luck and that’s AFTER you’ve spent the time to become proficient at the craft. :P

    Total crapshoot in some cases. Heh heh. So let’s just do what we can and keep plugging. (Stubbornness is probably one of the most necessary traits in this biz.) :)

  4. Agree completely. I set some goals for this year, including submitting a certain number of queries. As far as writing, like you, I set goals for word count. If I were to set an amount of time, I may spend most of that time staring at the computer screen like a numbskull after I wrote a crappy sentence. Word count goals propel my writing. My wife warned me against setting goals on things that are out of my control (she’s quite smart that way).

  5. Pingback: Mind Sieve 2/21/11 « Gloria Oliver's Blog

  6. mayaNo Gravatar says:

    Well yes, it is really hard to reach the impossible. But some would even die trying.

  7. DaleNo Gravatar says:

    Nice topic… I totally agree all the comment above!! Very inspirational thoughts.. I prefer to imagine that my family, a few friends, and occasionally my mother are the only ones who read what I do, though I realize that this is somewhat unrealistic. Thanks for the the time you’ve spent!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>