Unmet goals: friend or foe?

I’ve been thinking a lot about goal-setting lately, and the inevitable side effect of unmet goals.  On the one hand, since newbie writers must self-motivate (lacking book deals and attendant deadlines), goals are essential.  On the other hand, when you miss them, a cycle of emotional distress starts: discouragement, quickly morphing into self-loathing, and then (hopefully) into a stiff determination to amp up productivity.

Goals are funny things.  Without them, we might not get as much done.  With them, we’re guaranteed ennui and semi-regular failure.

Exhibit A: this year I decided to do NaNoWriMo for the first time.  I did not finish the 50,000 words needed to “win,” and therefore fell short of my goal (by around 22,000 words, in fact).  However, I did get almost 30,000 words into a new novel, something that would never have happened if I hadn’t set the goal of 50,000.

Exhibit B: A week or so ago I resolved to practice specific writing skills daily.  Out of seven days, I managed four.  Viewed one way, an epic failure.  But…viewed another, I did at least get down four days of practice as opposed to the zero I would have managed without the goal of seven.

To add a little flesh to Exhibits A and B:  in the same time I set and failed to complete those goals, I also drafted two short stories, revised 1/3 of an already completed novel, and tended to my personal life and day job.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this.  Am I setting overly ambitious goals given the other commitments in my life, taking on too many projects at once, or awful at meeting goals?  Maybe this is just how things are – maybe my story is your story too, and we’re all perfectly normal?

Or, maybe goals are no different from those mileposts we cling to when out on a run (you know, where we tell ourselves: “just keep going. When you get to that telephone pole at the end of the block, you can stop”; but then, when we finally get to the telephone post, we say: “just a little further…maybe push on to the funny looking tree missing half it’s branches?).  Even though you don’t get it done as quickly as you’d like, you still finish your run, or your novel, or whatever.

So, what do you think?  Is this line of reasoning the sort that paves the way to a hell of justifications, or is it the best way forward through a writer’s life of peaks and valleys?

5 thoughts on “Unmet goals: friend or foe?

  1. Catana

    Goals are our friends because they keep in sight what we want to achieve. The only failure is not to make any progress at all. I don’t think there’s any percentage of achievement that makes a goal a success rather than a failure. They’re unrealistic, in a sense, because we don’t know whether we can achieve them, but that’s true of everything in life. The point is to set the goals and push ourselves as best we can to reach them. It may take more than one try, but that’s okay, and it’s also normal.

    1. mirandasuri


      Thanks for chiming in, and welcome to the blog! I agree, 100%, that we should never stop setting goals AND I do think that goals are what keep us moving forward (even if its slower than we like). I just struggle with figuring out what constitutes a realistic goal.

  2. Robyn

    I didn’t achieve this week’s goal either (though I did win NaNoWriMo by putting aside everything else except my dayjob for the month). For me, the act of setting the goal at this point is enough. If I keep at it without the time limit, I’ll do it eventually, I figure.

    And at the time, I thought I was setting my sights extremely low!

    1. mirandasuri

      Hi Robyn,

      Congrats, btw, on finishing NaNo!

      I know what you mean about expectations and goals. I often think my goals are too easy or that I’ve set the bar too low and then struggle to meet them. I agree with Catana that goals are essential, but I also wonder how good I am at self-assessing with respect to goal-setting.

  3. Catana

    Isn’t goal-setting something we have to learn, just like everything else? If we fail too many times, then we’ve set the goals too high. If they’re easy to reach, that’s a sign we might need a bit more of a challenge. There are so many factors involved, though — time, energy, motivation, priorities. We should be flexible about goals. Sometimes we can set them high and achieve them. Other times, we need to be easy on ourselves. Maybe we should look at goal-setting as an art rather than a science, and like any art, something that we learn over time.

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