The Importance of Goal Setting

Not as prestigious as it sounds...but still worth mentioning.

If you're something of a skeptic (like me), or a headstrong teenager (like I once was), the words "goal setting" may set your eyes a-rolling. The phrase may remind you of arbitrary school assignments or mystical ideals foisted upon you at some point. I know. I get it. But honest to God, setting goals for yourself can help you accomplish what you want to accomplish, on a number of levels and at a range of paces.

Take National Novel Writing Month, for example; more specifically, Camp NaNoWriMo. Every July (and April), this California-based nonprofit encourages writers of all ages all over the world (yes, world, even though it isn't called "International" Novel Writing Month) to get their creative game on and write something. You set the word count, line count, page count, or hourly goal on the first of the month, and you have until 11:59 (in your time zone) on the last day of the month to meet (or surpass) it. If you do so, you win discounts on things like writer software, editing/publishing services, and a variety of cool merch. You also get free headers and such (see above) to share with your web friends — also known as bragging rights.

Camp NaNoWriMo is essentially a low-key version of the standard NaNoWriMo, which pushes people to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. I've done it, and let me tell you, it is utterly invigorating. But the summer edition, however laidback, is at least as important, if not more so, than the big kahuna. 

Exhibit A

The above screenshot shows statistics for my July project this year, in which I endeavored to write 300 lines of poetry, or 10 lines per day. I thought, hey, that sounds easy enough, and it will get me out of my writing slump. As you can see, it worked for about a week. I was even beating my daily goal from Day 1. Then I got cocky (or lazy, however you want to look at it), and from the 8th to the 14th of that month, I wrote nothing. Granted, I did get married on the 10th, and wedding preparations and family got in the way. But I don't really count that a good excuse, since one of the major points of NaNoWriMo is to push you to perform during the chaos and responsibilities of life (think of November — Thanksgiving is a big deal for some people, one which can easily distract from writing, but thousands of people manage to work around it every year).

As you can also see, I didn't give up. I tried again on the 15th, and on the 17th, and on the 19th I really made a concerted effort to catch up. This is classic Wrimo (as we call ourselves) behavior — charge into the month like a superhero, crash and burn in that swampy middle where inspiration goes to die, and rise from the ashes in that last week to kick your goal's butt.

Given the volume of writing I have been able to accomplish in short periods of time, 300 lines of poetry in a month really "should have" (I try to discourage self-deprecation) been a piece of cake. One summer, I wrote more than 500 lines, and another I wrote more than 400. I set the bar low for myself this time. But sometimes, that's the best way to relieve pressure on yourself, and sometimes that relief provides space for growth, for play, and most importantly, the will to keep going. Yes there are times to set a goal you think might be unreachable, so that when you crush it (a baby step over can totally count as crushing it), you get that glorious high that makes you feel invincible and inspires you to do more. But if all your goals are like that, you're probably setting yourself up for failure, which is perhaps a conversation for another time.

I've learned that I need to set goals outside of writing, too. With married life setting in, my husband and I are thinking more and more about houses, cars, debt, kids, education and occupations. Money looms large, and I've had to recognize that, if I want a new car and a bigger house in the near future, and I want to finish my graduate program, I need to work. Maybe more than I'd planned, maybe in jobs I don't really want. To do that, I need to scale back on classes so I have more time to make money. That means it will take longer to get through school, more time will pass before I'm a full-time teacher, and we might be in debt for a while longer. The alternative is to take 19 credits in one semester (including a 12-hour day) and finish earlier, but be close to broke when I graduate and dependent on getting a FT teaching job next fall. Those are risks I'm not willing to take.

The point is, though, that small goals can still get you where you need to go, keep you on the path you want to follow. Maybe it's a walk instead of a run, but in the end it's worth it. With writing, no it didn't kickstart me into some massive project destined to be an award-winning success, but it reminded me that I can do that, I am a writer and I am qualified to teach other people. I needed that, at this time in my life, and that's why I'm seriously considering NaNoWriMo this fall. Maybe not 50k, but finishing last year's novel, or one of the other partial drafts lying around, or beating that finished draft into submission so that it's ready for publication.

Gee, I'm kind of inspiring myself just writing this. What about you?


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