Milestones or millstones? Or how to stop beating yourself up when your writing goals elude you

Where the writing gets done - or not...
Where the writing gets done – or not…

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I invariably break them before January is over. And there’s something about these worthy tablets of stone that kills one’s enthusiasm even before they are fully formulated.

For a few years, I faithfully used to set out my writing goals for the year. I even tried to make them SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound), as all good goals should be, or so I was taught when I took my MBA. 

But, naturally, I broke those as well as the aspirational personal ones that had no hope of getting fulfilled. I can see why. “Write the sequel to The House at Zaronza during National Novel Writing Month 2014”. Sorry to mix metaphors, but that sword of Damocles hung over me all year. And you won’t be surprised to hear that I didn’t do it.

The reason is that these all-embracing goals aren’t achievable, actually. Going back to the tablet analogy, they’re just too much to swallow. Broken down into bite-sized chunks, they might have been more manageable.

So I was delighted when, at our writing group meeting this morning, Evelyn produced a list of “52 goals for 2015” that she got out of SheWrites, a U.S. support and information site for women writers that produces a regular newsletter.

Fifty-two! Hang on. This is described as “a bucket list for a year’s worth of achievable things.” It’s a list of simple actions you can take, focused on writing or reading; gentle aspirations that make you feel you have still achieved something. And the great thing is that I can tick some of them off already, e.g. “Start or join a writing group”!

Here are a few examples:

“Do one thing that truly champions another writer.” [Good idea, although just one is a bit parsimonious.]

“Write a fan letter to your favourite author.” [This might sound a bit cringe-making but, believe me, as an author fan mail is like manna from heaven. Provided, of course, it’s not an incipient stalker.]

“Do a literary pilgrimage to see a site where a favourite author lived or wrote about.”

And then there are some of the bite-sized chunks that would have helped me achieve my novel-writing goal last year, e.g. “Map out a timeline for your book.” [Why didn’t I do this? It’s so obvious.]

Some of the proposed actions aren’t relevant to me personally or relate to events or things happening in the States, where the newsletter originates. But that doesn’t matter. They can easily be adapted to your own circumstances.

So I might not do all, or even half, of these 52 things. But if I accomplish at least some of them, I will be doing okay and not beating myself up for failing. And who knows? They might provide a route into the bigger tasks that I have avoided plunging into.

Copyright © Vanessa Couchman 2015. All rights reserved.

Published by Vanessa in France

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.

7 thoughts on “Milestones or millstones? Or how to stop beating yourself up when your writing goals elude you

  1. Great post. As you know I’m a bit of a goal setter but sometimes it can be more of a millstone as you quite rightly say. Does my email to you re The House At Zaronza count as fan mail?!? Loving the new look blog/website, by the way. VERY classy.


    1. I’m in awe of your goal setting. You have a five-year (or is it a ten-year?) plan. I’m not capable of that. Your email certainly counts as fan mail! And thanks for the comments about the site. It was time it was spruced up.


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