Rewind and Refresh: Are Your Writing Goals Still Good? (It's New Year's Eve in April!)

Helloooooo, April, and hello, Monday! 

New Year's Eve is all well and good, but how are your resolutions and goals looking now? Yeah? Mine too. Time for a refresh. |

I don't know about you, but I'm itching for a fresh start. My writing work, my mindset, my desk—everything just feels cluttered after the last few months.

I want to spruce everything up! And I want a cleared-off runway to approach the work ahead.

In other words, I'm craving a Spring Cleaning Festival. In my writing life. 

So that's what we'll be up to on the blog this April! A thorough, wonderful deep-cleaning of all things writerly.

Does that sound good? You with me? 

More than anything, I want a spring cleaning of my goals

I did a lot of dreaming in December, and a lot of planning in January. But—as you know by now—the first three months of the year did not go according to plan.

And I'm haunted by all those goals.

The ghosts of goals! None of us need to have them floating around our writing desks!

So it's time to re-evaluate.

How about you? What are your goals? What's been at the top of your list for a while? What have you been aiming at, working toward?

How's it going? 

Pay close attention to how you feel as you think through your goals. 

If you still get that positive fizz of energy when you review your goals, that kind of electricity, the thrill of a good challenge—then you're probably on the right track. 

Hooray! Keep on keeping on.

Now I want to talk to everyone else. To everyone who feels a bit sick, or guilty, or panicked, or massively overwhelmed when looking through their goals.

Yeah: You.

If some of your goals require major sacrifices of your health, your closest relationships, your emotional wellbeing, or any square inch of your sanity, then they need a closer look.

When we start off the year, with those twelve beautiful months blinking lovingly up at us, it's so easy to believe that anything can happen!

Reach! Stretch! This is the year! Go for it!

And while it's still the year to go for it, it also turns out that ... anything really can happen.

Which sometimes means that we fall behind where we wanted to be.

Sometimes, the work we planned takes a heck of a lot longer than we expected. Sometimes, there are huge new skills to learn that we didn't take into account. 

Getting off track happens. And the path to fixing it does not lie through a desert of criticism, or perfectionism run amok, or any other sort of self-bludgeoning.

It also doesn't mean trying to make the impossible happen—while totally burning yourself out.

(Burnout is not worth it. Ever. I promise.)

So if your goals—for 2016, for the spring, for the start of the year—are way, way out of reach right now, it's time for a clean-up.

Give yourself a moment to forgive the past. Maybe you made some sketchy decisions about how to spend your time. Maybe you're not sure that you made the right call.

Or maybe you did everything you could, and your goals still danced out of reach.

However it went down, give yourself a hug, and let go of what you thought should have happened.

Then make yourself some tea, and let's think this through. Because you have two really great options.

1. Renegotiate your goals.

I've found that if I just shrug and say, "I guess I'll do less," it still feels like failure in my head. You know? 

If you made your goal with intention, then honor this revision with a similar amount of purpose. Give yourself a Goal Renegotiating Ceremony.

It's like New Year's Eve, part two! Grab whatever planning supplies you like, and then consider all those goals.

But this time, think like a really clever, kind-hearted boss: Any goal you set asks for commitment from your whole team, so have them in mind as you do this.

What's different? Your timetable might have shifted. You might have new commitments to deal with.

Your resources (physical energy/stamina, or access to information, or even your excitement about a project) might be totally different. Your heart might be pulling you in a new direction. 

So, given all of that, what needs to change? Are some goals no longer relevant? Have your priorities shifted?

Is there new information, a new process, or something else that you need to take into consideration? Something to make room for?

You might be able to take your original goals and cut them in half, in quarters. Or you might want to go a different direction entirely. 

Change your deadline. Change your process. Let go of any extra weight.

You see how this is going, right?

Re-set your goals.

As far as the old goals go: You're off the hook.

That was just your first plan, and look how far it got you! Now that you're further in, now that you have more information, now that you have a better feel for the landscape, it's time for a better plan. 

... If this feels hard for you, if you feel like you're admitting failure, then I want to encourage you to remember something. (Something I have to remind myself of, all. the. time.)

Goals are meant to be tools. They are tools for your work, for your life. That's all they are. 

As tools, they shape your writing life in good ways. They give you the push that you need to do your best, to stretch that extra bit to reach what you need to reach.

Goals are meant to be on your team.

My tendency is to make them much more mandatory. Do you do this? I can tell I've crossed the line, because I start feeling this unbearable pressure. I get all bleak about myself, my abilities, my future. 

Trust me on this: When you start not wanting to face your work at all, those goals have crossed the line.

They've stopped behaving like tools, and they turned into evil little gods, requiring sacrifices that aren't theirs to demand.

If that has happened with your goals, fire them. They've gotten waaaaaay above themselves. Kick them out, because they're not helping. And refuse to listen to them.

Keep the goals that serve your work. The ones that bring out the best in you. 

2. Embrace a life of systems, not goals.

Your other spring-cleaning option for goals is to do a total reset. To abandon the goal-setting paradigm entirely. 

(And honestly, this is my camp right now!)

A couple of weeks ago, I was re-listening to Joanna Penn's interview of Tim Grahl, and they said something that stopped me in my tracks. I was making dinner, and I just stood there in the middle of the kitchen holding a sweet potato, saying "Yes! Yes!! That's IT!"

And if your life lately feels—kinda like mine—like it's turned into a graveyard of abandoned goals, then this is THE thing for you to do. Ready? 

In the interview, Joanna Penn mentioned that Tim Grahl had recently posted something on Twitter: "Think system instead of goal." They tease that out a little further in the interview, but to me, it made immediate sense.

See, after all the family-crisis-meets-illness in February and March, I keep waiting to bounce back... only I haven't. I haven't recovered my energy at all, and my stamina is zero.

I'm looking into all this with my doctor, but the upshot is: I can't just pretend I'm an Energizer Bunny hopping along with my writing notebook and plans. That looked great in January, but I'm a different person than I was in January.

And if I try to hold myself to that—multiple projects! lightning-quick drafts! sending things to beta readers on this date, publishing a side project on that date—I will burn myself out.

I've done it before. It's not pretty. The recovery time is long and deeply unexciting.

I don't think goals are gonna help at the moment.

But a quality system? Systems can work.

All I mean by a system is: any kind of behavior or scheduled activity that you put into place that keeps you moving forward.

It can be really tiny. A small daily habit. Or it can be more major: several hours of work on a certain project, every day. Or every week.

In the interview, Tim Grahl talked about his highly-structured day, with a protected amount of time for his creative work.

He shows up for it when he says he will. But it isn't a goal of what must get done by when.

See the difference? 

Personally, I'm letting go of goals for a while. Till my health stabilizes, I can't just plan on having a certain amount of energy. I can't catch up.

But I can make time for a system that keeps me near my work. (As well as systems to take care of myself!) 

I can build a few quality habits, keep moving, and keep my novel's heart beating, day after day.

If you're tossing out all your goals today like me, then just take some time to think about what really matters to you. What you need to move toward on a consistent basis. What you want your life to look like. What makes you the best kind of writer.

And then set aside time to do those things. Or develop a ritual, or determine a consistent action you can take. (And yes, the Write Chain Challenge is a PERFECT example of this!) 

Make it yummy for yourself. Something good

Oh, and yes, I've learned this the hard way: Setting up two dozen systems isn't actually simplifying anything. (Whoops.) So start small.

Give yourself the gift of a system-based writing life, and take pleasure in forward movement. 

There! Spring Cleaning Phase One is complete! Oooh, our goals and systems look so shiny and sparkly now.

I hope you're feeling freshened up and ready to step into spring! I'm curious—which path did you take? Were your goals all in fine order (yay!), or did you renegotiate? Or replace 'em all with a few well-chosen systems? Let me know in the comments!