Writing Goals vs Writing Skills

5-ds-goal-setting-goals-poster-aliat

Every writer has a goal, whether it’s yearly, monthly, or “someday.” Goals are used as motivation to get stuff done. Resolutions are made, typically with broad intent.

A goal might be to get on the best seller list.

It might be smaller, like come up with x number of viable book ideas (challenges like Storystorm encourage picture book writers to come up with a 30 new ideas in 30 days).

Or get an agent, find a critique group, nab a pitch party.

Or, finish that darn book (NaNoWriMo is famous for encouraging writers to complete a novel in 30 days).

The problem with those kinds of goals, is that the skills needed to accomplish them are glossed over. Nowhere in the goal setting does it account for HOW it will get done.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on the skills you need to accomplish your goals, instead of the goals themselves?

As performance coach Derek Schenck puts it, “The Good focus on a goal; the Great focus on a skill.”

Maybe, instead of having a goal to finish your book, you can focus on the skill of, say, self discipline. The skill you choose to focus on for the year or month could be limiting social media to x numbers of hours a day/week, or once in the morning after you’ve checked email, and once in the afternoon after lunch. Maybe the skill to focus on is saying no to interruptions, and reminding yourself you are worth alone time. Those skills free up time for you to write…which will help you finish your book.

Maybe, instead of the goal of finding a critique group, your focused skill could be on better communication and social interactions with fellow writers. You could focus on being the best type crit partner one could have–like having tact, kindness, offering direction/suggestions without rewriting, and knowing when to shush. Practice your people skills (introverts prefer online groups for this very reason–avoiding in person convos. But it needs to happen, and practice makes perfect–or at least better). Find ways to interact with people without expecting a return or gain. The better you get, the more you’ll view yourself as a valuable crit partner, and the more confident you’ll be in seeking others out. Get real good and a critique group might even come find you!

Instead of a goal of finding an agent, how about you (re)focus on your writing skills, getting them so fine and tight and absolutely irresistible that no agent could possibly say no? Same goes for getting a best seller. Sure, some of that might be luck and marketing–but it’s nothing without beautiful writing. Quality writing is something you can control. Fame is not.

Wanna nab a pitch party? Focus on research — what EXACTLY is being asked, how can I meet that, who are past winners, how did they format their pitch, who can I bounce revisions off of until I’m ready?

image from heidipozzo

To paraphrase the hilarious Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, to master the skills needed to reach your goals, the question isn’t so much “Who do you want to be?” so much as it’s “What are you doing to make it happen?”

His blunt questions are: What are you improving at? What are you learning and gaining? Instead of thinking about what you want to achieve…ask yourself, “What do I want to be good at that I’m not?” Then he challenges you to get working on it.

Goals are easy to formulate. But when you achieve them, you need new goals. When you don’t achieve them, you feel disappointed if not disillusioned. Repeat ad nauseum. You’re never done; you never close the loop.

Skills? They are harder, for sure.

But they last a lifetime.

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Daily/Weekly Writing Goals: What Make Sense?

Writing in the Time of COVID: Two Golden Rules of Word Count Goals

As our daily lives have been uprooted in the most unexpected if not the rudest of ways, I’ve been seeing A LOT about writing goals lately. Setting writing goals. Meeting writing goals. Not meeting writing goals. Adjusting writing goals. Changing writing goals.

With three school kids at home, and a husband who might as well be, it’s enough to make a gal want to panic. I’m going to put your mind at ease. Hint: there is no magical word count.

But first, some reasons why it’s not as easy as “don’t worry about it.”

Alice In Wonderland Cartoon Cheshire Cat N4 free image

I’ve been a huge advocate for setting goals. As a marketing professional helping business owners, I would always ask my own version of the Alice in Wonderland question: If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?

In this case we know the ultimate goal: finish writing your book. As that is an intimidating goal, as scary as finishing a marathon when you’ve never run before, it’s best to take it one step at a time. Break it into pieces. No one expects you to stand up one day and run 26.2 miles; you’d train and run a certain number of laps/miles a day and eventually get there. Everyone has their own pace, it doesn’t matter how fast the person next to you is. They might be naturally-gifted runners. Or have a personal trainer. Or ran races for 15 years. You are running your race, they are running theirs. They finished first? Good for them. That doesn’t mean you can’t finish too! Your accomplishment is every bit as valid as theirs, regardless of how long it took. So let’s look at the first Golden Rule of Word Count Goals right off the bat:

  1. Don’t compare your goals or progress to anyone else’s. This is your journey, not theirs.
Learning Log 128 – Final Coaching Session (aka eating that elephant) – The  Public Health Informationist
from michaelhealthlibrarian.wordpress.com

As far as your ultimate goal is concerned, let’s not focus too much on that end result right now. You know what it is, we all know what it is. We don’t need to keep saying it. The world is hectic. Home life is weird. They are both unpredictable. Trying to eat a entire elephant right now just might not be possible. The last thing you want to do is set yourself up for failure. So let’s look at eating that elephant one bite at a time. As the great Judy Blume said at the #SCBWI conference this summer, you can write a novel spending two hours a day. Yes, two hours a day would bring great progress. But I can’t repeat that lovely nugget with a straight face. Who has two concentrated hours a day right now? We need to take what we can get, and eat whatever part of the elephant we can get our hands on. Don’t concentrate on eating the entire elephant by sitting at the table two hours a day right now. All that will do is set us up for failure. Let’s look at one part of the elephant and take it very seriously. Can we commit to the legs? One leg? An ear? OK, just the tail for now? It doesn’t matter if we eat it fifteen minutes at a time while the kids are zooming their hearts out, or a half hour before bed, or if it means we THINK about eating it while taking that weekly shower. Pick ONE thing, and do it. Do it well. When you’re done, pick another. I’ve got this bio idea in my head. First I need some research. So my goal is to interview people that knew her. Until I do that, I can’t get much further. So my part of the elephant is interviews. Back that up, and you’ll see I need to figure out who to interview, what to ask them, figure out how to get in touch with them, how I will approach the confidentiality of anything they may want ‘off the record,’ etc. So there is more to the goal of interviewing those people. It’s not a simple check mark. It’s not something I can complete two hours a day, especially since them getting back to me is not under my control. But with that as my goal, I can continually be working towards it. If I’m at a standstill, I can press a virtual pause and look at the next mini goal to start on in the meantime. Yes, that means all the steps/goals should be written out. Not having a word count goal doesn’t mean you don’t make yourself accountable for the steps required to meet your goal. It just means the number of words written per day isn’t on that list. That brings me to our second Golden Rule of Word Count Goals:

2. Word count doesn’t mean hooey.

Think quality, not quantity. You might make more progress with the sudden realization a side character or chapter has to be cut than any number of words you could have placed on a page that day. You might figure out a plot hole and spend time thinking through how to fix it–without a single word added to the manuscript. As long as you’re writing or thinking about solutions to what you’re working on, you’re making progress. Even if you end up scraping a day’s work, you now know what DOESN’T work; you’re still closer to your goal. I think it was the late and wonderful Sid Fleischman who used to say the only thing wasted on experimental writing is a piece of paper. Don’t focus on the number of words per day or week or month. All that will do is stress you out. It might force your butt in the chair, sure. But at what expense? Maybe you’re better off taking a day or two away from the ol’ laptop and giving your muse a mini vacation. (Make sure she’s earned it!) There is simply too much going on right now to worry about the number of words you are or aren’t cranking out. That brings me to the Bonus Golden Rule of Word Count Goals:

What Makes a Good Mother Anyway? | Psychology Today

3. Be kind to yourself.

Don’t beat yourself up over missed opportunities or time away right now. It’s OK if you skip a day or two. Nothing bad will happen if a file is left unopened three days in a row, no curse will leak out of the USB port. It will all be there when you’re ready. Write a blog post (LOL). Send an email to an old friend with a fond memory. Call your parents or brother. Bake cookies for your sister or neighbor. Draw a tree. Or do nothing at all. Don’t force creativity if it’s not there. We know it’s a fickle beast. It’ll come back when it’s ready. In the meantime, let yourself know you’re doing the best you can. It’s all you can do. When it ain’t got than swing, numbers don’t mean a thang. I’m proud of you not matter what you’ve done so far.