Monday, April 04, 2016

Challenging Yourself vs. Setting Yourself Up to Fail

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Over the last eighteen months, my life has been a little hectic. Family health issues, a move to a new state, and a much busier life threw off my routine and I wasn’t as productive as I had wanted to be on the writing front. I was okay with that (as much as we writers ever are) because sometimes, writing has to take a back seat.

Things have settled down now and I’m mostly back to my routine, but I have the strong urge to get crap done this year. There are things I want to do and books I want to write and I want to “make up” for the time away during my hectic year and a half.

To accomplish this, I created a very ambitious schedule. It’s doable, and my daily and monthly word count goals are numbers I can hit without pushing myself. On paper, it’s an achievable schedule.

In realty, we all know how these things go.

Life happens, unexpected events throw plans off, and time slips away.

I’m fairly certain I won’t finish everything I have planned for the year. I know that, so I’m not going to stress over it. But I also know that if I use this schedule to challenge myself to be more productive and more disciplined, and I actually hit all those goals, my career (and sense of personal satisfaction) will be in a much better position than I was at the start of 2016.

The challenging part of this plan is not to feel like a failure if I don’t make it.

(Here's more on staying motivated with writing goals)

Writers set impossible goals for ourselves all the time. We feel that we need to write more and try to double our word counts without adding more writing time, then feel terrible when we only write a teeny bit more. We feel we need to sell more books, or spend time we don’t have on social media, or do what bestselling author A does.

And when we miss those goals, we feel like crap. Failures. Like we’ll never sell that book or hit that list or even finish that manuscript.

(Here's more on bouncing back when your writing routine gets disrupted)

Using goals to motivate ourselves is good. It gives us something to strive for, and challenges us to be better (however we choose to define that). But when missing those goals hurts us and makes our small victories feel like huge defeats, we suffer—often needlessly.

When you’re setting your goals, make sure you’re putting them just high enough to motivate you to improve, but not so high that you can’t achieve them without extreme sacrifice (or not at all).

Challenge yourself, but don’t set yourself up to fail.
  • If you’ve never written more than 1000 words in a writing session in your life, don’t set a word count goal for 3000 words.
  • If writing one novel a year takes all your energy, don’t try to write three.
  • If spending time on social media saps all your creative energy and keeps you from writing, don’t vow to spend two hours a day on it.

Whatever your goals are, make them manageable. Aim for 1200 words a day, or a writing a novel in nine months, or spending ten minutes a day on social media instead. Scale back to a reasonable level so when you hit your goal, you’ll feel successful. Let that goal become the new norm, and once you’re comfortable and it fits into your life, then push it a little higher.

This lets us adapt so we can maintain these goals and continue to be successful. Killing ourselves to get 100,000 words written in six weeks isn’t sustainable, and if we feel we have to hit that insane goal every single time or we’re failures, we’ll feel like failures—even if we’re actually being incredibly productive by writing 80,000 words when we usually write 50,000.

(Here's more on being a more productive writer)

For many of us, hitting our writing goals is often tough. We have jobs and responsibilities outside of writing, and it’s something we do in our spare time. Even if we do write full time or close to it, there always seems to be things that creep in and steal that time away. Sometimes “make writing a priority” is the only goal we really need to accomplish what we want.

Be kind to your muse and yourself. Reevaluate your goals and make sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure.

After all, small steps lead to big victories.

Have you ever set yourself up to fail? Is tour current goal achievable? 

If you're looking for more to improve your craft (or a fun fantasy read), check out one of my writing books or novels:

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for plotting a novel, and the companion Plotting Your Novel Workbook, and my Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series, with step-by-step guides to revising a novel. 

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series.
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  1. Yep, manageable goals. For sure!

  2. Great post, Janice! So true. It seems like writers are more likely to feel like failures than any other profession or hobby. I wonder if it has to do with how every writer writes with different methods, styles, and quantities. We're all comparing ourselves to each other all the time.

    I need to start hanging around your blog more often. Your posts are so encouraging :)

    1. Maybe, it makes sense. I think just the subjective nature of writing also makes it hard. One person can love your book while another hates it. Is that a win or a loss? It's tough.