Friday, October 03, 2008

Goal Related Anxiety

One of the blogs I religiously follow is written by Jo, a budding writer, who has developed her writing skills over the past year or so through consistent blogging. Recently she has been writing elsewhere on a daily basis, working on developing story ideas and to that end, she has completed her first short story. She also has many other ideas bouncing around her head, characters begging her for life, stories ready to be put to paper.

However, her latest blog entry suggests that she has gone even further and has walked blindly into the realm of the "serious" writer by committing a god awful act: she has set some goals.

Of course, I'm only joking; this is great news, an important step, and it indicates that she is thinking about doing more with her writing ability. However, now she is suffernig from some goal related anxiety.

Let me reassure Jo and any other anxious writers out there - it happens to us all. It's just part of the process. All writers feel that pressure building when they have writing goals to meet, whether they are self induced targets or those created by the signing of a multi-million pound contract. The anxiety manifests itself through the verbal or written commitment and what goes with it: worrying about whether you can come up with ideas, whether you can write something worth reading and whether you can deliver the final product on time.

As you may well know from reading my blog, I have a history of setting goals and not meeting them. Many blog entries have detailed my "new" approach to completing my novel. From all of these experiences, I have discovered that there are two key elements to dealing with goal anxiety: set realistic goals, and do the work!

Setting the goals is quite exciting, but you can get carried away, promise yourself the world and set unrealistic goals (e.g. watch 100 movies in a year). Unrealistic goals just adds to the anxiety - aiming too high can be disheartening if you constantly miss your targets; the more you fall behind, the bigger you see the challenge to get back on track. You may even give up or just set a whole bunch of new unrealistic goals - maybe even aim higher to make up for lost ground. This, obviously, won't help you.

Short term targets need to be achievable; you need to consider the time you have, the sacrifices you can make and what level of necessary pressure you need to exist. Short term targets form manageable stepping stones towards your ultimate goal and, in my opinion, your ultimate goal should be as over the top and as ambitious as possible. If the realistic stepping stones take you there, anything is possible.

Now this analysis of the validity of writing goals is in no means a reflection of Jo's chosen targets. The goals she has set are to complete a couple of short stories and to participate in this year's NaNoWriMo, a month long writing frenzy aimed at completing that one novel that's alludes so many people due to other commitments, excuses, etc. Jo's goals are very sensible and attainable - a few short stories will help develop her style, and NaNoWriMo is the perfect forum to develop a regular writing routine and practice writing under tight deadlines. Both goals are realistic and form the first few steps towards her dreams.

As for me, I need to practice what I preach. I've set another new goal: to complete the first draft of my novel by 19 December. It's a realistic goal given the circumstances and I am happy with it, but it's the last time I'm setting writing goals this year. No more moving targets - I either make it or not.

It's time to fulfill the second key element of dealing with goal anxiety - doing the work!!


Jo said...

Me? a serious writer? God help me and the world!

Best of luck with the first draft.

Jo x

Anonymous said...

Hello. :D I followed you here from Jo's blog.

I read recently that something like 83% of students who leave university don't have life goals. Of the remaining who DO, only something like 3% write them down. Apparently writing down your goals helps focus you and gives you a target. I'm a firm believer in this.

*writes down a list involving Colin Farrell and Jared Leto*

There. That oughtta do it. :D

Jo said...

Consider yourself tagged Daryl...