I’m a chronic goal setter. Give me an excuse, any excuse, to set new goals and begin again and I’ll take it. When Josh and I first got married, I set a million goals for us, including but not limited to having weekly check-in meetings together and going out for a unique and creative date night once a week which may have involved a “Date Night Jar” filled with cheesy ideas (friends, he’s still married to me- can you believe it?). Now try to imagine what goals I set every time I get a new job, a new hobby, have a birthday, celebrate the new year, buy a new phone, reorganize my house, or get a spontaneous burst of motivation to be better. I’ll admit, I exhaust myself sometimes.
In years of late, however, I’ve been easier on myself. I still jump at the chance to start anew and try to improve, but my goals have become increasingly vague and open-ended. At the very least I am okay with new habits or good intentions falling by the wayside in months (or days) to come. I’ve forgiven myself for not following through on the thorough daily house cleaning schedule I created and it’s been a while since I’ve vowed anew to exercise each and every day, long since filed away as “all talk, no action” (though I have loads of barely used workout gear to prove I was once motivated). I’ve learned this about myself: While I am very Type A, I thrive when I give myself room to follow what feels best.
I’ve learned that, to me, setting and planning goals are a bit of a hobby of their own. I love writing checklists and creating plans of action. I turn goals it into a friendly game where I’m only competing with myself and if I fail, I’ll give myself a handshake and say “well done” anyway. Because I found a clever way to motivate myself to do hard things even if just for a little while. I got things done and in a month or two, I’ll find another excuse to set more goals and get more things done. But for that time, I’ve created joy and fun in things like house cleaning and grocery shopping.
This year, my only resolution is to keep writing. Emphasis on the “keep” because sometimes all I want to do is give up and find a normal job that doesn’t feel like I’m taking a pen and jabbing it into my gut over and over and over again until I decide I’ve done enough and it’s time to ask someone if my gut-jabbing has impressed them. Sometimes I feel like I’m Dory the fish saying “just keep writing” over and over and over again, turning it into a song that’s less cute and more of a chant the railroad workers sang to keep themselves from losing their minds.
In the past few months, I’ve created plenty of goals in an attempt to light a fire under me and find new ways to get excited when the process is less joy, more work. I began with the usual “write 2000 words a day” which quickly became “write 1000 words a day” but became confusing when I started editing so turned into “work on writing every day” which was too vague so it became “write 1000 original words a day in addition to any editing, brainstorming, etc. on my bigger projects.” But once I delved into the novel I’m working on, I found that just sitting down and continuing off of my last 1000 words felt too directionless, that I was just laying track every day just to get the job done but when I looked back at my tracks, they were leading nowhere, sometimes twisting in directions that didn’t make sense, when the work I was really excited for was up ahead, tempting me to just skip forward and lay down that track and go back later to fill in the rest. All the excitement from my writing was gone and I was getting nowhere.
So I set a new specific writing goal. Write a scene a week. When I imagined writing my novel, I imagined these moments; the perfect thing the main character says, what happens when she’s in hot water, who’s right there with her, who or what’s fighting against her, how it all looks and feels and smells right there in the moment. I love writing scenes, letting them propel the plot forward as the characters do things and say things and cause drama and make mistakes. Chopping my writing up into scenes feels like creating tiny short stories that each play a small part in the grand scheme of things. It feels doable. It feels exciting.
As always, I’m keeping the rules flexible. I can skip down the track if I want. If, later on, I decide a character really needs a nose job or a hair dye or a complete gender switch, I’ll run with that feeling and go back to change things later. If a scene doesn’t sit well in the grand scheme of things, that’s okay. I’m keeping my characters on my mind and building their world.
I’d like to vow to write 52 scenes this year, but I won’t. I know myself too well to do that. And besides, at some point I’m going to have to take all those tracks and somehow stick them together to create one long path. Who’s to say if that will take 52 scenes or 100 or 38. Who’s to say I won’t want to start filling in the blanks before I even get to 20 scenes. I’ll see where my characters and my gut feelings take me.
I’m not naive enough to think this will be all joy and excitement. I’ve learned that my happy little image of “being a writer” sitting at my desk writing down my gorgeous imagination that just flows out of my pen- that isn’t writing. Writing is work. And it’s hard. And sometimes it’s staring at the wall in front of your desk for an hour wondering “what now?” And sometimes it’s banging your head against that wall because it all sucks sucks sucks and nothing’s working. But this is what I want and it’s what I’ve signed up for. So I’ll keep finding ways to create joy in the work and pain. And I’ll keep writing.