It’s a new year: a good time for change, for adopting new writing habits, for setting goals.
Haven’t we heard, probably for decades now, that the best way to get things done is to set S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) goals, and write them down?
My husband is one of those business-y types who loves to rib me about this.
Me: “There’s this writing course I wouldn’t mind taking at some point.”
My husband: “Have you written that down?”
Me: “You keep saying that. Please stop saying that.”
I know on many occasions I’ve talked about S.M.A.R.T. goals and encouraged fellow writers to make them. I’ve set them myself, spent hours recording the whats and whys and hows of the year ahead.
S.M.A.R.T. guidelines are a great tool for writers, but for many of us there will be times when defined goal-setting isn’t necessary or even particularly helpful.
Right now, that’s me. And I’m totally okay with that.
Shortly before my twins were born, I was a S.M.A.R.T.-goal girl. I had two children, one of whom was in school. My blog was running smoothly (with an editorial calendar, to boot!), I was writing and submitting my work regularly to literary journals (and earning acceptances!), and I was able to answer my email in a matter of hours. This was a great time for setting and meeting goals, because my life was fairly predictable and it was relatively easy to stick to a routine.
When the twins came along and I became a mom of four, things obviously slowed down. But all of the double breastfeeding sessions, dozens of diapers changes per day, and mountains of laundry wouldn’t last long, right? I figured those would be the busiest days of my life. I looked forward to a time when I could have my routines back.
The twins will be three years old in a couple of months, and in many ways things have actually gotten busier than when they were newborns. See, babies don’t do much except cry and poop and feed, whereas almost-three-year-olds are everywhere, and seemingly all at once. They draw on walls with markers and pens. They play catch with the potatoes I’m supposed to be peeling for dinner. And don’t even get me started on the potty training.
Yes, my life does have some sort of schedule that revolves around school times and extracurricular activities, but within the framework of that schedule we have to stay . . . shall we say . . . flexible.
Life is not always neat and tidy. Maybe that’s something we need to not only accept but embrace.
My twins will start school full-time about 18 months from now. They’ll go from being home all day with me to being at school all day with someone else. Why would I want to rush this precious time?
When they do take that first big step into the world, I’ll have up to five hours each day on my own to concentrate on my professional and creative writing and editing. That’s something to look forward to. But for now, I’m content with the time available to me, because when that day comes, I know I’ll sit at my tidy desk and cry for the babies I wish were still on my lap, like they are right now.
If I felt it would do me any good, I could still set S.M.A.R.T. goals, only set the bar lower than I normally would. That is, make them ultra “Attainable.” But what would be the point? Since my twins were born, in spite of not having specific, measurable goals written down, I’ve managed to
- build, from the ground up, a well-regarded online literary journal, and that includes all of the administrative duties behind the scenes and managing a team of editors
- publish three short stories and one poem in literary journals and anthologies
- publish an article in The Writer magazine
- freelance as a copy editor (I never miss a deadline)
- continue as a contributor at Writer Unboxed and write guest articles for other blogs
- continue working on a number of short stories I’ve been writing
There are a lot of things I haven’t gotten to either, that’s true. Sometimes I get distracted. Sometimes I procrastinate. There have been a few false starts. But let’s get real: distraction and procrastination happen no matter what. And in sitting down to write this list and reflect on what I’ve accomplished, I feel I’m not only staying afloat but also growing in many ways, despite being a busy mom of four with no written record of what I’m trying to accomplish.
Still, I’m not a scatterbrain. I always know what needs to be done and have a general idea of where I want to go. For a little extra focus, I use a list of Most Important Tasks (MITs), which is a plain text note that stays open on my computer at all times, so I simply write down these to-dos as they come to me and cross them off when they’re done. That’s about as S.M.A.R.T. as my goals are these days.
I don’t actually believe that I accomplished more before I had the twins. I think I’ve just accomplished different things, such as spending less time here at Write It Sideways and spending more time at Compose. Spending less time submitting work to literary journals and spending more time perfecting my stories.
I’m am not trying to deter you from setting and writing down your goals, or arguing that they work against you in any way, I just feel I’m proof that it’s quite possible to be as productive as ever without having an absolute idea of where you’ll end up. Frankly, I’d rather do what I can when I can and be proud of it, than set goals I probably won’t keep and beat myself up for it.
Whatever’s slowing life down for you and your writing (parenthood, illness, depression, etc.), don’t sweat having to take a step back from your goals for a while. Head for the horizon, but take your time getting there if you need to. And, along the way, what’s to stop you from taking a few detours? Who knows, you might accomplish more on those tangents than you would by keeping your eye solely on the prize.
Join the discussion
Rod Griffiths says
Have you looked at Kathleen Vohs work – [Vohs K D et al Physical Order produces healthy choices, generosity, conventionality, whereas disorder produces creativity. Psychological Science, 24, 1714-1721]
She showed that people working in more disordered environments were more creative. She did not say that creative people are automatically messy, as some of the press reports have suggested, but she did show that if you put random people in a messy work situation they produce more creative results. I found this while researching for an essay on creativity for the MA I’m doing (University of Gloucestershire UK).
Suzannah Windsor Freeman says
Rod, that’s fascinating! Thanks for sharing.
Lindsay Edmunds says
This post is a breath of fresh air. Thank you.
Thank you, Lindsay! Glad this hit the spot.
Jo Cross says
A great thought provoking post that reminds us all of the importance of stepping away to re-engage. Thank you.
Many thanks, Jo 🙂
Diana Douglas says
It’s amazing you accomplished as much as you did with twins. I’m impressed.
I think I’ve found a good balance for now, Diana. Thank you!
roberta kennedy says
I’ve discovered that when one prays before writing for inspiration God will give you more than enough to get the job done and you will enjoy the journey.
I wholeheartedly agree, Roberta!
Peter Rey says
Flexibility is surely essential when it comes to actually doing things in, let’s say, unpredictable settings.Flexibility with a strong sense of direction, I would add. I think that planning is helpful in that it helps people (also) to develop good habits. Once the habits have set in planning becomes almost second nature.
Peter, good point. I’ve never been totally rigid in my writing and work schedules—never to the point where I stopped enjoying it. Those schedules became more force of habit, like you say.
Brian Green says
In a few months time I hope to turn 80 which in itself is an achievement and I can assure you that a enjoyable life is composed of many, many facets.
Agreed, Brian! Congratulations on nearing that important birthday, and keep on enjoying life.
Khaula Mazhar says
” Attainable” I used to be super organized with all the long lists of things that actually got done. Now I just aim for the attainable and try to relax. It’s nice not to freak out as much anymore! Hope you get to accomplish exciting things on your tangents Suzannah.
And you too, Khaula! Thanks for stopping by.
I have chronic fatigue syndrome so I need to go back to bed just after reading about your schedule 🙂
I really struggle with goal setting and thus have developed a bit of an aversion to all but the most basic forms of it. If I was more well I would probably need to incorporate more elements of it, but I don’t like that thought. The problem with goals is they lock you in, and I don’t respond very well to feeling caged. Far better for me the romantic notions of great swathes of space so I can grab ideas when they come. But that’s probably because of the position I’m in health wise. As you’ve said, when your turning circle is small, the less impediments the better.
(Plus, my inner rebel chafes at the way our lives are micromanaged to the maxtreme. The pace of life dictates the faster the better but for me, writing by hand feels like a much more immersive experience, even though I relish typing that baby up once I’ve written it down. To know when to take the foot off the accelerator and coast guilt free and goal free is to know how to refill your own well and look after yourself in a way our societies don’t even acknowledge. Dat’s wisdom 🙂
Sue, I agree that our lives are often micromanaged and it can be stifling to writers! I think you’re wise to avoid strict goal-setting and allow yourself more freedom to create when time and health allows. Good luck!