Goals: Spiral Upward for Steady Success

Nearly every month–sometimes every week–I receive an email from a new writer that concerns me.

There has been great emphasis in recent years on setting lofty, out-of-the-ballpark goals. You are to spend daily time visualizing these highly ambitious goals happening.

You are told to repeat daily affirmations about accepting a major writing award or being sought after by top agents.

Not the Same as Being Positive

It’s hard to succeed without a positive attitude. I’m totally in favor of regularly eliminating negative thoughts from your brain. But I’m talking about something else altogether.

Although I changed details so as not to embarrass anyone, such emails express this in various forms, like:

  • “I am writing a trilogy that is like Lord of the Rings meets Twilight.” (From a writer who is on her second lesson at the Institute)
  • “I’m working on a Newbery book that will be a major motion picture.” (From a writer who couldn’t spell)
  • “My novel-in-progress will probably go to auction, and I plan to quit my day job next year.” (From a writer with no sales, just free online publishing like his blog)

Is anything wrong with this kind of talk? No, not wrong, but maybe unwise. You can tell by the effect it has on you.

Reaching High–Reaching Realistically

So…is it wrong to have lofty goals? Not at all! But choosing goals that are way beyond your current skill level will often backfire. It can lead to writer’s block, increased level of fear, procrastination, and giving up.

Goals that are too far “out there” can kill your desire to write, not spur you on to greater success.

Instead, set a goal that will stretch you, but with practice and hard work you could attain. Then take time to study more and learn more. Set another goal that will stretch you more. Examples of goals that “spiral” include writing a longer story, selling to a better paying market, writing a novel, or writing a series.

This is backed up by research. As Jim Stone said in “How Lofty Should Your Goals Be?“:

Set goals that are still lofty, but in line with your skills… Alternate between a phase of strategy acquisition and skill development, and a phase of aggressive but realistic goal pursuit…If you avoid focusing on too big a goal at the start, you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration over the years as well. At least that’s where a lot of current research points.

How About Your Goals?

Study your current goals. Will they stretch you as a writer and help you grow? Or will they snap you like a rubber band?

Are you taking the necessary time to also study, grow, practice and learn–so that you can spiral up?

Just food for thought! Share yours with me.

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2 Responses to Goals: Spiral Upward for Steady Success

  1. Baby steps….A baby cautiously maneuvers as awkward, first steps are taken. We expect babies to fall down. Similarly, all writers will stumble at some point. And, all writers will grow if challenges are faced – head on! As I read the post, I keep thinking about the word humility. I once heard that if we feel that we need to tell someone something fantastic about ourselves, we probably should remain silent. Thank you for giving your readers advice about goal setting. Best wishes, always, to you!

  2. Leanna says:

    Agreed, it’s not very productive to devote so much energy every day to visualizing far-off goals. It’s good to have positive thoughts about the future, as long as they’re not distracting from your current happiness. Acting in ways everyday that fulfill the needs these goals represent will help you realize that you can have everything you need right now.

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