I’m going to tear a page from my own life to share with you. It starts with an email I received moments before I started writing this. MailChimp cheerfully informed me in the Subject Line that “Crushing Your 2023 Goals Starts Here”.
Now, there is some double-plus-good irony since just days before I received an email from MailChimp stating that the number of people I could email per month has been halved. (But you tell me I can still crush my goals? Cool!)
This paradox got me to thinking – what exactly constitutes “crushing” goals?
I’m in marketing, so I breathe airy, rarified phrases like this every day. But lately, I’m finding the fumes more and more noxious. How do you feel about these “uplifting” messages? Do they inspire? Grate? Slide off you like Teflon?
I’ve been fighting off rah-rah messages in my own marketing writing probably since the beginning. Absolutes (the “best”, the “greatest”, the “most important”) can come off as cloud-pillowing, as my Grade 13 English teacher would call it. However, there’s no denying that in some ways they work. We have seen these trigger messages get more refined with the rise of social media and, more generally, the Internet. Click bait, eyeballs, search engine optimization – all these and more play into it.
A big part of it ties into human psychology. Now, disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist, so what follows is for entertainment purposes only. But there are themes that we can all identify with, I think. And (I know you were waiting for this part...), it ties into our creative and mental well-being as writers. Why? Because these messages of absolutes set up a pass/fail system that is destined to land on the fail side.
Or, at least, it’s destined to make us feel that way...
I’ll tell you why.
The Problem with Absolutes and Paper Goals
Our reptilian brains are programmed to keep things monochromatic: good or bad, yes or no, friend or foe. Slogans like “How to Crush your Goals in 2023” feed that need for absolutes. It “rings true” as they say. Except that it’s a recipe for failure.
In part, that’s because we don’t have a firm, objective definition for what “crushing” means. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, sometimes even winning an award is not enough for us writers to feel like writers. If that’s not crushing it, what the hell is? So “crushing it” is a paper goal – we’ll never win anything really if we do crush it, but we’ll feel like failures if we don’t. And inevitably, we feel like we don’t.
Another thing that sets us up for failure is this social media fantasy world where everything appears perfect in everyone else’s life but not yours. “I’m not crushing my writing goals, but it seems like everyone on Facebook is. What’s wrong with me?” It’s a lot like our tendency to compare ourselves to other writers combined with our tendency towards perfectionism.
Luckily, there’s a solution.
Burn Your Paper Goals
There’s a great example of absolutism: burn your paper goals. Sounds dramatic, right? Exhilarating, even! It feeds our passion and drives us to action.
And there’s nothing wrong with being motivated in and of itself. In fact, I encourage it! The problem though is that if we burn through that motivation only to feel we aren’t reaching our goals, we’ll become unmotivated faster than a sugar crash on Hallowe’en night.
So although “burn your paper goals” is the stronger call to action, what we should do instead is “manage our expectations”. I know, boring. But it’s effective.
Define our goals. We can’t “crush” what we don’t know. Our goals can be statistical such as writing 1,000 words a week or writing 1 hour per day. They can be broader such as write and submit five short stories this year. They can be aspirational such as win an award or writing contest. Note that the more statistical your goals, the more control you tend to have over attaining them.
Make a plan for reaching your goals. You can’t reach goals without a plan. For writers, that means setting up a writing schedule that’s realistic for you and your life. Be honest with yourself and even schedule low. For example, if your goal is to write 500 words per week and you write 900, you’ll be much happier than if your goal is to write 1,000 words per week and write 900, even though it’s the same number of words. Crucially, you’ll be more likely to sit down to write next week because you were successful this week.
Know that you don’t need to “crush” it at all. Who says you have to crush it? In this Instagram world, we sometimes have to remind ourselves that we don’t need to match up with those perfect people out there in TikTokLand. (And guess what: they’re not perfect either. But we already knew that, right?) Writing should be fun above all. Do it for you, not for your Facebook feed.
Give yourself a break if you don’t reach your goals. Even if you do have realistic goals and you still don’t meet them, give yourself a break. We all have competing priorities. Did your kid get sick? Did you have to work extra at your day job? Was there a birthday party for a close friend? Unless you are writing professionally, every single writing goal you have is negotiable. Now, don’t take that as licence to see what’s new on Prime Video instead of writing (because if you’re Canadian, I know you don’t have Netflix anymore…). But sometimes, writing is worth making sacrifices for. Sometimes, writing is worth sacrificing.
Celebrate your goals. It’s easier to recognize the hard work and commitment you put in if you celebrate your goals. That sounds self-evident when you say it out loud. But for some reason, it’s not. We writers need to learn to be nicer to ourselves. Celebrating our goals will help get it through our thick heads that we are doing more than we give ourselves credit for. Bonus points for celebrating with others, especially other writers!
Get up if you fall down. The hardest one, even if it’s cliché. If you feel knocked down (there’s that “feel” word again), really evaluate as objectively as you can to see if you are knocked down. Chances are, you’re doing better than you thought. Either way though, make a pact with yourself that you’ll keep writing tomorrow. As long as we keep writing, our goals will always be in reach.
Key Takeaway: Pithy slogans such as “crush your goals for 2023” can be motivating, but they can just as easily crush our spirit. Keep the motivation but ditch the self-loathing. Define your goals, make a plan to reach them, and give yourself a break if you don’t. You’ll get nothing done if you’re too worried about measuring up because writing will become no fun. That’s the exact opposite of “crushing it”, no matter what your definition. As long as we keep writing, our goals will always be in reach.
Over to You – Are You “Crushing” Your Writing Goals?
How about you? How are your writing goals coming along this year? Have you decided not to have goals at all? Let us know in the comments below.
I’ll leave you below with a TEDx Talk on how to balance the motivation you get from goals with the freedom to explore (and it has some good applications for the creative mind, too).
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!
email me if you get lost.
Good stuff Graham. I had to get over my initial revulsion at the title, but I like the way you went beyond the standard corporate marketing bullshit.
You crushed this post, Graham. Chock full of great advice, as usual.