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A writer should always strive to produce the best work they can manage.
But sometimes we take this advice too far. We often take it to mean that a writer should work themselves nearly to death to get ahead or achieve what they want.
That’s not what anyone should be taking away from this. You probably already know that. So here’s how you can encourage yourself to improve without pushing yourself so hard that you just don’t want to write anymore.
It’s good to push and challenge yourself … a little. The world’s most successful writers are often the ones that dream big and go after their goals no matter the obstacles they end up facing along the way. They know that the only way to grow and inch closer to their goals is to always push themselves to do better in everything they write and do.
But there are limits to this strategy. Because there are limits to what we can do as humans. We don’t have unlimited mental or physical energy. We can’t work nonstop for six months straight without burning out at some point. We have to sleep and eat and exercise and spend time with other humans.
Sometimes these needs mean we’re not going to always be able to go above and beyond ourselves. And that’s OK.
Growth happens little by little. It’s OK if you don’t do everything you hoped to do today or this week or even this year. Yes, you can challenge yourself to work harder and do better and accomplish more. But there will be points you have to take a step back, slow down, and breathe.
But we shouldn’t treat every missed goal as a ‘failure.’ We all want to be the absolute best we can be. We all want to achieve big things, publish masterpieces — change the world! And we’re all capable of doing that in our own way using our words.
The problem is, sometimes when we shoot for the stars we unintentionally set ourselves up for disappointment. You set a goal at the beginning of January, for example, to have a novel published by December. Such a big goal! But you know you can do it. It’s possible!
Yes — it’s possible. You could technically do it. But there’s a good chance that, come July, you’ll realize you’re barely halfway done writing the first draft … and the second half of your year is going to be even more hectic than the first. There’s no way you’re going to have this thing ready to publish by December.
Is that because you’re a failure? Of course not! You simply set a really big, ambitious writing goal without realizing how unrealistic it was. You didn’t know any better. That doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you’re going to have to make some adjustments to your goal … and do a little more planning next time you set one.
If you’re having trouble reaching a goal, you might need to simply adjust the goal. Goal-setting when it comes to creative endeavors is extremely challenging. We’re generally taught to set a solid goal and stick to it until we reach it — and in many cases, this is an effective strategy and helps writers get closer to achieving their full potential. But it doesn’t always work — and it doesn’t work for everyone.
Let’s say you’ve decided to set a weekly goal of writing 1,000 words per week. It seems totally doable, right? Maybe a few weeks in a row you even reach or exceed that goal. But lately, you’ve been struggling, only writing a few hundred words per week if any at all. You might start to get pretty down on yourself. What is wrong with you? Why can’t you reach such a simple goal all of a sudden?
The thing about being a creative human being is that as hard as we might try to set routines and goals and schedules, things around us are constantly changing. You might have taken on an extra responsibility this week. Or next week you know you’ll be working on a big project at work and will have less energy left over to write in the evenings.
Week to week, you’ll either have to adjust your routine or the end goal entirely. Maybe the week you have extra responsibilities at your day job you can shoot for a 500-word goal by Sunday night instead of 1,000. Less pressure. Less stress. And you’ll still get some writing done at the end of it all.
A goal doesn’t have to stay the same once you’ve put it in place. And if you stay on top of it, you can adjust it accordingly before life gets crazy so that you don’t find yourself with an unfulfilled goal due to something out of your control.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.