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You can learn from failure—if you pay attention

Did you achieve the goals you set? Did you exceed them? Miss by a hair or fall woefully short? Would you like to talk about something else?

I would, because the word goal makes me itch all over. Yet every year during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I sit down with the goals I wrote for the year and review them. You should, too, or what’s the point of having goals? We’ll discuss that next time—right now let’s look at the goals you wrote for 2019.

If you nailed all of yours, huzzah! If you’re wincing, wondering what you were thinking when you wrote these goals, you’re not alone. I was right there with you, year after year, feeling defeated and depressed until I figured out the problem—I sucked at creating goals.

My goals were pie in the sky, the unreachable star, based on what I wanted to accomplish, not what I could realistically finish in 365 days of writing 8 to 10 hours a day.

An example from 1995: “Write 3 books! :-)” Yes, with a smiley face, no less. That was my only goal for the year, and of course, I didn’t make it. I only wrote one book.

When you’re crafting your writing goals for 2020 remember to keep it real, keep it doable. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “confine yourself to possibilities and leave miracles alone.” And leave off the smiley faces.

Realizing I had no clue how to write realistic goals taught me how to create smarter and better ones. You can learn from failure if you pay attention. So next year, check your goals now and then to see if what you’re doing to achieve them is working. Goals aren’t chiseled in stone. You can change them.

Gardening and goals have one thing in common—there’s always next year. If you didn’t accomplish your goals for 2019 don’t beat yourself up. You tried, and that counts. If you don’t try, you’ll never finish your novel or all those short stories you have rolling around in your head.

Were your goals for this year too lofty like mine for 1995? Or too vague? I should get a medal for 1995 because mine were both, too lofty and too vague.

Please don’t tell me you read an article about 6 sure-fire, guaranteed-to-never-fail writing goals and decided to try them. Someone else’s goals won’t work for you, simply because you didn’t write them. Like writing, goal setting isn’t a science; it’s subjective and subliminal. No one knows you and the way you write better than you do.

Looking at your writing as if it exists in a vacuum is the likeliest reason you didn’t meet your goals. You aren’t just a writer. You may be a spouse, a mom or a dad, have a full time or a part time job or volunteer. Odds are you have family. Does Gran or Grandad or a favorite aunt or uncle rely on you for an occasional helping hand?

Kids and carpools, errands and shopping, laundry, housework and family obligations can Hoover up vast amounts of time.

You love your life. I love mine, but it gets in the way of my writing every chance it gets. Yours will, too. Mine lies in wait, hiding in corners, and jumps out when I least expect it. Or I have other plans, like writing all day. My life loves to ruin those days!

Estimate how many hours your life outside of writing subtracts from your day. Then you’ll have a baseline of how much time you’ll have to write and reach your 2020 goals.

Yes, I’m talking about time management. A goal is a target, the bull’s eye you want to hit. You need a strong bow and a straight, sharp-tipped arrow—the arrow is the plan you’ll come up with to reach the bull’s eye. Knowing how much time you have will help you formulate that plan.

The second likeliest reason you failed to reach your goals is poor planning or no planning at all. We’re writers. We’re dreamy people. We’re almost always somewhere else in our heads. Your plan keeps you tethered to the real world and what you need to accomplish to reach your goals.

I keep saying goals because I usually have more than one, but that’s me. If you only have one, that’s fine. Remember goals aren’t cut in stone—you can change them. You can add, subtract, or modify goals. You can even trash them all and start over if something in your life changes.

That was a klieg light for me when I realized I was only setting goals for my writing—as if the rest of my life runs on autopilot, which of course it doesn’t, and neither does yours. Now I write yearly goals for my life as well as my writing because, hello, they’re intertwined.

If you’re starting to feel itchy, take a deep breath and relax. Over the next four posts, I’ll walk you through setting your 2020 goals and creating a plan to meet them. Here’s your homework:

1.    Evaluate your 2019 goals. If you didn’t achieve them, see if you can figure out why: no plan or did you fail to take your life into account?
2.    Start thinking about your 2020 goals. Keep them doable and leave miracles and smiley faces alone.

Next time we’ll talk about the importance of goals and the toughest part of setting them. Bonus points if you know the answer.

Lynne Smith, aka Lynn Michaels, is the author of two novellas and sixteen novels, three of which were nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA award, the Oscar of romance writing. She won two awards from Romantic Times Magazine, for best romantic suspense and best contemporary romance. Her only complaint about writing is that it really cuts into her reading time. She lives in Missouri with her husband, two sons, three grandsons, and one granddaughter, born on Lynne’s birthday. Lynne is also an IFW instructor. She teaches “Breaking into Print” and “Shape, Write and Sell Your Novel.”

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