Goals: catalyst or kryptonite? (a post about NaNoWriMo)

Goals are the perfectionist’s kryptonite.

Yeah, I know, quite a statement. But it’s true – at least for me. Some writers thrive on goals, others choke on them. And since NaNoWriMo is all about goals, this might be a good time to assess in what category you belong.

So writers, check in with yourself: goals, catalyst or kryptonite?


First of all: what is NaNoWriMo?

Says Wikipedia:

National Novel Writing Month (also known asNaNoWriMo /ˌnænˈrm/na-noh-RY-moh) is an annual internet-based creative writing project which challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and 30.

The first of November was this last Sunday, so as we speak aspiring writers all across the globe are popping their finger joints and stacking up on coffee and playing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ on repeat. An uplifting notion.

Goalgetters, rejoice!
So why would you participate in this or any other writing challenge? In other words: what’s the use of writing goals*?

*= in this context, I mean quantitative goals, like ‘a 1000 words a day’ or ‘finishing my manuscript three months from now’.

Well, most of us flawed humans are, on a day-to-day basis, lazy and scared and set in our trusted ways. We’re conservatives by nature. We’ll do anything to keep scary, uprooting change from happening. Therefore, for a lot of people, setting a writing goal can be a much-needed kick in the butt. It can tip the scales from ‘boy, I wish I could find the discipline to write every day’ to ‘okay, since I HAVE to have a 1000 words by tomorrow I’ll set my alarm at six and do my writing in the morning’. Dandy! Suddenly you’re an achiever!

So in this case, and that’s important, THE GOAL LOWERS THE PRESSURE. It doesn’t matterwhat you write, just that you are writing. Here’s a handy checklist to see if writing goals can be a catalyst for you:

  • You spend a lot of time on concepts, thoughts and ideas, but little time behind your keyboard.
  • For years, you’ve been toying with the idea of writing, but something else always takes priority.
  • You feel like you never get anything done, or at least, not as much as you would like.
  • You have a hard time finishing stories or manuscripts.
  • You get hung up on writing THE MOST ORIGINAL THING, like, EVER, and you end up weighing every word thrice and getting stuck on page one.
  • You know you’re a slacker by nature.

Goalgetters, beware!
Writing goals are a two-handed sword: setting a goal automatically means that you can fail. No biggie though, right?

Well, here’s the thing. To a perfectionist, at least the kind of perfectionist I am, failure IS a biggie. It’s a huge-ie. It’s a laying-awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-becoming-self-destructive-with-blame-and-guilt-ie. In general, a perfectionist is someone who’s mortally afraid to fail, and pins their entire sense of self-worth on completing (self-set) tasks successfully – and the standard for ‘success’ is usually impossibly high.

(here’s a cool post that explains it perfectly)

So yeah, to me setting a strict and rather far-fetched goal – finish a whole novel in a month, why dontcha? – is really like kryptonite. To me, THE GOAL HEIGHTENS THE PRESSURE. Here’s a checklist to see if this goes for you, too:

  • Once you’ve set a goal, you start feeling nervous and unpleasant, like ‘OMG the clock is ticking!!’. The goal becomes paramount in your thoughts, like a giant roadblock.
  • You always make your to-do-lists too long, telling yourself you’ll feel good if you do half; but you still end up feeling like you should have done it all.
  • Your day is filled with purposeful activities from dawn till dusk.
  • As a writer, you push and push yourself. You don’t let up or ‘go with the flow’.
  • You’re a hard worker by nature. You are super competitive.
  • You feel easily stressed, threatened and/or under pressure.

Finding balance
It’s cool though (to quote Eminem (’cause why not)). I’ve learned to find ways around my choking perfectionism. I’ve also learned – and am learning – TO BE KIND TO MYSELF. And if I can do it, so can you.

My ‘goal’ for NaNoWriMo
What I want right now is to finish this version of my novel. What I want is to trust that this version is going to be good enough to show to agents. And, most importantly: what I want is to keep my writing as organic and, well, FUN as it is right now.

So what about you??
Any writing goals for November? Feel inspired, or just plain scared? Don’t let NaNoWriMo be your kryptonite, okay? Writing goals can be inspiring and freeing (not to mention a swift kick in the butt) as long as you keep track of why you’re setting the goal in the first place (TO HELP YOURSELF).

So, go forth and be proliferous…and HAVE FUN EVERYONE!!

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