Goals are a way of putting our selves into the future, achieving desires we now think we’ll want then or desires we have now but can’t fulfill until later. They are ways to achieve something that for any number of reasons we are unable to right this minute. In short, they help us focus and help us remember.
Goals may change. While on our way we may discover something more important, something we didn’t even know or something the process brought into sharper focus. Or, we may achieve the goals and realize we wanted something else entirely. We may achieve them and not feel the satisfaction we thought we would. I think mentioning these things is important because, in general, we could use reminding that Things Change. Sometimes we change (hopefully, and hopefully for the better). Sometimes achieving goals is unfulfilling because we don’t really know what we want. We humans are convoluted beings.
What are writing goals and what are they good for?
Setting writing goals helps me organize my thoughts and desires, the things I want to achieve with my writing but can’t do Right This Minute because writing is a Process and if it happened all at once I’m pretty sure authors would explode or implode or something. Organizing is a very Useful Tool and can improve your writing practice and your life in general. And like any tool, organizing is especially well adapted to some aspects of writing but not to others. Hammers–useful as hell when you need to drive a nail into wood, not so useful when you want to talk to someone on the other side of town (that’s what phones are for). In writing, keeping track of character arc and internal and external conflict and how all these things relate can be tricky. Notes, spreadsheets, pictographs, and other tools help to organize these so you can write and remember what your main character was struggling against (and what she’s struggling toward) so when you write her next scene you can focus on her progression and create the change in her you need to tell this tale.
Goals and organizing help in both plotting out how to expand on a story so that you properly “unpack” all the important details, and they can help you focus on what’s important so your story doesn’t sprawl.
Anything that involves a Process or is a Practice (like a writing practice or meditation practice) is a dynamic experience which evolves and that evolves you. Another way of saying, Things Change. Lots of change happens in writing. It should–to get better at anything you MUST change. That thing you did to keep you on track during your last big project may not work the best this time around, or the way you dealt with character development in your last few stories might not work for this character in this story. And please remember (*looks at self*), things do not change in a linear fashion. Linear or mono-directional or steady and predictable change is a work of fiction used to simplify math problems and other constructs so we can get a general idea of what’s going on and not feel like total idiots. But it’s not real. So we shouldn’t get upset when we make goals and don’t necessarily achieve every milestone on schedule and feel every elation and bit of satisfaction the way we thought we were supposed to.
But being creatures of brains that allow us to move through time in that special ghostly fashion that humans do, we can help ourselves move toward what we hope for and which we don’t have right now. And being creatures of immense complexity and unknowable depths, we can help ourselves understand when the goals change or we change or circumstances change, and through this we can help ourselves see the process for its own sake and not always for the end result.
Because maybe it’s the other way around–maybe we have goals so we can undergo a process, an evolution…
…and thereby change ourselves and know ourselves better.