Falling Short: When Goal-Setting Fails.

Hey Everybody!

Tonight’s the last night of my Louisiana thanksgiving vacation extravaganza. I had an absolutely great time, caught up with old friends, and ate dangerously. All in all, a success. Well, in most ways. How’s my 1000 word/day fiction target and one blog a day working out?

Date Fiction Written Non-Fiction Written Total Written
11/25/2012 0 0 0
11/24/2012 0 0 0
11/23/2012 1069 800 1869
11/22/2012 1045 1063 2108
11/21/2012 0 0 0
11/20/2012 1034 991 2025
11/19/2012 1062 640 1702
11/18/2012 0 0 0


I know I shouldn’t care so much. I’m on vacation. I should be able to just sit back, relax, and forget about writing. What’s more, I know what caused each of those slip-ups.

11/18/2012: Exhausted from shitty sleep on a plane, passed out at 7 PM local time.
11/21/2012: Passed out at 8 PM local time due to improper caffeine dosage. (Yeah, I have a precise dosage. You took the graphs in stride, but you’re shocked at that?)
11/24/2012: Staying at a friend’s Baton Rouge apartment. Didn’t want to keep everyone awake with my tap-tap-tapping.
11/25/2012: Worst day of chest and head-cold. Aching everywhere. Told myself not writing just one more night would be fine.

Most people would say, “Hey, what’s the deal? This is your vacation.” But writing’s more than a job to me, it’s a career and a stress-relief habit. If I took a ten-day break from writing, my fingers would fall from the pulse, my edge would dull, my motivation would fade. After a long break, it takes days to get back on track, if not weeks, and months. So now that I’ve reestablished good writing habits and instituted a tracking methodology to ensure I remain productive and honest with myself, I don’t want to return to a life without writing. Not even as a vacation. I’d come back even more stressed! And missing two days in a row is a dangerous sign of backsliding. It’s almost like I’m losing focus. Not a chance!

But here’s where it gets weird. As usual, I found a place for my Japanese every day of the vacation:

Pictured Above: Excitement.

My vacation is represented by days -11 to 0. I never failed to finish all cards due up for review in Anki that day.

My irrational impulse is to say, “Well, clearly you’re more committed to studying Japanese than to putting out writing,” but that isn’t fair. I’m taking a Japanese fluency test in December. More importantly, memorization is mindless, so I can do it even suffering from coughs that threaten to dislodge a lung, even with a head being used as the world’s most sadistic lumberjack’s splitting maul. Writing requires more mental effort, at least, if I want it to turn out well, it does. So I’m not too mad at myself over it.

But it does make for a great time to seek holes in my writing gamification scheme. I avoid skipping days in Anki because if I do, I’ll just have to make up that work the next day. Although, seeing a ‘0’ for the day is my biggest truancy disincentive in Japanese or writing, the make-up work is another truancy disincentive.

So what if I required myself to make up lost word-count? I worry my quality would slip. Words written, despite being my only empirical metric, isn’t the absolute measure of writing productivity. I constantly lament the lack of quality metrics in my Writing Tracker — unlike Anki, I can’t see “% correct” to my writing.

… Or can I? It’d be interesting to know “% rewritten”, but practical limitations interfere. Good analytical metrics require timeliness, and I do my rewrites six weeks after the first pass-through. Still, maybe the information would be useful for process-improvement over the long-run? Nope, because what I rewrite isn’t necessarily an indication of lackluster prose to begin with, but could be a new idea on the purpose of a scene, or any number of other things. So let’s shelf the math-geek R&Der in me for now.

Instead, I’ll just reaffirm my goal. I write 1,000 words of fiction per day. I write one article per day. No matter what.

These goals aren’t unrealistic. It’s hard to do every day without fail though. Too often, it feels like goals are something to fall short of. Goals, though, aren’t.

Goals are something to one day live up to.

I’m interested what other people are thinking about the idea of makeup-writing though. Does anyone else do this? How does it work out for you? Anyone for or against? Let me know in the comments below!


Gregory Blake is a freelance fiction, comedy, and opinion writer. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and of course, on the blog you’re reading right now.

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