I think it’s safe to assume that most creative people set goals for themselves. Writers may have a specific word count they want to hit each day. Painters may have a certain amount of canvas they want to cover. Most of our goals are fairly simple and easy to meet. There’s nothing wrong with that. When I’m working on the draft for a story I usually want to write at least one-thousand words a day. That’s in addition to blog posts, journaling, and whatever else I have in the hopper.
Goals are good. They help to motivate us, even if they are easy to hit. One-thousand words a day may not seem like much to many writers, but to me, it’s a goal I know I can reach and it’s enough to give me a feeling of accomplishment.
And I think that’s the main point of setting a goal. You’re not trying to outdo your peers. You’re not trying to set a word count record. You simply want to feel like you accomplished something, that you moved in a positive direction.
I’ve known several creative people over the years who would set almost unreachable goals for themselves. For example, I knew a writer who wanted to write five-thousand words a day. This was a guy with a family and a full-time job. And no, he NEVER hit his goal. The result was that he it would bring him down, make him depressed, make him feel like he wasn’t getting anything done. I suggested to him that he should lower his goal, make it attainable. He argued that was cheating. In his mind, a goal had to be something you had to struggle to achieve so you had a better sense of accomplishment.
I think that’s self-defeating. Sure, goals should be set as something you strive for, but at the same time they have to be realistic. It’s like a runner stating he’s going to run ten miles a day. Sure, that’s impressive, but it’s not realistic…and it’s probably dangerous.
While setting an excessive word count may not kill you, it can affect your mood and your self-esteem. That’s the definition of self-defeating…you’re setting yourself up for failure.
As a creative individual, as an artist, you have to keep yourself motivated and one of the best things you can do is set attainable goals. For example, a writer can start out with a goal of hitting five-hundred words a day. If that goes well, then in six months or a year push that up to one-thousand words a day. Think of it like exercise. If you follow my blog or my podcast then you’ve heard me use this analogy before. Our creativity needs exercise, needs to be used and occasionally abused, in order to be strong. Starting with a simple goal, then slowly extending it, will help you work your way up to doing more and more. It’s a training regimen.
Long distance runners don’t start out competing in twenty-six mile marathons right from the beginning. No, they have to work up to it. Creativity is the same way. I started out writing short pieces of fiction, three to five page page short stories, then worked my way up to longer pieces. I didn’t attempt working on a novel until I’d been writing for many years. Sure, there are some people out there who have innate talent and can write a full novel right out of the gate. That’s fantastic. But for the rest of us, well, we need to build up our stamina, our self-confidence, our routine. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just common-sense creativity. If you set your goals too high, you’ll find that you may not be able to reach them and, in turn, you’ll run out of steam and feel bad about yourself.
And I’m not trying to dissuade you from pushing yourself, testing your limits. I’m all for pushing the envelope. Don’t be complacent with your creativity. But at the same time, don’t set unattainable goals, or goals that are nearly impossible to meet.
You’ll find that setting reasonable, attainable goals is just as satisfying as winning that aforementioned marathon. My one-thousand words a day is still a struggle on occasion, but hitting it always feels good. Just like typing “the end” at the end of the final draft of a manuscript. It’s not necessarily something you’re going to brag about, but as long as it makes you feel good inside, makes you feel like you accomplished something, then that’s all that matters.