The Fear Chronicles: Go Small or Go Home

Photo Credit: Joe Sass

Photo Credit: Joe Sass

I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions. I don’t like failing and the attendant guilt (who does?), and I don’t like that the biggest resolution so often has to do with weight loss. As if January were the best month to start getting active. Anyone in the mood for a frigid game of tennis? A lung-shattering winter run, perhaps? January really should be the month you decide not to lose weight, the month you curl yourself into a chair, read books, and eat.

The other reason I’m not such a big fan of New Year’s resolutions is because when we make them, we bite off more than we can chew. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, but to look across the great expanse of your coming year and expect that the resolution you make in January will be going strong in December is not altogether realistic. It’s also incredibly daunting; perhaps this is why many resolutions fall by the wayside. Since we are increasingly a culture of immediate results and gratification, our resolutions must be, too. We need to whittle them down to monthly, weekly, or even daily goals. My goals this month: stop biting my cuticles, and do yoga every day. That first one is probably going to be harder than the yoga. I’ve been trying my whole life to stop biting my cuticles, but I’ve never given myself a timeframe. (Incidentally, I wonder if the underlying message with these shorter goals is that maybe after those 30 days, I can go back to my bad habits, like cuticle gnawing. Being able to return to bad habits is strangely comforting. Whether I do or not is yet to be seen, but the thought that I could somehow frees me up to relinquish the old habit or start a new one.)

So, smaller goals.

How does this apply to writing? I’ve been thinking about my writing goals, and noticing that I currently have none. Each April I challenge myself to write a poem a day, and in November, there’s NaNoWriMo, which I’ve done twice. Besides that, I have never set myself a writing goal. As I type that, I realize just how plain bad that is. I set myself work goals and fitness goals and food goals, so why no writing goals? This has to change. I realize I’ve been looking at my writing as this huge thing, and if I’m not writing, I’m not a writer. I need to handle it the way I handle other goals: make them small, give them timeframes, and make them life-altering, but realistic.

Here are some things I’ve been wanting to do: finish revising my chapbook of poetry, and send it out to presses; put together a full-length book of poetry and send that out to presses; write more; submit more single poems to journals; read more poetry; go to more writing conferences; present at a writing conference; write more; write a play; reconnect with my thesis advisor and convince him to be my mentor; get back into reading at or at least attending poetry slams; write more, write more, write more. And so, you see, as the multitude of things I want to do in relation to my writing grows and grows, my desire to do them lessens. Nothing gets done, because there are too many things to do. Daunting. It’s the whole year without chocolate, as opposed to the week. So, the thing to do here is to reign myself in, and choose one. Just one. If I want to do more, I have to focus on less.

So, because I’ve been in a dry spell, as I mentioned in last month’s post, I am going to give myself this goal: write five poems by February 1. The poems don’t have to be polished or ready to submit to the world, but they do have to be written. Five by the first. I can do that. It doesn’t sound too scary, I’ve given myself a reasonable timeline, and I will be writing, which will be a noticeable and rewarding change in my life.

As you look toward this coming month, try for these smaller writing goals, as opposed to the really big ones. Try for daily, weekly, monthly goals. Don’t go for yearly goals—they’ll swallow you whole. And you know what? Here’s the really great thing: all those small goals, plotted out day after week after month become a year’s worth of accomplishments. All the little stuff adds up. You’ll realize that when you focused on less, you were able to accomplish more. What will your small goal be this month?

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6 thoughts on “The Fear Chronicles: Go Small or Go Home

  1. I prefer the all-or-nothing sort of goal. More manifesto than suggestion box. That works for me though my mother thinks I’m nuts.

    • I wish the manifesto worked for me! The grand plan sounds so much more inspiring, but I’ve gradually realized that I don’t follow through on the grand plan, so I have to be a little more plodding in my approach. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  2. I nearly spit out my coffee with a laugh when I read the line, “Anyone in the mood for a frigid game of tennis”?

  3. Oh yes, I’ve definitely decided that January is not the month I will lose weight, and I have been successful so far.
    You are right – we should set small, achievable goals and build on those. You can get to 100 by counting by 100’s, or by counting by 1’s. I may try what I might actually do. Thanks for great insight into a national habit that causes lots of us much stress.
    You always make me think and I love the way you write.

    • Thanks so much for your comments! Don’t you think the new year should begin in April? Spring is so much more inspiring.

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