Expectations and Goals

January 2, 2008

This is the time of year when people make New Year’s Resolutions, only to dump them within a week or two.

Then, there are those who get defensive and say, “Oh, I never make New Year’s Resolutions. I can’t keep them anyway, so why feel like a failure?”

The point of making a fresh start in the New Year is to exceed your own expectations. If you set goals that are too easy, you won’t be satisfied. Yes, you’ll cross it off, but you’ll know that you cheated yourself and you won’t feel fulfilled.

On the other end of that seesaw is the “you” who sets so many goals and such high expectations that not even Nora Roberts or Jill Shalvis or M.E. Ellis, three of the most prolific writers we’ve got around, could get it all done. The “Yous” in this category are performing acts of self-sabotage, and then can say, at the end of the year, “See? I CAN’T do it after all! I KNEW I couldn’t!”

So stop shooting yourself in the creative foot and start re-thinking your resolutions.

Start with what you CAN control. You CAN’T control how much work someone else buys or publishes. Even if you sell more than one novel this year, there’s no guarantee it’ll be published this year. It’s out of your control.

What you CAN control is your writing. You CAN set things up so that you have a schedule. If you’re not already a fulltime writer, you need to treat it like a second job until you’re in a position to make it your only job.

Yes, there are times when every writer has to put the writing aside. If there’s a serious illness in the family or a big event in your life (good or bad), sometimes everything has to be put on hold. But, if you really look at how you spend your time, you can see where you waste it, and where you make excuses not to write.

Enjoy the luxury now of not writing when you don’t feel like it, because once you get on a publishing schedule, you’re going to have to get that butt in the chair whether you want to or not. Or lose the contract. And future contracts. And have to go back to work in a cubicle rather than your very own home office or the patio.

And, if you start getting into the habit NOW of writing whether you feel like it or not, it’ll be easier for you when it’s your business and not your hobby.

You CAN control your writing schedule. You CAN control your boundaries with your family to carve out your writing time. Before you start sputtering, go read interviews with successful writers who have children – if they figured out how to do it, so can you.

You might WANT to write 3, 5, or 7 books this year. If you can do it and not burn out, good for you. Remember, though, that finishing is important. Unfinished projects drain creative energy – this is the monkey that’s been on my back for the last several years, and I’m determined, this year, to clear out a bunch of energy-draining projects and send them on their merry ways. Several of them might find their individual merry way is at the bottom of the drawer for a few years, but at least it’ll be finished, and no longer draining.

You CAN control your attitude. Try being genuinely happy when a colleague has good news instead of thinking, “why that writer and NOT ME?” You can stop putting yourself down. Every time you say, “I suck”, that’s what you’re putting out into the universe. You’re giving the universe and everyone in it permission to dislike and disrespect your work AND you. There’s a difference between “I suck” and “I’ve got an idea that I think is pretty good, but it needs some work”. Try to catch yourself when you find yourself falling into negative patterning, when you start putting yourself down in any area of your life and STOP IT. Self-deprecation is something that can be funny in small doses, but if not handled properly, turns into self-abuse. Remember, what you put out is what you draw to you.

Instead of “this sucks”, try “it’s a little rough; do you have any suggestions?”

Know how many goals are realistic for you and then add one or two more. You have to stretch beyond your comfort zone or you won’t grow. Don’t add twenty things to the list beyond your comfort zone. Add one or two. Implement changes gradually. The little things add up to big things.

That’s why they say that 15 minutes per day of yoga is healthier than one hour twice a week. And 15 minutes of writing every day will get you farther than one four hour session every month.

Remember that there’s a difference between quitting and removing a goal that no longer fits in your life. Think of yourself as a work of art. Sure, you have an outline. But as the book of your life (yes, that’s a cliché) writes itself, as YOU WRITE IT, you’re going to deviate from that original outline. You’re going to cut things out, take tangents. Edit.

When a goal no longer serves your life, remove it. Not because you “don’t have time” or “can’t” or “never got around to it”, but . . .because it no longer serves your life. There’s a huge difference.

Surround yourself with supportive people. Get rid of the dead wood in your life. You can be cordial to the icky people you have to deal with through work or your kids’ school or your spouse’s business. But you don’t have to like them, and you certainly don’t have to socialize with them. Spend less time watching bad television (unless you’re writing about bad television or a satire about bad television or someone’s paying you to watch bad television). Get out more. Listen to the way people talk – it’ll help your dialogue. Notice body language, movement, physical characteristics – it’ll help your descriptions and help bring your characters to life.

There’s a mantra that’s been passed around the yoga community, posted on yoga boards, and even mentioned in a YOGA JOURNAL article over the past few months:

“May I be filled with loving kindness;
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease;
May I be happy.”

Try it. For my own purposes, I replaced “at ease” with “serene”, because that suits my needs better. I first tried it so I would become more compassionate. But the first thing I noticed is that people behaved more compassionately towards me. It’s as simple as holding a door for someone or saying thank you when they let you pass in front of them during a busy time on the escalator. I say it silently on the train frequently (because if Dante was alive, he’d add an additional circle of Hell for commuters), and it helps a lot. It helps, in general.

Set goals. Set expectations. Do so without sabotaging yourself. Stretch. Grow. Meet them. Exceed them. And see how much progress you make, and how much better you’ll feel about yourself, your work, and your life.

May you have a wonderful, creative 2008!

–Devon Ellington



  1. Great post, Devon, and fantastic advice! Hope you have a Happy and serene 2008!

  2. Excellent article.

    What a wonderful mantra by the way.


    Sylvia C.

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