The Forest for the Trees: Fitting Goals into the Big Picture

There are ten days remaining in February, which makes it a good time to check in with your writing goals and see how you’re progressing. Are you on track to accomplish what you’ve set out to do this month? Do you need to devote a little more time to your writing over the next week and a half? Or perhaps you need to start thinking about tweaking your goals as a result of unforeseen distractions that have put you off schedule. You might even be ahead of where you thought you’d be, in which case, yay for you!

However, today I want to talk about the big picture, rather than the smaller details that are your individual goals. There’s a great deal to be said for focusing on tiny pieces of the puzzle, the steps that eventually bring you to the next level of your writing career, but try to remember that these goals are just that — stages in the process. Professional writers write and revise, they get agents and/or editors, publish and publicize. They experience ups and downs, just as unpublished writers do; they face periods where no one seems interested in what they want to write, of rejection or sluggish sales; published writers find themselves dropped by their publishers, their books remaindered. For every writer who experiences the joys of landing on a best-seller list, there are many more who simply plug away, book after book, with decent but unremarkable sales. In some instances they reinvent themselves, switching genres or adopting pen names to revitalize their careers.

A writing career can best be likened to a long, grueling marathon, one with hills and valleys, where the runner cycles through energy and exhaustion, over and over again. Sometimes you’ll be sprinting way ahead of the pack, making great strides, pushing through all of the milestones you’ve been aiming for, and at other times it will feel like you’re climbing the steepest mountain, the peak nowhere in sight.

The important thing to remember is that whatever your obstacles, whatever might be standing between you and your next goal, you need to pace yourself and just keep going. If life has been uncommonly busy and you’ve missed hitting a goal or two, take a step back and look at what you want to achieve in the long term. Pick out the path you need to take, and then continue onward. If you need three more months to revise your manuscript than you initially planned on, don’t despair. Three months is a tiny percentage of your writing career, and time well spent if you’re making your book better. Be disciplined, but be flexible. Jog, don’t sprint. Keep one eye on the ground beneath your feet, and the other on the horizon, and remember why you’re making the journey. Good luck, and happy writing!

6 thoughts on “The Forest for the Trees: Fitting Goals into the Big Picture

  1. Awesome advice as always. “Be disciplined, but be flexible.” You knocked it out of the park with that one. My goal is to finish editing before Feb. is over. I’ve got 130 pages to go. Piece of cake! Thanks of the pep talk.

  2. Thank you for the great post! As a runner, I appreciated the metephor! I’d never thought of writing in that way before. It was what I needed to hear today.

    1. So glad this hit the right note for you, Laura. (And I just signed up to run my first marathon in the fall, so you can see where this is coming from…)

  3. As a writer, I love this essay. And as a runner, I especially love that you wrote it on the same day that I signed up for the Chicago Marathon. Good luck on your marathon!

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