Setting & Releasing Writing Goals: Considering the Writing Journey

I’m a strong advocate of setting goals and really feeling into those goals. That is, looking into what it will be like to reach those goals, and capturing that experience and holding onto it. However, that’s only part of it.

In When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön takes on Buddhist philosophies and teachings for how to handle difficult situations from a place of compassion and love. One of the things she covers, though not specifically, is looking at the outcome of things.

When we are trained in the art of peace, we are not given any promises that, because of our noble intentions, everything will be okay. In fact, there are no promises of fruition at all. Instead, we are encouraged to simply look deeply at joy and sorrow, at laughing and crying, at hoping to fearing, at all that lives and dies. We learn that what truly heals is gratitude and tenderness.

When Things Fall Apart, p. 129

I wanted to share this quote because I believe it expresses perfectly how we should approach our writing and our writing goals—or any goals for that matter.

Let me break it down.

We Are Not Given Any Promises that Everything Will Be Okay

“When we are trained in the art of peace, we are not given any promises that, because of our noble intentions, everything will be okay.”

Let’s consider the first part of the quote.

Setting the Goal

“When we are trained…” Training implies that there is a goal to be reached. In the context of the quote, the goal is peace. When we set out to write, our goal is to finish the piece that we’re working on. It might even go further than that: our goal is to publish, is to be famous, to earn a living, to have a franchise, to just distribute to family, etc.

Consider every time you’ve set a goal. What have you attached to achieving that goal emotionally? Is it pride? A sense of accomplishment? What does that sense of accomplishment feel like? Is it joy? Happiness?

I won’t tell you not to attach any feeling to your goals because that’s going to be what helps you to achieve them. However, I do want to point out a flaw in doing so.

Attaching a feeling to your goals creates the statement, “I will be/feel _________ when I _______.”

The fundamental problem with that is that it implies that you can’t have that feeling until you achieve this goal. Furthermore, what does that mean if you don’t achieve the goal at all?

If we only work toward something because we want the outcome and won’t feel x until we have that outcome, then we may not aim high enough. We might only go for the safe bets which could rob us of our potential. Consider all the authors who submitted dozens if not hundreds of times to be rejected each time. Imagine if they gave up. We wouldn’t have Stephen King.

“In fact, there are no promises of fruition at all.”

This is why one of the most important things I do when I work with writers is ask them how they can bring the feeling that they associate with the completion of their goal into their every-day writing practice.

This leads me to the second part of the quote.

We Are Encouraged to Simply Look Deeply

“Instead, we are encouraged to simply look deeply at joy and sorrow, at laughing and crying, at hoping to fearing, at all that lives and dies.”

To put it simply, the best way for us to consider the end goal’s feelings and bring it to the present is to look at the journey of writing itself.

There are many writers out there who are writing to make a buck—and it can be done, with a lot of time and energy spent. These authors are committed to the process of producing books quickly. The quicker they produce books, the faster the sell, and the more money they make. Their goal is attached to the money.

However, not all of these authors have a love for what they do. In fact, they’re likely to hire out ghostwriters like me to do the job for them. They don’t love the process. As a result, they might experience burn-out.

You don’t have to be a rapid-release author to experience writer burn-out, either. It all has to do with where you put your intention and where you put your energy.

If you can remember what it is that you love about writing, what you love about your project, then you’ll enjoy the entire process. You’ll be writing for the love it rather than for the outcome. This takes the pressure off of you, and when the pressure is off, you’re more likely to reach your goal.

Gratitude & Tenderness

“We learn that what truly heals is gratitude and tenderness.”

I interpret “healing” in this context to mean the outcome-oriented mind. Not to say that it’s broken so much as it’s only partially complete. It knows what it wants, it knows how it wants to feel, but it’s forgetting the part where it needs to feel that way through the journey.

Grateful to be a Part of the Journey

Being grateful to be a part of the journey and regularly recognizing that is a truly beautiful step to take. I personally practice daily gratitude, writing a page of things I am grateful for every day. I highly recommend it. However, if that’s not your thing (I get it. It took me a long time to get to practicing gratitude in this way), being thankful that you have the ability to spend time on what you love, and recognizing that ability every day is enough.

This gratitude can help you to cherish where you are now and the moments you spend trying to get words to the page, trying to edit and re-work your piece so it makes sense, or even drafting those query letters.

So many people in the world have a dream to do what they love. And so few actually take the time to work toward actually making it happen. I’ve read statistics (though not verified) that say 80% of people say they want to write a book. Only 1% of that 80% actually complete a book. Something like that, anyway. If that statistic is right, that means that only 1 person out of every 125 people who say they want to write a book ever actually finishes one.

Approaching Tenderness

How does one go about approaching tenderness?

There is a dark comedy British show called Uncle. The main character, Andy is quitting smoking and all forms of drugs and alcohol, and when people start to get on his nerves, he yells “I said I’m feeling tender today!”

Being tender is being sensitive, though not in a negative way. It’s being open to what is being revealed internally and externally. It’s acknowledging feelings that arise and sitting with them. It’s noticing bursts of energy. It’s also being aware of the feelings of those around you.

I personally am not a fan of the term “sensitive,” and like I mentioned, when I hear “tender,” all I can think of is Andy telling that he’s feeling tender before launching himself at someone. This doesn’t exactly instill a feeling of tranquility.

However, I choose to approach writing and my projects with curiosity.

Practicing Non-Attachment & Releasing Through Curiosity

The best way that I’ve found to approach goals is by practicing non-attachment through curiosity. You know what you’re working toward. You know what you want to achieve, but you do so through curiosity.

Now, this is complete curiosity. This does start with the aim to answer a question, but with complete openness to what might be discovered. For example, the question might be what would happen if you tried to write a book, or it might be the question you hope to explore in the content of your piece.

When we take the approach of achieving our goal through curiosity, we must ensure that we aren’t driving toward a specific answer.

Releasing Parallels in the Law of Attraction

This is a common practice in the Law of Attraction: you set your intention which is more of a feeling or status rather than a specific number or object (contrary to what the teachings of the Secret might say), and you approach it with openness. You don’t know how you’re going to achieve it, but you open yourself up to the journey that will take you there. If, for example, your goal is financial freedom, you don’t set a ridged path to it and stick to it no matter what. I personally hoped to get to financial freedom through tarot, and instead it was through writing coaching and ghost writing that I found my independence. My flexibility to finding my way to financial independence is what got me to where I am today, not sticking to a rigid schedule and plan that burnt me out after six months (true story).

I kept the goal, I opened myself up to possibility, and through that, I found a tribe of tarot-centered writers who were looking for coaching. The same month, I found people looking for ghost writers for their series. In ten months, I went from barely finding enough work to cover the bills to being completely financially independent by being open to my options, keeping the goal in mind, and following what felt good at the time.

Curiosity in Writing

Keeping your curiosity in your writing practice will keep you interested in what you do. The goal is there, but you don’t know what’s around the corner when it comes to your actual writing because you’re not looking at the next step, you’re looking at what’s happening now, right in front of you.

True curiosity is what leads to discoveries.

Consider science. Consider the contemplation of theories for the sake of knowledge versus the attempt to try and discover a specific thing. When a lab is funded to find out x, then all of their experiments are designed to find x. However, when a lab is set on seeing what possibilities are to be found in the realm of exploring the element y, then they are open to possibilities. It widens the scope, and in the process, they might also find out x.

Okay, I know that’s not quite how science goes, but you get the picture.

Your writing is the same way. Whether you’re setting an outline or pantsing it, keeping yourself open to curiosity will make the process more fun, and you might discover a new path that you hadn’t anticipated.

Setting and Releasing Goals

So what is the take away from all of this? Goals are important, however, they aren’t the end-all and be-all. There is more than just setting the goal and sticking to it. You need to be able to release the goal as well. You know what you’re aiming for, but when you release the goal, you’re releasing your expectation of the outcome. When you do that, then

  • you enjoy the process more
  • you open your writing to more creativity
  • you open yourself up to more enjoyment
  • and most importantly, you open yourself up to growth.

Your Homework

Your homework has two parts to it: the first part is journaling-related (because inner growth comes from inner exploration!) and the second part is to start a new project. I’ll get to that in a minute though.

Journaling Questions

Spend some time writing about the goals you set and how they make you feel. Danielle LaPorte, in her book, Desire Mapping, which is all about setting and achieving goals, writes about how she absolutely hates goals. She doesn’t do well with them because they feel like pressure to her. I, personally, most of the time, am the opposite. I do well with goals.

The first thing I want you to do is explore your goals and how you feel about them.

  • Do you have too many?
  • Are they too intense?
  • Do they inspire you?
  • Do they make you feel restricted?

After you’ve spent some time with these questions, consider and journal on the following questions:

  1. What do I expect from my writing?
  2. What do I love about the process of writing?
  3. What do I love about what I’m working on right now?
  4. What emotions do I have attached to my goals?
  5. How can I bring those emotions forward so I can experience them now?

Once you have a good understanding of this, then I want you to move on to the second part of your homework assignment.

A New Project

Develop a new project. It doesn’t have to be big. It can be to write a series of ten poems, to write a piece of flash fiction or a short story. Or it can be your next epic fantasies series of eight books. Whatever you like.

However, I want you to approach it in this order:

  1. What do you want to achieve with this new project? (to finish it? To answer a question? To publish it? Etc.)
  2. Once you have your goal, release it. You know what it is. Don’t spend any more time focusing on it.
  3. Look at your project with complete curiosity. Ask yourself how you can remain curious through the entire process. How can you turn this project into an experiment of discovery?
  4. As you work on this project, notice yourself and how you interact with it. Is it different than usual? Is it the same? How do you feel?
  5. If you start to feel doubt or anxious about the project, sit for a moment and express gratitude that you have the time, energy, and space to work on that which you love.

If you don’t finish the project, that’s okay. This is a project of exploration and discovery. It’s to learn about you, how you interact with goals, how you interact with your writing, and how you best grow within yourself.

Let me know how this experiment goes in the comments.

Happy Writing.

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