Change The Goal

I’m always thinking about goals. Every morning, I jot down my to-do list. For breaks, I have to-do lists. I make New Year’s Resolutions. Sometimes, I actually keep them.

This week, I had to think about goals – a lot.

One of my favorite authors is dressage rider – and Olympian – Jane Savoie. She was one of the first to use psychology to aid her in riding, and she still gives clinics today in which she teaches her principles to other riders. Her book That Winning Feeling was one of the first books on sports psychology ever published, and definitely the first one geared towards horse people! In it, she uses visualization techniques to help riders achieve their goals; the more you mentally practice, the better you are in reality. She also states the importance of setting goals, and keeping those goals close to you at all times – jotting them on sticky notes and putting them on your bathroom mirror, your car’s sun visor, the ice-cream carton in the freezer. Wherever you need to put them in order to see them all the time.

But she also wrote something that has come back to me this week, about goals and goal-setting. It’s okay to change your goals.

When you’re riding, it’s not just you out there; you’ve also got a partner, and your partner weighs upwards of 1,500 pounds and has a mind of its own. Maybe today, your plan was to work on counter-canter, but ten minutes into the ride, you can tell that This Isn’t Happening. Your horse is spooky; he’s not paying any attention to you. Forget counter-canter. You’ll be lucky to get a regular canter today. So you change your goal. You’re not giving up on the long-range goal of moving up a level, or going to that show in two months. Instead, you’re changing your goals for today. Maybe today, then, you work on shoulder-in, or doing twenty-meter trot circles that slowly spiral in to ten-meter circles, then slowly spiral back out. Maybe today, the goal is simply not to get killed.

This week, I found out it’s the same principle with writing.

I had a very specific goal in mind for NaNoWriMo: finish my young-adult novel that I started last year during NaNo. I wrote about. I talked about it. I had a GOAL, damn it!

Then . . . life said, “HA! Screw you, lady!” There were many, many papers to grade. Exams to grade. Two new classes that started. A crazy schedule that just never seemed to leave me any time – at all – for writing.

None of this was conducive to working on that particular novel. Nicky’s voice is so unique that I can’t just jump into it. This is the only novel I’ve ever written where I can’t slip in and out of it at will. It’s a little spooky, to be honest. Fifteen minutes here or there just isn’t going to get it done. You have to be 100% devoted to it, or else Nicky just says “Lady, you ain’t listening. Get out.” And that’s it! You get out, because Nicky isn’t going to talk.

Finally, my grading was finished – two days ago. I realized that not only had I not written since November 9, I also had only written about 10,000 words. If I was going to win NaNo, it wasn’t going to be with my YA novel.

So. I changed the goal.

All this year, I’ve been re-writing my urban fantasy series, from third person into first. So I decided that since I had a mostly-written third book sitting on my hard drive, I might as well start on that. It would only be an average of 4,000 words per day. I had plenty of material to work with. I’d still accomplish something – getting this novel drafted. And I’d accomplish my other goal of “winning” NaNo with 50,000 words.

Now. I can hear some of you screaming already – that’s cheating! You can’t use an existing novel for NaNo! Well, I humbly beg your pardon, but yes, I can — and below, I’ve provided my proof. 🙂 The first section, in italics, is the new version just written; the second section is the original, sucky version. You see, they’re nothing alike.

Change the goal.

Is your goal for this week 10,000 words? So many pages? Does it seem impossible? Change the goal. You’re not giving up! You’ve still got the original goals – finishing this work, getting an agent, getting published. But why punish yourself for things beyond your control? Why not just change your short-term goals? Instead of writing X number of words, focus on rewriting some key scenes you haven’t been happy with. Instead of doing an outline by Saturday, maybe you work on character sketches. As long as your goal doesn’t change from “Write this week!” to “Watch seasons 1-3 of Sherlock this week!” you’re good! 🙂

(If you’re curious, here’s a link to That Winning Feeling):

(Here’s the rewritten version)

If you’ve never had broken ribs, I can’t recommend them enough. They remind you so very, very much of what it’s like to live a pain-free life. They make you nostalgic for stubbed toes and burned hands. You never truly know what pain is until you have a floating bit of bone stabbing you somewhere every time you move. Comfortable? Forget it.

That’s what I was trying to do that night – get comfortable on the couch. I was lucky. I was able to wrap my ribs, at least. And it hurt like hell to do it, but it felt so good – comparatively speaking – afterwards, that it was really worth it. I stretched out my sore knee and propped it up on a pillow, and nestled gingerly into the pillows at my back. Then, I picked up Jacob’s letter from the coffee table, and re-read it.

McLaren had suggested I stop at a hardware store and have them cut two pieces of Plexiglass, slip the letter between them, and then tape them together. That way, we wouldn’t run the risk of damaging the letter. Since he’d pointedly looked at my latte as he’d said that, I had a pretty good idea of what he meant by “damaging” it. But the plastic cover made it hard to read the faded handwriting, and I kept having to tip it this way and that to catch the light just right.

Part of the problem was that it wasn’t written in ink.          

It was actually Jacob’s blood, forming those words and sentences.

I knew what it said; I had memorized it over the past few days, ever since Spencer had given me the prayer book when I was in the hospital. Remembering that moment, when I’d flipped over that last page and found the letter, still made me both giddy and sad. Jacob had done what he could to make sure I found this. Despite the fact that he’d been in thrall to the demon for God knew how long, he’d somehow managed to start casting off those bonds, and tell me – in the only way he could – what he needed.

Okay. Total lie, there. He’d been in thrall to the demon. But it had been my peculiar ability to bring back memories for ghosts that had finally allowed his own memories to start coming back to him. I imagined them returning like things floating up from a dark lake after an earthquake – dim, unfamiliar, only slowly taking shape as they rose to the surface, only recognizable when they finally broke the water and bobbed into the light of day.

Wow. Those pain killers were really giving me an imagination.

Tonight, though, the words were blurring, swirling into a sea of letters that ceased to make any sense. I lay my head back, sighing.

 (And this is the original version)

That night, Erin shifted around on the couch, trying to find a comfortable position so she could read. She still had a paper due for Dearborn – and a few more changes and additions to make to her thesis proposal.

Plus, she had to figure out what she was going to do about McLaren’s paper.

She stretched out her sore knee, propped it up on a pillow, and nestled gingerly into the pillows at her back. For what felt like the thousandth time in the past five days, she re-read Jacob’s letter. Per McLaren’s suggestion, she’d stopped off at a hardware store and had someone cut two pieces of Plexiglass to slip the paper between, then taped them together so she could handle the letter without actually touching it. It made it harder to read the faded words; she had to tip the whole thing this way and that to catch the light just right.

But tonight, it didn’t seem to matter. The words on the page swam into a sea of letters that ceased to make any sense, and she laid her head back, sighing.

So I risked my life – my soul – for this letter. And it still isn’t enough.

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