To Goal or Not to Goal in 2023

Over the past several years, I've been continuously reevaluating how I approach goal setting, especially at the start of the year (yes, I know we're a month in now, but close enough). Once upon a time I made expansive, precise lists of all the projects, tasks, and goals I'd like to complete throughout the year (one such list was 50 items long), most of which were never even touched, let alone completed. Later on, I whittled the lists down to two or three main goals — and last year, I set no specific goals at all. 

What I've learned over time is that setting year long goals for my creative projects is not entirely useful. I'm a person who enjoys crafting stories and narratives in nearly all the forms — fiction, poetry, game writing, and screenplays for film. The number of projects that I have started and continue to work on is extensive. I have stories and poems that I have been slowly writing and editing for a decade (or more). Even if I haven't opened the file in ages, they are always on my mind. 

Checking completed projects off my list hardly seems to help with this issue, as I'm always awash in new ideas and new, exciting projects to pursue — none of which changes the fact that my available time is limited. As I reach for the shiny and new, older (but no less beloved) projects slip back into the dusty alcoves of uncompleted projects. 

I often find myself caught in what Oliver Burkeman describes as a productivity trap. I keep thinking, if I can just get more done, then I'll finally cross into the organized, relaxing space where the number of projects I have no longer feel like they're sinking the ship.

But the reality is that I'm probably never going to get there. Burkeman writes: 

The day will never arrive when you finally have everything under control — when the flood of emails has been contained; when your to-do lists have stopped getting longer; when you’re meeting all your obligations at work and in your home life; when nobody’s angry with you for missing a deadline or dropping the ball; and when the fully optimized person you’ve become can turn, at long last, to the things life is really supposed to be about.

The act of creating year-long lists and goals for my creative work does not seem to help this challenge, My projects are often shifting, as are the realities of who is paying me to do the work and what my available bandwidth is outside of my day job. 

As a result, my creative goal setting falls more in to the monthly, weekly, or even daily realm — rather than the yearly. By taking a look at my current work and what time I have available each day, week, or month, I can break down where to place my focus on a number of factors, such as: 

  • Am I being paid for this and, therefore, am I under deadline for delivery of the work?

  • If I'm not being paid, is it a collaboration? Are others waiting to continue their work based on what I deliver? 

  • Is this project what I'm most excited about at the moment? Am I passionate about it?

  • How much energy and time to I have available? Do I have the capacity to work on something at this moment? 

What I prioritize in terms of money, collaboration, or personal passion (bonus points if the project hits all of the first three) can shift depending on the fourth question — my mood, available time and energy, and need for self care and down time.

Another thing I've started doing is recording my accomplishments and wins for the month. I did this primarily to combat the malaise that comes from to-do lists. Even in when every item on a list is completed and crossed-out (when has this ever hppened?), there's always another list, another series of tasks that need doing (i.e., productivity trap). In the rush to jump into completing the next thing, I would forget about the work that I had already done, work that I should be proud about and celebrating. By providing space in my journal to record and track the things I did finish, I generally feel better about the work I'm doing in general. 

Outside of my creative work, I'm a little more open to making some longer-term goals for the year. Most of these involve self care and making space for myself, so that I can remain physically and mentally healthy. 

  1. Move My Body More – Ever since I fractured both my elbows in October 2021, I have not been nearly as active as I would like to be. I'm interested in exploring this in a variety of ways, including stretching (yoga), strength training, and eventually getting back into running (something I'm nervous about since that's how I broke my elbows in the first place). I've also started playing around with rock climbing and I love hiking, dancing, and other forms of movement. So, there are many options. 

  2. Keeping Up Journaling – I've been journalling more than I ever have when I was younger. Mostly, I turn to journalling when I'm dealing with insomnia or anxiety, as a way of processing my emotions and helping myself move through them. However, I'd like to be more regular with the practice and start turning toward journalling at the beginning of the day (by writing a morning poem) and/or at the end of the day, as a winding down before I go to sleep.

  3. Incorporating Mindfulness and/or Spiritual Practices – I used to incorporate the spiritual into my life on a more regular basis, but I've allowed it to fall by the wayside. I would like to make space periodically for meditation (even just 5-10 minutes a day), ritual (bringing intentionality and focus through celebration and gratitude), and tarot (which I primarily use as a kicking off point to analyze my feelings and headspace). 

What is your approach toward goals in 2023? What would you like to achieve for yourself? Or how are you stepping back and making space for change? 

Book of the Month

When I purchased Eric LaRocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes, the cashier paused to tell me, “This one’s messed up.” Having now read the three stories in this horror collection, I can heartedly agree with the cashier’s sentiments.

In the titular novella, two women meet online and begin a deeply intimate relationship that unveils their darkest desires. Written through emails and chat transcripts, the story shows just how far humans are willing to go to obtain the love of others. It’s a captivating and disturbing exploration of human desire.

The following two stories further explore the depths people are willing to go to achieve approval and acceptance from the people around them. “The Enchantment” is the story of a couple who agree to be caretakers on a remote island to repair their relationship. All goes awkwardly, but well enough — until a stranger suddenly appears by boat, shattering their solitude. In “You’ll Find It’s Like That All Over,” a man attempts to return a lost item to a neighbor only to find himself caught in an increasingly harrowing series of wagers.

This is a powerful and unsettling collection of stories — and I loved it. I’m looking forward to seeing more work from LaRocca.

More on books, shows, and games I loved recently can be found in my Culture Consumption for January 2023.

Good Reads

Theodora Goss wonders What is a Book? in her exploration of three recent reads: 

Maybe I’m thinking about books the wrong way? Maybe a book is simply whatever exists between two covers? Maybe “book” refers to a technology rather than contents? That may be blindingly obvious to you, but it’s not intuitive to me as a writer. And part of it comes from a sense of diffidence, as though I have to deliver a lot of value for anyone to buy something I wrote. I have to put a lot of words in there to make them worth your dollars.

But here are some other things that could be books: a children’s picture book, a book of poems, a book of essays (I would love to write one of these), a collection of quotations or affirmations (I’ve certainly seen these in the bookstore), advice for how to live (there are loads of these), a book of spells, a book of tales collected from various cultures, experimental narratives that bring into question the whole idea of story, etc. etc. There are lots of ways for things to be books. Lots of ways to book, if I can turn the object into an action. Many many ways of booking.

Jane Alison suggests that writers look beyond the narrative arc

The causal arc wasn’t a given as Western fiction crawled to life, but gradually became a convention, with writers resisting it often. Other cultures evolved fiction differently from the start: as Ming Dong Gu explains, Chinese fiction grew with an emphasis on lyricism, relying on pattern, repetition, and rhythm, and 'organized on a structural principle different from the time-based, direction-oriented, and logically coherent principle of the Western narrative.'


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