Good Intentions vs. Goals

If you’re a writer, you either have good intentions or goals.  There is a difference between the two.  The good intention is a goal camouflaged by fluffy goodness, like a piece of angel food cake laden with whipped cream. It sounds good, even tastes good, as the words pass your lips, but it’s not quite the same as saying I will do XXX by XXX.

 If goals are not set, the days pile up behind you with nothing to show but good intentions. These uncompleted intentions turn into raging guilt monsters whose sole purpose is to disrupt the creative nymphs dancing merrily in the mind’s green pastures. The creative spirit is fragile. It prefers flights of fancy, to two-head dragons jutting smoke from flared nostrils. If left to the creative within, there would never be empty pages, only stories and journal entries, of places and people you’d like to know, or have known. 

Think about this for a minute, maybe three.  When the reality of life is blowing a gale, what do your creative pixies do for you? They take you out of your world of darkness and transport you, the writer and wounded life warrior, to a higher ground. They let you soar. They give you back a reason to believe in the possibility of something beyond where you are currently hiding in fear from the harsh mistress, called life.

We all have minutia to deal with everyday. The laundry, the backed up toilet, and forgotten Irish cheddar cheese bought at Safeway now growing mold because it got tucked in behind the box of fine wine.  What dress to wear on the date with the new beau, the divorce papers you wish you didn’t have to sign, the dirty dishes, the flat tire on the SUV that needs repair, or the new school clothes and shoes needed before Labor Day. As Rosanna Dana said, it’s always something.  There is always something that can be put ahead of you and your writing, or whatever ever your passionate pursuit happens to be.  Thus, the need to set a goal that involves you sitting squarely in the middle. It should be something stronger than a good intention, which slips all too easily off your lips like a white lie.

A goal involves definition, as well as prescribed length of time to reach.  I set all sorts of goals for myself:

  • If I walk three miles, I can have two glasses of wine.
  • If I take care of my body and mind, I can have an extra glass of wine I will live longer.
  • If I nurture my soul, I can have an extra glasses of wine and a chocolate kiss, I’ll soar on the empty page

All kidding aside, in the past, I’d start the day with grand intentions of reaching a word limit I might have set, a query letter I wanted to send, a number of blogs to read, an idea to flush out, or an entry in my journal of heartaches and secret love letters. Since my day regularly takes on a personality of its own, it ends up trampling on my good intentions.  At night, I’d inventory the wasted hours, and vow to start afresh the following day, but come sunset the following day I would be no further along. Both my passion and me, would once again be short-changed by the harsh mistress, life. Yet the list of daily something’s (moldy cheese and dirty dishes) rarely went unattended.  Why is that?

It’s not a one-size fits all answer.  I liken it to the elusive socks in the dryer.  Two socks go into the dryer but only one comes out, the other never to be found.  The creative’s day starts with twenty-four hours, but at the end of the day, 11.5 cannot be accounted for, ever.  All I know, and what I have painstakingly learned, if I, the owner of the creative nymphs and green pastures, wants something to happen, I have to set a goal and not a willowy and illusive good intention. 

Got Goals?


Postscript:  Last night when all I wanted to do was climb into my bed and sleep, I remembered my goal-finish the draft of the WIP by August.  To reach my goal requires achieving a daily word count.  I howled in agony.  I had 900 words to go before reaching my daily goal.  I didn’t think I had it in me but once my fingers kissed the keyboard they couldn’t stop.  I crawled into bed an hour later, exhausted but overjoyed that I had honored myself by keeping the daily word count goal.

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I’m a writer and hoarder of one-size-fits-all panty hose. Until the hose fits over my bum, I write to provide an alternative view on writing and perfection.

37 thoughts on “Good Intentions vs. Goals

  1. Goals. Goals goals goals goals goals.

    I am all about goals, arbitrary deadlines, fake reasons to complete XX by certain XX date. Like you, it’s the only way I get things done. But I have always been THAT KIND OF PERSON. You know, type-A, perfect grades, perfectionist, a little leaning toward the OCD. I work well under pressure and stress. I thrive on it.

    Many people don’t. It’s interesting to see how every writer has a different way of working, of meeting goals, of pushing themselves. The writer life is suited only to those who can self-motivate.

    That is an important distinction.

    • Kiersi – I never thought about it until I started writing seriously. I write everyday, but working on a bigger project requires much more than an casual intention. I not that girl, I do what I want to do when I want to do it. Writing is the sort of passion that requires a strict adherence to the goal vs good intentions. But that’s my style of writing. You’re right about how different each of us writers approaches our craft. This is a subject I never tire of hearing about.. we’re all rather quirky.

    • Kelly – We have to be hard on ourselves, at least I do. I have the day job so my writing time is sandwiched between that, my mom and wife duties. I dream of a villa in Barcelona with a full service staff catering to all my demands, coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, wine at sunset, and so on. Oh to dream. Instead, I have my word count goal.

  2. Keep to those goals, dear Brenda, and keep me laughing out loud as I see myself in your descriptions of how we can allow ourselves to become so distracted by the mundane and moldy cheese when we truly need to live in the land of “the creative nymphs dancing merrily in the mind’s green pastures.” You are an inspiration, my dear, and will continue to be for me.
    Hang onto the greater vision, have faith in your talent, and never, ever, lose hope!
    Blessings always!
    Martha Orlando recently posted….Coming and GoingMy Profile

    • Martha, I confess to taking the easy way out on this one. It wasn’t hard to come up with a list of obstacles we throw in our wy to keep us from writing. Regardless of where I am headed, writing is part of the journey.

  3. Amy

    i spent a large part of my life with the best of intentions… a couple of years ago I sat down and made a list of things left undone, I was shocked, three pages later! it has taken much effort on my part to stop that behavior… knowing what is realistic is important.

    “It’s not a one-size fits all answer….” I need to remind myself of this when I start to feel overwhelmed.

    • Amy – It’s tough to be honest with ourselves. We think we are doing the best we can for ourselves, but not always. Sometimes the right thing is to stop pretending and just do it. The trick, or at least what works for me, is to accept there will be roadblocks along the way, and go around them when you need to. Stop and take a breather if need be, but to keep moving.

  4. This made me laugh because it rang so true! Especially the socks! There is a Kingdom of Single Socks where all of them hang out.
    What I particularly would like to compliment you upon is your written style. A lot of blogs I read are not as beautifully constructed as this one. My enjoyment came, therefore, not just from the content, but from the writing itself. Am now following you.
    carol Herdges recently posted….Sue Moorcroft is my guestMy Profile

    • Hello Carol – I am quite excited to visit the Kingdom of Socks. I know there is a treasure hidden there and money to be made. Thanks kindly for the thoughtful words. You know, as writer yourself, we thrive on these little nuggets of goodness.

  5. June O'Hara

    I don’t know how the hell you do it, Brenda. Honestly, I don’t. But I thrilled to read how you pushed yourself and how good it felt.
    My goal for many years has been to finish my book. For the first time in all those years, I finally needed to take a step back from it. I’m regrouping, percolating, and in the meantime working on other things. I know it will pay off (book-wise) but I can’t quite shake a sense of guilt. I just keep reminding myself that this time is necessary and that it will pay off in the long run.
    This post was brilliantly written. What a way you have with language

    • June, sometimes I don’t know myself. I have waves of intense productivity and then there are the odd days I struggle to write the first line of a blog post. I keep pushing through until the fingers are dancing mantically arrows the keyboard. The beauty of a first draft is I don’t have to reread everything I wrote the day before or stop and edit. I keep moving forward until I reach the end. It’s only after that the hard work begins. For now, I am plugging away and getting the foundation laid. Thanks kindly for the words. I am not so sure about brilliant, but I am damn quirky.

  6. Without goals we can aimlessly drift, keeping our WIP beautiful and perfect – in our minds. Whereas like a newborn baby, it tends to be red and wrinkled and pimply in places, once we give birth to it.

    Goals force me to write, force me to finish, to edit, to complete. And there’s just as much joy in meeting a goal (or a self-imposed deadline, even one that’s been pushed back) as there is contemplating on which tropical island I shall spend my royalty checks.
    Beverly Diehl recently posted….It’s a Party! It’s a Murder! It’s A Book! #GetawayGirlzMy Profile

    • Bev, I have to say there are times when I do drift aimlessly with my good intentions, but after a while I am bored with where I am and there is more I want to do, so the goals approach seems to work for me as long as I allow for the occasional folly. I am dreaming of a villa in Barcelona.

  7. I spend too many hours of every day just drifting. I get on the internet and I’m gone for 2, sometimes 3 hours. I take a thyroid supplement in the morning that I can’t eat or drink for an hour after taking it. (Until my first cup of coffee, I’m hopeless.) It would be fine if I only took that one morning hour to surf the net and read up on Mars, John Travolta’s legal woes, how to make the perfect California rolll, Prince Harry, etc., but I get caught up in all of it and time passes. Sometimes I don’t bathe or dress until noon. I set goals, but frequently ignore them.

    Actually, this is kind of a life long pattern. As a bride of 19, I read novels (mainly trashy romance) until 20 minutes before my husband got home from work. Then I pulled out the ironing board (as if I had been ironing), and slipped into clothes (as if I’d been dressed) and stuck something in the oven, (as if I’d been cooking.) I’m better now, but not by much!
    Linda Medrano recently posted….Lost and FoundMy Profile

    • Linda – I admire your honesty. I have long decided I live under a rock. I spend my day in front of a computer building Social Media solutions, and paid, to be social savvy, know what’s going tech wise, which means time on the net. Not my thing, really. I have no idea about John’s woes, or for that matter the price of tea in China. I don’t think you are alone with ignoring goals. I am guilty as well. Writing is different, though. Until it and I intwined, I’d be guilt of unaccounted for hours. I’v never enjoyed the working in the home job, so not a clue if I would productive or not. I can see me getting lost in books all too easily, though.

  8. Hi Brenda,

    Count me in with the good intentions group. I never set a goal to belong to this group, but that’s where I find myself. This can change, of course. Maybe today.

    It’s good that you find diversion of the stresses of the day with your writing. For me, the mood that results from the day’s ups and downs finds it’s way into my writing. That’s probably not the way that it’s supposed to work. Maybe it’s the topic selection that is driven by mood. Not sure.

    Long-term goals are so much more difficult to achieve than near-term ones, so daily goals give us an opportunity to bounce right back from a previous day’s failings. We just have to try to string together a few good days to gain momentum.
    Ray Colon recently posted….Nobody AskedMy Profile

    • Ray – on the subject of writing, we all approach it differently. It’s a fascinating subject. We all writer for different reasons and subject to our own personality quirks, dysfunctions, habits (good and bad). I am both an emotional writer and a writer of stories. I keep writing journals – which is so much easier of me now that they have software for the things. I loved having one for flight of fancy, one for my dark moods, one for idea. first lines, etc., I am not a long term planner, three months at the most. Life is too fluid to plan beyond.

  9. “The creative’s day starts with twenty-four hours, but at the end of the day, 11.5 cannot be accounted for, ever.”
    How many times I’ve thought this too, and never articulated. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me Brenda. Yes, I have grand intentions, but the discipline in my life is sorely lacking. There are days when I behave myself, act like an adult, and “git-r-dun.” Unfortunately, this is not the norm. Most days I rationalize why I can’t find time to sit my arse down and finish even a chapter in the WIP.
    Funny, but I’ve written blog posts on sitting down, as though you’re at a paid job where you have to be there and finish the work. Just clocking in is 99 % of meeting these goals. But, hypocrite that I feel like, I don’t “get around to it” half the time. The Olympics are on…NBA season…a movie I’ve seen a thousand times but need to see at least one more time…I’m too tired… I’m not in the mood…. my muse is on vacation… and on and on goes the list of excuses.
    Thank you Brenda. Thank you so much for lighting the match under my arse today! This feels like a divine assignment to me. I’ll get with the program. Hold me accountable, will you? xox
    Debra recently posted….Off the WallMy Profile

    • Debra, I am happy to give you a nudge now and again. Maybe we can form a virtual writing group, exchange pages. Food for thought. I am all for indulging my flights of fancy, truly. I am a huge movie buff, and will easily get distracted, and do. But the word count goal.. it’s hard to ignore. I mean I can, but the only one I am disappointing is myself. I haven’t give up this writing dream yet, and plan to see my books on the shelf. One of the bloggers, Larry, said to visualize my destiny. I thought it was funny at the time, but after a while I can see the strength in that vision and what carries me forward.

  10. Great post, Brenda. We writers can be good at willowy good intentions, can’t we? I think goals are really important, though I make mine a bit more general so I don’t wallow in guilt when I don’t reach a word count or write every day. My goal with my first novel was to finish. Sounds too vague to be a real motivator, but for me it wasn’t. Though for my second, I think I will be a bit harder on myself.
    Jessica Vealitzek recently posted….Back to Real LifeMy Profile

    • Thanks, Jessica. I know what you mean about the first book accomplishment. I hindsight, I can’t believe it took me so long to write it, but then again I did write it four times, so maybe that was why. In between edits, I was learning so there was a lot going on. The second one is easier in that I understand more about myself as a writer. The word goal is so I can finish it. Surprisingly, my willowy self responds well to deadlines.

  11. Good for you, B. Well done! We often think we don’t have it in us, but once we coax ourselves to the desk, open up a notebook and start scribbling (never mind if it’s freeing up our mind of other thoughts, we can make space for the thoughts on our WIP), we almost always come away with more than we thought we would. I am familiar with that nasty guilt monster you mentioned. Argh. Really hate it when I feel I’ve let myself (or worse, my protagonists) down. Goals, definitely. Good intentions aren’t enough. Read this post on FB just minutes ago: Stop saying ‘I wish.’ Start saying ‘I will.’

    • Claudine – I was an ‘I wish’ gal once (part of me is guilty of this, an likely to be until I am ash in the wind) but the ‘I will’ writer gal, is currently focused and driving hard. Everyday I think .. no, I can’t possibly write two words, but somewhere in the back of my mind I hear another voice, similar to that of the train. ‘I think I can, I think I can…’

  12. Brenda, I’m so glad you made your goal. Your dedication is inspiring. My goal right now is to stay on top of things. Problem is, I have too much to stay on top of and frankly, I think I’m still suffering from a bout of jet lag. I doze off during the day, can’t fall asleep at the usual hour, and then wake up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep. Curse you, nine hours time difference between Europe and here! What a conundrum!
    Monica recently posted….Four Cities, Three Gals, Two WeeksMy Profile

    • Monica, I am doing my best. I don’t think about staying on top of things when I am in this mode. I am behind on blog reading and commenting and hoping people have forgiving hearts. I am living this month is time blocks. Walking, writing, reading, journals, and then blogging, with everything else in my life on the back burner. It’s only a month. Jet lag is a killer, you know the trick is NOT to take naps and suffer through the days. Hang in there.

  13. Great Post, as usual.
    You always make me ponder & ask myself the big writing questions.
    I consider my blog my writing journal and this is the way I sharpen my voice, mind, creativity.
    I love- love that freedom.
    I do not write to write. Not anymore.
    btw, I’m on page 89 of the editing process….but damn it, I do make excuses not to do it! For example, I bake or enter a writing contest…
    thank you for continually inspiring me, Brenda. XX Kisses from MN.
    My Inner Chick recently posted….Broken & WinglessMy Profile

    • Mistress Kim, of course I ask the same questions of myself, which seems only fair to share what’s on my mind. You know when I was editing the first book, it took me forever to get through the second round of edits, but the forth, it was enjoyable because I was learning in the process. I promise you’ll make it beyond page 89, and come to love this part of the process.

  14. I’m just like you…I cannot function without setting goals and feel mad at myself when I don’t reach them. I start with weekly, then daily goals. I’ve been traveling so much in the last month that writing goals have gotten all out of whack, and I find myself eager to get back home to just have my alone time to sort things going on in my head.
    mamawolfe recently posted….Friday Photo: Night at the MuseumMy Profile

    • J – What a world traveler you’ve been. I can see you and I sharing this one, as there are a few other areas where we cross. I know it’s harder to stick to our goals when we travel as you have. I know I am a bit nervous about reaching my August deadline. I am out all next week taking the daughter back to school. No going back on it now, I have to try.

  15. I love your goals! September – more so than January – is always a time of renewal for me so this post is most timely! I loved the paragraph that started: “When the reality of life is blowing a gale, what do your creative pixies do for you?”. Great post… you always set me back on track. I have great intention and I need to revise them into goals! Thanks :)
    Astra recently posted….My life of crime: Domestic Investments 101My Profile

    • Astra, of all the writer’s sites I travel to, you have the largest extracurricular activities. I don’t know how you get to all those hockey events, work, be a sexy wife, and write. I know you do, but I don’t get it. I work outside the home as well, but I gave up on the back and forth to write the books. Glad to be of help.

  16. Another great post! Mmm intentions versus goals…..recently I have set myself a few simple but definite, almost non-negotiable, goals — at least one new short story every fortnight, and work consistently and daily on my novel, either on elements like characterization, or free writing scenes. I find allowing myself some wiggle room for different emphases, depending on my writing ‘mood’, helps to ensure that I stick with the programme! Part of it seems to be a case of getting to know my ‘writer’ self!
    Edith recently posted….To NaNo or NotMy Profile

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