Friday, March 16, 2012

When we fall short of our writing goals...

Well, friends, I didn't quite make it.

Today was the date I'd set as a personal deadline to finish my novel, but I'm still about three chapters shy of typing "The End," mostly due to a new plot twist that I couldn't convince myself to ignore. I need to stop writing now in order to pack my suitcase and head over to the Inland Northwest Christian Writer's Conference in Spokane Valley. But first I thought I'd write a few words about falling short of a writing goal.

First of all, failing to meet a personal deadline, while disappointing, is not nearly as serious as blowing past a contractual deadline set by a publisher. The latter is serious business--at worst a breach of contract, at best a snafu that could have an unpleasant domino effect on editors, designers, proofreaders, printers, marketers, and so on down the line, who have set their own schedules based on receiving your manuscript in time. So for today, at least, I can honestly say that I'm pleased NOT to be working under a publisher's contract (although I'll feel quite differently when the manuscript is done--dare I say, in a week or so?)

Second, it's unproductive to moan and groan and feel bad about missing a personal goal (for more than a few minutes, anyway). It happened. It's done. Time to move on and set the next goal.

Third, when a goal is missed, it presents a good opportunity to step back for a moment, take stock, and analyze what happened. In my case, I added something to the outline, a plot twist that I hadn't planned on. I could have ignored this new development and pushed on, which is what some writing teachers would advise. But this particular twist affects the rest of the story that follows, so I felt I needed to put it in right then and there. I also didn't want to forget it! So it set me back a bit. While we don't want to get too loosey-goosey with our plans, there should be some room for flexibility, particularly if it results in a better story.

Fourth, it's tempting to think that if a goal is missed, it was too ambitious in the first place. While that could be true, I think there's something to be said for reaching high. So I will continue to set ambitious writing goals, even if I sometimes let myself down.

"Shoot for the moon," said some wise person*. "Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars."

*(An online search for the source of this quote turned up all sorts of attributions, from W. Clement Stone to Les Brown to Brian Littell of the Backstreet Boys! If anyone has a for-sure source for this quote, please share it in the comments.)

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