Friday Update: Napless…

Well, I’m just going to throw this up here now, even though I typically only post it AFTER I’ve gotten my daily words, but as that seems less and less likely today (T_T)…

It’s been a rough end to the week. Yesterday, Goldbug only napped for about 35 minutes, which was just long enough for me to get my run in, and manage about three sentences before he woke up. I’m blaming canines. I did manage (thanks to B-Bug and Grandma entertaining Little Grumpus) to get about 1k in yesterday, despite everything, but today is looking like a lost cause. I’ve still got a few scenes left for the body horror short story I’m working on, so I may need to take some time this weekend to get it wrapped up into a second draft (if only to be within shooting distance of editing it up on time for the end of the month…)

There were other disruptions this week, too, in the form of annual checkups and other schedule-shuffling events like birthdays and anniversaries, so it was just kind of a tough work week. But, that doesn’t mean I didn’t get *anything* done:

Accomplished This Week:

I’ve written about 2k on the novel this week, which stalled out when I got a brainwave on the short story rewrite, and wanted to capitalize on that while I could. I’m glad I did, because I’ve really gotten a great start on the story’s reworking. Next week, I’ll just have to crank out 4k to make up for it.

But at least I’ve skirted the hydra of figuring out whether I need to rewrite the entire first half of the novel. There were some deep, horrified thoughts on it yesterday, but after sleeping on it, I’ve decided to continue as-is for now. The changes I was considering end up making about four dozen more problems that I can’t solve right now, in addition to setting me back 45k, which replacing would cost me weeks of work at a semi-unsustainable pace. It may be another major rewrite lays in store for this one in coming (years? *sobs*), but the major deciding factor is the solution creates more problems than it solves, requires Herculean effort to implement, and I’m already borderline sick-to-death of this book. The desire to scrap-and-start-over also looks suspiciously like what’s happened both to other book projects in the past, and which have already happened to this book at least 4-5 times. While, yes, editing often requires one to be bold, I sometimes think it’s a self-sabotaging habit that I just need to break and move on. Maybe this story is unfixable, but I don’t totally think the version I’m on now is completely wrong, even without the changes.

So for now, we press on, because I have a deadline in December that I will not miss, and the perceived problems may be fixable another way once I see the whole thing laid out in front of me.

Inspiring Me This Week:

Holy shnikiez, go read “Safe as Houses” by Avra Margariti at Daily Science Fiction. It just about broke my heart.

I’ve been blasting through Gideon the Ninth. My brain is on fire with this book, and I’m loving it to pieces.

Also picked up a copy of horror author Tim Waggoner’s book Writing in the Dark, which so far has been an AMAZING read on what constitutes horror writing, and what kinds of things to think about when approaching a horror story. It’s flipping brilliant, and though I’m only a couple chapters in, I have a feeling it stays good. Waggoner is great at making complex concepts simple and approachable. Very glad I got this one.

Oh! And I’ve been reading The Dark edited by Ellen Datlow, which is chockfull of creepy ghost stories, and I love them so much, though I really shouldn’t read them right before bed…

For Next Week:

Picking up what got dropped this week. So 4k on the book, and if I manage to wrap up the rewrite on the short story this weekend, then hopefully get started on the intensify, smooth, and polish phases.


On Professional Envy

I’m embarrassed to even admit it, but damn all, I’m jealous of Tamsyn Muir. I’ve finally gotten my shoulders into Gideon the Ninth, and it’s now a whirlwind of blood and bone and evil hauntings and it’s just FABULOUS. I’m loving the hell out of it, and it’s flying, and HOLY CRAP–she’s my age?!


This happens a lot less than it used to, to be honest. Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, I used to have convulsions of envy over other writers’ careers, particularly people who started around the same time or a little after I did. I remember thinking almost hysterically about the career of one person I was in an anthology with early on, appalled to discover how much they’ve gone on to do, how successful they’ve become, how many starred reviews and award-nods they’ve received. It was hard not to shovel that kind of shit into the gaping maw of my self-doubt, feeding the inner critic until it was bigger than a rancor and about as drooly.

Intellectually, I knew that no one’s path to writing was the same. I knew that certain people hit on what they needed to know earlier than I did. Some people got the opportunity to take excellent workshops. Some people had an intrinsic understanding of story and how it worked.

But the most painful truth–and indeed, the only cure for professional envy–was that I wasn’t doing the work. I was writing all the time, pouring words onto the page. I was even finishing rough drafts of things to set aside and “let cool.” But I wasn’t submitting anything. Whenever I’m talking to folks who dream about being published writers, I tell them there are only four things they need to do: Read. Write. Edit. Submit. (And then do that ad nauseam.) Set small goals, and start forming the habits that will help you get there.

It’s surprisingly hard to do sometimes, but that’s the job. That’s the work. I can guarantee to you Tamsyn Muir has done the work. She’s read. She’s written. She’s edited. And she’s submitted. Maybe she’s done that on an elevated level to me. (Duh.) Maybe there were craft lessons she learned faster, or understood more easily than I have. It’s very likely, in fact.

But if I’m not doing the work, I’ve got no legs to stand on, envy-wise. I have nothing to complain about, because I haven’t done even the baseline of what a career like that requires, and they have. I’ve known people who worked and worked and worked and read, and written, and edited, and submitted, and their stars are rising. But it requires work. It requires effort. It requires learning and trying things and doing the best work you can and taking the risk of getting it out there in the world. It’s literally the only thing you control.

It’s not attractive to admit you’re envious. It’s not fun to admit to yourself that you haven’t done the work that others have. It’s not enjoyable to feed the beast in one’s own soul, to doubt your capabilities, to doubt your potential.

All you can do is work. All you can do is make sure you’re getting things out there, over and over and over again. All you can do is remember (and if this is all you ever remember about this post, let it be this): be your own friend. Don’t tear yourself down. Don’t pick away at your self-confidence; don’t undermine and devalue what you’ve done so far, even if it’s at a slower pace than other people. They’re just doing the work.

So today, when I was getting a little envious because HOT DAMN this book is so good–and it was written by somebody who’s my age, who’s a genius, and holy crap, how come I haven’t been able to produce something even close to this good, will I ever produce anything even half as good, oh shit oh shit oh shit–I put on my friend hat. Instead of the rancor, I was Chewbacca. Sometimes you just need a giant, fuzzy shoulder to cry into when you feel terrible.

And then you know what I do?

I get back to work.


Friday Update: Stories, Spiders, and Synopses

Some weeks are just down weeks, but THIS WAS NOT ONE OF THEM. Holy crap, folks. This was one of those weeks where the words just flowed. All told, I wrote over 10,400 words this week (WHA-?!), and made excellent progress on several fronts. I’ll be the first to say this does NOT happen every week, and I know a few writers out there who would probably even consider 10k a “normal” week for them, but with my time constraints? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Wow. I’ll take it. Probably means next week will be CRAPPITY-GARBAGEPANTS, but that’s okay. Because:

Accomplished This Week:

I hit my goal of adding about 4k to the novel-in-progress. It was a rough start to the week, because Goldbug did not nap on Monday, but I still got a little editing done and managed to accomplish thing #2: submitted my book synopsis to the Write Your Novel class I’m currently taking. That was a major weight off my shoulders, let me tell you. I was stressing out about it way more than I needed to, but it’s done and I can sit back now.

In addition to that, I wrote TWO (what, did she say Two? As in “2”? As in the number two, more than one less than three?) new stories this week. And not just this week. In the last TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. That’s two stories in twenty-four hours, whaaaaaa-?! Who am I? Anyway, one is a flash fiction story and one’s about 3k (and about spiders, ick ick ick ick!), so it’s not actually a crazy word count, but STILL. Quite pleased with myself. The flash story I’ll submit for Furious Fiction tomorrow, but the other one is going to need some TLC before it’s ready to meet the world at the end of the month. It’s about some messed up things, and most prominently features wolf spiders which I caaaaaaaaaannnnooooooooootttt stand, but forced myself to do the research anyway. But that would be TWO new submissions, which would finish out my annual goal of submitting FOUR new pieces in 2021. O_O <-Whut?

Also, got my first COVID shot, so there’s that.

Inspiring Me This Week:

Finished the collection of Shirley Jackson’s short stories, Dark Tales, which was excellent. “The Summer People” is a wonderful story to end on, though “Home” is also fantastic, and there are a slew of other great stories in there, too, if you like dark and weird.

Also just read “Remote” by Kaoru Sakasaki on Daily Science Fiction which was a wonderful way to wake up this morning and had a surprising amount of feels.

Oh! And I made a terrible mistake and re-downloaded TheSims4 last weekend, so HAHAHAHA, I’ll be doing that this weekend. A lot. XD

I’ve also made the commitment to read a LOT of classic SF and Space Opera over the coming months, because there are just too many classics I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read. So there. No, I’m not going to tell you which ones. Yes, if you follow my Good

For Next Week:

Next week, same as last week: 3k on the novel, and write one new short story. It may be that one of these weeks (because I finished two this week) I may abdicate a new story in favor of polishing up the new one to submit, but we’ll see how it goes.

^ ^ ^

How was your week? What are you reading currently? What do you wish you were doing?


Poly-Reader Notes: MAY 2021

I’m not sure what it was about last month that made getting four books wrapped up, but I suspect it was in part due to getting sucked through Breasts and Eggs like water in a funnel. I just couldn’t put it down, couldn’t bear to read anything else. So although I read a lot, I didn’t make a lot of progress on other things, or start a lot of new things. But I did get those four books, which I am very proud of myself for doing.

Currently Reading:


How to Write Funnier – This is the second book by Scott Dikkers I’ve picked up on humor writing, and I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s just that I’m also trying to do the exercises in it, which slows me down in the reading of it. I suspect I’ll have this one done in a few months, but I don’t want to rush it.

The City of Gold and Lead – B-Bug and I have recently picked this one up after going on a Dogman binge for a few weeks. It’s fine, but it’s no White Mountains, you know? It’s a touch slow, there are far fewer tripods at the start, and even I’m having a hard time getting enthused about it, so you can imagine how an almost seven year old is coping. But we just heard that The Wild Robot author is coming out with a third book sometime, so that’ll be delightful! We’ll still try to plug through this one, but after that, we’re going to have to switch it up a bit.

The White Spider – Kind of forgot about this one, as I started it at the same time I started Breasts and Eggs, so it fell by the wayside, and I haven’t been super hungry for adventure non-fiction these days. But the writing really isn’t bad, so I probably just need to give it time to grow on me.

Gideon the Ninth – I know, I know, everybody loves this book, and I don’t dislike it, it’s just, for some reason, hard to pick up on a regular basis. I still think it’s a kind of exhausting book to read, and that probably says more about me than about the book, and again, it’s not bad, it’s just heavy and rich and sugary and fun. I dunno why I’m struggling to get into it. There’s a piece of me that feels like the writer comes through a little too much, but I’m not sure if that’s just because I’ve been reading it very piecemeal. I’ve decided I will try to give this one the time of day this month: front and center, and see how it goes.

The Power Broker – This one got sidestepped for Cetaganda. I really can’t do two audiobooks at the same time, and Cetaganda was my fun relaxation read, which I needed a lot this past month. I do need to pick up another fun read, which I’m not sure what will suit that just yet.

Designology – Blurp. Blurpity blurp. I dunno. I just haven’t been in an interior design mindset lately, but that could change. I’ve just kind of gotten hung up on the patterns/noise-level portion and it’s just dragging.

Dark Tales – Plowing through this one. I love Shirley Jackson, and reading her short work is really making me want to start my own weird fiction magazine, which I totally know I SHOULD NOT DO, but oooo, it’d be so fun, but seriously, NO. But it’s a pleasure to read her stuff. It’s so dark and so cuttingly funny, so yeah. This one will be wrapped up by the end of the month for sure.

^ ^ ^

Need to get some other swift reads on this list, because I can already feel it getting bogged down. Maybe a graphic novel or a novella or some such? Hmm… Maybe something funny. I’ve got a couple I could pull from my To Be Read pile, and I should be getting a book order soon-ish, so we’ll see.

What are you reading this month? Anything your particularly looking forward to?


Friday Update: Rejection, Molars, and Term Papers

Fairly uneventful week, filled with hope and rejection and victories and defeats, so, you know, a normal day in the life. Goldbug has returned to napping, though his nighttimes have been thrashy and disrupted (thanks molars!), but at least I get my bit of writing time each day (except Tuesday: nothing got done Tuesday).

I’ve been hunching a lot lately. My back is not thanking me for it. It’s been cold and blustery and rainy but also very spring-ish, and the shin splints had faded enough for me to start running again, which feels FANTASTIC.

Got a form rejection Wednesday, which stinks, but it is what it is. It was always going to be a bit of a long shot, so I can’t say I’m entirely surprised. More surprised by the little sting it brought with it–like getting a new car and finding its first scratch, you know?

But I’ll hopefully be getting that story back out this coming Monday when a certain reading period reopens.

Accomplished this Week:

Added 3k to the book and finally (finally!) wrote my revised synopsis. Man, was that hard. But I found a great resource for writing a one-page synopsis. Only time will tell if this is a good method for me, but I found it a great deal easier than some of the other approaches I researched and actually managed to nail a one page synopsis for an incredibly complicated fantasy novel. Is it good that I reduced it to a page? Eeeeemm…I don’t know. The two page version has a lot more detail, but I do want to practice the short-form, since from what I’ve seen of agent requests, short synopses are the norm. I guess we’ll see?

No short story work this week–no time with the synopsis, but that’s ok. May will be my new start on the Chekhov month, in the hopes of nailing four new drafts by the end of it.

Inspiring Me this Week:

Finished reading Banker and The Planetbreaker’s Son this week, which means I DID finish four books this month (woohoo!). Of the two, The Planetbreaker’s Son was my favorite, and the included essay, “The Term Paper Artist,” is almost worth the cost of the book on its own.

Also just opened Pandora’s Box and bought Minecraft. I used to play on our Xbox before it died ages and ages ago, but when B-Bug developed a horror of creepers, that came to a swift end for the foreseeable future. But B-Bug is now almost seven, and his friends all play Minecraft and he got curious about it (on creative-mode only, thanks), and he’s fallen head-over-heels for it.

So we’ve been playing a lot of Minecraft. And I’ve been building The Labyrinth, because of course I am.

Goals for Next Week:

Next week kicks off May, and with a new month comes a new Chekhov plan! Four short stories in four weeks. So next week, I’ll be focusing on adding 3.5k to the novel (hoping to meet a personal word count deadline and get a bit ahead of the class requirement so I have more time to edit before submission, because BOY AM I GOING TO NEED IT), and writing a new story.

Also, I’ll be submitting that story again.

That said, I’m also up for my first COVID vaccine on Monday, and will probably get the second one sometime in May, too, which means I’ll probably be down and out for one of those story weeks. So we’ll just play it by ear, shall we?

^ ^ ^

How was your week? Anything exciting on the docket? Getting as excited as I am for the summer months? What’s one of your goals for May?


April Round-Up: Submissions, Snow, and Some Posts

And just like that, April winds down to its end. I don’t know if it’s just this stage of parenthood that seems to drive the days into hyperdrive (wake up -> get to breakfast -> get to nap -> get to lunch, etc.,etc.), or if the days are actually just going really fast.

But despite an off-again-on-again return to toothing and (apparently?) snow days, I did get some nice things checked off my to-do list. I wrote a new short story (fantasy/humor) and may even finish up a second one by Friday if naps get back to normal. I edited and submitted a brand new, never submitted before story (weird/humor), which feels AMAZING. I always feel like I’m “doing the work” when I get a new story launched out into the world, and nothing feels better than that itching sense that a story is ready to fledge, you know?

I finished two books (Breasts and Eggs and Cetaganda) and hopefully will wrap up another two by the end of the week to hit my four books for the month. That’s taken a bit of a push, probably because Breasts and Eggs pretty much dominated my reading for several weeks.

I’m chugging right along in my Write Your Novel course through the Australian Writer’s Center and am really enjoying getting to know my new crew in that class. Everybody’s been incredibly nice and encouraging, so I’m not *too* nervous about getting my synopsis up in two weeks. And so far, keeping up a steady schedule of 3k/week (therefore 6k/fortnight) seems to be both doable and surprisingly refreshing. I’m really settling into splitting my weeks between short stories and novel work, though at some point when I get to smoothing/editing the sections to submit, I’ll probably have to focus on the book a bit more.

I also got several blog posts up this month:

Poly-Reader Notes: APRIL 2021

The Perfectionist’s Guide to Goal-Setting

Monthly Goals Review – April 2021

Otherwise, the month’s been a bit chaotic with skipped naps and lots of fussing (from being overtired), and B-Bug has vacation this week, so this final week is likely to be as chaotic as the rest of the month. But I’m looking forward to warmer weather and formulating a plan to submit more new work!

^ ^ ^

How was your April? Did you get snow? Did you get a taste of nicer weather yet to come? What are you most proud of accomplishing in April? What’s something you’re going to focus on in May?


Friday Update: Off to the Races

Finally, a halfway decent week! I was nervous going into Monday, because Goldbug hadn’t napped ALL WEEKEND LONG, which was a major headache, and he was grumpy and sad and clingy (toothing, again). But although there was a day when he didn’t nap like he was supposed to, I managed to get some editing done when he crashed out on me later that afternoon.

It certainly helped that all I needed to do at this point was word-cull (so fun!–I’m serious, I love this process), so not a lot of brain-thinking required. Otherwise, despite the horrible weather (which contributed to the nap disruption–thanks rain and wind), it’s been a solid week.

Accomplished This Week…

Hit my 3k by Tuesday, and plunged ahead with editing “The Showerlier” in order to get it ready to submit. And I submitted it just now! Hooray!!! This is the first new story I’ve had out in a while, and I’m SO EXCITED to have it out in the world, seeking a good home with its adorable puppy eyes.

Inspiring Me This Week…

This week is all about walking simulators and half-seriously watching Unreal Engine tutorials… Because I’ve got so much time, programming a game is, like, completely reasonable. But I’m having a good time just thinking about things and amusing myself, and what’s better than that?

Really enjoying Shirley Jackson’s Dark Tales collection. I’ve always enjoyed her work, though I’ll admit being an English major burned me out on “The Lottery” (it took me a few years to even realize she’d written other things, and that those things are GOOD and AWESOME). The collection contains a lot of short little stories in that wonderfully weird zone, and they’re easy to read before bed and just spooky enough they don’t *quite* keep me up at night.

I also started Nick Mamatas’ The Planetbreaker’s Son a couple days ago, and am really enjoying it. The style in this one (not unlike Bullettime) is dreamlike, bizarre, and dizzying, in a good way. It reminds me a little of Delany’s work, in that you’re expected to be smart enough to keep up, and you only worry (a little) that you’re not. XD

For Next Week…

Next week, we charge through another 3k of the book and then seriously look at getting my synopsis roughed in before it’s due in a couple weeks. If there’s time (big if), I might try to wrap up the last few scenes of a story I started earlier in the month, but didn’t get time to finish.

Otherwise, plow through at least two more books before April wraps so I stay on reading-track! I’m close on a couple, so we’ll see.

^ ^ ^

But onward and upward! Hope your week has been a good one, and that warmer weather is headed everyone’s way soon!



Chipping away at everything, under Coffee Owl’s diligent gaze.

Although it’s not quite the end of the month yet (and a day late! Oops!), I thought it was a good time to check in with my annual/monthly writing goals. It’s kind of nice to have a week to try to remedy anything behind schedule. Helps organize priorities in the short-term!

So to begin: April has been a solid month. Chunked away at the novel word count. Having the entire thing sketched out in a massive scene list definitely seems to help motivation, in that I can pick and choose what kind of scene I feel like any given day.

One downside of the skipping around is that I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to do a massive read-through edit to take out redundancies, smooth transitions, and modify tension/tone to grow appropriately. And it’s made me realize how much I’d like to have the time to write whole, complete scenes in a single go (or at least have time at the end of the day to review and smooth things out). It’s nice to feel the structure of the scene as complete.

I also wrote a new short story that’s currently tucked in and resting for future review. I was hoping I could use April as a kind of modified Chekhov month (writing a new story each week), but reviewing things for possible submission stole a few of those weeks, and derailed the (loose) plan. I may try again in May, for fun, as I really like regularly working on short fiction to keep my skills up and to build a stable of stories to choose from, but I also need to balance that with finding time to edit and submit things.

No new submissions yet, but I think I can get “The Showerlier” out by the end of the month, which will derail new short stories for the rest of April, but I reeeeeally need to get this out.

No new summary draft, but that hasn’t been the focus so far this year. Hopefully as I wrap up the current novel (and/or find a touch more uninterrupted time come next school year?) I’ll be able to chip away at this.

Total Word Count is moving right along at 76,253 / 100,000 completed. And we’re not even to June yet! So feeling pretty fine about that.

So far, have only read two books this month (BREASTS AND EGGS and CETAGANDA), but I think I can finish BANKER by the 30th, and I’m hoping to bridge the gap with a novella to hit four books.

I have successfully re-established the habit of reading 1 short story a day, which feels fantastic, so I’m hoping to maintain that moving into May. Habits-wise, I’d love to establish a habit of generating 3-5 story ideas every day for practice, but we’ll see when that happens.

In other stats, I’ve made five submission attempts (better than I expected, actually, though still have a long way to go before I feel confident about that), no personal rejections yet, and I’ve still got one story sold (just waiting on the contract to announce it), though–of course–I’d love to get more out and see that number climb.

Main priorities for the end of the month are getting “The Showerlier” submitted, and finish two more books.

^ ^ ^

How has your month been going? Have you been making progress on the things that matter most to you? If progress is feeling hard to come by these days, and boy! is it reasonable to be struggling right now, what little change or small habit can you focus on that will help get you gently back on the right track? And as always, I’d love to hear what’s inspiring you these days! Hang in there. Another month is on the way, and it’s a great time to start fresh!


Friday the Update: 4/12-4/16

Phew, and another week wraps up–today on a somewhat frustrating note. With the April Surprise snowstorm, we couldn’t get out for our usual walk, so Goldbug–as of this moment, at least–has not napped and is running on fumes. (We’re in full-infinite loop mode, so I’m holding out hope that he’ll drop off sometime this early afternoon, but who knows!)

So in lieu of writing time, I’m throwing this update together and we’ll see if I can sneak some writing time in later.

Accomplished This Week…

Got the 3k on the book done M-T, and then moved on to seeing if I could trim “A Splendid Journey” down to within pruning distance of an anthology call. While I do think the story works without the first third, I think it’ll still need a lot of work until I could be happy with it. With the tight deadline on the anthology, I’m now 90% sure this one isn’t going to happen in time. Ah well.

Sometimes you just have one of those weeks.

Inspiring Me This Week…

This week has mostly been an inspiration dry spell, probably as the post-awesomeness of finishing Breasts and Eggs last weekend.

Oh! But I did go looking for mystery walkabout games on the Switch, in the vein of Obra Dinn, but with maybe more Riven-iness. Ended up playing through Gone Home, which was the best balance of spooky, mysterious, with a lovely narrative unfolding as you peel back the layers of the house. Really cool, great atmosphere, and despite being short, incredibly satisfying without jump-scares or monsters or even puzzles (though I love a good puzzle game now and then). Highly recommended if you like narrative-centric games and voyeuristic digging through the detritus of other people’s lives. Reminds me of Amber: Journeys Beyond, though Gone Home is not nearly so scary.

For Next Week…

Next week, same time, same place. 3k/novel, followed by probably getting ASJ into some kind of cohesive form, and if there’s time, finishing “Catching College” which needs three or so scenes to be “complete”-ish.

^ ^ ^

How about you? Was this week a good one or a rough one? Did you take three steps forward or two steps back? Either way, next week is a new week and a fresh start. Be kind to yourself!


The Perfectionist’s Guide to Goal-Setting

I can’t tell you the number of productivity articles I’ve read. I love planning and thinking about goals. New Year’s is one of my favorite times of year, because it means I can think about everything I want to try to do.

Goal-setting is a slippery slope, though. It’s so much fun to think about how proud you’ll be when you cross off that huge, aspirational goal (like, write 25 short story drafts! Draft two novels! Submit 10 new stories!), that sometimes you can lose sight of reality. Set your sights high! That’s the motto, right? If you aim low, you’ll achieve low, so go harder, faster, bolder! 

The problem with this is, of course, the end result. There have been more years than I can count in which my overzealous goals fell flat. And when they did? I felt bad. I felt like I wasn’t working hard enough, like I was lazy, like if I’d just tried harder, I could have reached those goals and even surpassed them! The guilt was a self-perpetuating problem. Failing most of one year’s goals drove me to set more ambitious goals for the next year, to make up for the failings, to claw myself towards where I felt like I should have been at the end of the failed year. 

Which meant, more failed goals the next year. More guilt. Bigger goals. More failure. And not only that, I started to feel like a failure. I started to internalize that I was just lazy, that I lacked discipline, that maybe I just didn’t have what it takes to be successful.

It also meant I switched gears a lot, trying to recoup perceived losses: Didn’t make the progress I wanted on that novel? Ok! Try writing twelve short story drafts instead! Failing at that, ok—try submitting ten stories. I couldn’t prioritize well, and I wasted a lot of time. Knowing that I was wasting time, getting side-tracked, falling behind, also fed into the guilt and self-loathing. Seriously, I was a bundle of crank! 

And my internal monologue was not very kind. It became harder not to compare myself to other people in my field, to see their progress as somehow directly in conflict with my own lack of progress. The frustration mounted, I made bigger, more intense goals. I failed at them. I felt like I was working harder, and failing harder, but not in a good way. Not in a way that was teaching me anything, or moving me even slightly forward.

Any of this sound familiar to you?

There’s a better way, but it took me a long time to realize it. I had to teach myself, all over again, as an overly optimistic goal setter, as a perfectionist, how to set goals in ways that would actually help me progress, without tanking my self-worth. What did I learn? 

1) Be honest about your time.

I started thinking about this loosely in college after reading The Clockwork Muse by Eviatar Zarubavel, but it didn’t really kick in until I read Work Clean by Dan Charnas. In Work Clean, Charnas discusses how top-level chefs need to know precisely how long a task will take in order to best optimize their highly time-sensitive days. They can’t be precious about it. They can’t be optimistic about it. They have to be accurate

The Clockwork Muse addressed this in the academic writing arena by emphasizing the importance of going through your calendar and making a note of every day when you won’t be able to function at your typical performance level: holidays, vacations, work travel, big day job crunches—those kinds of things. Marking those days and accounting for a smaller achievable workload or cutting those days out entirely from your project timeline means setting realistic deadlines for yourself.  

For example, I know that December is a hard month for me to get much done. With the holidays, small kids, school vacations, and (at least pre-pandemic) lots of work and friend holiday get-togethers, that period of time ends up being extremely challenging to make productive. I almost never meet my goals that month.

So lately, I haven’t been setting any goals for that month. If I get writing work done, it’s a great bonus, but it’s not expected. That takes the pressure off, and allows me to refuel and relax, without the guilt of not achieving more. 

2) Forget about the End Goal. 

This may seem counter-intuitive, because if you want to make progress, you ought to know where you want to go, right? But there’s a catch: just having a goal, doesn’t mean it’s attainable. I came across this idea when reading Atomic Habits by James Clear, and it blew my mind, because–ultimately–it’s true: 

“Goal setting suffers from a serious case of survivorship bias. We concentrate on the people who end up winning—the survivors—and mistakenly assume that ambitious goals led to their success while overlooking all of the people who had the same objective but didn’t succeed.

Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.”

–James Clear, Atomic Habits, p.25

You can set any goal you like, but that doesn’t guarantee success. So what does? Here’s where I do a slight bait-and-switch: setting attainable goals is more about establishing trustworthy, dependable habits. I just tend to call my daily habits my daily “goals.”

Creating healthy, productive habits lays the groundwork for achieving your aspirational goals. Focusing on small habits that can be improved upon as they become easier is a great way to make sustainable progress. 

3) Set stupidly small goals. 

One of the ideas behind habit formation in Atomic Habits is “make it easy”: 

“Every action requires a certain amount of energy. The more energy required, the less likely it is to occur. If your goal is to do a hundred pushups per day, that’s a lot of energy! In the beginning, when you’re motivated and excited, you can muster the strength to get started. But after a few days, such a massive effort feels exhausting. Meanwhile, sticking to the habit of doing one push-up per day requires almost no energy to get started. And the less energy a habit requires, the more likely it is to occur.”  

–James Clear, Atomic Habits, p. 152

Achieving smaller goals on a regular basis will be better for your mental health and more motivating than only occasionally achieving one incredibly difficult goal amidst a pile of failures. 

As a personal example: take the week right after school starts, which I routinely see as this huge opportunity to double down and get all the writing done that I didn’t get a chance to work on over the summer vacation. (HAHAHAHA—yeah, no.) Setting smaller goals for those periods makes it more likely that I’ll actually get something done because I won’t be so overwhelmed that I avoid the work altogether, and there’s always a chance I’ll get more done than my goal, which will just feel fantastic.

I did this after Goldbug was born, during those sleep-deprived days of early new babyhood, and it was a lifesaver. I was often too tired to write more than 100 words, but even then, 100 words was doable. So I never felt like time was slipping past, and I never felt like I was falling behind, and I maintained a vital habit of writing regularly. 

If you set a goal for writing 1000 words every day, but you can only hit 200-300 regularly, you’re going to feel like crap. If you set a goal of 100 words a day, to get back up to speed, then hitting 200-300 words will feel much nicer. And that will give you a hit of confidence, rather than a stab of guilt. 

4) Focus your goals on things you control. 

I don’t remember where I encountered this advice, but it was an SF author talking about her yearly goals. Her main point was this: there are a lot of things you can’t control. You can’t control whether you sell a story or not. You can’t control whether you get an agent or not. You can’t control if you get a book contract by the time you’re 35. It’s silly to set those as goals, because achieving those goals lies completely in other peoples’ hands. A magazine editor decides if you sell that story; the agent decides if they want to represent you; a publisher decides if they want to publish your book. 

Other than creating the best damn work you can, you have no say over those decisions. Setting goals based solely on other people’s decisions is a recipe for frustration. Focus on what you can control. What habits will move you towards producing more and better work? What habits will increase your knowledge-base of the field in which you work? What habits will keep you healthy, so you have fewer sick days? 

This puts the focus not on on the end result, but on the process of getting there. Processes can always be improved, daily/weekly/monthly/yearly goals can be gradually and sustainably increased in scope, but the end results are often out of our hands. 

5) Know your foundational habits. 

Even with small, attainable habits/daily goals, there will be times you let things drop. That’s okay! People get sick. Tragedy strikes. Exhaustion happens. The key is to pick yourself back up again as soon as possible. Determine what your baseline habits/daily goals are, the ones you must do in order to feel like the day wasn’t wasted. 

Pick those habits back up first, when you can. For me, that’s 500 words a day, exercising, and using my day planner. When I start missing those, I know I’m not in a good place and need to recalibrate.

As my mother is fond of saying, “Having life-balance isn’t about being perfectly stable on the tightrope; it’s about knowing how to shift your weight and recenter, adjusting to gravity at all times.” 

My core habits/daily goals—just those three—are what I return to whenever life falls apart. Because life is complicated, and it happens. 

^ ^ ^

As perfectionists, we want—obviously—to do more than just “enough.” We want to do the best. The most correct. The most perfect. But perfect can be a trap, too, that stops us from achieving our goals. 

Setting huge goals we can’t achieve doesn’t help us, it hurts us. It makes us live in a cloud of guilt, always feeling like we should be doing more. But there’s only so much time in a day, and over scheduling a day with too many goals can quickly lead to burnout and regret. 

You can always increase the scope of your small goals if they become so easy you never miss them. But there will probably come a time in your life when you’ll have to scale back, too, get back to the basics, make the goals smaller and more achievable. That’s ok. Forward motion is what matters, not the speed. And small, sustainable improvement is worth a lot more than burning out trying to make huge leaps. 

Take it slow. Make small, sustainable goals you know you can reach. When those become so second-nature you never worry about hitting them, increase your goal just a little bit. See if you can sustain that. You may surprise yourself by how much you can get done when you’re being kind to yourself. 

Further reading: This article about Nora Roberts talking about juggling kids and work is brilliant.