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Writing Goals: Should We All Just Shut The Hell Up?

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals is out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

So, Monday! The schedule says ‘A very long blog post’. Let’s see how that goes… 

This morning – it’s Sunday, I’ve brought the laptop into bed and I am armed with a vat of freshly brewed coffee – I planned on writing a year-in-review style blog post, one that looked back over the year I finally, after years and years and years of dreaming about it, got published. Except it would have a twist: instead of rehashing all the stuff you know about already (my book launch, the Irish Book Awards, etc.), I’d write about the quieter moments, the ones you don’t know about, like the simple tweet from a random reader that reduced me to tears it made me feel so good, or the Book Awards moment that had nothing to do with the ceremony itself where I was… Actually, come to think of it, a lot of these quieter moments involved tears. But anyway.

I’m not writing that post now. I’ll write that one for Wednesday instead. This morning, I want to blog about not blogging. To share some thoughts on not sharing. To wonder whether or not, when it comes to our writing, we should all just shut the f–k up.

Stay with me here.

I started off half an hour ago typing “A Look Back at 2016, The Year I Got Published” into the title box. I thought about how this blog was born at the beginning of 2010, and how many Januarys I sat down to write a New Year blog post, and how this was the first year I was finally able to say that the one thing I’ve wanted to happen in my life, my dream since I was eight years old, actually happened.

And I wondered what I had said all those other years.

So I went and had a quick look.

I could make a big long list of all the things I want to happen in 2011, all my goals and resolutions and dreams and plans and intentions, but really they all rest on just one thing: I want to get a novel published. It may seem naive to think that this will happen to me, what with the awful odds, etc., but what’s the point of even trying if you don’t believe that you can? You have to believe that you can do it. You have to have confidence in yourself, without being a crazy X-Factor auditionee.

from Happy New Year: What Do You Want to Happen in 2011?, January 2011

Forget, for a minute, the submissions and the query letters and the manuscript formatting and the e-books and the author platforms and the workshops and the word counts and the beta readers and the advances and what the Randy Penguin merger will mean for your writing dreams and your favourite authors. FORGET ALL THAT FOR A SECOND. Or try to. And think instead of what this about, what this is really about, why we want to be writers and entertain readers and see our names on the spines of books. It’s because we want to tell stories. And that, more than anything, is what I’m going to try to keep in mind this year.

from Plans and Goals and Stuff, January 2013

I read Commander Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth just after Christmas, and Hadfield’s take on chasing dreams is wonderful: if you take pride in the every day work you do towards them, if you do everything within your control that will get you closer to your goals on a daily basis and you take pleasure and pride in that effort, you will be happy — even if the dream or goal never materializes, or doesn’t for a long time… [Hadfield] did everything he could to prepare for the opportunity to fly in space should it arise, and enjoyed every minute of it. Then, when his dream did come true, it wasn’t a relief but a bonus.

from A New Year, A New Routine (Or, The Problem With Goals), January 2014

Now, at first glance, you might think to yourself, Catherine gives good January. But I’ve pulled the good bits. These posts – and countless other ones in the archives just like them – are filled with me saying I’m going to work harder. I’m going to get up early. I’m going to write every day. I’m going to do x, y and z to finish project a, b and c and I’m going to do it by this date. I go on and on and on about all the things I’m going to write, how I’m going to write them and when I’m going to write them by, and this is a on-going theme all throughout the SEVEN years thus far of this blog.

But I never ended up doing any of things I swore I was going to do.

Yes, I finished a novel, but the time it took me to write it was 5% actual writing time and 95% moaning about how I should be writing. What if I had just stayed quiet? What if I’d just put my head down and got to writing? Did a constant reaffirming of my goals – on this blog, in various diaries, to my writing friends – get me anywhere, or did it just waste more time?

The hardest working writer I know never talks about her plans in advance. She just does it, emerging every few months to have a coffee with me and tell me what project she’s just finished. Another writing friend who is easily producing a book a year is the same. Both of them also have blogs, but their blogs aren’t a wasteland of ‘New Year, New Me, New Goals’ style posts. I, meanwhile, talk all the time about my To Do list, and yet Book 2 took so much longer to get out of my head than I thought it would. Am I talking too much? Talking about writing doesn’t get any writing done, but we do it because it’s so much easier than writing and it feels like it helps. But does it? Should we all just shut the fudge up and get back to writing?

There is another side to this, and it’s that I genuinely feel that when I read about other people’s writing goals/plans/strategies, it actually does help me. I mean, who hasn’t re-read Stephen King’s On Writing every now and then just for a shot of motivation?  I find Rachel Aaron’s From 2k to 10k (just 99p on Kindle) to be the ultimate commercial fiction writer’s pep talk. This post by Chuck Wendig, Here’s How To Finish That F**king Book, You Monster grabbed me by the shoulders and shook some much-needed sense into me this past week. (Thanks Hazel!)

I guess the difference is between writing blog posts about writing – after the writing is done – and announcing to the world what word count I hope to be at in six months’ time because I think that will bring some accountability and therefore help me get it done. The first one is good, the second one bad. Because it doesn’t help. And therefore writing that – when you could’ve been adding words to your novel – is a waste of time.

As I read over all my previous New Year posts, what I mostly felt was angry. Angry at Past Catherine – at 2012 Catherine, at 2013 Catherine, etc. – for not doing what she said she was going to do. And I felt like if maybe she had spent a little less time blogging about goals, new routines, To Do lists, etc. she might have achieved a bit more, and achieved it a lot quicker. This isn’t me being hard on myself, by the way, but realistic. I could’ve had three novels written in the last three years if I’d put my mind to it. (I know this because in the summer, I wrote three 2,500-word academic essays in almost exactly 24 hours, stopping only for an hour-long nap, and I got good marks on all of them. I can be a writing machine when I need to be, so long as there’s coffee around and horrible consequences breathing down my neck.)

Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about not blogging. I’ll never stop doing that, because I love it and might go insane without it. I’m talking specifically about not writing posts like this and then going off to watch The OA on Netflix, twice. (Because the truth is, that new routine I implemented? It lasted maybe three weeks.)

I guess what all of this is leading to is some advice from me: log-off, do the work, then come back online and tell us how you did it. NaNaWriMo aside, it’s probably best to write your book in private.

Does that make sense? (I have only had one coffee.) What do you think? How do you treat your writing goals on your blog, if you blog? (Or on Twitter, Facebook, over coffee with writing friends, etc.) Let me know in the comments below…

Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!


Your 732nd reminder: Distress Signals is out in paperback in Ireland and the UK now! If you’ve read it already, hunt down someone you know who likes thrillers and tell them that my rent is very, very high. (Or that you liked it, if you did. You know, whatever works.) If you have no idea what I’m talking about and you’re not quite done with your procrastination yet today, you can find out more about Distress Signals here.

25 thoughts on “Writing Goals: Should We All Just Shut The Hell Up?

  1. jenanita01 says:

    Congratulations on finally getting there, and I shall be checking out ‘Distress Signals’ as I love a good thriller. Interesting post about the quandary of being an author/blogger. Not sure there are good ways and bad ways to do it, we have to do what we feel, and it isn’t always sensible. Not in my house, any way!

  2. Sylvia ( says:

    Yes, Yes, Yes. I find telling me you have achieved, x in y time, motivating. So many goals are really wish lists, they are out of our control. Writing every day is in our control, almost – other things like health and family are more important. I find writing not too difficult (is it any good, is another matter) but finding the time is. Why? Because writing is not a high priority, it doesn’t generate any finance or contribute to my family. So will I achieve the first draft of my novel by the end of the year, possibly! Thank you for a really interesting post.

  3. Karen Clarke says:

    This post spoke directly to me as I’ve also wasted A LOT much time planning what I’m going to do without actually doing it, until – as you so eloquently put it – horrible consequences are breathing down my neck. And even though I now know I CAN be incredibly productive, it still only seems to happen as the deadline looms. I’ve decided to accept that’s just the way I work, and to stop beating myself up about it – but I no longer blog about goals, and lists etc. because I probably just look like a fool 🙂 (although, like you, I love reading about other people in the same boat, which is confusing!)

    Loved your book, can’t wait for the next one.

  4. jolambertwriter says:

    I had planned to begin my new WIP last week but I’ve been caught up with this virus thingy. Deadlines are good and bad. Last year I plotted my projected word count through 2016 and hit my target. I usually raise my head above the parapet on occasions not to tell everyone how it’s going but rather to let them know I’m still alive and enjoying a relatively normal existence. You can fall into a big hole, blogging how well the story is going but then if you hit those becalmed waters of writer’s block and a post is due, what do you tell everyone? Yes, I agree, it’s much better to talk about your journey after you’ve reached your destination. Looking forward to reading Distress Signals…

  5. Nancy Christie says:

    I agree with what you wrote, especially “I guess the difference is between writing blog posts about writing – after the writing is done – and announcing to the world what word count I hope to be at in six months’ time because I think that will bring some accountability and therefore help me get it done. The first one is good, the second one bad. Because it doesn’t help. And therefore writing that – when you could’ve been adding words to your novel – is a waste of time.”
    While I do a fair bit of blogging (especially with four blogs!), the content is primarily interviews with other writers, with inspirational words, writing prompts and a few “how-to” posts thrown in for good measure. But I don’t like to talk about my works-in-progress, preferring to wait until I have something significant to report (an endorsement or review, acceptance from a publisher, a release date or appearance). I’d rather put my time and energy into DOING the work, instead of TALKING about my plans for doing the work.
    Good luck on your book!

  6. Robert Sieger says:

    Being an American, my days are filled with distractions and excuses! This has to be the one post that really hit home for me! Thanks for saying what needed to be said!! Bravo!!

  7. Joel D Canfield says:

    Short answer: yes. I took a deep dive into the research behind this marvelous TED talk, and ever since, I’ve stopped telling people (including myself) all my great plans. Instead, I just go do the thing, every day.

  8. Lene says:

    If there’s one thing I have realized over the last six years of writing books, it’s that moaning about writing is part of the process. Writing isn’t just about sitting down in front of your computer and getting the words out. Writing is kicking the baseboards while the back of your brain percolates, it’s talking about writing so you will motivate yourself to do it when it’s a slog. It’s talking with others (or blogging) about writing because that gives you ideas and makes you excited about writing, which helps when you are sitting alone in front of the computer and every part of you wants to go play instead of doing the work. And yes, perhaps having a more balanced percentage between the writing and the moaning is ideal for all of us, but I think that spending time being frustrated at what we didn’t do in the past is a waste of time. And it takes valuable energy away from writing! 🙂

  9. Sherrey Meyer says:

    Right on, Catherine! I needed this right now, today, well yesterday too. If I added up all the posts I’ve written about goals and projects and what I am going to do along with all the books I’ve read about how to do this, that, the other, and another, I could have written three, maybe four books, including the one I’ve been working at (note the word “at” used instead of the word “on”) since 2006 when I retired. Yes, almost 11 years ago I started this project. Of course, I could subtract from those years two spinal fusions, one major foot/leg surgery, two thumb restructurings, two eye surgeries (cataracts), and a fall last January that’s still healing up. Oh, well, I really need to stop telling you how much I needed this and get to work…writing, editing, and revising my memoir. Thanks so much, Catherine, for speaking your heart and opening mine up to what I really want to do, WRITE!

  10. EDC Writing says:

    Agree … I’ve looked back and deleted posts ( well almost) where I’ve said I’ll do this and that by when … all amount to nothing … until I get something done and published.

  11. Melissa Stacy says:

    I think it depends on who you’re talking to. Personally, I need a combination of both: talking to people who push me and challenge me, force me to grow in new ways with my writing and my personal beliefs, and quiet time without distraction when I focus solely on craft. As much as I just prefer to be a hermit and write in isolation, real life is constantly taking that away from me, and I just have to roll with it, all the time. It’s not a science. Just an imperfect mess that still manages to get the job done.

  12. Dodie Frances says:

    I’ve found that setting my goals out loud is helpful, at least for where I am at with my writing now. I have always been quiet about wanting to be a writer, but recently I have been talking about it more, and posting about it on the internet. Not only does this mean I have friends checking in on my progress, holding me accountable, but it also helps me to believe that it is a realistic goal. I’m not just thinking to myself ‘One day, I want to write a book…’ I have told the world that that is what I am going to do. So I’m damn well going to do it. 🙂

  13. Sarah Potter Writes says:

    I think that to declare a goal on your blog, means that you’ll have egg on your face if you don’t at least try your hardest to achieve it. If you don’t, fine, then you can admit that, too, and say that you’re going to try something else that might work better. I find your blog really inspiring, because you have shared the ups and downs of your journey and now we can see the results of your hard work and perseverance, so we know that success is possible.

  14. therenotthere says:

    Hooray! Yes! Well said! I think this is a trap we all fall into. It’s so much easier to write goals than write books. For years, I’ve not written any goals because they can be another means of procrastination. And like you said, you look back and say, “Didn’t achieve this…I totally suck. I’m a slacker!” when in fact, maybe you weren’t slacking at all. (You were just–perhaps–working on a different project.)

    I’m off to share this with my critique partners, the goal-writing (and achieving, damn them!) freaks that they are. 😉

  15. cherylsterling1955 says:

    Yes, goal setting is important, but B.I.C. is more important. The only way I can motivate myself to finish the work (starting is easy) is to write it down, get to work and have an accountability partner. Without the specter of Mary (or Kim) hanging over me, expecting a daily word count email, I’d put off writing over and over. Truthfully, they probably don’t care, but my perception of their caring outweighs inertia.
    Thanks for the post.

  16. Brandilyn Gilbert says:

    Love this counterpoint to all the writing goal posts out there! While having accountability groups can help, I find too much posting about and talking about vague goals like, “I’m going to write more after work,” or “I’m going to make blogging a bigger priority,” has the effect of making me FEEL productive without actually BEING productive. And you get the rewarding, “Go you!”s without having to actually do anything. So I agree–sometimes not declaring the goals and telling yourself you’re only going to announce publicly what you’ve achieved, can be a whole lot better for actually getting ish done.

    Thank you for the post!

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