Resolutions and the Journey of Life and Writing

When I’m driving you can be sure I’m focused on the road ahead. I see the twists and turns, the potholes in the pavement, the mileage or street signs. I watch for pedestrians, traffic signals, and other vehicles. I don’t do a lot of sightseeing. That’s why, on a longer journey, I enjoy being the passenger, not the driver. I like to check out the scenery.

Of course, if I were the driver I could stop and get out whenever I wanted to take a photograph instead of having to snap through the windshield as scenes whiz past, which is the case when my husband is driving. He’s very focused on reaching our destination in the shortest possible time.

There are many quotations that compare both life and writing to a journey. One comes from Steven Tyler who said, “Life’s a journey, not a destination.” I agree with him, to a point. Life and writing are progressive activities. They are pursuits that should bring us a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Unfortunately, without some kind of goal in mind they are purposeless. I can’t imagine getting into a car and driving for days to nowhere in particular even if I might enjoy the view along the way.

At the start of a new year many people make resolutions that include admirable goals. (I hasten to add that I don’t make resolutions; I don’t like setting myself up for failure and too often lofty goals are unattainable. As I mentioned in a blog post last year, I prefer to have intentions. “Intentions involve more commitment than a wish or desire, but don’t involve a self-inflicted promise. So if I don’t manage to achieve everything I intend, the disappointment won’t be too demoralizing.”)

Setting realistic goals may be more conducive to success, but how do I differentiate between realistic and unrealistic?

Unrealistic goals are usually the ‘someday’ kind… the dreams you have that require an unlikely coincidence or someone else’s intervention before they can possibly come true.  Realistic goals are ones you can make happen without any help. For instance, I might say that some day I’d like to own a racehorse that will win the Triple Crown; or I’d like to write a novel that will be on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Both are possible accomplishments but not from my current position. Both would require a lot of preparatory work but even then would depend on circumstances over which I have no control. On the other hand, owning a top quality, well-conditioned racehorse, or writing a well-crafted novel might be within my sight with the right amount of commitment.

Whatever the task ahead of me, even if it’s something I could do, I may be so overwhelmed at the immensity of it that I’m unable to make a start. To quote Michael Ehret, Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, Small successes build confidence.” Whether it’s major weight loss, finding money for a racehorse, writing a novel or just cleaning the basement, if I break a job down into reasonable components and tackle just one feasible portion at a time, I’m pretty sure I can eventually accomplish the whole project without anyone’s help. I just have to make a start.

It’s ironic that Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know,” yet his writings are the source of much-quoted bits of wisdom. One that I like is: “As long as a man stands in his own way, everything seems to be in his way.”

Another of my favourites is by Mike DeWine: One of the most important things that I have learned in my fifty-seven years is that life is all about choices. On every journey you take, you face choices. At every fork in the road, you make a choice. And it is those decisions that shape our lives.”

And then there is the famous one from Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I could wrap up these mental meanderings in a nice neat summary, but I suspect you get the point.

Do you have a realistic goal in mind for 2011? What steps will you take to achieve it?

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11 thoughts on “Resolutions and the Journey of Life and Writing

  1. christicorbett says:

    Carol,
    I’m so glad I read this post before I made my goals for the new year. I love the distinction between the two different types of goals. In the past, I’ve usually set myself up for failure by setting too lofty of a goal(s)…this year I’ll take your advice.

    Great post!

    Christi Corbett
    http://christicorbett.wordpress.com

  2. I want to finish revising my novel. Whether or not it is ever published, I would like to have the satisfaction of knowing I did my part. There is work to be done, and for whatever reason, I seem to be avoiding it. I can blame my caregiver tasks or my blog, but in my heart I know that I would be working on it if I were not shunning the task. I recognize my procrastination. Perhaps the calendar turning to year 2011 will be a catalyst for me.

    When I was a young mother and had many chores that needed to be accomplished in one day, I would make a list. On the list would not only be the tasks, but beside each one, the hour at which I estimated that I’d begin and finish. In the middle of the list would be a delightful reward time that I would spend doing something special. When I arrived at that reward, if I had accumulated extra time, I would add it into the reward time. Amazingly, I would always get to the reward time with extra time to relax. The rest of the chores were much easier to accomplish when I could look back at all that I’d already accomplished just by honoring my schedule. Small goals, like you suggest, that are easily doable, encourage one to continue on to the finish line of a large project.

    Thank you for an excellent post. Blessings to you…

  3. Hi, Christi. I’m glad you thought my ramblings made sense. (I do tend to go on and on sometimes. LOL) I think most of us get a little carried away when we’re setting goals. There’s something admirable about the lofty ones, but if they aren’t achievable we end up being defeated and worse off than if we hadn’t tackled them at all.

    Carol Ann – You sound like you’ve identified procrastination as a problem, making excuses why you can’t get the revision done. Revisions are harder than the original writing and we often put off unpleasant tasks. Unfortunately, without revision the original writing effort will be wasted because it’s not likely to attract an agent or be ready for publication. If the list idea worked before, you might be more motivated if you broke the process up and made a list of smaller time cells — an hour here and there to read through the story as a whole and draft the major changes it needs; specific weeks or months when you’ll work only on implementing the changes in certain chapters; others when you’ll go through the whole story again just tidying up inconsistencies or embellishing settings and descriptions, and still others when you go through again to catch grammar issues and typos. Before the year is over you may surprise yourself by having the revision completed. I’m sure you can do it. You just need the motivation to get started. 🙂

  4. joylene says:

    You raised some good points, Carol. All the more reason why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Except maybe to be a better person. Self-improvement resolutions aren’t just for New Year’s so they don’t count. LOL. At this stage in my life I hope I’m resolved to live each day to the fullest. Oh, and I hope I get to meet you one day.

    Happy New Year!

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Carol J. Garvin, Carol J. Garvin. Carol J. Garvin said: Are you considering New Year's resolutions? http://wp.me/phaYw-Tf #amwriting and #amtryingtolivemylifewithpurpose […]

  6. Shari says:

    I don’t make resolutions, either, although I do like the energy that comes with the New Year’s sense of a fresh-start! I do review my goals at this time of year, though, and revise them as needed to keep them in line with my long-range goals while still keeping them “realistic”. (There are so many things NOT in my control, and I’d hate to waste my energy and damage my spirit by trying to control them!)

    On the writing front, my number one goal for the upcoming months is to finish, polish, and start querying my WIP. Definitely do-able! 🙂

  7. I don’t make resolutions, either, dear friend. Like you, I set goals. Mine for this year involve publishing at least one article a month, and landing a book contract. And to finish memorizing Psalm 37, of which I am half done!

    Love
    Jen

  8. Joylene – Yes, working on self improvement and having a purposeful life are always timely resolutions. I, too, hope we get to meet, but we have to do more than just *hope* to make it actually happen. Vanderhoof to Maple Ridge is about 850 km. Are you due for a trip to the coast anytime soon? We usually head north sometime in August. Is Williams Lake about the half way point?Surely we can figure out a rendezvous! 🙂

    Shari – There *is* a good feeling about the fresh start of a new year, isn’t there? It makes an ideal time for re-evaluation and rededication to a goal. I like the sound of your writing goal. That should keep you on track!

    Jen – The memorizing definitely sounds doable and a worthwhile goal. I could imagine writing and querying one article a month, and pursuing a contract, but the achieving of both would depend on an editor’s or publisher’s acceptance, and making other people respond as we might want them to isn’t something we have under our control. Here’s hoping all the pieces fall into place for you! 🙂

  9. All the quotes and analogies about paths and roads and destinations speak to me loudest. Love them!

    In 2011 I want to finish my current WIP with record timing, and get an agent.

    Here’s to a wonderful, blessed New Year, Carol!

  10. Laura Best says:

    Yes, I agree with you about the use of intentions instead of resolutions. I didn’t realize that last year we both blogged about this same thing…LOL!

    I almost never share my intentions for the coming year with anyone, maybe I’m just a big chicken that way.

    Happy New Year, Carol! I look forward to reading your posts in 2011.

  11. Janna – You have it in your power to finish that WIP. Then if you can convince an agent to get on board, too, that will be wonderful. Here’s hoping!

    Laura – I’d forgotten we both blogged about Intentions last year, too. The concept makes a lot more sense to me than resolutions. I don’t blame you for not sharing yours… they’re private, and sometimes it’s feels better to keep them that way. I hope 2011 is very good to you. 🙂

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