Thursday, May 29, 2008

Goals and Priorities

Recently, one of my practicing writer friends, in what I'm sure was an effort to be helpful (since I was rambling on about various writing-related ideas and projects), asked me what my priorities are. I was stumped. Goals, I have a-plenty. But what are my priorities? And isn't it possible that I need to identify them (the priorities) in order to accomplish those goals?

Here's what I mean. According to the dictionary, a goal is "the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end." My writing goals have changed over time. When I was applying to MFA programs seven-plus years ago, for example, I wanted to see the novel I was working on then published. And I wanted a tenure-track job teaching creative writing. Now, those goals are simply not among my priorities.

Which is to say, they are not things "given special attention"; they do not have "the right to precede others [as in, other goals], in order, rank, privilege, etc."; they do not have "the right to take precedence in obtaining certain supplies [like my time and attention], services, facilities, etc., especially during a shortage." Between my full-time "day job" and my family involvements at the moment--two priorities that are without question at the top of my day-to-day mental list--and a couple of non-writing goals that should probably be priorities (like exercising more often and eating more nutritiously and exploring more fully all that New York has to offer), there is indeed a "shortage" of resources I can devote to my writing goals.

Clearly, I'm more committed to my current writing activities and projects than I am to that abandoned novel and job search. What's not so clear to me is how I should prioritize all the pieces of my writing life, both those already under way (like trying to place the story collection many agents and independent presses have already turned down [most recently, last week]; maintaining this blog and the Practicing Writer newsletter; writing and revising new poetry and prose and submitting that work, etc.) and those goals that are still nothing more than ideas in my head (like creating some particular new resources for other writers and acquiring the skills and expertise to run my own small press, for starters).

Any tips? How do you prioritize your goals? This practicing writer needs to know!


Sarah Yost said...

good question. I make lots of lists, often repeating the same items in an effort to continually revisit what's important. It's just so easy to get distracted by the day to day. If I'm not careful I can get mired in busyness without actually working toward what's important.

Anonymous said...

A good friend and very successful writer came to visit one weekend. He said, "Oh Good! We can spend all day tomorrow writing together!" I thought of everything I had to do and replied, "Ah, yeah, great." HE spent the day finishing his next book while I accomplished 1,000 necessary evils. At the end of the day he said to me, "When are you going to stop this?"

It took me a year, but I stopped. I unencumbered myself of everything I was doing that took time from my writing. My fun and rewarding volunteer job, my lovely garden, having the perfectly clean house. I am much happier ( because I could never do it all as well as I wanted anyway ) and much more focused. Thanks for reminding me there are more steps I could takein the process. To Writing!

deonne said...

My birthday is Sunday, which makes me even more introspective than usual, and I'm thinking about what kind of life I want in general. (For me it's focused on writing and traveling.) That clarified focus has led to a 3-year plan which includes goals like getting an MFA (I start this fall), connecting with local mag editors in NY to generate a stream of freelance work (what I've done for the last seven years out west), etc. So I guess it took clarifying my life focus before I could get to goals.

Erika, I'm curious as to why you abandoned the goal of publishing a novel?

Rion Amilcar Scott said...

I just come up with a few goals, file them away in my head and go about my life. Every once in a while I review my list and see which ones I've accomplished and which ones I need to keep working on. It works for me. I accomplish most of the things I've filed away (getting an MFA...etc.) I wouldn't recommend it though. I'm interested in seeing how long this "system" works for me.

Erika D. said...

Thanks for all the comments! And Deonne, happy birthday! It will take me awhile to put together a coherent response to your question about the novel. Check back next week--I think I'll post about it on the blog. Thanks for asking.

Susan B. said...

You ask the hard question! It seems that when I'm not writing, I think I ought to be...and yet, often when I am, I catch myself worrying about all the other things I think I ought to be doing.

I suppose it's useful to think of priorities as being goal-driven. For example, I'm working on a book now that I very much want to see through to publication. This means I have suspended, for the time being, other, smaller writing activities.

Those of us in the later decades of life tend to see time as much more finite. If I can let go of the silly guilt stuff I mentioned above, then prioritizing often feels to me like a winnowing process. It's easier to blow away the chaff.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered your blog.
I like it....thanks.

Terry Finley

Erika D. said...

Thanks for the additional comments!