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by Lynn Wagner
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“– so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Previously I’ve never been much of a goal setter. In my tortured high school years, the Alice in Wonderland quote was a favorite. And yet as the academic calendar turns, I can’t help but think that directed goals–in that business-y mnemonic, SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound — are the way to go.
In my day job there is such a thing as a ‘deliverable,’ which is the government’s way of saying ‘show me.’ That’s time-bound.
For relevance you might think about where your dreams and frustrations collide. I can still remember feeling jealous going to open mic’s in Pennsylvania where a writer with loads of bylines read poems I didn’t appreciate. But guess what, I hadn’t even sent out my work to those journals.
Working backwards brings us to attainable and here is the key. You can’t have on your goal sheet: get an NEA grant, appear in The Atlantic, or write a New York Times best seller because, sadly, these are out of your control. You can, however, write X poem drafts this month, finish revising your short story by [date], and send out X pieces to Y journals this month and every month.
Although I love counting things (ask me the number of drafts since the year 2000, I can tell you that), I think beyond measurable and specific, what we need of goals is commitment and community.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” –No one can tell you that. But once you decide what you want, you can map out the smaller steps that are under your control. And saying our goals out loud and to each other can help. Because really, what I’m afraid of is failure or not being good enough, which I can avoid by having a deliverable that is all about doing [learning, writing, revising, sending out] rather than being [the “best,” most recognized, etc, etc].
It’s a lesson we learn again and again and having friends around to remind of our desires, celebrate our successes and console us in our lapses can help tremendously.
It’s a new year. Where do you want to go? How can the Lighthouse community help?
If it’s learning and producing, there a workshop for that.
If it’s about butt in the chair play and experimenting, how about Friday 500 (starting September 13)?
And always we can come together to cheer each other on at The Draft or just culmination celebrations, such as this Saturday’s Writer’s Buzz toasting Courtney Zenner’s achievements and wishing poet Kim O’Connor well in her fellowship year.
Nowadays I’m talking back to the Cheshire Cat, that deceitful smiler. I don’t want to walk long, aimless and exhausted. I’m ready for a series of serious of smart dashes, where if I slip I’m willing to pick myself up and move on. I’m going to for the goal.