Quarterly Retrospective : A Word on Goals

As the last quarter of the year approaches, I’ve been thinking about goals; how far I’ve come vs. where I’d hoped to be. . .  I have a complicated relationship with goals.  The thing is, I’ve never been particularly goal oriented.  Whenever I’m asked that question in a job interview, where do you see yourself in five years?, I usually give a bullsh*t answer because I never, ever know.

I do better with the small things.  I’m great at making lists of small, short range tasks and crossing them off one-by-one.  No problem.  It’s the bigger picture things that trip me up.  (Why, oh why, couldn’t it be the other way around?)

So I set goals with a bit of trepidation, especially goals that I can’t reach within 12-24 hours, any longer than that and I get all squeamish and squirmy.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to think about the possibilities of where my reading adventure will take me, discovering new books and authors, becoming more adept at thinking and writing about what I’ve read.  That’s what propels me to set goals and to make lists.  But sometimes I feel like it also sets me up for disappointment.  I inevitably overshoot.

I look at my Books Read list and I think, “That’s it?  28 books.  That’s all I’ve read?”  I can’t help but feel a little let down by that number, even though I tell myself all the time that it’s not about numbers.  I tell myself that I don’t want to rush through the books on my list without giving them the time and thought that they demand, but at the same time I want to be further along.  I want to understand Nabokov’s linguistic tricks, the philosophy in Dostoevsky, the realism of Henry James, the complex characterizations of Balzac.  I want to have seen Willa Cather’s American frontier and experienced the adventures of Alexandre Dumas.  I know all of that takes time, but . . . .

I get impatient.  I start to worry that my life is going to take some complicating turn and that I’ll have to abandon my literary quest for something else.  I get reader’s panic.

Now before I turn all “pitty-pat” as my mother says (don’t ask), I have also surprised myself so far this year.  Though my list is shorter than I hoped it would be by this point, it’s comprised almost entirely of classic books.  I am proud of that.  I’m still plugging along through Leaves of Grass, with no doubt that I’ll be able to finish it by the end of the year.   I’m proud of that too.

Considering I’m not all that goal oriented and that stick-to-itiveness is not my best feature, I’m pretty darn amazed I’m still churning out posts on this blog.  Every Book and Cranny has evolved over the last three quarters of the year, even though it’s still not quite what I would like for it to be.  I *think* my writing and my depth of thought about the books I’ve read has improved some too, even though those aren’t where I’d like them to be either.

I do remember that this is a process (perhaps I should remind myself more often).  And it’s a process that is better than the alternative – abandonment.  At this point I can’t imagine that.      The books that I have experienced have meant so much to me.  It’s difficult to explain.  I often come across posts from bloggers who talk about how much their reading has meant to them.  They talk about how books have soothed their souls, made them more complete, more alive, more fully who they are.  What does that mean?  It all sounds so illusive, doesn’t it?  Yet, there’s no easy way to explain how books can wriggle their way into our lives and become something we can’t live without.

But that’s exactly how I feel too.

It would be easier to just put a book back on the shelf and cross it off a list, but would it be as fulfilling?  Writing, as I’ve learned (at least for me), is hard work.  It’s a process that baffles, confounds, and frustrates me.  But even when the results are less than stellar, I feel better off for having put myself through the process.  And it gets a teensy weensy bit easier each time I do it.

So, saying “damn it all” to overshooting and fear of disappointment, here are some writing goals I’d like to work on over the remaining months of this year:

1.  Interject more personality into my blog : I’ve found that this lends a greater degree of readability to posts, when a writer has a distinctive voice that consistently comes through. I’ve started to explore this with some of my more recent posts, but I’d like to maintain a more personal, conversational style.

I’m Nicki, by the way.  Nice to meet you.  There’s step one.  :)  I’ve realized that since my picture is on this blog, it’s a bit silly not to reveal my first name!

2.  Post more than my final thoughts about a book : Including things like background information on the book/author as well as the cultural and historical context.  A good example is a post that I saw today on Aesop to Oz, where she posted pictures of fashion, homes, maps, and historic events to provide context for reading Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.   Those are the kind of things that can really help breathe life into a story and an author.

3. Post more often : This could be a toughie.  I don’t know what it’s like for the rest of you, but blogging takes me forEVER.  I tell myself it’s about quality and not quantity but I often have lots of post ideas rolling around in my head that never actually get published for no other reason than not sitting down to do it.    Maybe with more practice, it will take less time.  It’s all about practice.  Practice, practice, practice.

I’m sure I’ll think of more.  That’s what I do.  That’s what this is about, isn’t it?  Reading, writing, learning, and getting better.

ooh, I already thought of another one -

4. Promote more discussion :  How do you feel about setting goals? :)

&&&

logoTo continue with my “Quarterly Retrospective,” over the last week of September I’ll be posting a series of three  “Summer of . . .” posts.  It seems that I’ve been consumed by a few things over the past few months.  Here’s  a preview of the topics . . .

-Summer of My Scandalous Novel

-Summer of My Dorie Greenspan : a cookbook review

-Summer of My Ingmar Bergman (my summer in films)

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12 thoughts on “Quarterly Retrospective : A Word on Goals

  1. I love all your goals for the remainder of 2011. I feel exactly like you do: I need short-term goals. It’s SO HARD to stick to long term plans, and that gets discouraging. As to the number of books you’ve read this year, it’s about quality, not quantity, I think. How will you feel if you spend five years reading a thousand books and then cannot remember what you thought, by the end of them, or even if you did think? Literature’s greatest asset, I think, is it’s benefit to make us think. We should none of us skip that part.

    • How will you feel if you spend five years reading a thousand books and then cannot remember what you thought, by the end of them, or even if you did think? Literature’s greatest asset, I think, is it’s benefit to make us think. We should none of us skip that part.

      Exactly! I try to remind myself of this when I get discouraged. I feel so much more edified and enlivened by what I read when I take the time to reflect on it – and often my opinions, initial impressions, and judgments about a book change upon closer examination. I see things that I missed as I was reading. It’s such a valuable process.

  2. Adding personality into the blogging world…interesting, interesting. I think I do that by accident just because I’m not trying to be a complete Nazi when it comes to structure in posts. Some people get a bit too bogged down in formalities….it’s a blog, not a novel!

  3. I AM goal-oriented and I hate that interview question! I guess I like my goals short term, because the only time I’ve ever seen that far down the road, I was a college freshman in a 5-year major program. In general, though, I get so much pleasure out of creating a big long list of goals, that I almost prefer to overshoot, even though I know I won’t get through everything. Sort of like getting five books from the library when I know I only have time to read three.

    I too have difficulties with number 3 on your list. Even when I sit down to write something, it can take me forever to get it finished. In terms of quantity, it also doesn’t help that I’ve barely had time to read much at all this year for “fun.” (Hopefully changing soon!) Good luck with your goals!

    • Like you, I also enjoy making lists. When I made my “Reading Through the Centuries” list a few months ago – it was so exciting! And even during the process I tried to remember that it wasn’t about enforcing a time limit. I realize that it might take me the rest of my life – though I hope it won’t. :) But actually it probably will – because there will always be more books to add to it. And we can’t read everything, right?

      I’m hoping that #3 will get easier with time. I don’t know. I don’t always know what I want to say until I start saying it – which means there’s a lot of going back and revising and rewriting. As Shannon mentioned in her comment, not only are we “writers” but readers too, and reading takes time. So it’s a double whammy.

  4. Thanks for sharing my link!
    I have some of the same goals as you. Balancing personality and content in my writing is definitely one of them. In the past, I’ve been too much about ‘the facts’ but I now realize the writer’s voice is what makes a blog, at least I think so.
    I would love to post more often too but it’s so hard. Reading takes time, not like other blog topics where there is a constant stream of information available

    • I agree with you on the importance of the “writer’s voice.” It can be difficult to make connections in a faceless community, so when a blogger has a distinctive voice and really lets their personality rise to the top, it makes all the difference.
      You’re so right – blogging about books is different from other kinds of blogging where writers can just publish what pops into their head. You have to actually take the time to read and consider a book before you can have anything to say about it.

  5. At least you have been able to keep up with your list! I have two lists on my blog – Books 2011 and Movies 2011 and I just can’t seem to remember to add new movies and books to the list!

    Great recap of your quarter and goals for the future. I am going through some blog soul searching as well, what’s the direction, how can I get more readers/comments, is my content to broad, interesting enough, etc., etc. I’ve decided that my number one goal is to do a better job of this – commenting on others blog. After years of being involved in internet fandom, I’ve become a lurker. The only way to encourage more comments on my blog is to do likewise on others (like yours!). It helps that I’m discovering lots of great like minded bloggers like you.

    Also, as a former recruiter, we ask that question just to make you squirm. ;)

  6. I have a bad habit of lurking too. :) That is also something that I am trying to put more effort into. Reading, writing, and blogging alone takes a lot of time – when you add reading other posts and commenting into the mix, it can be downright overwhelming. When you find like-minded readers and build connections though – it’s worth the effort and really enhances the whole experience.

    Oh and by the way, I don’t think I’ve ever commented on any of your BSG posts, but I am a HUGE Battlestar Galactica fan! :)

  7. Hi Nicki,

    So much of your post sounds soooo familiar to me, as I struggle with many of the same issues. It takes me “forever” to write a post as well, which I think leads me, in my haste, to often publish something that likely isn’t quite ready and could use more proofing or revision. I will say that, of the blogs I read regularly, your posts generally feel more polished or “finished” than most. Often (as with my blog probably) the post feels more like a draft than a finished product.

    Your post also reminds me of a rule of thumb I’ve encountered often. I’ll paraphrase it as “we always tend to OVERestimate what can be accomplished in the short term, but UNDERestimate what can be accomplished in the long term.” I have found this to be true, and I should say I share your enthusiasm for lists and planning but usually fail in the arena of short term goal achievement. :-)

    Don’t worry about the raw number of books you compete either, but if you must worry about a raw number, add some short stories to your plans (as I usually do) and beef up your count that way without literally (literarily?) cheating.

    -Jay

  8. Hi Jay,
    I’m glad I’m not the only one who takes forever to write a post! Your quote is SO true. I see evidence of that so often in what I do. I guess when I’m “planning” things never seem like they’re going to take as long as they actually do.
    I’m not usually too concerned with #s, but when I decided to assess my progress before this last quarter, I was a little shocked that the # was so low because I feel like I’m always reading. I’m kind of a slow reader so I know that’s a factor too.
    I definitely want to explore some short stories! Over the next few months I hope to take in a few from Gogol, Hardy, and Poe.
    Thanks for the encouragement. :)
    Cheers!

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