Goals: catalyst or kryptonite? (a post about NaNoWriMo)

Goals are the perfectionist’s kryptonite.

Yeah, I know, quite a statement. But it’s true – at least for me. Some writers thrive on goals, others choke on them. And since NaNoWriMo is all about goals, this might be a good time to assess in what category you belong.

So writers, check in with yourself: goals, catalyst or kryptonite?


First of all: what is NaNoWriMo?

Says Wikipedia:

National Novel Writing Month (also known asNaNoWriMo /ˌnænˈrm/na-noh-RY-moh) is an annual internet-based creative writing project which challenges participants to write 50,000 words of a new novel between November 1 and 30.

The first of November was this last Sunday, so as we speak aspiring writers all across the globe are popping their finger joints and stacking up on coffee and playing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ on repeat. An uplifting notion.

Goalgetters, rejoice!
So why would you participate in this or any other writing challenge? In other words: what’s the use of writing goals*?

*= in this context, I mean quantitative goals, like ‘a 1000 words a day’ or ‘finishing my manuscript three months from now’.

Well, most of us flawed humans are, on a day-to-day basis, lazy and scared and set in our trusted ways. We’re conservatives by nature. We’ll do anything to keep scary, uprooting change from happening. Therefore, for a lot of people, setting a writing goal can be a much-needed kick in the butt. It can tip the scales from ‘boy, I wish I could find the discipline to write every day’ to ‘okay, since I HAVE to have a 1000 words by tomorrow I’ll set my alarm at six and do my writing in the morning’. Dandy! Suddenly you’re an achiever!

So in this case, and that’s important, THE GOAL LOWERS THE PRESSURE. It doesn’t matterwhat you write, just that you are writing. Here’s a handy checklist to see if writing goals can be a catalyst for you:

  • You spend a lot of time on concepts, thoughts and ideas, but little time behind your keyboard.
  • For years, you’ve been toying with the idea of writing, but something else always takes priority.
  • You feel like you never get anything done, or at least, not as much as you would like.
  • You have a hard time finishing stories or manuscripts.
  • You get hung up on writing THE MOST ORIGINAL THING, like, EVER, and you end up weighing every word thrice and getting stuck on page one.
  • You know you’re a slacker by nature.

Goalgetters, beware!
Writing goals are a two-handed sword: setting a goal automatically means that you can fail. No biggie though, right?

Well, here’s the thing. To a perfectionist, at least the kind of perfectionist I am, failure IS a biggie. It’s a huge-ie. It’s a laying-awake-in-the-middle-of-the-night-and-becoming-self-destructive-with-blame-and-guilt-ie. In general, a perfectionist is someone who’s mortally afraid to fail, and pins their entire sense of self-worth on completing (self-set) tasks successfully – and the standard for ‘success’ is usually impossibly high.

(here’s a cool post that explains it perfectly)

So yeah, to me setting a strict and rather far-fetched goal – finish a whole novel in a month, why dontcha? – is really like kryptonite. To me, THE GOAL HEIGHTENS THE PRESSURE. Here’s a checklist to see if this goes for you, too:

  • Once you’ve set a goal, you start feeling nervous and unpleasant, like ‘OMG the clock is ticking!!’. The goal becomes paramount in your thoughts, like a giant roadblock.
  • You always make your to-do-lists too long, telling yourself you’ll feel good if you do half; but you still end up feeling like you should have done it all.
  • Your day is filled with purposeful activities from dawn till dusk.
  • As a writer, you push and push yourself. You don’t let up or ‘go with the flow’.
  • You’re a hard worker by nature. You are super competitive.
  • You feel easily stressed, threatened and/or under pressure.

Finding balance
It’s cool though (to quote Eminem (’cause why not)). I’ve learned to find ways around my choking perfectionism (such as creating an alter ego). I’ve also learned – and am learning – TO BE KIND TO MYSELF. And if I can do it, so can you.

My ‘goal’ for NaNoWriMo
What I want right now is to finish this version of my novel. What I want is to trust that this version is going to be good enough to show to agents. And, most importantly: what I want is to keep my writing as organic and, well, FUN as it is right now.

So what about you??
Any writing goals for November? Feel inspired, or just plain scared? Don’t let NaNoWriMo be your kryptonite, okay? Writing goals can be inspiring and freeing (not to mention a swift kick in the butt) as long as you keep track of why you’re setting the goal in the first place (TO HELP YOURSELF).

So, go forth and be proliferous…and HAVE FUN EVERYONE!!

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Why lowering your expectations is a good thing (sometimes:))


So, I baked a pear pie today.

Not exactly an extraordinary feat, right? Well, maybe for the average person, it isn’t. But when I woke up this morning, I felt so sore and tired, I thought all I’d be able to do was lie in bed and maybe crochet a little. For me, baking that pear pie means I aced my day.

If there’s one thing that being chronically ill teaches you, it’s how to lower your expectations. For the longest time I felt bad about spending whole days in bed, writing and crafting but not being able to, say, get my own groceries – because it wasn’t ‘normal’.
I wasn’t able to let go of normal. I kept comparing myself unfavourably with normal, and falling short. Until one day somebody said: “What if this IS your normal? I mean, societal norms aside, is this life really so terrible?”

And I realized: you know what, it’s not. It may not look like the average life of somebody my age – but it actually feels pretty fulfilling, to me. Letting go of the norm has enabled me to reset my whole idea, all my expectations, of what a good life should be and what it should look like. It has set me free.

This is what they call a blessing in disguise. And it doesn’t just apply to chronically ill people, though it does seem like people who’ve had a lot of adversity in their lives often have an easier time with this lesson. But really, I think this is true for everyone:

Once you let go of your expectations, you discover that anything can be happiness. That’s it. It’s that simple.
An impromptu meetup with old friends in a bar can be happiness. A smile on an elevator can be happiness. Baking a pear pie on a rainy day? Definitely happiness.

PS. It’s delicious. 🙂

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What if your life has no purpose? 2

As I write this, I’m surrounded by crocheted squares, motifs of dubious looking animals, and test pieces. Hopefully they will fall into place sooner or later – except for the animals that look too miserably deformed – and form a big, medieval-inspired tapestry. Which I will then send to Washington, DC to be exposed in an art show my friend is organizing.

Why? Because I can. Because she asked me, and I said ‘I’d love to’.

There is no real purpose to me being a part of this exhibition, and certainly no money – unless the unthinkable happens and I sell my work to a rich lover of deformed animal tapestries.
But then, I never really did it for a purpose to begin with.


Whenever I stumble upon advice for people in their twenties and early thirties, it’s always directed towards a purpose. ‘Create a list of life goals!’ Or ‘list your core qualities and where you’d like to be by the age of thirty-five! Then map out the path to get there!’

(This I can tell you, friends – I am NOT where I wanted to be by the age of thirty-five (I’m only thirty-four, but still. Bear with me).)

I’m not mocking this sort of advice. I think it can be very useful to know where you want to go and how to get there.
But I guess what being chronically ill has taught me, is that to fail miserably with all your life goals, and to not know what your purpose is, and to float around in the world and do stuff left and right just because you feel like it, IS OKAY, TOO.

There is so much pressure on the narratives of our lives. Our lives should be engaging, plot driven stories, if not fairy tales (with the Instagram pics to prove it!). Everything should lead to something else in a way that makes sense – everything should have a purpose.

But what if your life is not a fairy tale? Not even a story? What if it’s no straight line leading perpetually up to bigger and better things, with a prize waiting for you at the end of the graph? What if it’s just a pointless curve, meandering up and down, going nowhere?

I’ll tell you what – YOU’LL BE JUST FINE.

This is what I have found: at any given point on the graph, I can still be right where I am. I can still find joy in that moment. I can still create beauty in that moment. For me, that’s meaning enough.

(And more so: I think being here is making me happier than being where I originally thought I should be by thirty-five.)

What it will lead to? I don’t know. But the wonderful thing is: I no longer NEED to know to live a good, meaningful life.
And so can you.

Even without a purpose.




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Lessons learned from turning thirty-four

Lessons learned from turning thirty-four:

  • You are deep in adult-land now. This means your potluck dinner party will be better, because people will bring actual food.
  • You are deep in adult-land now. This means your potluck dinner party will be worse, because everyone will pass out when the clock strikes ten.
  • Blood is thicker than water. But sometimes water can turn into blood, and blood can temporarily stop flowing. Family ties are cut and rebuilt. Friends drop the ball and other friends move in to pick up the slack. This constant ebb and flow is part of life, and your best bet is to go with it. You can do your best to be honest with your emotions and boundaries. You can make a distinction between the people filling your life, and the people who make you want to live it more. But even if you know exactly who you’d like to keep close, you can’t control things on their end, nor are those things always related to you. People really do come and go.
    At the end of the day, if you put a big long table in your living room…the people sitting down to eat, drink, talk and laugh with you are your real friends. They’re a precious commodity. Keep them well fed, and they might stick around.


  • On that note: In your twenties it’s okay to resent your family or friends and make space to find yourself. Your thirties seem like a good time to make peace again. With them, maybe, but more so with yourself. Residual bitterness is yours alone to carry, and yours alone to let go. That’s what being an adult means: no longer relying on anyone else to be responsible for your emotions. It’s scary, I know. But if you manage it, you’re truly on the path to happiness.
  • The older you get, the more important it is to keep your mind and heart open. Always try to disagree with your own opinion at least once. You might learn something. Also, it’s fun, and people will find you enigmatic. Or hilarious, depending on how well they know you.
  • Age is nothing but a number. As long as your fifty-nine-year-old friend, who was just talking to your thirty-six-year-old boyfriend and your twenty-three-year-old half sister, bakes you apple pies with smiley faces on them, you’re doing something right.


My fabulous mom with her ‘lump’ of a daughter,
as she lovingly called me:).

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Make the world your playground

The other day, on my way to a coaching job, I passed an abandoned building in a busy shopping street. The front yard had gone wild, and was overgrown with raspberries.

I stopped. A lot of the raspberries had ripe fruit on them.

It took me about two seconds to assess whether or not I was going to get caught trespassing, and, if so, would anyone get mad at me. Come the third second, I’d climbed the fence, hunter-gatherer mode on. Soon I was lost in the plants and the feeling of sun on my back.

I’m sure some people saw me. More than one shopper probably wondered what a grown up, moderately normal-looking woman was doing jumping a fence and hunting for strawberries.
But I didn’t really care – because I never looked up to check.

raspberry-handAND I was only three minutes late!

I’m not trying to paint myself as a free-spirited wild child here; I’ve got anxieties coming out the wazoo and the closest to cool I’ve ever come is standing in front of the fridge.

But the one thing I did manage to cultivate over the years is an attitude of childlike curiosity. I often feel independent of what ‘normal’ people are doing, or thinking, the way a child’s perception is independent of that of his or her parents. Not that I can’t think like an adult if I have to; it’s just that I can also shift.

The great thing about a child’s perception is – the whole world becomes your playground! A dumpster is an exciting  resources bank. A store bought pepper a seed saving experiment. Metal fence? Drum kit. Candy wrapper? Origami crane. Distant relative’s wedding? Opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with a dog.

When you look at the world like a child, everything becomes so light, so playful. Humans are playful! But the context we give ourselves to be human in – all those complicated social codes – can be very stifling. What if we trained ourselves to drop the act once in a while?

I’m not saying ALL of the time – after all, the adult in me made sure I wouldn’t get fined for trespassing, and that I was still on time for my appointment. Pretty handy, having that one around. But how about occasionally shifting perspectives? How about occasionally doing something just for fun, or to see what happens?

Next time you get handed a flyer, make a paper plane. Next time you get groceries, buy something you’ve never cooked with before, or engage in a shopping cart race. Next time you pass a park, sit down on a bench for no reason, and watch the dogs chase each other around.

Next time you see a ripe raspberry – pick it.

Have a lovely day:).

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