Feeling stuck? Reconnect your values.

by Helen J. Darling
published in Community

Whether you choose to publish traditionally or independently, aligning your goals and intentions with your values can help you persevere in your writing practice.

How is 2020 treating you? Are you doing okay? Staying hydrated? Healthy, I hope? The year has not, on the whole, been kind to us, and if you’re anything like me your writing practice floundered more than once, or perhaps you failed to meet goals you set earlier in the year. If this year taught me anything, it’s that I can’t control outcomes, only process. In trying to manage process, I’ve discovered that aligning my goals and intentions with my values not only brings new meaning to my writing practice, it also helps me persevere when I hit a rough patch.

So much of publishing is out of our control. 

You write the best book you can, but if you’re traditionally published, you may be querying agents, or you may have an agent who’s shopping your manuscript around. Those waiting games are hard. If you’re self-published, you may publish your book to a high professional standard but struggle to market the book. In either route to publication, the book may not sell the way you hope. You can’t always control that. Then, things like pandemics or other disasters upend even best-formulated strategies. 

But connecting your goals and daily practices to your values can give you the juice to persevere. If you set goals in January that dictate, “I’m going to get an agent and publish my first book this year,” or “I’m going to sell 10,000 copies of my latest novel,” when you collect your seventy-fifth rejection letter from an agent or sell half as many books as you hoped, the negative voices in your head may derail your efforts. Instead, consider the values that bring meaning to your work and reorient your efforts toward them. 

Maybe you value creativity, or community, or sharing voices and experiences that don’t often get heard.

 Try reframing your goal: “Because I care about living a creative life, I will research and query 100 agents who represent the kind of writing I produce.” If you set intentions (kind of a daily mini-goal) that derive from those values–“I intend to find a way to serve my creative needs today, regardless of what the day throws at me,” or “I care about telling a story about people who are often overlooked, and intend to give time to that project today,”–it can give you the nudge that helps you push through your writer’s block or carve out time in your lunch hour to write instead of goofing off on Twitter. 

Ideally, goals and intentions work hand-in-hand. The goals (especially SMART ones) define specific destinations and steps to get there. Intentions give you not only the flexibility and personal compassion you may need to help you through the daily grind, but connect you deeply to the reasons why you’re working towards those goals in the first place. When the outcomes get thrown in the garbage, the process can validate the work you may otherwise feel you’ve wasted. But–not coincidentally–people who align their goals and intentions with their values tend to realize them over those who don’t, and report a stronger sense of well-being. 

Connecting the dots

This year, I wrote all my SMART goals on index cards that I posted to a bulletin board behind my writing space. I see them every time I sit down to write. I’ve accomplished four, and am on track to accomplish another four, but two goals–both related to managing the business side of my publishing life–need my attention. By reconnecting to the value behind those goals–mitigating the stress that I otherwise suffer when I can’t put off those tasks any longer–I’m reminded that I’m not just being a bullying boss to myself. The goal is actually rooted in my own self-care. That reminder helps me to set an intention: I will remember this task I dislike is structured to save me weeks of drudgery. That nudges me to take five minutes now that I’ll be glad I took at the end of the year, when I want to be doing fun things. 

Process is in our control; outcome is not. That’s why setting goals and intentions rooted in personal values matters so much. Connecting those goals to your values will validate your work in spite of the sideways turns your journey to those goals may take.

Helen J. Darling

Helen J. Darling writes and publishes contemporary women’s fiction at her imprint, Bricolage Books. She published her first novel, I’ll Know Me When I Find Me, in January 2018. Her latest novel, Terms and Conditions, was published in November 2019. You can connect with her at itshelendarling.com, on Instagram, Twitter and on Facebook. 

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