The Power of Stretch Goals to Help You Fail

Most of us who have spent any time in corporate America are familiar with SMART goals. Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Relevant. Time-Based.


Or to look at them and laugh while you pour yourself a glass of wine

Nanowrimo meets all of these, and many of us writers have adopt this as our goal at least once a year during Nanowrimo.

For those not familiar, Nanowrimo is the month of November and writers strive to write fifty-thousand words in thirty days. There are support groups to help us get there. Most writers ask spouses to help out with more around the house during the month. I’ve even heard of people pre-making suppers for a month so they can focus on writing.

But what about the other eleven months of the year? In Nanowrimo what we should all be striving for? Isn’t the purpose of the month to show us the pace of a professional writer?

Before we all take up the fifty-thousand words a month goal, here are seven reasons why stretch goals can sometimes make you fail:

  1. You don’t consider your resources –  How many hours a day do you actually have to write? If we assume you sleep seven hours a night, that leaves seventeen hours. Most of us have day jobs, that include a commute. That leaves seven hours. Still, sounds like a lot. Until you remember those seven hours also include exercising, helping the kids with their homework, making dinner, showering, spending time with your spouse, etc. Maybe an hour a day is still realistic, maybe it isn’t. But it’s something to think about.


  1. Focused on Short Term – You might set a short term goal, like Nanowrimo, but what is the cost of achieving the goal? How is your family going to respond to mac & cheese every night (my toddler excluded)? Once you’ve gone down this route, how long does it take to rebuild support from your spouse? The last thing you want is your cheering section at home to become another obstacle you face. Don’t believe me? Imagine if one of your co-workers came to you and said they were taking on a special project, and as such, you’d be expected to stay and work unpaid overtime for the next month.


  1. Focus Exclusively on the Goal –   If you focus exclusively on word count, you can miss other areas that are import. Like editing. Plotting. Character development. Spending a little bit of time on the front end can really help with the story and make the rewriting process a little less painful. And, if the goal is word count, how do you judge editing? Particularly when editing can involve negative word count? Yet, editing is such a vital process of writing.


  1. Goal Impresses Rather than Guides –  I’ve seen people like this. “I’m going to do 100 push-ups” is a great goal. But, you don’t go from spending your days playing Mario Kart to doing 100 push-ups. You need a plan with smaller goals. I’ve seen writers sometimes do this, too. The person who is going to punch out as many words a day as Stephen King. Again, maybe that is the ultimate goal, but you’ve got some work to do before you get there. Giving yourself these leads into the next issue.


  1. Failing can be Excusable – When you set unrealistic goals, it’s easy to excuse not meeting them because, well, they weren’t all that achievable. They were a stretch goal, and you weren’t able to stretch that much.


  1. Failing becomes Accepted – Once you can be excused for not reaching the goal, failing becomes acceptable. How many people fail Nanowrimo and are totally fine with it?


All of our bosses have set one of these.
  1. Failing becomes Expected – Once failure becomes expected, well, you don’t really have a goal anymore, do you? I know I’ve seen this in corporate America, in myself, and in other writers.

So, while goal-setting has a lot of positive effects, it has some dark sides that people don’t always consider.

It gets back to the “attainable” part of SMART goals. Not attainable only when the planets align, but attainable on most days if we push for it.

So, perhaps not the Nanowrimo sprint, but maybe a five-hundred words per day marathon. Yes, it’s going to take 3.5 months to get the same 50,000 words, but perhaps that’s a habit you can maintain without your spouse threatening to throw your computer in the front lawn.


How about you? Have you ever found goal-setting to be de-motivating? Or maybe you’re just the opposite and goal setting really inspires you. How do you set your goals? How do you measure success?

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One thought on “The Power of Stretch Goals to Help You Fail

  1. It is interesting that you used NaNoWriMo as the case study for this post. I was contemplating whether to participate or not. I did last year and won. So what?
    I don’t plan to do it again. It took too much of each day and the result was not publishable and still is not. Maybe when I retire and need something to keep me busy, I will do it again.
    Excellent analysis of the potential impact and the so what does it get you was great. 🙂

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