‘NO ONE RISES SO HIGH AS HE WHO KNOWS NOT WHITHER HE IS GOING.’

A friend, I think of him as a friend, I hope he feels the same, especially after he reads this, recently sent me (and a fair number of other people) a link to a blog about how to plan your novel writing. Not plan your novel; you know, cards, plot lines, character development charts, timelines, making sure X doesn’t reveal they know W before the denouement etc. but rather how do I actually get around to finishing this thing. They are going to cover routines, staying ‘energized’ to the end, balancing writing and life, and of course setting effective writing goals.

Goals.

I have a hobby and I think I have mentioned before, (I’m sure I must; it’s one of my hobbyhorses – see what I did there, hobby, hobbyhorse? Suit yourself.) that I frequently quibble with those who talk about it in terms of projects and goals. It’s my hobby, and let’s face it, it’s playing games with toy soldiers. I take it seriously up to a point, that point being when I start having a desire to keep spread sheets on the types and number of figures I possess and need for various battles and campaigns, progress charts on painting and more paperwork than a tax return. At that point it is time to get a hobby to relax from the hobby.

Okay the point of this diversion is to admit that I am not naturally predisposed to goals. They are the big thing of modern management speak. How can you organise and maximise efficiency without ‘goals’?

I can just about accept that running a business requires a need to know what you are trying to achieve That for some purposes it is a good idea to break this overall aim into manageable chunks, so that the processes involved can be managed within budgets and achieve the aim of selling widgets and making a profit.

But we’ve got into a mindset, and I have to point a finger at the self help brigade here who have bought into lazy acceptance of business speak and vice versa, where we think it is a good idea to run our personal lives as if they were a business. It’s your life. Enjoy it without a spreadsheet.

But writing I have always said is a type of business. I like writing, don’t get me wrong, if I hated it I wouldn’t do it, but I’m not sure I would do anywhere near as much of it if I didn’t get some reward from it.

Over the years, in different contexts, my writing has made me a living. It has been part of various more formal jobs where the writing was conveying ideas or reports of things done to people who needed to know, or just as an end in itself for people to read for enjoyment, sometimes as part of their hobby. My general rule of thumb has been to follow Johnson’s ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money’. So while there is an enjoyment to writing, I can’t say I see it as a hobby.

So should I have goals?

I can’t say my life has had goals, and yet here I am. Generally happy, solvent with a family and not yet ready to give up on possible new avenues of experience and adventure. I won’t be playing full contact rugby again I guess, or at any rate, not more than once, but I am open to many other ideas. Whilst not a complete hero; I don’t like the idea of heroes, I am suspicious of the concept; I feel Oliver Cromwell, a man who made his way to the top if anyone did, had something useful to say to those obsessed with micromanaging life:

‘No one rises so high as he who knows not whither he is going.’

And while accepting that like any self made man our Oliver may sometimes have been economical with the actualité, I like the idea of someone who was ‘living neither in any considerable height, nor yet in obscurity’ ending up as head of state against all expectation.

So no novel writing goals for me I think, and as for managing life and writing, it’s difficult but I feel another quote from Dr Johnson coming on: ‘A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.’

(With apologies to any and all genders – he lived in different times, and although an Enlightenment man, he was not enlightened in that way).

Of course, if this were the only thing involved in success, I should be at least PM or a Nobel Laureate in Literature by now. So perhaps a little more career planning on the writing front? Sounds a lot of work, almost like a hobby.

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