I’ve seen a lot of bloggers and writers on YouTube talk about their goals and reflect on them, so I thought I would give it a try. You may be wondering why I’m talking about my goals for 2018, as opposed to 2019/2020.
Picture this: the year is 2017. I’m a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed baby poet in my first year of university. A world of new possibilities is opening as I move from a small seaside town in Ayrshire to Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. After writing an article reporting on the launch of indie publisher Speculative Books, I discover that the city’s poetry community is so vibrant and enthusiastic. Gayle Smith offered me a place as co-host of her open-mic, Words and Music, which is based in the south side and I’m considering taking her up on her offer. It wouldn’t be until I went along in January, I realised it was the place for me.
Now I’m in my final year at university, I guess it’s only fitting that I discuss what my goals and priorities were in my first year as a sort of retrospective and reflection of the years that were, as well as exploring my mindset at the time. How successful was I in achieving these goals? And what exactly were they? Well, buckle up buckaroo because I’ll be listing them here and talking about them:
- Continue writing for Diary of a Young Writer.
For those who don’t know me, I’m a poet, short fiction writer and aspiring novelist who started contributing to Diary of a Young Writer throughout 2017 and some of 2018. I took a break from it for about a year or so, but now I’m back!
I took that break because I was feeling very burned out with my university work and needed to take a break from my writing projects to protect my mental health. I was sad to leave Outlet behind, but I’m so glad I’m back now. I’ve got more experience, and therefore more to write about, and I’m looking forward to sharing that as the months go on. So in a way I am meeting that goal.
- Participate in NaNoWriMo.
National Novel Writing Month (often shortened to NaNoWriMo) is a challenge where writers try to write a 50,000-word novel for the month of November and involves drafting around 1,000/2,000 words a day for 30 days straight. Although I ‘failed’ NaNoWriMo in 2016, I still managed to write a 35,000-word first draft. It was a hot mess, but I was proud of it and I had fun writing it.
However, I didn’t manage it in 2018 or 2019. In November, it is crunch time in Semester One. Other students may agree in that we pour a lot of time and energy into these essays. You’ll barely have time for anything, let alone drafting a whole novel. It’s easy to underestimate how much it takes to write a novel, especially for those that haven’t tried it. I did try to write 50,000 words for Camp NaNoWriMo in July, but I didn’t win then either for multiple reasons. I admire anyone who manages to succeed in NaNoWriMo, especially those who surpass the designated word goal. It’s not an easy feat, but definitely worth the effort.
- Publish a poetry chap book by the end of the year.
I didn’t know what I would publish as part of a chapbook, but it came to me in September 2018. It was going to be a collection of poems about the planets, with one for each planet in the solar system. I called it Keep on Spinning. I finished the chapbook that December. It wasn’t ready for publication then, so I tweaked it little by little throughout 2019 until it was finally published in October 2020.
When I set this goal, I naively thought I could set a deadline for the end of 2018. That is never a good idea, in my experience. Whether publishers like your work, or when they decide to publish it if they like it, is out of your control. Even if I decided to self-publish it, which was an option I was considering at the time, I was unsure and had other commitments.
- Do an Internship.
This was a goal that was too vague. I didn’t know what I wanted to do an internship in, and I didn’t know where to start applying for one. During my second year, I took an elective teaching beginners Mandarin, and this inspired me to look into six/eight-week placements teaching English in China. However, I decided against it. My Chinese was too rudimentary to feel confident in getting by. I knew I wasn’t mentally strong enough to live abroad, either. Although Mandarin was super fun to learn, and I had a great time in that class, I didn’t have the energy or the time to properly throw myself into becoming proficient.
However, I did manage to get a place doing an internship with a small publisher in Edinburgh. I was supposed to go back in August, which would have coincided with the Fringe Festival, but due to COVID it was postponed. If all goes to plan, I’ll be doing it next summer instead. Better late than never!
- Perform at more open mic nights.
Another goal that was not only too vague, but unquantifiable. ‘More’ is not a fixed number, so even if I did ‘more’ than last year, I would not have felt I had met the goal. However, I did actually meet this goal. I don’t know how many more performances I had than last year, but it was enough for me to feel a little accomplished. I performed a lot that summer, as I didn’t have any classes or coursework, though perhaps I overestimated how many gigs I could do before I burned myself out.
This is also an ongoing desire of mine, but going forward I shall put forward a number of gigs to perform, or how often I hope to perform. With the current crisis, I will be unable to perform at real events until next year at the earliest which is a real shame. I’ll lament on this another time but when I’m back, I’ll need to find a balance and know when to take a break from gigging.
- Start using a new domain name.
This is one I achieved, as you can probably tell! I was given my domain name and 10 years rights to it by my grandfather for my birthday. I moved over from WordPress, which I found nightmarish to design a good-looking website on it, and changed over to Wix. Although the site is by no means perfect, I am proud of it. I am maintaining it myself, and Wix makes it so much easier to design my pages the way I want them. This isn’t a sponsor, by the way, I genuinely have had a great time with the platform.
- To do well in my subjects at university.
I always want to do well in my coursework but I’ve come to accept that I’m probably not going to get an A anytime soon. I aim for a B1 or B2, which is probably more doable. University or my grades at university don’t define who I am as a writer, but I would love to see my degree to honours level. I managed to get mostly B’s, so I feel I have achieved that goal.
- For my short play ‘The Waiting Room’ to be well received.
I wrote a blog post on Diary of a Young writer discussing this at length, but yes, I think it went well all things considered. I had a rehearsed reading performed at Sonnet Youth but in hindsight it was a very rough draft. It has a long way to go, but I’m happy with how it’s turned out. My cast were very good, so it’s purely the writing that I feel needs work.
However, there was a round of applause at the end, and my family said it was quite good so I’ll take that as well-received. I later adapted it into a 20-minute short film script for my Screenwriting course last year and it got an A, which I’m really happy about. Maybe I can make it into a film someday? Who knows.
Over the last couple of years I have learnt that I must stop setting goals that are vague and unquantifiable – i.e. “do X more” or “achieve Y” “do well at Z”. Instead, I need to opt for a more direct approach by setting specific targets like; “Finish drafting my short story collection” or “Write up synopsis for novel A”. I’m still learning what a reasonable workload is for me and what isn’t, but I’m working on self-compassion and my work-life balance.
I have a terrible habit of piling on too many projects and goals at once, and I expect myself to do all of them within a short space of time. Looking over these goals has taught me that I can achieve almost everything I set out to do. Sometimes though, things don’t work out and that’s fine. But with most of these, I have found that they will happen but they may take a little longer than expected. I need to be a bit more patient with myself.
Now picture this: the year is 2020. I’ve grown a lot from the baby poet that I was before and I am in the final year of my degree. The more I’m learning about the world around me, the more I realise how much I have still to learn. I am up to my eyeballs in coursework, even more than usual, and I have been unable to perform at open mics since the pandemic started in March. After my final deadlines, if we are allowed back in the wild, I will throw myself back into a poetry world that will be totally different to the one I knew pre-COVID, and hopefully be co-hosting Words and Music again.
Apart from that, I have little to no idea what I’ll be doing once I graduate. I know I want to work up to writing novels, but what will I do for work? Will I go back to working in childcare, or will I pursue something different? Will I be writing full-time? Regardless, I will be taking a leap of faith into a new stage of my life. It is terrifying, but in the end, it will be worth it.
Jen Hughes is a writer and poet from Ayrshire who has been passionate about writing since she could hold a pencil. She is in her final year of her English Literature and Film & TV Studies degree at University of Glasgow. She has been performing her work for four years and has been co-hosting open mic night, Words and Music, with Gayle Smith for two years. Her fiction and poetry has been published in various magazines and anthologies including Acumen, Poetry in the Time of Coronavirus (PITTOC) Volumes 1& 2, Adjacent Pineapple and more.
Her debut chapbook, “Keep on Spinning” has been published by Dreich Publishing. It is available to buy on her website through jenhugheswriter.com/shop.