Goals in Writing

I came across a quote today in a book I was reading for research. Travel writer Gabi Logan writes:

“If you set the wrong goals, you’ll end up with a “successful” life that you never really wanted in the first place.”

That really hit hard after this weekend. Recently, I’ve written that I have felt like creatively, my work process had ground to a halt. On the forum of the agency I write for, many of us support each other by speaking our minds and comisserating. Another writer had posted that she was experiencing much the same thing. The both of us were fighting hard just to complete the assignments we had accepted. With almost no motivation to push forward, we wondered what was wrong with us.

Last night, I hit my deadline by just minutes, having spent the Fourth of July Weekend catching up with those assignments that were like pulling teeth to complete. Five 2000 word pieces for law firms about personal injury suits. I wrote all five in three days. Procrastinating all the way to the last hours before they were due. If I really get moving, I can write one of those in about an hour and a half, but at that point, I just feel like my hands are lead and just pounding down on the keyboard to make my word counts. It’s all the same stuff I have written a dozen times or more.

The company just needs the words to trigger Google’s algorithm with keywords and SEO phrases to game the system. The bottom line is always “Contact us if you would like to learn more.” The worst part is they will just run what I have written through an SEO checker to see if it gets a high enough score to accept. Eliminate all passive verbs. Sprinkle in those key words. Add enough links to make Google track it all back to similar content. They don’t even really care what I wrote or how I turned a phrase, so long as it checks out with the robot.

When I read Gabi Logan’s quote, I thought about my weekend, and how I have been paying the bills with writing copy like this. I’m just a funnel for words that works marginally better than an AI content generator. Who knows, I might even be cheaper. I have gotten very good at what I do in writing content. I can do it quickly and other than a few typos, I generally nail the requirements in the first pass. I have about an 80% first draft success rate. But that resistance comes knocking.

It isn’t the same Resistance Steven Pressfield writes about in The War of Art, but something else. Something like what I felt when I was sitting in front of a clock at my desk at the University, literally watching the minutes of my life pass me by without feeling a sense of fulfillment. I know in the past, I have written that a bad day of writing still beats a good day of working. I have always been afraid that writing would turn into a “job” and I might start resenting it the way I did scheduling classes or answering phone calls.

The reason my University job sucked was I started with a skillset and I left with pretty much the same skillset. In twenty years, I learned almost nothing. Unlike people who enter a trade and become better welders or carpenters until they reach the point of being Masters of their trade, or someone who starts a business and comes out with enough expertise to become a mentor or a consultant for others, hardly anything changed as far as my abilities, other than I got quick enough and efficient enough to allow myself to have massive downtown and nearly terminal boredom.

When I write SEO, it feels a lot like that. When I write creatively, every time I learn how to tell a story better. I’m finding insight and showing it to others in a unique voice. I have meaning. My purpose is to connect with others. In the necessity of writing content for companies to conform to their algorithmic standards, I am just fueling a template. My fulfillment is getting enough money to put food in the fridge or gas in the tank.

The crazy thing is most of us are taught to believe it’s one or the other. We can work and pay the bills, or we can dream and starve. Many, many people actually get to do what they love and thrive financially. It is possible! Unfortunately for me, I’m seeing the fruits of my labor of setting the wrong goals and being “successful” at something I never really wanted.

I think that Resistance is telling me that it is time to take another step. I still need to push out of my comfort zone of surviving and continue to reach for thriving. That is my goal. I might be good enough to quickly write content for webpages and trick the AI, but I don’t like doing it. I get no meaning out of it. The reason is survival, but what is the intention? To continue to keep my head down and do the safe thing, I suppose.

It’s time to get some better intention. To thrive, doing what I have been working hard to do in order to hone my skills. A writer is like a tradesperson, only instead of wood or pipe or masonry, we work in words to construct thoughts to share with others.

I’ve had people tell me I am a great writer. There are days I lose that veneer of false modesty and push past the crippling doubt and ask myself if they are right. Maybe I could be but my reach hasn’t been exceeding my grasp. I’ve been going after low-hanging fruit when it comes to creativity. I’ve considered giving up.

I think now I need to set goals because I have a feeling the safe bet is reaching its conclusion. I think content writing will soon be replaced by AI entirely and I will find myself once again polishing brass on the Titanic, just as I did with higher ed. I wasn’t happy then. The only difference now is I’m using my skills, like a watchmaker using the tools of his trade to assemble IKEA furniture.

Time to set better goals.

Thank you for reading.