Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Parents of school-age children will understand where I'm coming from when I say Happy New Year! The rhythm of my life is dictated by the schedule determined by the state Board of Education and our local school district. The young Boyces have just embarked on a new school year. For the first time, all of my children are in school.

I am very fortunate to be able to focus on my writing during the day. I'm still sorting out my own routines, trying to strike a balance between work and home obligations. As this new school year begins, I happily find myself launching my professional career, with one novel coming out in October, and contracts just signed for two more.

When I think about everything I need to do, I start to feel overwhelmed. Publicity for the first book, editing for the second, writing for the third. What have I gotten myself into? How will I ever do this? I need a plan. I need... goals.

Believe it or not, this whole overlong introduction was to get around to the point of the post, which is the word goal.

What is a goal? You know the concept. You know the sound:

But what does it mean? Is a life goal the same as a football goal? Well... yes. Yes, it is.

Goal first appeared in the English language in the 1500's. Its initial use referred to the endpoint of a race. Soon after, at about the same time (mid-1500's), goal came to refer to both the place to sink the ball, and the more figurative sense of an ambition toward which effort is made.

You see, a goal is all about hitting the end. It's a destination. It's the light at the end of the tunnel. It's measurable -- and you have to work to get there.

Think about the ways in which we phrase the concept of goal: "My goal is to work out three times a week for a year." "She has met her sales goal for the quarter." "He failed to achieve his goal of marrying by the age of thirty."

All of these things are quantifiable. They either happen or they don't. You worked out three times this week, or you didn't. Goals are very simple, black and white.

Thank goodness some dreams don't come true. Knife wielding
wraith-cherubs I can do without, thankyouverymuch.
Mister needs to get off whatever's smoking in that pipe.
I think we're often held back by our fear of failure. We might not reach our goals, so why even try? If you have a goal of losing 20 pounds this year, and you only lose 15, have you failed? Well, maybe you didn't hit your goal, but you're still better off than you were at the beginning of the year. Goals are worth having. They're worth striving for. Even if you miss them, your efforts have brought you further than you'd have been without that goal.

Instead of goals, many of us take refuge in dreams. We dream of losing weight. We dream of having lots of money. We dream of being a famous singer. We close our eyes and picture a life we wish we had. How much better things would be if only we were rich, if only we weren't stuck in this job we hate, if only Prince Harry would visit this dinky town.

Isn't this nice? Who doesn't love to dream about a future of luxury? Or of having that dream job?

Well, dears, mean Auntie Elizabeth is here to burst your dream bubble with some cold, hard etymology. The use of dream to encapsulate the sense of "an ideal or aspiration" didn't come around until 1931. Nineteen thirty-one. Eighty-one years ago. You might know someone older than this usage of the word. I do.

Before this, for centuries, dream referred to your nighttime visions, at the kindest. In the older Germanic we have draugmas, meaning "deception, illusion, phantasm." Ouch. Even in the current accepted usage, a dream can't be pinned down.

A dream is all in your head. It's insubstantial. It's false. A dream is nothing.

Now, this is not to say you cannot make your dreams come true. You can -- if you are willing to work. If you'll turn your dream into a goal.

A goal requires a plan. A schedule. A number. An end point. Some means of determining whether or not you've gotten there. Do you want to be an architect? Maybe you have to go back to school. Do you want to be a singer? Audition for a local band. You have to do something to reach your goals. They don't happen on their own.

Here, at the start of the other New Year, I'm setting some goals for myself. I will turn in my manuscript for book three on or before November 30th. I will make a publicity plan for Once a Duchess, with items I can check off ("Cross my fingers and hope people buy it" doesn't count.). I need to get into a solid daily routine, to make sure I meet these and other goals.

What about you? Is it time to set some September New Year's goals? Have you met a goal you'd like to tell us about? Leave a comment!


  1. A great reminder; a great inspiration. I detest dreams. :D I also am pretty averse to long-term goals. The world is your oyster if you set short-term goals, achieve them, and keep your eyes open for brand-new goals you probably could never have... dreamed of.

    1. Good point about long-term goals. If you have one, set smaller goals to serve as progress markers along the way. Otherwise, that goal slides into dream territory. I need my goals to be as small and easy to manage as possible!

  2. September has been my personal New Year since I was 5. :) The best part about being a teacher is the built in schedule, goal setting, and reflection.

    It is like a game. If you do meet the goal, how can you regroup to raise the bar? If you don't meet the goal, how can you work differently to improve. A teacher is constantly on this cycle.

    The only problem is, I worry that I am so focused on outcomes I am missing the journey :(

    Are you thrilled by the journey you are taking as you publish 3 (HOLY COW!) books? Amazing. It is just amazing. Enjoy!!