Category Archives: Motivation

To Goal or Not to Goal, that is the Question

The first week of the year, my Facebook stream was full of irate friends who, apparently, loathe those who make New Year’s Resolutions. Anyone who had the words “Resolution” or “Goal” in their post got blasted by angry people who didn’t agree with their declarations of self-improvement. Mostly because said angry people all admitted to not being able to keep a resolution past day one. Their plan for the year, “Quit, before you commit yourself to something you’re going to fail at.”

Is that really healthy? You can answer that question for yourself, because it’s different for everyone.

For myself, I love making goals, and the only thing I hate about them is not hitting them.

The thing is, the moment I finish making a goal, I can tell if I’m going to be able to do it or not.

For instance, last December, I made the goal that I would finish the novel I’ve been working on before the end of the year. However, I knew better. To get something accomplished in December is like walking up a hill made of ice in women’s dress shoes. But I was desperate to get it finished, so I made the goal with the hope that it would spur me on.

Did it? Nope? And I simply felt guilty about it all month.

So what did I do? I spent the first week of January working on the outline until it was shiny, then when I was finally satisfied with it, I made the goal to get the stupid thing to my editor by midnight on January 31st.

An easy goal? Uh, no. I’m having to rewrite the last half of the book for the third time. That’s 50k in two and a half weeks. Sounds crazy? Yes. But I know I can do it, especially since the outline feels solid.

I’m hoping this is going to be my last insane, self-imposed deadline for the year. Because, while hitting them makes me giddy with joy, missing them makes me crazy, and sometimes the stress makes me cranky.

For me, there’s a fine line between pushing myself in order to grow, and laying completely unrealistic expectations at my own feet. And I know the difference.

So my “goal” this year is to stop pretending I don’t know my own limits and the limits of my time. Think through the plans. Break it down. How much can I realistically do each week? Will it cause other parts of my life to suffer? Is that acceptable for a short amount of time? If not, do I change the timetable, or skip this “thing” all together?

We Always Need a Goal

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.

We all want something. It could be a new car, paying the rent on time, having a family, writing a novel, being a politician, or simply enjoying a nice cup of tea at 3 o’clock. It doesn’t matter if the want can be achieved quickly or if it takes several years to realize. Without the want, and without the conscious desire to reach it, there is no goal and nothing will happen.

Having a goal involves choice. We can choose to work toward or do something, or we can choose not to do anything. Either way, there will be an outcome, a goal achieved. Whether that goal is personally fulfilling or productive, whether it enriches or sabotages your life, that is another matter,. No matter the outcome, we all have goals.

These atatements may seem rather philosophical, but it’s important to understand that we always have a goal, whether we’re actively or inactively achieving it. Knowing that we have free agency to determine outcomes, frees us to set goals which are not only achievable but also fulfilling. And no, setting unrealistic goals in which one doesn’t participate to achieve the final outcome, doesn’t count. Unrealistic goals are simply fights of fancy or dreams. A goal should be something which spurs us into action (or inaction, but arguably, that is an action in and of itself).

A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement.
Bo Bennett

Reaching the target may or may not always happen in the way it was envisioned. That’s okay. Without a goal you can’t get close to the target. For example, in high school and university, I always strived for 100% on exams. Did I achieve that? Sometimes but if not, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I figured out early on that I always made mistakes, or forgot something. That wasn’t the point. When I strived for the highest mark, my grades were higher than when I didn’t. Having a goal meant caring. If I cared a lot, the results were better becasue I rose to the challenge. If my goal was low, my grades were lower. It was that simple.

So, what does this mean for me as a writer?

I want to write a best seller. So I read best sellers. I study them. I study as well as practice the craft. Will I ever write a book that has the potential to be a best seller. Yes. After writing the book, will my goals include all the promotion and marketing needed? Yes. How hard will I work to realize this goal? That is always the question. But my point here is is that without the goal, I can’t do the work. The goal is my motivation for writing what I deem to be a good novel. I don’t want to self publish messy first drafts. It’s about doing it the best I can. The added benefit is that having a goal and working toward it makes me happy.

People work better when they know what the goal is and why. It is important that people look forward to coming to work in the morning and enjoy working.
Elon Musk

We all have goals. We all need goals. Goals give us direction, purpose and ultimately the process of achieving them should make us happy. Achieving them should elate us but I’ve always found it important to understand that goals change and the art of moving toward the goal can influence and change the outcome.

In many ways, our goals are not that much different from a story or character goal. Like the characters we write, we have desires, passions, and needs. We strive to fulfill those passions. There are ups and downs, set-backs and rewards. We get more information, something interrupts our progress, we persevere, we fight, and ultimately, we come out the other side to laugh, celebrate, or cry.

Most of our goals are active goals. We need them. Through them, we find meaning in our lives and pass down that meaning through our characters, Incidentally, that meaning is also called theme and it makes sense when you remember the addage that we shoul dwrite what we know best. Story is about goals both achieved and thwarted. When we recognize our goals and work toward them, we compel ourselves to actively participate in their achievement. We give meaning, not only to our lives, but also to our characters.

Goals are important. Striving to reach them is important. Whether they are reached as initially dreamed of, may not be as important as having a dream and striving to fulfill that dream.

It’s not an accident that musicians become musicians and engineers become engineers: it’s what they’re born to do. If you can tune into your purpose and really align with it, setting goals so that your vision is an expression of that purpose, then life flows much more easily.
Jack Canfield

What Does It Take To Perform Under Fire?

I’ve been involved in the Martial Arts for over ten years. I have a black belt, and if I hadn’t become a writer on top of my day job I would be a second degree. But I got distracted by writing, and that’s that.

Belt tests are some of my least favorite parts of the martial arts. I love class. I love my lessons. I love punching and kicking and knife techniques and sparring and sometimes I pretend to love forms. But belt tests are a different animal.

In short, the instructors—who are usually cool people—turn into demons that are there to push you until you’re teetering on the edge of your endurance and sanity. I can do techniques all day long, but make me run around the building or scale a wall and I go to pieces. Other people lose it if they have to do defense techniques quickly, or spar more than one person. (Most people don’t do well with that, by the way.) Whatever it is, the instructors will find it. And then, once you’re barely standing and thinking about quitting, they ask you to do a form. Or spar. Or defend yourself from them.

On some level it’s awesome. Especially after you’re at the end looking back. There’s nothing like knowing that you did every single Defense Maneuver you have flawlessly against guys taller and stronger than you. Or that you didn’t get stabbed when they brought the fake knives out.

But in the middle of it, there isn’t time to think, and if you do think, it’s usually about how much some part of your body hurts. Sometimes that includes your brain.

I’m short and round and don’t look much like a black belt, but when I’m in practice, I’m pretty darn good.

And that’s the key to passing a test. Being in practice. Because if you’re in practice, then when a fist is coming straight for your face, no matter how tired you are, you will do something. It might even be the right thing. Either way, you won’t get hit, and the next moment the other guy will be on the ground and you’ll think, “Hey, that really works. Oh crap, there’s another guy coming.”

I feel like this relates to writing. Lately I’ve been extremely busy, and my writing has been suffering. It’s only been in the last few weeks that I’ve thought about the fact that I’m out of practice. I work part time and write part time, but I haven’t been consistently writing. I work on marketing or editing or blogging or putting together a newsletter or a giveaway. I pour words onto the page when there is a deadline looming, but not every day. I’m out of practice. Which is silly, because I know how important it is to write each day, and yet I’m not doing it.

So that’s my suggestion. Write each day, even if it is just 200 or 500 words. Write something. Stay in practice. Get a list of writing prompts off the web if you don’t have any ideas on what to write about or you don’t want to work on your current work in process. That way, when the pressure comes, and it will come, you can crack your knuckles and go for it.

Write Like It’s Your Job

For many of us, writing isn’t our primary job. We have day jobs, night jobs, side jobs, odd jobs, freelance jobs, and job jobs. While we’re working toward writing becoming our full-time job, we just do not have the luxury of having it yet. In the meantime, we seize our free hours and moments, developing stories and getting better at our craft.

But this month? No. This month, writing is your job. Priority uno.

The truth about NaNoWriMo is that while 1,667 words a day for a month seems perfectly manageable, it’s realistic that you will not get to write every day. You might miss one day a week, and then you have some extra words to make up. You might miss a few days in two weeks, and your word count will continually snowball from there. It can become overwhelming very quickly.

I’ve only done NaNoWriMo twice, but I have some tips for success so that you won’t feel overwhelmed during November.

  1. 1. Sit down with your loved ones. Tell them you will be writing every day, and it will take at least an hour. That hour is yours. That hour is damn-near holy. Tell them they cannot disturb you during your writing session. Assure them they will survive your absence for that hour.
  2. Write more than 1,667 words per day. When you’re in the zone and you’ve reached your 1,667-word goal, keep going. Go until your brain starts to get tired and fuzzy. Keep going until your alarm goes off or your kid storms in and demands you change his diaper.
  3. Treat yo self on days you’d rather be doing anything but writing. Promise yourself a cookie when you finish your word count. Get a drink at the bar after writing. Ignore the rest of your to-do list and take a magical bubble bath and listen to your favorite podcast.
  4. Go to the library or coffeeshop to write. If you live in the middle of no where, go outside and write. Sometimes, staying in the same place to write can be distracting. Being in our house, apartment, or space can be distracting. There are a hundred other things you could do in your space instead of write. Don’t let yourself become tempted to do something else.
  5. Close all tabs in your internet browser. You can now only use the internet to Google a fact or for research during your writing sessions.
  6. Turn off your phone, or at least silence that mofo.
  7. Commiserate with writing buddies. Don’t have any writing buddies? Sign up on the NaNoWriMo website and find your local chapter. Research a Facebook group or a forum dedicated to NaNoWriMo.
  8. Plan a big reward at the end of November. A small trip, a vacation, a tub of your favorite ice cream, tickets to see your favorite band, a camping trip. Whatever it is, make sure it’s a big deal to you, and make sure you don’t buy your tickets until you have officially written 50,000 words in November.

Got more tips or tricks for staying focused during NaNoWriMo? Write them in the comments below!