Following up on yesterday’s chatterbox post about my recently completed first first draft of a novel, I wanted to take some time to discuss something that, in my mind and a lot of others’, is essential to writing: motivation.
People toss that word around a lot when it comes to pursuing objectives, be it losing weight or writing a book. One common advice to maintain motivation is to devise achievable goals. Since that has been said before, I’d rather focus on why goals make all the difference but I’ll provide some key information first so we’re all on the same page.
Setting a Goal
Setting achievable goals is an art. If we set it too high, we’ll never reach it and the failure will take its toll on the very motivation the goal was supposed to help. If the objective is too easy to reach, we’ll hardly feel satisfied.
My personal rule of thumb when I choose my goals is to figure out what the “piece of cake” goal would be and add 5 to 10% on top of it.
Sounds low? It isn’t.
We all know how life gets in the way sometimes. “Piece of cake + 10%” prevents me from using unforeseeable circumstances as excuses for not reaching my goal. You know you do that too! “I couldn’t know I would work overtime this week. Of course I didn’t make my goal after that!”
My pride just refuses to phone in on “Piece of cake + 10%”. “How hard can it really be?” is my initial perception of it. But when all the life stuff starts getting in the way, it ends up being just hard enough for me to feel accomplished when I complete the task.
This step is the key to making goals matter. I’m a heavy user of visual reinforcements; I like my goals to be constantly in my face so that both failure and success stare at me while I write. Trust me, mentally setting a goal does not compare with writing it down with bright colors.
On the wall next to my desk, I have a calendar and an army of post-it notes (mostly outlines for my stories). My bigger lined post-its are reserved for lists. One of them has my writing goals on it. I get a fuzzy feeling every time I cross something off that list.
To reinforce the items that are date-related (e.g. Finish The One Who Sees’ first draft by September 12), I also add a colorful dot sticker on my calendar (color coded by project). This way, I can really see the deadline coming and adjust my writing schedule accordingly. Once I’ve achieved my goal, I draw a check mark over the dot.
I might eventually change that for a sparkling smiley sticker.
Find what works for you (word count graphs are another tool I use) but do not – let’s hammer it in – do not underestimate the value of visual reinforcements. It’s fun to crumple up a list or flip through calendar pages full of check marks. 😉
We’ve crossed something off the list? We’ve drawn a check mark on our calendar? We are entitled to relish the pride we get from it. Achievements need to matter and celebrating them, along with having visual reinforcements and setting appropriate goals, is essential.
Smile. Do the happy dance. Have a couple spoonful of Haagen-Dasz. Celebration can be as little or as big as you feel like.
Reaching an objective isn’t about furthering progress as much as it is about showing that we can do it. Hence, no objective, no matter how small, is wrong and every single one of them deserves to be celebrated!
We need to know we can write a chapter in a week.
We need to know we can finish a manuscript.
We need to know we can tighten up our plot in one month’s time.
Why? Because being a writer is dwelling in doubts.
Remember how I said that Writing is Scary? The fright comes from the impossibility for a writer to make sure anything is right. It’s a moot point to try and change that. However, achievements provide a valid way to counter the fear. They are a constant reminder that we can do it. No matter the objective we set, reaching it says we can do it. No matter what, we can do it.
That certitude quashes doubts and helps us move forward.
Herein lies the power of achievements.