It’s our first Monday of the New Year and we are standing on the threshold of a shiny new year. It’s almost as good as getting new school supplies. The smell of virgin paper not yet touched by a ballpoint. A new start. No mistakes. Nothing but potential.
Okay, so if you are anything like me, your initial New Year’s Resolutions might look something like this.
- Lose 20 pounds by February 1st
- Run a marathon
- Go to gym 5 hours a day
- Win the
NobelPulitzer by my birthday
- Save 85% of my income
- Go on vacation to Bora Bora (Note to Self: Look up actual location of Bora Bora)
- Clean out garage
- Paint house inside and out
- Finally have all my socks match
- Write 3 award-winning novels by summer
There is something about facing a new year that instills us with such hope that we lose all touch with reality (blame it on the booze and sugar). It’s great to set goals, but if we get real honest, most of the time we are our own worst enemy.
Odds are, if you are a fan of this blog, you are likely a writer, an aspiring writer, or this is a condition of your parole. Regardless, all of you need to learn to set effective goals and learn habits that will keep you from sabotaging your success. Hey, I hear ya! I am the world’s worst.
But this past year, 2011, has been one of my best. I reached a lot of goals. Why? Because I learned some good lessons and applied them consistently. I hope to do even better this year. So I am going to pass these lessons on to you and hope that you will benefit as well.
1. Grant Permission to be Imperfect
The world does not reward perfection. It rewards people who get things done.
Perfectionism is a noble trait taken to the extreme which can serve as an excuse for mediocrity and a mask for fear. Perfectionists tend to be self-saboteurs (I would know nothing about this *whistles innocently*). We perfectionists nit-pick over every single detail often at the expense of the big picture. Perfection is noble, so it makes a great shield. I mean, we just don’t believe in churning out shoddy half-ass work, right? Um…maybe. Or maybe we have a fear of failure, or even a fear of success.
So long as nothing is ever complete, we never have to face our demons and can happily fritter away our days perfecting our scenes and dialogue. Here’s the deal. No publishing house ever published half of a perfect book.
2. Give Baby Steps a Chance
How do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.
All or nothing thinking, a close relative of perfectionism, can tank the best projects. It is so easy to fall into this trap of, If I can’t do X, then I do nothing at all. Baby Steps are still steps. Small steps, over time, with consistency add up. It’s sort of like working out. We can choose to show up January 2nd at 5 a.m. and work out three hours, but that is a formula to end up sore, injured and burned out.
Same with writing. Make small goals. “I will write 15 minutes.” “I will write 100 words.” Sometimes all we need is a little momentum. Can’t rev the motor if we never turn the key. A good way to get going is to use kitchen timers. Set the clock and write for 30 minutes.
I use sticky notes and set my big goal, then I divide it in half. One sticky note is on the left-hand side of my monitor (starting count). I then place the half-way point in the middle, and I am not allowed a break until I make that number (even if all I write is pigeon poo). The finish line is on the right. Getting started is always the hardest part. I generally find that if I can make it to the mid-point, I am golden.
3. Establish Accountability with Other People of Excellence
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
We do need to establish accountability. But, better than that, we need to make sure we are accountable to the correct circle of friends. A critique group is not enough. If a critique group is comprised of people who whine, complain and write when they feel like it, that attitude can rub off. Find people of excellence and they will help you stretch to meet a new bar. Hanging around a bunch of whiners who aren’t successful authors (and who likely will never be) is poison to your muse.
First step is find excellent peers. Join a critique group that has actual published authors or people regularly being paid for writing. If you can’t find that in person, look to Twitter. #MyWANA #RoW80 #writegoal #wewrite are all groups of dedicated professionals with a focused work ethic.
Critique groups and partners do keep us accountable. It is easy to blow off writing when it is just us, but when we will be a let-down to others? Different story. This is one of the reasons I LOVE blogging. Blogging has done so much to change my character and I highly recommend it to help you make the mental transition from hobbyist to professional. Blogging creates deadlines and accountability.
This is why writing down your goals is imperative. If nothing else, it is a cue to your subconscious that you are committed to something. You will feel a lot more conviction if you write out a goal than if you decide to let it float around your gray matter. I would even advise taking it to the next step and sharing your goals with others.
I feel this is why so many writers have a hard time saying aloud, “I am a writer.” To say it means we have to own it and that people will be watching. We are going to invite a whole other level of accountability and people will notice if we are screwing off. But I say that accountability is the best way to reach your dreams faster, so bring it on!
4. Small Change Will Grow into Big Change
If we cannot manage a little, why should we be given more?
Good habits have a way of filtering through our lives. I have a saying, “Smaller truths reveal larger truths.” We don’t have to do mind-blowing alterations in our routines to start seeing real change in our lives. I guarantee that if you just start making your bed in the morning that other things will fall in line. Soon, you will notice that your bedroom is neater, and then the kitchen. As your house gets tidier, so does your purse and your car, and so on and so forth.
Just start with small writing goals and I guarantee that bigger better changes will follow suit.
5. Understand that Feelings LIE
Emotions are important, but not necessarily a useful tool for direction. Sort of like the bumper of my SUV is important, but not for helping me get directions.
Modern pop psychology loves to ask about our feeeelings all the time. Feelings are important, but they are a lousy compass to guide our actions. Why? Feelings can be affected by so many things—fatigue, diet, too much sleep, too little sleep, jerks at the office, kid toys underfoot, PMS, hormones, too much caffeine, not enough caffeine, cat vomit in our house slippers, and on and on and on.
If I can pass on any lesson that will change your life it is for you to understand that your feelings will almost always take the path of least resistance. If we are going to accomplish anything in life we cannot let our feelings have a vote.
I blog whether I feel like it or not. I don’t wait until I feel like writing to sit my tuchus in a chair. Feelings can be the enemy and steal your dreams. The Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies will capitalize on your feelings and do everything in their power to convince you that you will get to it later when you feel like it. Shut them down. Don’t give your feelings a vote.
The best way to shut down your feelings is to make lists of goals. I make lists every day and it keeps me focused. I can be exhausted, disenchanted, disillusioned, but it doesn’t matter. Getting over inertia–getting started–is usually the toughest part. Discipline yourself to be a starter and it is much easier to learn to become a finisher.
6. Make a Plan
Fail to plan, plan to fail.
A good plan will keep you focused, accountable, and give you clear benchmarks to measure success. I recommend buying NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writer. He teaches how to craft a plan for a writing career. I also recommend 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Getting Things Done, and Eat that Frog. Find ways to structure your life so that you maintain peace. Anxiety and clutter kill creativity.
In the end? Just Do It. Put that slogan on a Post-It notes and paper your house if you must. Put a Troll doll on your computer to remind you to be wary of Crappy Excuse Trolls in your midst. If any of you are new and don’t know the M.O. of the Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies, go here. They make 12% commission off your shattered dreams.
- Grant Permission to Be Imperfect
- Give Baby Steps a Chance
- Establish Accountability
- Trust that Small Change will Grow into Big Change
- Understand that Feelings LIE
- Make a Plan
What are some struggles that you guys have? What are tactics you use to keep focused? What are your goals for this year? Be brave and put them in the comments. What are some goals you’ve always wanted to reach but haven’t? Why? What is your advice?
I LOVE hearing from you guys!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Note: I will announce the December winners on Friday.
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!
See you next year!