You probably know this has been a hard year for Stephanie, Shonna and me. We’ve talked about how to keep going, both personally and professionally. We’ve discussed whether we have any more to offer you or whether Routines for Writers has run its course. And all three of us have struggled to keep writing through a variety of personal and professional setbacks.
There are so many cliches we could offer each other, and you, to keep writing and not give up. But here are four solid things you can do now, or anytime you need a boost, to keep going and accomplish your writing goals.
(I didn’t mean for this to be so long, but I wanted to share with you what has worked for me. Go to the end for the bullet points if you’re short on time, and come back and read the full post when you have time. )
You can tell from the title of our blog that we strongly believe in routines in general, and writing routines in particular. Routines are habits you are acquiring on purpose. I choose to routinely run three days a week because I have a goal of beating my best time in the half marathon I signed up for in January. My habit thus far has been to overeat and carry a lot of extra weight that is not helping me with my running. For my January race goal, I have identified one routine and one bad habit that I need to change into a positive routine.
In my writing, I have several goals regarding getting my current book into print format, getting my next book out as an ebook and in print, and submitting my superhero novel to Harper Voyager during their open submission period next month. In addition, my 2012 goals include increasing traffic to my web site/blog, creating more online classes to teach in 2013, and learning how to promote my books to increase sales.
It’s great to have goals, but you need to have a plan, too. Just like in Shonna’s post last Friday, I take my big goals and work backwards to break them down into pieces so I know what needs to be done every month to make the goals a reality at the end of the year. When I’ve got that list of monthly goal pieces written down, I can create routines that work for me that will turn the goal pieces into accomplishments. For instance, when my life was calmer, I wrote four days a week and did all my business-of-writing stuff on Fridays. It’s less important what you choose to do, perhaps, than that you create a routine that moves you toward your goal at a pace you can keep up.
Using the “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” metaphor, let me tell you that the training programs for running marathons and half marathons (I only do half’s) suggests running moderately short distances several days a week, increasing your distance slowly, and doing one longer run on the weekend. So I might run four or five miles a day three days a week, then an 8-mile run on Saturday. More 5-mile runs the next week, and then 9 or 10 miles that Saturday. This is the kind of schedule that you can keep up even if you have to get to work in the morning. And it’s a good parallel for making a writing routine as well.
When life is going smoothly (or monotonously, depending on your perspective), it can be difficult to remember to check your progress against your goals before the year is up. Several of my friends and I have an unhelpful tendency to wait until November or December, then freak out and try to cram all the rest of the work into the busiest time of the year. Brilliant.
When I teach my goal setting and time management class (coming again in January), I encourage people to check their goals after a month to see if they were on a “get it done” high when they wrote out their list. Then I suggest quarterly reviews, taking 15 minutes to see how close you are to where you’d planned to be. At these checkpoints, we can decide if we think we should readjust our goals, and do so if necessary.
Remember, goal setting is about making progress toward something you want. It is not about beating yourself up for what you haven’t accomplished! You need to sit down and think about why you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, but only because you need to decide if you should change course or just change tactics. You also need to reward yourself for what you have accomplished. That will give you energy to keep on going. (I started a “Done” journal a year or two ago. I write down all my writing-related work that I do on any given day, bullet-point style so I can scan it easily. I haven’t done half of what I’ve set out to do, but I’ve done a LOT and the Done journal helps me stay upbeat.)
Willingness to Change
Depending on how your reevaluations go, you may decide you want to make some changes. It may be that your goals are fine, but the way you are going about trying to accomplish them needs to change. For instance, say you decide to take someone’s advice to get up an hour early to write every day, and two months into that new routine you are exhausted and cranky. You’ve got your pages, but people have started to avoid you.
You may decide that you need to write for half an hour during your lunch break, and half an hour in the car before you come home from work. That way you are getting the sleep you need, and no one feels like you’re ignoring them. I wrote part of Little Miss Lovesick that way. I find it almost impossible to ignore my husband – we’re like little kids who just want to play when we’re together – and this way I made my goals quickly because there’s an end to my lunch break (hurry!) and the car is not an easy place to type and I’m hungry (hurry!).
This weekend, I did a periodic reevaluation for a different reason. My life has been in constant upheaval this year (and for much longer, really) and I knew I wasn’t going to make all my 2012 goals. I needed to see where I was and figure out what was most important to me to get done before the end of the year. I looked at the big picture and monthly goals for 2012 and sighed. Heavily. Then I wrote down what I most want to accomplish before the end of the year. Yikes! It’s still a lot! But I dropped several projects on my original goals list, promising myself I’d look into whether I still wanted to pursue them next year.
Due to my husband’s unemployment and our recent dedication to following through with our Financial Peace University goals, I’ve taken on some outside work. For every hour I take out of my writing week, I’ll have to make some adjustments to either personal time that will become writing time, and/or decrease my 2012 goals again. I just have to keep reminding myself that I’m willing to make changes now to accomplish big picture goals in my “regular” life as well as my writing life.
Decide Now to Keep Going Later
Perhaps one of the best things you can do to help you meet your writing goals is to decide now not to quit when it gets tough. Life is an ebb and flow of good and bad, hard and easy. When times get tough, what is your plan?
Yes, a plan will help you not to quit.
My plan for this particular hard time was to not quit writing altogether, to not focus entirely on the areas of life calling for my attention. My plan was to let writing time decrease, but to make sure I was still making progress every week. Every baby step counts, and I have to keep reminding of myself of that.
My plan for when life gets into an easier cycle is to work on my writing career with “gazelle intensity” – a Dave Ramsey term he uses to get people totally focused on getting out of debt. As soon as I’m not juggling bills or working temp jobs, I’m going to be working 10-12 hour days to get back on track. I’m giving up some of my personal time and time with John (he supports this – yay!) and I’m focusing on making up some lost time. I did this last week for a few days before my temp job started and I couldn’t believe how much I got done. I was exhausted, but it was worth it because I was seeing progress in just a few days. (I strongly recommend you take at least one full day off from work a week if you decide to do this. You need a full battery each week to keep up this kind of pace.)
The reason I recommend a plan for what you’re going to do when life takes some (or nearly all) of your writing time, and a plan for what to do if you get a windfall of time, is that you can be prepared and make good decisions that much quicker. A few years ago I walked one step at a time into a very deep rut. I didn’t know how to get out of it and I didn’t know who to talk to about it. I stopped writing, for the most part, pretending to most of my peers that I was still working away. But I bet I didn’t write 5000 words (outside this blog) that whole year.
Ouch. If only I’d had a plan for what to do when something like that happened. But because I learned from that experience, when my mom died this year, and so many other pieces of my life seemed to fall apart, I had an idea about how to survive and continue. I decided back then that I would keep going now.
To meet your writing goals, you need to:
- Create writing routines that help you to keep going, step after step after step, getting a little done at a time so that you accomplish your annual goals by the end of the year
- Periodically reevaluate your goals and your progress, at least quarterly, deciding if you need to make any changes
- Be willing to make changes, either to your goals and/or your tactics in trying to accomplish your goals
- Decide now what your plan is to not quit later when times are tough, and another plan for what you’ll do with extra time
I hope you take some time to reevaluate your goals and tactics this week. What can you reasonably accomplish in the next four months? Good luck! I’m rooting for you!