I don’t know about you, but the minute I make a New Year’s Resolution, it’s guaranteed I’ll be breaking it in two days. Yep, January 3rd. Turns out, 48 hours is the longest I’ve gone without my cravings for See’s Candy or potato chips or DATELINE NBC defeating me.
The reason my resolutions don’t work is because they usually involve me banning something I love. “I won’t watch crappy crime shows on TV!” Or, “No donuts will pass my lips.” I’m basically setting myself up to fail because these goals are, for me, IMPOSSIBLE. However, when I say to myself, “Just for today, I am going to eat that healthy turkey sandwich.” or, “Right now, I’m going to watch 30 minutes of the Ken Burns Roosevelt Documentary,” suddenly, I’m making progress.
The key is to set goals that are actionable, immediate and in the moment.
So, how can you apply this to your writing?
Instead of saying, “In 2015 I am going to finish my novel and become a published author!”, what if you committed to taking ONE action step each day toward that goal? On days when you’re full of vim and vigor, it could be “Write ten pages!” On a morning when you feel like a beached whale, it could be, “Read some research material.” A big day might be reaching out and making a call to an agent you met at a party. On a slug day, it might be simply drafting an email to that agent.
What if you completely engaged with the small daily task at hand and gave it your complete passionate attention and commitment? What if you (hello Buddhism) pursued your writing “in the present?”
Instead of focusing on where you aren’t, focus on where you are. Each day, commit to one goal. “Today, I’m going to write that scene at the morgue” or “Today, I’m going to look at that character who doesn’t make sense and brainstorm a great backstory.”
Ideally, if you’re in the first draft phase, you’ll be writing every day. If you’re rewriting, you’ll either be reading, making notes, or revising pages. But if you wake up, and you feel absolutely drained and uninspired, shake it up. Could you bail on the scene you’ve been slaving over that sucks, and jump forward and write the scene that excites you? Could you read a screenplay that will inspire you to improve your story? If you’ve hit a section of your outline that’s not working, could you set a timer for 10 minutes and re-outline that section as fast as you can (without thinking too much?)
Take action! Yeah, the hare is all sexy in his New Year’s Hat, darting ahead of everyone like the showboat he is, but he always gets distracted or depressed and ends up with his face in a bowl of Pringles. Be the tortoise. Fully engage in the small steps. Make your tiny moves, day by day, and watch yourself cross the finish line with ease.
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