Setting The Tone

Let’s face it, January 1st is not the time to wake up early and go to the gym, to take on the grueling commitment of writing 5000 words a day, to clean out your fridge and swear off meat, or to quit your job and join the circus. It is not the time for rash decisions or drastic life changes. No. January 1st is the time for nursing an epic hangover and hiding out in your pajamas while you avoid reflecting on the past at all costs. Not to say that the new year shouldn’t be taken advantage of as an opportunity to make positive changes in one’s life but if you want your commitments to stick then you might want to wait until January 2nd when most of the bourbon has left your system and you’ve finally put on clean underwear.

Now what does the perfect timing have to do with writing? No doubt we’ve all set writing resolutions. But if we try to bite off more than we can chew, or if we carry all of our self-doubt into the new year, or if we’re already comparing ourselves to others, discounting whatever we’ve managed to accomplish in the last five days just because someone else was able to accomplish more, or if we maintain the illusion that writers block only afflicts failures then we’re never going to reach our goals. How do I know? Well because I’ve been working my way through this list for the past five days and getting absolutely nowhere. But I tell you it stops right now and from this day forward I will have the diligence of a machine.

So what’s my foolproof method for making achievable goals and crafting habits that will actually stick?

The first step: Acknowledge previous accomplishments.
No one is more guilty of neglecting this first step than me. I like making plans. I like working towards goals. In other words I prefer living in the future to living in the present. Drawbacks to having this sort of mentality are that not only am I always anxious but I’m never satisfied and because of this I always have this expectation that it’s the NEXT project or the NEXT book that’s going to solve all of my problems and I never stop to reflect and be GRATEFUL for the things I’ve already managed to accomplish. So before you make all of these amazing plans for 2014 stop and take a moment to remember that you are awesome! And that the groundwork you laid in 2013 will be put to good use only when you learn to appreciate yourself and finally allow yourself to take pride in all that you’ve already accomplished.

Step two: Be realistic but not complacent.
I anticipated devoting even more time to writing this year and because of that I laid out an incredibly ridiculous itinerary that I’m already regretting. I’ve already missed one of my deadlines and we’re not even a week into the new year. Why? Because I’m incompetent? No. Because I’m crazy! And all of the guilt I’ve felt over not meeting my first goal of the year isn’t due to me not being good enough but it’s due to me being unrealistic. Which is also another detrimental side effect of my tendency to live in the future. Goals are meant to challenge us and push us out of our comfort zones but they aren’t meant to cripple our sanity and totally derail our lives. Now I’m taking a step back to reflect and reevaluate how to top last year’s productivity while also preserving my mental health.

Step three: Be specific about what you want.
Make a list, a pinterest board, tattoo that shit on your arm if you have to but if your aspirations aren’t crystal clear you’ll never make them come true. So stop with the vague wishing for fame and riches and start searching your soul for whatever it is that you truly desire. Then place that dream at the forefront of your mind and allow it to maneuver every move you make until it’s not a dream any more but reality.

Step four: Set deadlines and let others hold you accountable.
Deadlines are your friend because they give you a still target at which to aim every hour of every day. And thanks to all of that guilt-induced productivity it will also keep you from becoming one of those writers who takes ten years to write just one novel. Those people are lunatics. You don’t want to be a lunatic do you? So set deadlines. But don’t just set deadlines, set a deadline and shout it from the rooftops. Or maybe just tell your spouse or your best friend or your mother or your critique partner. The point is tell someone who can help to hold you accountable or else you’ll be inclined to reward yourself with breaks or give yourself some leeway and then suddenly it’ll be ten years later and you’ve only made it to the third draft. Another perk of having someone else hold you accountable? You have someone to whip you into shape on those days you’re busy making excuses and you have someone to help you celebrate with cupcakes and a pitcher of margaritas. Unless you’d like to keep those all to yourself. Let’s face it, after writing an entire novel you probably deserve it.

Step five: Devote yourself to a routine.
I know not everyone will agree with this one. Some will argue that inspiration can’t be confined; that it’s random and spontaneous. But the truth is inspiration is not only something organic but it’s also something learned. Something that can be manipulated and summoned and harnessed. But only after hours and hours and hours and hours of practice. After sitting down at the same time every day, devoting the same amount of hours, cranking out the same amount of words. Trust me, the “muse” is not as unpredictable and elusive as everyone thinks. She can be tamed. You just have to show her who’s boss. And that means telling her when and where she needs to show up every day for work. Because forcing those words out of her will be work. Hard work. But by creating good habits from the get-go it will only make achieving your dreams that much easier.

Step six: Finish.
Even when you don’t want to. Even when you don’t think you can. When bills are due and you’ve just come down with the flu and your radiator just went out and you’re fighting with your spouse and your dog just died and you’ve been working overtime and the entire world is falling down around you. Finish. Just finish. Because there is nothing worse than breaking the promises we make to ourselves.

Step seven: Celebrate.
For at least one day, one night just celebrate. Don’t think about what more you could have done. Don’t think about what’s next. Don’t think about anything at all if it’s outside the realm of just how awesome you are. Because you finished. Because you kept your promise and now you’re one step closer to making your dreams come true.

Step eight: Start over.
Because you should never put all of your eggs in one basket and because the only way to prove that the first time wasn’t a fluke is to do it all over again. And now you know you can.


14 thoughts on “Setting The Tone

    • Carol, I just checked out your post and there were so many interesting tidbits about the writers you mentioned. I payed close attention to the quotes having to do with inspiration and I agree with all of them. Having a routine is really the only way that I can get any work done. And for me that means mapping out every hour of every day from housework to writing in my WIP to blogging, etc. The first three months after I stopped working full-time I really struggled, not only with my dedication but with inspiration. I think that’s when I finally realized that the two go hand in hand. After being derailed by the holidays once again, I’m just now starting to build up my routine again and not only am I more efficient but I’m also the most inspired I’ve been in the past six months.

  1. I agree that it is so important to acknowledge previous accomplishments. Your prose in this text is eloquent and informative. I have a literary blog as well, so its nice to find a blogger with talent and a gift for the written word.

    • Thank you! What a compliment! The truth no one probably knows is that I sometimes spend hours just writing one blog post and I try to choose every word and every intention behind every word very carefully. So thank you so much for noticing. I just checked out your blog as well and I really look forward to following your posts.

  2. I am absolutely loving this post. (Although, the whole running away to join the circus thing is appealing to me. It’s almost scary how very appealing this idea is.)

    I am one of the “ten-years-for-one-book” lunatics. Ugh. It’s so embarrassing even to admit it out loud. A baby + depression + PTSD on the side all kind of derails things a bit (or a lot), but, still, I keep on looking at what I have done and at where I am. I keep thinking about how I had planned to be sooooo much farther along by now — like, at the third or fourth, etc … book in the series. And I keep on hating myself for how this has all ended up. It’s weird how so much time can pass without us even realizing it’s happening. Which, I know, sounds stupid … but I think that’s life, as you so wisely pointed out.

    Anyhow … I really liked what you said about not hating ourselves for what’s happened in the past. 2014 is my year to try and get my *stuff* together and work on implementing the attitude adjustment I’ve fought for in therapy for the past three years. I’m definitely going to keep this post in mind for when the going gets tough, and I need reminders to point me in the right direction. 🙂

    • Please don’t do it! Haha I promise, it’s not worth it. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything. But don’t be so hard on yourself. So many people struggle with finishing and I think the truth is that those roadblocks we create for ourselves have nothing to do with writing. Sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to finish the things we start or to pursue our passions because we don’t think we deserve it. Because we don’t think we’re good enough. And not just for writing but for anything. But the greatest gift we can give ourselves is the permission to reach our full potential, though that’s impossible when we’re constantly giving ourselves permission to give up. So give yourself permission to be great this year and then just do it!

  3. Thanks for sharing this great advice. I really like the one about deadlines and holding yourself accountable. While I’m good with setting goals I often lose my way if I don’t set a deadline. Sometimes I don’t want to share them because I worry how I’ll feel if I fail. Now I realize how important it is to set deadlines.

    Tomorrow I’ll make a list!

    • Trust me, I know how you feel! Holding myself accountable with others is something I’m actively working on seeing as I was a closet writer up until last year. I usually don’t like talking about my books or what I’m working on with family and friends because I feel like I’m bothering them somehow or they’re only feigning interest. And like you, I would hate to mention something I’m working on or a release date that doesn’t actually end up happening. It’s so hard for us writers to feel legitimate in what we do especially when we live in a world where people constantly question how the service we provide is actually practical. But the truth is no one is going to validate our work. We have to validate ourselves. We have to believe that what we do is important. And that means not being afraid to discuss it and not being afraid to advocate for it. I’m still pretty tight lipped about what I’m working on, but for financial reasons, I do let my partner know when I expect to have things out or for sale. That way we can plan for those extra expenses and in a way I have someone to remind me of the commitments I’ve made.

  4. This, and a couple of other posts like these, are what I’m borrowing to help me put together some plans of attack to get me to reach my writing and personal goals for this year.

    Thanks for sharing these great ideas!

    • I’m so glad you found this helpful. I’m the type of person who always needs a plan, even if it’s just how to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. I like feeling productive and in control and when my goals are clear and somewhere I can see them, it makes them harder to ignore.

      • I’m the opposite, I can’t stand planning. But I’m going to use this year as one in which I make plans and stick by them, in an attempt to make myself more accountable to deadlines and personal and professional goals.

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