Sustainable Change

It’s Monday. I know, I know.  Here, have some caffeine.

:passes beverage:

Buck up.  It’s a new week, a new year, and the start of a new writing challenge.

I wanted to do something different with A Round of Words in 80 Days.  None of this frantic scramble to cram in high word counts in ridiculously short periods of time.  Just like crash dieting, that kind of challenge cannot be sustained for the long haul by most people.

I know a great deal about goal setting and behavior modification.  See, my stock and trade is clinical psychology.  So I know how to analyze and change behavior for a living.  Don’t worry, I won’t be analyzing you.  But I will help give you some insight into what will actually work.

See people are really bad about setting ridiculous goals. ESPECIALLY when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions.  Don’t tell me you haven’t said “I’m gonna lose 20 pounds by the end of January!” or “I’m going to get an agent by the end of the year!”  Do you see a problem with these kinds of goals?

Well, apart from the fact that they’re big, they’re all or nothing, and to an extent, they aren’t in your control.  See, these aren’t goals, they’re end results.  They say nothing about action.  Nothing about what you specifically will do to acheive these ends.

Instead of “I’m gonna lose 20 pounds by the end of January,” (which is, of course, a pretty enormous amount of weight to drop in a month), you could say, “I am going to exercise for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  I am going to track my caloric intake and be sure to stay within my daily recommended value.”  Instead of, “I’m gonna get an agent by the end of the year,” you can say, “I’m going to send out ten queries a month.”  Do you see how these are different?  These give regular, measurable steps that you can follow.  They aren’t all or nothing.

Writing goals should be the same way. And this is why challenges like NaNo are inherently flawed.  It requires a short, intense burst of activity.  A sprint.  But writing a novel isn’t the 100 yard (100k?) dash.  It’s a marathon.  A sprint like NaNo can burn you out and leave you panting.  But our goal isn’t to just write a novel. It’s to be a writer.  And that means developing consistent, long-standing writing habits that will make writing a priority in your life all the time, not just for one month.

So while there’s nothing wrong with saying, “I want to finish 2 novels this year,” you’ll get a whole lot further by saying, “I’m going to write 750 words a day and spend at least 30 minutes a day alone and unplugged.” (Yeah, those are my goals this round).  Those are things directly in my control, each and every day.  Things that I can monitor and modify as life throws challenges my way.  Because goals don’t have to be static either.  Life certainly isn’t.  So feel free to tweak your goals as necessary.  This is about making writing an effective part of your life. Make a sustainable change.

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31 comments

  1. I signed up for ROW80 still glowing after a NaNo win. Now I feel even more awesome, realizing I completed such a punishing sprint. I’m going to sustainably rock ROW80!

  2. Thanks for this balanced view of the next eighty days. It’s not so much about achieving targets as it is about getting into habits.

    If I write something every day, then I will consider this round a success. My ‘project’ goals are there to make sure I write to some purpose, but the main thing is to get into the *habit* of writing.

    Thanks again for helping us all stay focused.

  3. I’m a big fan of measurable goals…my three-decades-long career in social work was all about creating behavioral goals with clients. Clients who had messed up pretty badly, but were sometimes able to focus on short-term goals.

    I do have five published novels under my belt, but the burst of energy (right after retirement) that produced those books has been sidetracked by other interests, like blogging. So getting back into regular writing on a manuscript has required extra incentives.

    I’m looking forward to this challenge. Which reminds me…writing time!

  4. sorry messed up your list number 71 should be 70 – my fault – I got it wrong and reposted thereby creating two numbers for myself – thought I’d mess it up – just not good with these links

    whay happens now do we come back and report? via our blogs?

  5. Hi, I didn’t get to add my goal post in time, so I’m not on the linkys list… But I have it figured out now.
    I wish you all the best, and I will be cheering you on in spirit as you get those words down, as I do the same. :)

  6. I just learned of ROW80 today. Is the list closed for this round?
    It’s an amazing idea. I love NaNoWriMo as a one-a-year thing, but ROW80 seems more likely to create good long-term writing habits. Thanks for starting it!

  7. Looks like I’m a day late and a dollar short!! Any I can still sign up? No worries if not; I’ll find another way to be accountable to my commitment.

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