Be The Best You and State Your Round 2 #ROW80 Goals

I do a lot of reading, and it seems I’m often coming across quotes about stuff that makes me think “Oh, I should write a post about that.”  It’s not a surprise that my brain takes stuff from all kinds of venues and sources and twists them around to fit for writers and the writing life.  It’s how I filter the world, interpret it.   I’ve been reading my way through The Art of War For Writers by James Scott Bell, and last night, I came across the perfect quote for the start of this new Round:

Don’t worry about trying to be better than someone else.  Always try to be the very best you can be.  Learn from others, yes. But don’t just try to be better than they are.  You have no control over that.  Instead try, and try very hard, to be the best you can be.  That you have control over.  ~John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach (p. 49 The Art of War for Writers)

So much of our lives as writers leads us down the path of comparison.  It’s a dangerous road to walk.  It can lead us to turn a disease ridden GREEN.  Because there’s always someone further along the path than we.  Someone who got lucky or was in the right place at the right time.  Someone who might not have been working as hard or as long (according to our perceptions) as we have.  That way lies madness and envy and a soul-sucking waste of energy.

I’m big about issuing challenges around here.  I like to push people.  So of course I have a new challenge for y’all this round.

For the next 80 days, I want you to resist comparison.  Don’t you give a single thought to anyone else’s goals, anyone else’s progress.  You are the only one who matters.  If you must compare, compare your progress this round to what you did last round.  Push yourself to do more.  Up that daily word count by 50 or 100 words.  Edit a few extra pages.  Read a craft book.

But don’t you be checking your Amazon ranking.  Don’t look at anybody ELSE’S Amazon ranking.  Or their number of reviews.  Don’t pay attention to whether Billie Sue wrote 5,000 words a day to your 500.  It doesn’t matter.  You’re not Billie Sue.  If you’re hanging out on Twitter and Facebook and talking to other writers, use it to get into some word wars and push your own limits.  Don’t pay attention to whatever the latest article is about whoever the latest wunderkin is who sold 100,000 copies of their ebook overnight.  You aren’t them.  They don’t matter.  They are not part of your path.  All these potential comparative distractions are like the moles in Mario Kart.  They pop up and blind you to your true path, trying their damnedest to make you crash rather than win the race.

The only one in this race is you.

So keep your eyes on the road and challenge yourself.  See you on the other side.

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Make The Habit and Declare Your Goals

I find myself thinking  a great deal about habits as this new year gets rolling.  Nothing new about this as we are all usually vowing to change some (Exercise more!  Eat less! Avoid sugar!).  But I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how exactly you create a successful new habit.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the subject and trying to suss out how I can apply what I know of learning (because, hey, I teach that class every semester) to the process and aid in success.  So I’ve come up with a few things between all my reading that you should keep in mind as you’re working out what your goals are and what writing habits you would like to create (because really, writing should be a habit, not a chore or a special occasion when inspiration strikes kind of thing).

  1. Make it small.  There’s this tendency, ESPECIALLY at the start of something new, to want to declare sweeping and drastic changes!  Problem is that humans are hard wired to resist change, so this sets us up for failure.  So instead of declaring “I will write 1,000 words a day!”, say you’ll write 250.  If you write more, then great!  But if you don’t you’ve done a page and that’s more than you had before writing any.  And as we are all about adaptation here at ROW80, if you find that works fine for you, then stretch yourself and adapt, going up by 50 words each week or whatever.  By the end of the round, you’ll likely have trained yourself to write more at each sitting than you could at the start.
  2. Attach it to something you already consistently do.  This is kind of like setting the stage for writing, training your brain that now is the time to buckle down and focus.  Priming yourself for the action you want to take. For example, I always do my dishes and load the dishwasher while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil to make tea.  I drink my tea religiously at least once a day, every single day.  Which means that usually, all the dishes are done at least once a day.  So for writing (on weekdays anyway), I sit down every night after I feed the dogs and open my WIP.  It’s part of my nightly routine.
  3. Reward yourself.  I confess, I am really bad about this.  Because I’m inclined to want to reward myself with something food related (which doesn’t fit in with my lifestyle of calorie restriction) or with diving into a good book (which I don’t have time to do in the evenings).  But it doesn’t have to be some grand thing.  You can celebrate with a self back pat, a fist pump, a “Go me!”  The point is to associate positive feelings with engaging in your habit.  This makes it much more likely that you’ll, you know, stick to the habit.

So lay it out!  Write up your goals for this round.  You’ve got 80 days to make these new habits a reality!

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Failing Small (And State Your Round 4 Goals)

There is a disturbing trend in American society (and, dare I say, Western culture in general) to have an All or Nothing attitude.  We make these grand, sweeping (and totally unrealistic) goals of “I will do X every day!”  “I will never eat chocolate again!”  “I will stop ordering cheeseburgers every time I go out to eat!”  Whatever the statement, it’s usually well intended but utterly moronic and setting yourself up for complete failure.  Because change is hard and it’s challenging and your brain is automatically programmed to abandon ship at the first sign of distress or failure (it’s actually programmed to derail you in a lot of ways–go read the article, it’s very interesting).

So the first time you slip up and have a Snickers bar, or that first day you oversleep and don’t work out, or that first weekend you don’t write–your traitorous brain is sitting there like the devil on your shoulder, saying “well it’s all over now…you’ve already messed up.  Forget the slippery slope, you already blew it.”  And then your subconscious gives you permission to blow your diet the rest of the week.  Stop running.  Stop writing.  Whatever.

This is a grossly illogical way to think and you do yourself and your goals more damage by engaging in this kind of thought process.

Here’s a newsflash, people: Y’all are human.  You’re gonna screw up.  Life is gonna rear up and bite you in the butt.  This is as inevitable as death or taxes.

Part of what I want you to learn by participating in ROW80 is how to FAIL SMALL.  Instead of saying “Well, I ate out at lunch, so I might as well cheat the rest of the day since I already blew it”, say “I won’t cheat two meals in a row.”  Instead of saying “I’m going to write EVERY DAY”, maybe it makes more sense to say “I won’t miss two days of writing in a row.”  You may very well have stretches where you write every day.  But if you miss a day here or there, then you ought to have that much impetus to get back to it tomorrow.  Learn to be okay with these tiny failures.  In fact, don’t even think of them as failures.  Think of them as Human Moments–those points in time that prove you aren’t a machine.

This concept will be particularly salient this round as it includes HOLIDAYS.  So, keep that in mind as you state your goals for Round 4, which (for you newbies) you will write up in a post on YOUR BLOG, then link back to in the linky below (that would be the thing that says CLICK HERE, not the comments section).

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Be An Action Verb (Oh, and State Your ROW80 Goals)

I am a big fan of owning things.  I don’t mean in a materialistic kind of way, but in an absorbing something into your identity kind of way.  So instead of saying “I’m an aspiring writer”, you just say, “I’m a writer.”  This is important, a big step toward being a professional writer.  But that’s not actually what I want to talk about today.  Not directly anyway.

See, here’s the thing.  While it’s a great thing to own being a writer, it’s not enough.  It’s necessary but not sufficient.  Because saying that you are a writer is a static thing.  It’s a noun.  A descriptive term.

And it’s a term you need to earn.  Repeatedly.  Because you can’t call yourself a writer and mean it if you’re not actually writing on a regular basis.   You aren’t really a writer if you just wrote something that one time and then never touched it again.  Those people are hobbyists, those folks you meet at cocktail parties who say “Oh I have a great idea for a book”, who might actually have gone the next step further and vomited it out during NaNo one year and then got it out of their system and moved on to the next thing.

No.  You’re better than that.  You have more than one idea, recognize that you need to work on your craft, and that you actually have to KEEP WRITING.

WRITING.  That’s the clincher.  The VERB.  The ACTION verb that indicates something is HAPPENING on a continual basis.

That is what this challenge is really about.  Helping you to become an action verb by encouraging you to set goals and work toward them on a daily basis.  To report in about them, and, most importantly, change them if they aren’t working for you.

So that is my challenge to you this Round.  Be an ACTION VERB people!  Earn that title of writer.

Don’t forget to link to your goals post in the linky below!

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Building Discipline and ROW80 Goals

I got into a discussion with my crit partner Susan Bischoff last week, who remarked that I was the only person she knew that, were I to be able to quit my job to write full time, actually would write full time.  After a bit of thought, I decided she was probably right.  The vast majority of people would be well intentioned.  They think, “Oh, if I could just quit my job, I could put out 3 or 4 books a year!”  And then that glorious day would happen, and those people, in the absence of the structure of an Evil Day Job work day, would wind up frittering away all of their time on Twitter or Pinterest or blogging or TV or any of the 875,000 things we love to do to procrastinate.  They might even write less WITHOUT the job than they did WITH the job.  Because they mistakenly think “Oh I have all day instead of just that hour before dinner,” and then their day gets filled up with other stuff, mostly crap, and then they’re left at the end of the day wondering where their time went.


This is the funny thing about time.  It has a habit of always being full, no matter how much or how little you need to cram into a frame.


Honey badger feeding on a snake

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The simple fact of the matter is that it isn’t enough to want to write full time.  If you don’t take the time and make the effort to develop DISCIPLINE and good habits BEFORE you quit your job, you aren’t going to have discipline or good habits after.  This is part of what ROW80 is about.  I want to help you develop that discipline and establish those good habits in your every day life.  I want to help you take YOURSELF seriously as a writer, treat YOURSELF as a professional, so that that bracket of time you can devote to writing, be it an hour or a day, becomes set in your mind as Writing Time–something you protect with the fierceness of a honey badger.  Because here’s the thing–when you’re self employed and most ESPECIALLY when you are a writer, people will not take you seriously unless you make them.  They see what you do as a hobby, not a means of making a living, and assume you can drop what you’re doing to do whatever darn thing they want because it’s no big deal.  You’re self employed and can set your own hours.  Or even, dare I say it, that it’s just not that important because it isn’t like a Real Job.  Yep the morons of the non-creative world think that.  Some of them anyway.

So Susan is absolutely right.  If I’m ever able to quit my day job, I actually will write full time.  I already have a pretty good idea of exactly how my daily schedule will go (because job or no, I am a schedule-happy person).  And it will work because I have spent years developing the discipline to make it work.

I want that for all of you.  I want you to get comfortable with that discipline, with protecting your Writing Time.  So give some thought to that as you make your goals for this Round.  What kind of good habits to you want to establish?  What sort of discipline do you need to work on?


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The Test “Mile” and Goals

Each round here at ROW80, I always start off either talking about or directing y’all to my post on sustainable change.  I am a big big fan of teaching you to set goals that are realistic and attainable, goals that will fit into your life–whether that means you set them that way straight out of the gate or have to adapt as we go along through the round.  Either way’s fine.  The point is that you GET IT, do it, and get that boost of meeting your goals that helps you stick to them.

I want to talk about something a bit different this go round.

I am not a runner.  I have, at varying points in my life, tried to be.  For one stretch of college, I actually pulled it off, regularly running 2-3 miles a day.  But I have a very old knee injury that precludes me from really doing it, and frankly, I really hate running compared to other forms of aerobic exercise (not near enough payoff for the gasping, wheezing torture of the process).  But I did pick up one incredibly valuable concept from running, and that is the idea of the Test Mile.

There’s this notion among runners that even if you feel like utter crap, you should still get out there and do a Test Mile.  By the end of that mile you’ll know whether or not you need to stop because you still feel like crap.  Most likely, you’ll have pushed through the UGH and will go on to finish the rest of your run and feel better for it (Note: On a health and fitness front, same applies–you will never regret a workout).

I want to challenge each of you to set a Test Mile for your writing.  It’ll be different for everybody, given our wide variations in productivity.  But the thing is, we all have massive demands on our time.  Unavoidable stuff like doing our jobs, taking care of our families, partaking in other social obligations.  And then there’s the stuff we WANT to do.  Catch up on DVR.  Read a good book.  SLEEP.  In modern society we often operate on overload, constantly pushing ourselves until we’re cranky, tired, and the last thing we want to do is sit our Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

Do it anyway.

I encourage you, this round, each and every day, to sit down an write your Test Mile.  Whatever that is.  For me, that’s 500 words.  That’s my comfort zone, something I can usually rip out no matter how lousy I feel or distracted I am.  For you that might be 250 or even 100 words.  It might be 1,000 (in which case, you’re very lucky and should totally let the rest of us in on your secret).  Whatever your Test Mile is, sit your butt down and write it.  Even if you don’t get beyond it.  Even if every syllable blows chunks, that’s words, that’s practice, and that keeps your brain more properly oiled for the next time, when you’ll sit your butt down and totally kill it.

So write up your goals in a blog post (be sure your blog is not set to private or no one can actually visit you to leave encouragement) and link to it in the linky below (that thing that says “Click here”), NOT in the comments section.  Be sure to link directly to the individual post, not the main blog page.  And if you need to change your goals as we get further into the round, that’s totally kosher around here.  The key is to keep pushing forward and not quit, and focus on the positive progress you do make instead of what you perceive as failures.

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Kait Nolan