Michael Roberts

Tackling The Big Goals by Michael Roberts

How are you big goals coming along?


Did you set up enormous plans at the beginning of ROW80 that are beginning to feel unattainable? If so, you’re not alone. We didn’t get in this whole goal-setting challenge to create easy achievements for ourselves.


We came to accomplish something.


Unfortunately, we feel even worse if we miss that big goal. We go through a mindset that goes something like, “This challenge is 80 days long, and I missed that one goal that was going to prove how awesome of writer I really am…”


Breaking Down the Bigger Goals into Lots of Smaller Goals


I’m currently reading “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, and it’s already rocking my world. It’s the type of book that I heard about a long time ago now, and I kept meaning to get to it.


The authors have a few sections in their book that really struck me in regards to meeting your goals. Their first big idea: “Your estimates suck.”


If we can’t accurately estimate how long it will take us to get to the grocery store and back, how on earth are we going to nail down a more abstract process like creativity?


Going for the big goals that we think we’ll accomplish in 80 days might end up taking a year, or it could come to us in 60 days. Rather than putting all of our energy in one do-or-die type of test, we should instead create loads of small goals that add up to the major goal.


If I want to write 100,000 words in a month, I can’t think about the entire challenge. I have to think about the checkpoints along the way.  The process then goes something like this, “This week, I’ll focus on chapters 3 and 4. Since my chapters average at 4,000 words, I know that I’ll be keeping on track to reach the overall goal.”


You’re not suddenly writing less, but you are giving yourself a mental victory with each completed chapter. And victories are crucial to accomplishments.


Make Tiny Decisions


Another bit of advice that the authors give that I find extremely relevant to the creative process is to “make tiny decisions.” When we’re faced with a major crossroads kind of decision, we feel paralyzed about answering it in exactly the right way.


And with writing, answering a major question the wrong way could mean extensive re-writes. We have to get it right on the first go-round, don’t we?


Not really, but to take even more pressure off of ourselves, what if we focused on the smaller choices? Let’s say your character is faced with a massively important decision of going off to college and leaving her true love behind, or staying home and passing up that amazing scholarship to an elite university. That decision is going to affect the character and the story pretty dramatically.


Rather than endlessly fretting, you could simply write outlines out for either path that the decision could take. Notice that we’re already doingsomething here instead of just waiting for the perfect answer to come to us. After the outlines are complete it’s simply a matter of picking which story would be more interesting to tell.


It’s the same decision, but the drama of it has been reduced significantly. We’re not blindly throwing all of our hope on a plot decision because it felt right at the time.


And if we’re completely wrong about the plot decision, then we can easily switch course. After all, we already have an outline to work from.


Make Your Challenges Easier on Yourself


This week, look for ways that you can break down your big goals into smaller accomplishments. Can you lower the risk of each decision to help ramp up your creativity? The more you get comfortable with taking those risks and getting things done, the more you can do.


Michael Roberts


The Beauty of Failing (And Trying Again) by Michael Roberts

Failure. That’s pretty much a dirty word when we’re talking about writing challenges, right?

Not at all.

All of us fail from time to time. We might miss a week’s goals, or our stories may not turn out as we had hoped. What then? Do you throw out your entire novel? Do you sit out for the rest of the ROW80 challenge, hoping to “do it right” the next time around?

No way!

Art, in all its varied forms, is an experimental process. Whether you’re trying out a new character in a novel or painting mountainside scenery for the first time, you’re doing something that’s never been done exactly the same way before. Though other writers might have had similar story ideas before, they never approached that story with your worldview and with your talent set. You’re bringing something new into the world with every bit of your writing.

Like any other experiment, it’s not always going to work out perfectly. We’re entirely accustomed to this idea in science. How many times do scientists have to run the experiment to find the correct process? How many “failures” did Edison endure before finding the proper filament for the light bulb?

Instead of scientific tools, we writers bring out our artistic abilities and intuition to improve, to craft a finer tale than the one we had imagined when we began.

But the only way to reach that stage of improvement is to get the words on the page. First, we have to get that first draft out there so that we can observe our progress. Did we “fail” with the first draft? No problem. We can revise a character right out of the story, or add one, as needed.

Writing Challenges and Measuring Failure

I’m especially excited about the ROW80 challenge because of the way that we can so easily recover from any missed goals along the way. Instead of facing one large, all-or-nothing challenge, we can set our own pace and recover as needed. Life happens, and it can be awfully disruptive to our creative pursuits, at times.

Looking at it from another perspective, if we’re inflexible with our goals and our writing, then we’re missing out on living, too. Your friends and family may or may not understand your love of the writing craft, but they care about you. If we put our writing first at the cost of our loved ones, have we really succeeded? How do we measure failure then? (After all, relationships are rich with inspirational tidbits for writing.)

Failure, as frustrating and painful as it can be, is a wonderful gut-check on what matters most in life. Is the story worth fixing? Then get to it. Is it worth it to catch up on your goals? Go for it. Is your writing worth disrupting your health and your relationships over? Hmm… you might want to think about that one.

Don’t lose hope when failure comes. Look for the opportunity to grow, knowing that every writer who has ever lived has had to overcome setbacks in order to accomplish anything worthwhile.


Michael Roberts