Day 1: Set Your Goals

Since last year’s Writer’s March, I’ve been thinking a lot about goals.  What makes a goal “Good”?   For the purposes of this Writer’s March, I would like to define a “good” goal as a goal that is, above all else, “achievable.”

4 things to keep in mind when setting your GOAL

Start Small but Don’t be Afraid to Push Yourself

If you aren’t already writing daily, don’t jump into five hours/day.  I was writing an hour a day consistently, and when I bumped myself up to 90 minutes, I struggled to keep it.  I grew discouraged, and as a result, I stopped writing.  Don’t let that happen to you.  If all you can do is 15 minutes/day, don’t be afraid to say it.  Chances are that you’ll write for much longer anyway.  Remember, the purpose of Writer’s March is to find a way for writing to fit into your life.  They say that it takes 30 days to create a habit.  Why not make the habit a goal as well?

That said: whenever you sit down to write, aim for more.  Can the 15 minutes become 30?  Can the 30 become an hour?  Just because you’ve set a goal, doesn’t mean you can’t surpass it at every chance you get.

Be as SPECIFIC as Possible.  

They say that goals are better achieved if they are measurable.  In other words, if possible, make your goals concrete.  Here are some of the Current Challenger goals posted so far:

  • Melanie Unruh’s Monthly Goal: To write 4 stories in the month
  • Lenore Gusch’s Monthly Goal: To write a short story
  • Teresa E. Gallion’s Daily Goal: To write a poem a day

What I envy about those training for marathons are the way they are always advertising their running times and training schedules.  Ran six miles today.  Ran ten miles today.  Think of the daily goals as the same thing: what are you doing each day (writing and for how long?),  and what is your version of the marathon (a novel, a story, a single poem)?  And don’t forget: the act of building a writing habit is also an excellent monthly goal.

Once the Goals Are Set: Keep Them!

When I was at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference in 2010, the question posed at every reading was this: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever been given? John Dufresne, fiction writer and author of Is Life Like this?, gave this advice:  KEEP YOUR BUTT IN THE SEAT.

These are words I have heard so often I can no longer count them.  The first time was through Greg Martin in a Creative Non-Fiction workshop.  Greg advocated for a minimum of 3 hours/day for his MFA Graduate students.  He firmly believed that even if you couldn’t write a word, you had to sit there anyway.  As Greg put it, you are training your body to write the same way a runner trains his/her body.  You sit there staring so that the next time, when the inspiration strikes, you are ready for it.  If you’d like to hear more about Greg’s theory, you can visit his famous TREADMILL JOURNAL (for writers).

And finally: Don’t Let the Goal Stand in for the Task

Derek Sivers in this Ted Talk says it best:

According to Sivers:

“Repeated psychology tests have proven that telling someone your goal make it less likely to happen.  Anytime you have a goal, there [is]…some work that needs to be done to be done in order to achieve it.  Ideally, you would not be satisfied until you have actually done the work, but when you tell someone your goal and they acknowledge it, psychologists have found that…the mind is tricked into the feeling that it’s already done, and then once you feel that satisfaction you are less motivated to do the hard work necessary.”

In a way, perhaps this Ted Talk is saying that Writer’s March is a bad idea.  But I don’t think you have to look at it this way.  Especially when, at the end, he says that if you must say your goals out loud,

state it in a way that gives you no satisfaction.  Such as, I really want to run this marathon so I need to train five times a week and kick my ass if I don’t, okay?

In others, rather than focusing on the end result, focus on the difficult path (because writing daily is not easy).   But whenever possible: STAY SILENT.  For my purposes, I’ll keep my thoughts about my novel to myself.  And if you must talk about your writing, why not talk about Writer’s March (…ahem…shameless promotion…)

Got a Goal?

If you want your name and your goal to be on the “official” Challengers Page, please SIGN UP TO JOIN THE MARCH.

Why I (And You) Need to Be Writing Now. But Nothing.

[By Guest Blogger Elizabeth Tannen]

A couple of weeks ago I met with my adviser about my dissertation. It was, in a word, traumatic.

A year and half–midway through–the MFA program, I had finally decided that, rather than compile a bunch of vaguely connected essays and call it a day, I was going to set out to do the thing I came here to do: write a book. The family memoir I’ve wanted to write since long before I came here.

For a long time I convinced myself that, because of what I don’t know, I couldn’t write it at all: I tried writing it as fiction, but soon realized that’s not what I wanted to do. I wrote a twenty-page essay that I reasoned was all I could possibly produce on the subject.

And then I realized that was bullshit.

So I got permission from the necessary people and began to conduct interviews. For days I walked around campus feeling elated. I was going to write a book! You know, once I’d gotten all the information and knew what it was really going to be about.

And then I met with my adviser, Greg.

“I’m going to start doing interviews once a week!” I proudly pronounced.

“That’s great,” he replied, unimpressed. “And you’re writing, too, right?”

“What do you mean, writing? I don’t even know what I’m writing about!”

It was then that Greg turned my world upside down and transformed my excitement into sheer, unmitigated terror.

“You need to be writing every day,” he said. “Of course you don’t know what it’s about yet. You’re only going to figure it out by writing it. All the time.”

As a teacher of creative writing, I know this. All the time I tell my students that they shouldn’t know what’s going to happen in their stories before they’ve written them–things get discovered on the page. That’s the way writing works.

Which I tell you only to illustrate that one can know something, teach it, even, and still, when necessary–by which I mean when trying to evade writing, aka most days–completely, aggressively, totally unconsciously, forget it.

“I don’t understand,” I insisted to Greg, petulant and aggrieved as a hungry toddler with twenty minutes before snack. “How can I start writing when I don’t know what the structure’s going to be? Or what the scope of it is! Or the point of view!?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he shot back. “I could give you ten prompts right now.”

At which point he did, in fact, offer about ten writing prompts with which I easily could, and thankfully, have begun, to gather substantial writing material.

The other thing he did, which is often a thing he does, was to throw a book at me: this time, “The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction,” by Stephen Koch

“You can borrow this until you take one look at it and realize you need it and order your own from Amazon the next day,” he said. Dutifully, I took it. And dutifully, I did.

Mainly because of this quote, with which I will leave you, and bid you good, if uncertain, writing:

“‘But–you may say–‘I don’t even know my story yet.’ My answer is: ‘Of course you don’t know your story yet.’ You are the very first person to tell this story ever, anywhere in the whold world, and you cannot know a story until it has been told. First you tell it, then you know it. It is not the other way around. That may sound illogical, but to the narrating mind, it is logic itself. Stories make themselves known, they reveal themselves–even to their tellers–only by being told.”

Happy revealing!