Day 1: Three Things to Know About Setting Writing Goals

Oh, man!  You’re here.  I am so excited to see you.  Welcome to Day 1.  Now, Let’s get down to it.  Here’s three things to know about setting and keeping goals:

#1:  Research Shows that Writer’s March is a Good Idea

cue sad attempt at key metaphor...

cue sad attempt at key metaphor…

In 2011, Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychologist from the Dominican University, conducted a study to find out how setting, writing, and communicating goals affected goal outcome.  One hundred and forty-nine educators, artists, vice presidents, bankers, and a slew of other occupations (aged 23-72) from Japan, England, Belgium, India, and the United States were divided into the following 5 groups:

  • Group 1: Participants who did NOT write down their monthly goal (they communicated it verbally)
  • Group 2: Participants who wrote down their monthly goal
  • Group 3: Participants who wrote down their monthly goals AND identified steps to achieve this goal (steps such as daily goals…)
  • Group 4: Participants who wrote down their goals, identified needed steps, AND communicated this information to a friend.
  • Group 5: Participants who wrote down their goals, identified steps, communicated their goals to a friend, AND updated that friend (weekly!) on their progress.

(Did anyone else feel like they were reading a menu from a Vietnamese Pho Restaurant?)  The results?

  1. Group 5 kicked ass.  Why?  Because 76% of its participants were able to achieve their monthly goal (compared to the 41% of Group 1).
  2. Writing friends kick ass.  Its probably not news to you, but when we tell a friend a goal, we are more likely to achieve it.  Perhaps we are afraid of letting the friend down?  Or, perhaps our friends are good at kicking us in the pants.
  3. Writing down your goals (also) kicks ass.  It is important to note that every other group did a whole lot better than Group 1 (the verbal goal communicators).  Writing down those specific goals really does makes a difference.

So its official: this Writer’s March thing is a scientifically-certified* endeavor.  The next time you talk to someone who is not participating, know that YOU are 30% more likely to get more writing done this month than they are.  Feel free to rub this in their faces.

#2:  The “Best” Goals Are Measurable, Attainable, and Meaningful

DSCN2933There are a number of different websites that will give you all kinds of advice on setting goals.  I like the one offered by Moira Allen mostly because it is the most simple:

  1. When setting your goal, be sure it is measurable.  Not sure what yours should be?  Think in numbers:  “I want to write ___ words by the end of the month.”  “I want to write ___ pages every day.”  “I want to write ___ poems/day.”  “I want to write for ___ minutes/day.”  Don’t have a big goal?  Remember that the monthly goal can be the daily act of writing itself.
  2. Break down your goals into attainable steps (daily goals).  In teaching, we call this backwards planning.  In football, they call it making the first down.  Allen points out that “attainability also means recognizing what is physically possible in the world of writing.”  She advocates to be “honest” and “realistic” with yourself.  Thus, if you are not already in the habit of writing daily, perhaps starting with 5 hours/day is a bit much?  Don’t be afraid of starting simple.
  3. Finally, and this is my favorite: the goal should be meaningful.  It sounds straightforward, but believe me, by day 27, sometimes remembering that the task at hand means something is the only thing that gets me through.

#3  We Aren’t so Much Different Than (Pavlov‘s) Dogs

They say that it takes 30 days to build a habit, so go easy on yourself as you work through the month.  For me, the aim of this endeavor is not perfection but the habit forming process.  And so, as we start the March, here’s some tips for building habits:

  • DSCN3925Use a trigger.  Pavlov rang a bell and his dogs salivated.  The bell became synonymous with the approach of food.  Why not use this knowledge to your advantage.  Some people light a candle to signal writing time.  Others drink wine.  Many writers advocate strongly for an egg timer (set it for 15 minutes and go!).  Personally, I like toast and coffee.  Find something you like.  Use the thing to trigger the writing.
  • Write at the same time, in the same place.  Your environment can act as a trigger as well.  Why not use…a desk, a coffee shop, the angle of the sun…to train your psyche.  I’m also a fan of leaving all  non-writing tasks OUT of that space (that goes for you teachers and yer shtinkin’ grading…).
  • Take away temptation.  For writers, the Internet can mean death to your work.  Perhaps you disconnect your Internet (which also might be a trigger!).  Maybe you take a 1-month hiatus from Facebook.  If you are someone who likes to clean instead of write, maybe you clean the house/dishes at night so you can wake up and go right to it.  You know the things that keep you from working (that’s you, TV watchers).  Why not suspend your cable for a month?  Why not turn off those smart phones?  Why not check your email only AFTER you’ve finished with your task.
  • Change the way you think.  I’ve heard it said: avoid saying things like “I should…” or “I have to…” and replace these ticks with phrases like “I get to…” or “I want to…” (as in, “I get to write today” instead of “I have to write today”) I also think we should all eradicate the word “can’t” from our lexicon…  Seriously.  Stop it with the can’t already…

Whatever you do, take control of the goal or the goal will control you (doesn’t that sounds like a final message from GI Joe?)

Ahem, so what now?

If you haven’t yet, you can officially JOIN THE MARCH by clicking HERE, and I’ll add you to the OFFICIAL CHALLENGERS PAGE.  Everyone else: stop reading this, set up your trigger, and go write.

*this statement has not been approved by the FDA, but that doesn’t mean its not true.