December 31, 2019
Goals are like your characters. They aren’t real until you write them down and bring them to life. Until then, they’re just dreams and aspirations.
In a story or novel, your characters face a lot of challenges. So do your goals, every minute of every day. They’re constantly under attack.
The first hurdle they face is this—it’s easier not to write.
Subliminally we all know this. It’s the root of procrastination. As Dorothy Parker said: “I hate writing. I love having written.”
On days when you can’t type fast enough to capture the words leaping off your fingertips, writing is more fun than a barrel of monkeys, but it’s still not easy. It never was, it never will be. The hours are long, the frustrations many, everything from uncooperative characters or a giant plot hole you just discovered, to a phone that won’t stop ringing and dinging or the dog barking at leaves blowing across the yard.
Sometimes you can work through frustrations. It helps to silence the phone, close the drapes so the dog can’t see the leaves, and ignore the doorbell (unless it’s Hugh Jackman with a bouquet of flowers).
Uncooperative characters or a giant plot hole might take some think time. If you hit something like this, I encourage you to walk away from the keyboard and do something else. Staring at the monitor will only frustrate you. I start laundry or clean toilets. One of my writer friends takes a shower; another cleans the pool. There’s something about water that jumpstarts creativity. While your conscious mind is distracted, your subconscious can get busy on the problem and find a solution.
Let’s say it takes you two days to come up with a fix. If your daily goal is 5 pages, does that mean you hit the panic button because you’re 10 pages behind?
No. It means you draw a big smiley face in your writing journal instead and jot something like “Plot hole plugged!” (And don’t forget, the mental work you did over those two days counts as writing.)
Frustration and panic are two more enemies of goal keeping. Do everything you can—including changing your perspective—to head them off. Writing prompts or exercises can help distract you from the panic, and clear your frustration. Respect your writing time. If you don’t, no one else will, believe me. Make that time for yourself by entering your “appointment” in your calendar.
Create a space dedicated to your writing and nothing else. Until our oldest son left home, my “office” was one wall of the master bedroom. I had room for a desk to hold my PC and printer with a hutch top to hold writing stuff. No room for anything else, which was the whole idea.
Make a sign and hang it on the door outside your space: WRITER AT WORK DISTURB AT YOUR OWN RISK. Post your writing hours underneath. And then snarl when someone opens the door. If you don’t, your kids or the hubs will keep barging in.
I have two desks in my office. One is for writing only. It holds my monitor, writing journal, a vertical plexiglass file for notepads, 3 pen cups, an 8x10 legal pad, a glass of water, a Kleenex cube, a cup of tea. Nothing else. Nothing to distract me.
When I need a break to stretch my brain, I move to the other desk, a rolltop, which has its own chair. I can look out the window, file my nails, check my day planner, turn on the radio for a few minutes, eat a couple of Oreos. Then back to work.
Life is full of distractions: the phone, the Internet, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter—probably a couple dozen more social media platforms I don’t know about—TV, pets, lunch invitations, books you’re dying to read. All these things are fun—most of the time, writing isn’t.
How do you stay on track with all these lovely, tempting things waving at you? Stick to your plan and your writing schedule. You created them to keep you focused when temptation comes calling. Put in your time and write your pages. Every day. Then you can play.
Keep distractions like your phone and tablet out of your writing space. Even better, don’t load social media platforms on your work machine. It’s too easy to hop over to Facebook and check out the latest cat meme. Video games too—not on your work machine.
It isn’t just fun things that will lure you away from the keyboard. If you’re having a rough day, you may hear the refrigerator call “Come clean me!” This could be your subconscious suggesting that you go do something mindless so it can work the kinks out of the scene that’s giving you fits.
Go clean the fridge and see what happens. Ignore the kitchen floor if it reminds you it hasn’t seen the Swiffer in a few days. That’s probably not your subconscious. It’s likely your whiny little baby self who doesn’t want to write today. Why it would rather mop the floor beats me, but this has happened to me more than once. Return to the keyboard and check in with your subconscious.
The best way to defeat procrastination is to nail your daily, weekly, and monthly goals. One, that insures you’ll meet your yearly goals, and two, procrastination hates success. It will usually shut up, go away and take your whiny little baby self with it.
And there you’ll be, basking in accomplishment on the summit of Mount Goal-Keeper.
If you stick to your plan and meet your goals, you can write those stories, those articles, that novel. Will it be easy? Some days, yes, most days, no. Write smart, realistic goals, leave miracles and smiley faces alone. Work out a writing schedule, stick to it like Super Glue—be on the lookout for procrastination, frustration, panic, and distractions—and you can achieve whatever your heart desires.
I did it. You can, too.
Lynne Smith, aka Lynn Michaels, is the author of two novellas and sixteen novels, three of which were nominated for the Romance Writers of America’s RITA award, the Oscar of romance writing. She won two awards from Romantic Times Magazine, for best romantic suspense and best contemporary romance. Her only complaint about writing is that it really cuts into her reading time. She lives in Missouri with her husband, two sons, three grandsons, and one granddaughter, born on Lynne’s birthday. Lynne is also an IFW instructor. She teaches “Breaking into Print” and “Shape, Write and Sell Your Novel.” Are you ready to start writing your book? Let us help! Show the Institute for Writers a sample of your work here.