Every so often in writer circles, there is talk about goal-setting and success and word-count and other such lofty things.  I repeatedly hear writers moan, “My word count is too low.”  “I need a kick in the pants.”  “THIS month it’ll be different and I’ll write a NaNo length manuscript.”  (NaNo refers to the National Novel Writing Month held every year in November; more information at their website.)  What these goals fail to do is offer a workable way to achievement.  They’re not bad goals, exactly, just ineffective ones.  Why?

The secret lies in why we don’t write more.  The common misconception is that we don’t write because we’re lazy, or because we’re doing other things, or because that other person got there first and there’s just no use, or because all the good stories have been told and there’s no space for us and our stories.  The reason is rarely because we are physically incapable of writing.

I’d like to tell you an anecdote.  A professional friend of mine, under deadline for a novel (and her novels are over one hundred thousand words each), became very ill.  After hospitalization, she returned home and was given the wrong medication.  She nearly died.  Her ability to sit up at a desk at all was gone.  She could not type.  She could hardly see the monitor in front of her face.

What did she do?

She typed that novel, word by painful word, with one finger.  Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

If that doesn’t blow any excuse out of the water, I don’t know what will.

What’s the lesson there?  When we have large projects in front of us, the only way to accomplish them is by one bite at a time.  One does not eat a chicken by stuffing the whole thing in one’s mouth.  One has a nibble at a drumstick.  A bite of wing.  One eats the chicken, slowly, swallowing each bite before going on to the next one.  So, too, with writing a novel.  One does not sit down in one sitting and write a novel (unless under rare circumstances).  To have sustainable growth, one gets into the habit of writing a small amount, each day, which add up to a completed manuscript.

Next time you have the opportunity to make a large goal, why not try taking a step back and set a small one instead?  Maybe, “I’ll write 3 pages a day.”  Or, “I’ll write 1,000 words a day.”  Or even, “I’ll write 3 pages today.”  See if that unlocks some of your potential and gets you onto the page.  That way, at the end of the month, you won’t be one of the writers who laments, “Wow, I had such high hopes for this month but… [fill in the blank].”

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.

Write on!

5 thoughts on “Why Big Goals Don’t Work – Baby Step Your Way To Success

  1. That story gave me chills. Thanks for sharing this inspiring tale with us!

  2. Thank you for sharing!

    I admit that for me it's not so much the goal setting that I struggle with. I've tried several different styles of goals, large and small, and the sticking point for me is getting back on track when I fall short. It's sometimes challenging to know whether to just pick up and move forward or take a new direction altogether. And how to keep a stone in the road that stubs your toe from turning into a major stumbling block.

    Great food for thought, as always!

  3. Thanks, Darla! It gave me chills as it was related to me; I'm glad I was able to bring that across.

    Nikki, it's interesting you bring that up. I was talking about that same issue this morning with my mentor. I think maybe I'll tackle that on my next Wiley. It's something I had to learn in Weight Watchers (and keep learning it, I suppose). But you're right – it's important to develop the skill to pick yourself back up or it's easy to get stopped in our tracks.

  4. Tess Miller says:

    You are so right about the reasons we give ourselves NOT to write. The critic is always there with its insidious voice and it's hard not to listen. But if we wish to do anything, we need to learn to ignore the critic. Here's to making and keeping habits and learning to do what we want to do, not what we tell ourselves we can't.

  5. Hi, Tess! I agree, it's so hard not to listen to the critic. We fight ourselves and so often, WE are our own worst enemy.

    I love it! I'll take that toast – here's to making and keeping good habits! ~raises glass~ (Well, okay, coffee mug, but you get the picture.)

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