I always like to write on New Year’s Day. It feels so good to start off the year doing something that I love so much. And it also makes me feel like I’m going conquer the year. “I wrote 3,000 words today, New Year! I’m going to do that every day and by time you’re over I’ll have written six books!” The only problem is: that’s not a realistic goal. It’s like so many New Year’s Resolutions. We have the best of intentions, but often it’s not possible to carry those intentions out long-term. So we get a couple days or a couple weeks into our resolutions, start to falter, and then we crash and burn. Hello, discouragement!
I know this isn’t anything new. We’ve all thought this before. We’ve all read about it before. It’s why I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions anymore, I try to make actionable goals.
Scenario #1: There are times I start to falter from my actionable goals. There are times when I crash and burn. I feel guilty when I don’t achieve the things I set out to do or I feel the need to explain why I didn’t check everything off that list.
Scenario #2: I’ll accomplish everything, but you’ll find a red-eyed, scratchy-throated, foot-tapping Crystal, because I haven’t taken the time to step away from my computer, stay hydrated and move my body. (Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the picture.)
And I know I’m not the only one who feels that way (scenario #1), because I hear it from others as well. Guilt over not accomplishing everything on their to-do list for the day, week or month. Or justification.
Let’s go back to writing on New Year’s Day. I do my best creative writing at night, so on New Year’s Day I like to do it before I go to bed. It always makes me feel like I did back in the day before adulthood kicked in and I had to wake up before the crack of dawn for work, when I used to write until two or three in the morning. Now, at 10:30pm my brain announces, “Done!”
So: January 1, 2017. All day long my plans for the evening were to write, wrap up about the time my brain shuts off, and then read or go to bed… whatever I felt like. I went about my day until I looked at the clock. 10pm. Thoughts raced through my head: If I write really, really fast, maybe I’ll still be able to write a lot of words. Or close to a lot of words. How many words can I write if I push it? How many words can I write if I don’t push it? Is it even worth it to write today if I don’t get a lot done? How many words is worth a writing session?”
Words. Words on a page is worth a writing session.
I sat down and wrote until almost 11 and by the end I had 963 words. At first I was disappointed. I didn’t even make it to 1000! And then I realized: I still had 963 words. I wrote a scene that didn’t exist at 10pm, but did by 11. A scene that just so happened to clock in at 963 words.
What made it even better is that 963 words were written in the midst of life. Why didn’t I write more that day? It wasn’t because I sat on the couch binge-watching Netflix all day. (Although, don’t get me wrong, sometimes binge-watching Netflix feels pretty damn good. And on those days I think we need to do something like that, in order to rest and recharge. But if watching Netflix all day doesn’t feel pretty damn good, it’s time to think about why to see if we’ve been doing too much of that and should focus our attention elsewhere instead.) I didn’t get to writing earlier because I spent the morning with people–something that is good and healthy and should be something you do on a holiday. And I spent the rest of the day doing other work around the house. Again, something that needs to be done.
I’ve spent so much time trying to figure out how to add creativity into a busy life and that’s when it really dawned on me: the key to living a creative life might not be setting a goal to write 1500 words a day. It might not be setting a goal to write 5000 words a week. The key might be thinking, “What can I do today to help me achieve my goal?”
I can make sure that I sit down to write. Some days 963 words will be written; 963 words that didn’t exist in that story the day before. But other days 2000 or 3000 words will be written and instead of thinking, “Yep, crossed that 2000 off my list for the day” I can be excited, because I wrote a lot of words! And that excitement fuels and motivates me more than guilt and justification does.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe in setting specific goals. Specific goals help you measure your progress and get shit done. But instead of getting so caught up in the big, specific goals during the day-to-day, it might be better to focus on the daily tasks that can be done to get there.
It falls in line with my word for the year: pursue. What can I do each day that will help me pursue my goals? That’s what I’m going to focus on as I move forward this month.
What daily steps can YOU take to achieve your goals?