Historical Romance author Grace Burrowes did a blog post a few months ago called The Twelve Minute Solution, in which she talked about how counterproductive large goals can be for some people. It was a post that really resonated with me, and I had to restrain myself when I commented, because every other book, article, and post about writing tells you to set goals—aim high!—and stick to them.
But I’ve never been very good at following convention.
Big goals can sometimes hurt more than help. They loom large and daunting. And while some people can rise to such a challenge, it’s also very easy to become overwhelmed. My health is a perfect case in point. Last spring, my asthma problems became so severe I had to take leave from my day job teaching high school math—germy kids and humid South Florida buildings (where mold is common) were literally killing me. For six weeks I moved only from my bedroom to my living room and back. I sometimes made a side trip to the computer, but I was basically as active as a potted plant. As a result I gained an unhealthy amount of weight.
So now I have to shed all those extra pounds. But the total makes me want to reach for the nearest piece of Red Velvet cake and weep.
How do I cope? The same way I write: a little bit at a time.
Motivation—for me at least—is all about tricking yourself. Before my recent move, I had an elliptical machine that I kept in front of the TV in my bedroom. Every evening at 7:30 I’d flip on the TV and, while the theme music from Jeopardy filled the room, I’d hunt down my tennis shoes and a bottle of water. Just fifteen minutes, I’d tell myself. Fifteen minutes on a low resistance level, and I could look myself (and my doctor) in the eye with true satisfaction. Once I actually got on the elliptical and got going, I’d get caught up in the questions and answers on the show, and forget that my knees hurt and my lungs burned…at least until a commercial came on. Fifteen minutes would go by and if I was truly miserable, I’d stop. But most of the time I found I could keep going. Just five more minutes. Just until the end of Double Jeopardy. I’d stretch and drink my water during Final Jeopardy, and mock the contestants who hadn’t done anything but win money and prizes. I exercised.
Since I made the decision to write a novel-length story, I approach writing the same way. Sometimes my mojo just isn’t working. There are days when I can’t write a decent sentence to save my life…or my dog! My characters take themselves on holiday and won’t tell me when they’re coming back. Doubt creeps in and I feel like I’m never going to finish this thing. Or if I do it’s going to be more excruciating than that math class I took in college where all we did was write proofs.
But I park my backside in front of the computer and tell myself I’ll just read what I wrote yesterday. No Facebook or Twitter. Don’t worry about the number of views we’re getting here on Teatime. I’ll just go over the last scene or chapter, maybe do a little proofreading.
Then it happens—I get caught up in the story, and fall in love with my characters all over again. My compulsive, Type-A teacher brain starts plotting ways to get them together, and ways to keep them apart. I get excited over a subtle way to foreshadow an event, or a sweet thing my hero did for my heroine.
And then I’m writing.
I don’t think about how many words I have produced or should produce. I try not to worry about how many pages the book is going to be versus how many pages other books are in the same genre. I just listen to my characters, and write until they stop talking.
Then I turn on Jeopardy. 🙂
So how do you cope with big goals? What techniques do you use to keep them from conquering you?