Every year people at this time of year make resolutions they plan to keep. And, as any given number of articles will point out over the next few weeks, most won’t keep them. It’s often due to a mix of things. Unexpected circumstances can intrude. Commitment wavers. Life intervenes. Your job could suck your creativity away.
I maintain that many people make a mistake with their ‘goals.’ For one, most things people set as a goal are things are often, or sometimes, out of their control. Second, goals are often vaguely defined. And thirdly, most of us have no real incentive to achieve a resolution written down, other than a vague distant sense of achievement we might reach well down the road.
Let me break that down. If one wanted to write a novel in a year, that’s a goal that might not happen. What you need to do is break what you would like to achieve into small actions you can achieve.
How many words are there in an average novel? 100,000? 90,000? Less? There are 52 weeks in a year, let’s write a short novel, that in rewrites will be added to. A 52,000 worder. That means you could write something that was novelish or novel-length-ish in a year with 1,000 words a month a week. Break that down again into units that you can fit into your world. Work every weeknight? 250 words a session. Have only weekends? Write 500 words each weekend day. Or set aside one day a week to write 1,000 words. These are small concrete goals you can tick off every week.
Whether you write a novel or not, at the end of the year you’ll have something close. You may even have written a novel. The final form of the novel might not be something you can control, but you can control your week-to-week goal of working towards a novel. This defines and breaks down your goal.
The last point, incentives, is important. I know of writers that talk about rewarding themselves for making the wordcount and the week-to-week goals. That’s nice. But I recently watched a show that crystallized something in my head. Humans are more scared of failing in public than just about anything else. The show took people having trouble losing weight and applied the idea of a ‘Credible Threat.‘ They told these people that they’d show these people on national TV at the end of the program.
Surprisingly, it didn’t matter as much what program they used, just the idea that there was a very real and very public end result spurred them onto to do things they didn’t realize they could (if you’ve ever seen ‘The Biggest Loser’ I’m always amazed and humbled by what those contestants achieve, it’s theorized that knowing they’ll be on TV spurs them on as much as the prize money).
I believe can see a more offbeat version of this in Steve Pavlina’s ‘Manisfestation/Intention‘ ideas at his popular site (and his Million Dollar Experiment), and though I don’t believe in changing the nature of the universe around me by declaring my intentions in public like Steve does, I find the use of Credible Threats to be extraordinarily useful.
Take for example the very early credible threat of starting this blog in 1998 by stating I was going to become a published writer, and this blog would follow the whole crazy adventure. I used to detail all the rejections and submissions I was making in posts, again, for the same reason. Even though I have dropped the ball, it’s amazing how putting it all out there spurs you on. It’s a deeper animal instinct of some sort, and it’s a useful tool.
Now, this blog is not just 100% for me to use as a Credible Threat. It’s a way to keep up with the SF community, think out loud, chronicle stuff I think is too cool, and because I found the idea of a static writer web page way too boring. Blogging made sense the moment I stumbled across it.
But it’s a nice side benefit.
How might you use a Credible Threat to help spur you on to write a novel?
1) Surround yourself by a group of peers who agree to race to finish a novel (I know of at least two professional writers using a large buddy system to get novels written and keep them on track)
2) Consider stating to a large group that you’ll give a substantial donation to a charity you hate unless you achieve your goal
3) Do it all in public, keep a blog detailing all you are doing
4) Announce that you are raising money for your favorite charity by asking friends to donate a buck for every thousand words you write
5) Fill in your own here.