Each morning my alarm goes off or, more likely these days, our toddler goes off. Each morning, I face new challenges to meet my writing goals.
The sweet mornings where he would just play while I wrote are just about done. Now he’s walking over to me with pots and blocks and stuffed animals. Sometimes he wants me to interact with him. Some days he just wants me to hold the pot in a very specific position that cannot be altered or he’ll collapse to the floor in tears.
The new game that kills any productivity is what I call the trash dash. He lifts the lid on the trash can, watches me rise from my desk, and then dashes past me to slam his fingers on my unprotected computer that is perched precariously on the edge of my desk.
There are a few programs that haven’t quite been the same since he got to the keyboard without me.
I’ve generally given up on trying to get writing work done while Ethan’s awake. If I dare to work on anything, the interruptions are constant unless he’s gotten into the recycling in the kitchen. He has shelves full of PVC-free, phalate-free, and sustainably made toys, but he really just wants the empty plastic OJ bottle.
Some days I let him have it.
Despite these challenges, I’ve managed to complete quite a few writing projects over the past year. I’ve hit some low points and celebrated some high points, but when the dust settled, I’d met all of my major book deadlines.
I’m sure everyone has their own secrets when it comes to writing, but here are 3 simple tips for meeting your writing goals in the new year.
You’ll Meet Writing Goals That Matter to You
There is a world of difference between a writing project that I think people will find interesting and one that matters to me AND that people find interesting. If I’m just motivated by “popular interest,” then there’s a good chance I won’t get past day one.
However, if I’m writing about something I’ve been praying over, talking about, doodling notes on, and even outlining, there’s a good chance that it has enough of my interest to last longer than a one-page fling.
My challenges over the years have been figuring out the writing topics that matter to me and how to make those topics interesting to a wide spectrum of readers. I think a lot of writers fall off the tracks right here when they settle for something that is popular but isn’t necessarily of personal interest.
We see a writer who has enjoyed some success and so we imitate their style or copy their topics. Some writers just flat out copy. Ahem.
Don’t give up on finding your own topics, your own voice, and your own angle. You’ll enjoy writing far more when you start to rule things out and focus on what truly motivates you and on sharing something that comes from who you truly are.
Imperfect Writing Is the Key to Practicing
I rarely feel good about my writing after a first draft. Oddly enough, the longer I write, and I’ve been blogging since 2005, the more drafts I seem to require. At the very least, I’m hoping that means I have higher standards and am getting better at revisions.
Sometimes I need to know when to abandon ship and to admit that all is lost on a blog post or idea for a book. I’ve learned that I just need to chalk each “failure” up to practice.
However, more often than not, I regularly find that ideas need time to simmer before they’re ready for a final draft. Other times, I need to rethink how I tell a story, which details to include, or how I want to introduce the article.
Returning to a writing piece after a night’s sleep often helps.
Every professional writer starts with rough drafts, and the sooner I cozy up to that idea, the better off I am. I have a lot to learn, and while I can grow quite a bit by learning from other writers, the most important thing I could imitate from other writers is an unflinching acceptance of my “bad writing,” and re-categorizing it as a “practice” draft.
Develop Regular Writing Habits
One of the more painful conversations I have with people who want to write more regularly has to do with writing habits. This is what sets apart an aspirational writer from a person who actually writes, and it always requires some sacrifices.
I don’t know how anyone can meet any kind of significant writing deadline without habits or routines. I live and die by a schedule of sorts, and when I deviate from it, it’s really rough to catch up.
Specific goals are great, and having one or two in mind this year will really help. We all need them eventually, but habits and routines will accomplish them. And if I don’t have goals, habits and routines will at least create some space for writing that will help me sort out the next step. In other words, habits are way more important than goals.
There are a thousand reasons why I can’t write every day. A habit and routine prevent me from even asking, “Should I write now?”
If I have to ask myself that question, I’ll find a reason to put it off. The same goes for monks and any other Christian who prays the daily office or divine hours. If you are trying to find time to pray, you’ve probably already lost. If you know when you should pray, you’ll most likely take time to pray.
I just need to know that my day begins when I shower, eat breakfast, pray, and then start writing. It’s an unavoidable chain of events that lead to each other. By the time I’m at my desk I believe that my destiny has been written in stone because my habits and routine have set this course already.
I work on something for a client, I keep track of Ethan when Julie leaves for work, Ethan goes down for a nap, then I work on something for myself, and then I get back to work for a client either during his nap or when Julie gives me a break.
The only way to succeed at writing a book or maintaining a blog is to make time to write every day, and the best way to write every day is to develop a routine that you violate on pain of death. If chocolate helps, give yourself some rewards when you’re starting out.
But don’t worry if you’re counting calories…
The beauty of a good habit or routine for writers is that the routine itself becomes the reward.
When I get done work for a client and something for myself by the time lunch rolls around, I feel good knowing that I’ve earned a little money for our family and kept my own career as an author moving forward. It’s rewarding to know I’ve done good work.
Best yet, if I can keep at my writing every day (with Sundays off), I’ll eventually create something really big—like a book. And there are few things in my work more satisfying than uploading a book file for an editor or printer.
I love the way I feel when I’ve completed a book, and that keeps me working on the day to day writing tasks that make it all possible.
Jumpstart Your New Year with These Writing Books
Creating Space: The Case for Everyday Creativity: A short eBook for $.99 that will encourage you to explore your creativity and to treat it as a gift that needs to be shared.
A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book: A simple and comprehensive introduction to nonfiction book publishing that has been endorsed by leading literary agents such as Rachelle Gardner and Chip MacGregor.