Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Set Writing Goals for 2015

For anyone who was interested in Tuesday's goal-setting class but was too far away, broke or busy to come, here are the exercises we did, along with a few extras that we didn't get to.

As I said in class, this is a mix of straightforward, concrete planning exercises, and a couple of others of a different kind, meant to help you touch base with your subconscious. 

Get a notebook, pen and timer, and answer these questions:

1. Set your timer for 3 minutes. Write down the things you have accomplished, writing-wise, in the past year. Where were you in January 2014? What have you done since then?

2. Set your timer for 2 minutes. How often do you write? For how long? Are you happy with this? Anything you'd like to change?

3. Two minutes: What's the biggest thing standing in the way of your writing as much as you want to?

4. Three minutes: Brainstorm how to get around this.

5. Five minutes: What are your goals for the year? Write them all down. Even the crazy ones. Censor nothing.

6. Three minutes: 
A. Choose three you most want to accomplish.
B. Choose the three that would be easiest to accomplish.
C. Ask yourself: which would be most fun—that is, if you could start one right now—right this minute—just for enjoyment—which would it be? It's okay if any or all of those overlap. 

7. 15 seconds: Choose at least one thing (more is fine) to let go of. Cross it off your list.

8. Here's one that's a bit different: You know that feeling you get when you really love a song, for example (or a painting, or a character in a book, or anything); when it touches something inside you—something private, close to the bone—maybe even a little too close? A little uncomfortable? A little embarrassing, even? But also a little thrilling? Maybe in a way you can't put into words, or wouldn't want to? If you know the feeling I'm talking about, great. If you don't, make your best guess. Now think of something that's given you that feeling lately, that's gotten its hooks into you in that particular, sexy, secret way. Do not ask yourself why you're taken with it, whether you should be, whether it's “art” or even whether it's “okay” to like it.

Now take a tiny piece of paper, something you can easily hide in your pocket or the corner of a drawer. Don't write the name of the thing on the paper. Don't even write a word. Give it a wordless name, a symbol, something simple. If it's a song about love, you could draw two stick figures, or just two parallel lines. Don't say its name. Don't talk about it. Put it away in a private place.

Over the course of the next week, find two or three more things that touch you in this way, and write their secret symbol-names on bits of paper, and hide them. Do not choose the “best” things, things you are not embarrassed to be taken by, “healthy” things, or even “significant” things. Just look for that tiny, tiny feeling like a little thrill, a little light. You might experience the process of choosing them as somewhat random. Better that than to overthink it.

Keep these pieces of paper with the symbols on them. Take them out and look at them sometimes. Especially when you're stuck or bored with what you're writing or when you seem to have gone off-track. If you forget what one of them represents, it has lost its power. Throw it away and replace it with another. Do the same if you fall out of love with any.

9. Go back to your list from #6. Remind yourself what's there: The three things you most want to accomplish; the three easiest; the one most fun; and one you've jettisoned. Now choose ONE of the three you most want to accomplish. Give yourself a deadline and write it down.

10. Choose a smaller goal, your first step towards the larger one. Give it a deadline and write it down. Make it no more than a month in the future, and make it achievable.

This smaller goal is set in stone and you have to keep at it. If you fall off the wagon, get back on. Keep going until you reach your deadline and your goal. If the way you're doing it isn't working, find another way. There will be times when you don't want to. There may be be times when you don't want to so much you'll feel like crying. You'll hate your writing, you'll doubt yourself, you'll doubt your goal. All that you have to push right through.

Once you reach that first, smaller goal, assess which parts of your plan worked and which didn't. Did you push yourself to write too many pages a day, so you didn't have enough time to think? Did you schedule writing for a time of day that's not really good for you, when you're too tired, or when other things tend to get in the way? Remember, the time to decide this is after you've given it your absolute best shot, for a week or a month or whatever you put on your calendar, not when you're halfway there and just feel like bailing out. Use this information as you set your next small goal on the way to the Big One.

12. As for the rest of the things on your list: You've marked the three things you most want to accomplish, and you're making progress towards #1. Put the list away for a week, and mark the day on your calendar when you'll look at it again. When you take it out, ask yourself if the Top Three Goals are still the same. If they are, think about whether and how you want to put them on your calendar. Do you want to work on these top goals simultaneously? Do you want to accomplish #1 before you plan the next two?

The important thing is to have one big goal on your calendar, to break it down and keep watching your progress towards it. If that works better for you than going for three big goals at once, it's fine to set the others aside for now. The fact that you've written them down and read them back to yourself will likely cause your subconscious to start working on them without your even realizing it. Or, if you've chosen the wrong goals, your subconscious will get to work on nudging you away from them and towards the right ones, and that's good too. You can let all that work itself out underground while you keep your eye on your progress towards Goal #1.

As for the others you marked, the "easiest" and the "most fun," think about whether you want to put those on the calendar at all, and if so, where. In my case, I often find that those will take care of themselves—I'd do them whether or not I had a deadline—so I don't need to clutter up my schedule with them. It's still nice to have them written down on a list of goals to remind yourself that they are things you're accomplishing and having fun with, at the same time you work towards the more challenging Big Ones.

13. Read this. 

14. Choose a Word of Power. Pick a number from 1 to 25. (Here's a random number generator.) Go to this list and find your word. This is your Word of Power for the coming year.

Maybe it's clear right away what it means and how it will give you power. Maybe it isn't. Think about it. Write the word down. Keep it somewhere.

In class, I passed around a stack of cards with the words written on them, and everyone chose one at random. We went around the table saying how we thought our chosen word might give us power. Then, I passed around blank cards, each with one person's name at the top, and we all wrote that person's word of power on the card. So for example, if there were a person named Joe whose word was "sparks," each of us would write that word on his card and he'd get it back with "sparks" written all over it, in different colors and different handwriting. All of us wishing him the power of sparks in the coming year—whatever he'd decided that meant for him.

That's it! Just some very basic list-making, deadline-setting, and a little everyday magic. It is magic—laying down your goals, gathering in a group to share them and get encouragement and good wishes. Even if you put away your list of goals, your secret-pleasure symbols, and your words of power, and don't take them out until months or years from now, you might be surprised to find that your subconscious has been working away on them without your even realizing it: that you've made progress towards goals you'd forgotten; that a pearl of a character has grown around the strange song lodged in your heart; or that just at the moment when you thought everything was dark and dead, you saw sparks.

Mikalojus Ciurlionis, Sparks III, 1906

No comments:

Post a Comment