One goal to rule them all
My goal in 2014 is simple* and clear: finish the damn book!
Of course, that’s my goal every year. The damn book changes, but the goal never does. Maybe it sounds grim and hopeless and Sisyphean that the goal is always the same, but I take a primitive animal satisfaction in knowing instinctively what I have to do.
There are a lot of sub-goals that go into finishing the damn book — plotting, writing, revising, editing, publishing, etc. — but those all take their energy from the main goal. If my focus and drive are aimed at finishing, the pesky sub-goals fall into line.**
I find I don’t tend to plan specific rewards for reaching my writing goals. There are things I enjoy that I have to delay in pursuit of my goal – binge reading and watching movies especially — so I count an indulgence in those as a worthy reward. Conveniently, those rewards also refill my creative well when I’m done with a story.
I don’t really plan repercussions for when I miss my goal, either. Because — knock on wood — I don’t miss my finish-the-book goals. Knowing my deadlines, I can back out my goals to make sure I set reasonable completion times. Writing is hard enough without setting myself up for failure.
Which isn’t to say I don’t stay up ’til 3 a.m. the night before my deadline
Since we’ve been talking about goals, rewards and repercussions, I want to pass along one warning about extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivation comes from inside, extrinsic from external sources. Psych studies are finding that extrinsic rewards can damage intrinsic drives, so when you are setting up your own mindhack of rewards and repercussions, make sure you aren’t accidentally undermining your ultimate goal.
Trust me, I am the last person to honk about the morality of hard work — I love to slack! — but I’m fascinated by the forces that influence creative people, so if brainy science-y types say I should look for ways to maximize the intrinsic rewards, I’ll do that. The studies say there are a few ways to emphasize intrinsic drives:
Pleasure: Find the fun and enjoyment inherent in the process itself.
For me, that involves making words dance. I love wordplay so I can use that as an intrinsic reward.
Challenge: Pit yourself against yourself.
I do this with my beloved Excel spreadsheet where I track my daily word counts. Nothing gets me to my goal faster than racing against my own words.
Mastery: Work to continually improve your efforts.
This one’s harder for me to see, but when I pull out at my first stories (yikes!) I can definitely chart progress. At least I know what point of view is now.
While I was working on this post, my XY said, “Wait a minute, you always talk about all the chocolate that keeps you writing. That’s an external reward.” Actually, I think it would be a more internal reward. But I had to explain that’s not a reward at all, that’s fuel. Totally different.
Whatever I gotta tell myself to finish the damn book If you have a way to strengthen your intrinsic drive — whether it’s for writing, exercise, staying organized, or whatever — I’d love to hear it. Please share in comments.
* The word choice is important here. Simple does not necessarily mean easy.
** More or less. This is another one of those “simple but not necessarily easy” moments.