Eyes Off The Prize

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

Serdar and I have been making various posts about writing and focus.  He recently discussed the importance of writing systems – that they can be more important than goals.  I’d like to add that goals can get in your way.

The problem with goals is that they’re distractions from reaching them.

Big goals, elaborate plans, fantasies of success can occupy your mind so often you don’t actually put pen to paper or finger to keyboard.  It’s easy to spin off into what could be, what might be, and never get there.  Many a book is unwritten as people stop at the idea and don’t get to the making it real.

Future hopes can also lead to hopelessness.  You can feel you’ll never get there, that you’re not worthy, that you aren’t up to the task.  That keeps you from doing anything including, well, actually writing.

Finally, goals and hopes can lead you to planning, and documenting, and the like but never actually starting.  It’s easy to get lost in planning and outlines and charts and never do the work.  It might even be comforting.

Want to know what works?  Doing the actual task.  Dreams and plans do not do your writing.  Only writing does writing.  This is not to say you shouldn’t have big dreams and even bigger plans.  What you have to do is take time to forget them and do the job.

This is where writing practices and systems come into play.  Yes they may require you to set goals, but they also break down your work into deliverables you can actually do and then you do them.  If you write an hour a day, great, then you write no matter what.  If you have an elaborate outline of scenes you can write each scene without worrying about anything else.

The best way to reach your writing goals is to stop thinking about them.  Any good writing system, any good writing practice, will help you get time to forget why you’re writing so you can do your writing.

Steven Savage

Five Words To Victory

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

Serdar’s latest book (which I assure is a doozy) is a challenging one for him to write.  It’s the kind of challenge where writing it requires trusting yourself, as he notes in this blog post.  As he explores this need for self-trust – a factor he and I have both written on – he said something tangential that is very important in facing challenges:

“That said, every single time I’ve started to work on a project on a sentence-by-sentence basis, as opposed to all the plotting and planning I’ve made ahead of time, the sentence-by-sentence work is what brought everything together.”

These words reminded me of a rule I’ve heard again and again – when facing a challenge, break down your work enough that you find something you can do in five minutes then do it.  That lets you get going, take a step towards your goal – and possibly figure what to do for the next five minutes.  String together enough five minutes and you’re done.

At the start of a project things look insurmountable.  You doubt you can do it, but five minutes is all you need to realize maybe you can.

You can do this as writing as well when you’re not sure you can do a particular work.  You don’t have to write for five minutes on a project you’re not sure of – try five words.  Then five sentences, even if you have to do it five words at a time.  Then maybe five paragraphs.  Then, well, see how far you can go.

You don’t have to use what you’ve written.  You’ll almost certainly change it, edit it, or even throw it the hell out.  But at least you’ve got something to explore what you want to make and figure out how to do it.

But you have to start with those five words.

Most success is due to momentum.  You don’t really know what you have to do to complete a book or any other writing project.  You just have a start, a finish, and maybe a vague roadmap if that.  Even if you have a detailed plan it is going to change as you write and make discoveries about your work. 

So you might as well start with something small, like five words.

Steven Savage