New Year Intentions Part 1

The tester was trying to find the words to explain it. “There are people who set goals and they can imagine them and reach their goals. You are not one of those people.”

I was at the Johnson O’Connor institute in Seattle, which provides aptitude testing. Rather than ask you about your skills, they actually test your skills to see how good you are at it. I spent two days doing puzzles, putting pins into tiny holes, memorizing alien words, decoding sequences, and listening to monotones. It was very Dharma Institute.

And at the end of the two days, they gave me my results. I learned that I was more creative and visual than I ever imagined, but that I should never, ever structurally engineer buildings. I learned that I am a teacher and that I’m someone who likes to have control over my work.

And apparently I’m pretty inept when it comes to reaching my goals. She said that it wasn’t impossible, just that I had to break it down into small pieces.

This came as no surprise to me. “Writing a book” was hard until I broke it down to 500 words a day. 500 words a day was hard to do until I made the choice to do it one day at a time, even when I didn’t feel like doing it.

Those simple choices made 2015 my most productive year ever. I don’t actually have a record of the years that came before, but I’m pretty sure I had little to show for them, and I wrote a hell of a lot of words last year, over 165,000. Not too shabby.

For every day that passes in January, we draw exponentially closer to the time of year when people’s New Year’s Resolutions become yet another thing people want to do but don’t.

One problem, of course, is that the resolutions are too vague. “Lose weight” or “eat more vegetables” or “write more”.

But what if your resolutions aren’t vague? What if they’re specific, like “write 500 words a day”. Why, then, do people not follow through with these resolutions?

Based on my unscientific and biased data (i.e. my experience), I think there are two things at play here.

First, the work is not glamorous. This year, one of my intentions is set on posting more consistently on my blog. Thursdays are my day to write a post, and when I sat down to write this one, you’re damn right if you think I didn’t want to work on it. The work is hard, and resistance is a bitch.

Second, people lose momentum, and they feel discouraged about it. They miss a couple days, because they’re busy or sick or tired, and they’ve already fallen behind. They think if they’ve missed a few days or haven’t done it perfectly, then its better to quit.

What they don’t realize is that they are doing it right. If you’re struggling, then you’re doing it right. It should feel like work, because it is work.

But there’s also something that can help you when you lose your footing, basically creating a work plan for the year.

Sounds a little crazy. Writers notoriously complain about not having enough time, so creating a work plan for the year seems next to impossible. But if you’re “not one of those people” who can reach big goals, then try this process of working backwards.

Start with the big ass deadline. In 2015 I had the big ass deadline of NaNoWriMo. I wanted to write the first draft of the first book of my trilogy during NaNo, so that meant I had to be ready before November 1st. Not only did I have to have the plot outline ready to go, but I also had to complete the character sketches and build the world, something those of us who write sci-fi and fantasy spend a lot of time doing.

Create a project timeline. I had a deadline, so at the beginning of the year I created a timeline that would allow me to complete aspects of those projects from February to October. (January was spent finishing another big project). It gave me a realistic understanding of how much time I had to complete those tasks. I more or less followed the deadline. While I didn’t go as in-depth with the world building as I would have liked to, I did enough to write the first draft. (The scope of this will look different for each writer, based on their personal responsibilities and obligations. There is no such thing as “not enough”. Any work is enough).

Divide that by 30%. Shit happens, and you won’t be able to complete all that you want to. Give yourself the gift of flexibility, and reduce your anticipated workload by a third.

Set an intention. I had been feeling frustrated that I wasn’t writing fiction nearly as much as I wanted to do, so I set an intention that 2015 would be a year of writing new words. This intention had a life changing impact on me, and I ended the year as a whole new writer, which I’ll talk about in the next post.

Create a daily habit. Motivation and passion and whatever else dreamy artists talk about are not going to get the work done. Discipline is going to get the work done. Having a daily habit or quota or goal, something definable and measurable that you do every day (500 words or 15 minutes of writing). I talk about this a lot, but only because it works.

So, this is how you work backwards. The bigger the big ass deadline gets, the more you will have to break things down into specifics, but this at least gives you a vision of what it looks like.

As for me, its a couple weeks into January and I’m already behind my writing goals for this year. But because I’ve created a project timeline for myself, all I have to do is return to it. I know what I need to have done before the end of January, and there’s still two weeks left, and its never too late finish what I started.

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