How do you keep working towards your goals all year long? How do you stay committed day in and day out? How do you make sure you’re always moving forward, so that when you look back at your year you see 365 days of progress, and the sum of all your efforts is more than you could have imagined on any one of those individual days?
Getting bogged down in the individual days of our writing journey is something that a lot of writers struggle with. There is no instant gratification when it comes to writing. You don’t write, finish, edit, and publish a book in any short amount of time (unless you’re from the movie Limitless). As with fitness, writing success is gained from working in very small chunks, day in and day out, accumulated over time. This goes for pacing through the word count of your book, pacing through your personal journey of mastering the craft, and pacing through building up your collection of completed stories.
It happens slowly. But it still happens.
One of the hardest things to deal with is losing perspective. It’s so easy. You’re sitting on your couch, it’s 8pm, you told yourself that you’d write from 9-10:30 tonight and then go to sleep so you can get 7 or 8 hours of rest before work tomorrow. But tonight it turns out that the Washington Wizards, your favorite team, are playing in Central Time and the game doesn’t start until 8:10, won’t finish until 10:30, and by then you’ll be too tired to do any real work. That’s fine, because it’s not a big deal to skip one day of work.
Me? No of course I’m not talking about a situation I’ve been in before. Definitely not.
This is what it looks like to lose your bird’s eye view of your life, to lose perspective. No, it’s not always a huge deal. But it can be.
Losing perspective is why we’re so good at making New Year’s Resolutions, and so bad at following through. On January 1st, it’s easy to look at the year before you, decide what you want in life, figure out how to get there, and make promises to yourself. But two weeks later you aren’t looking at where you want to be in six months, you’re looking at whether you want Chipotle or Five Guys for dinner.
So how do you do it?
One way to do it is to trust yourself. No that’s not a platitude. I mean it literally. Trust yourself. Trust the serious decisions a past version of you made when he (or she) was looking at your future. Trust this past-you when reading the daily goals he wrote on January 1st – the goals that told you to write an hour a day, every day, even if it meant forgoing sleep. Trust him when he told you to eat healthy, to exercise, to follow your dreams not just in your own head, but in your daily routine. It’s hard because the easiest rules for us to break are rules we’ve laid down ourselves at some point in the past. But if your priority is your own future, those are the rules you should hold the most sacred.
Another way to do it is to keep a journal. If you want to make it sound less fun, you can call it holding yourself accountable for your days in writing, because that is what you’re really doing. When you sit down and write about yourself for 5-10 minutes every day, the goal isn’t to write a list of random things you did. ‘Woke up. Ate breakfast. Drove to work. Had an okay day. Came home. Wrote in this diary. Wrote that I wrote in this diary. Wrote that I…’ That isn’t the point.
The point is that when you write about your day every day, you realize what’s important. What did you really do today that mattered? What are you proud of? Those are the things you’ll end up putting on the page. ‘I spent quality time with my kids – it was amazing. I love them. I worked on my book for an hour and I’m so excited about the way the character of Christine is developing. I took an online course and learned something really important. I went to the gym. I ate healthy for all three meals. I’ve never felt better in my entire life. I’m happy.’
Writing in a journal is something that I’ve personally done on and off, and I can tell that I’m more productive, and generally happier, when I’m writing in it. Whether it’s the journal that helps make me happy, or that I just write in it when I already am happy, is something I’m unsure of. But I think it helps keep me accountable for my day and my goals. It’s even fun to go back and read sometimes. It helps you keep from getting lost in the middle months, in the slow days after you’ve just eaten a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream and don’t feel like working until next Monday.
It’s important to get lost in some things, like a party with friends, time with your significant other, or the actual act of writing itself.
Getting lost in an entire day is dangerous. Always try to remember how important each and every day is as a piece of the ladder you’re building to where you want to be. It’s true that the ladder may never end, but by keeping perspective and hitting the goals you’ve set for yourself, not only will the journey, and your life, be more fun, but you’ll go farther than you ever would have if you’d stopped on the first rung.
What about you? How do you keep perspective? How do you follow through on your dreams and desires? How do you take a January 1st New Year’s Resolution all the way to the stroke of midnight at the end of December?
If you’re interested, here is a great article on the benefits of writing in a journal, from improving your mood to improving the voice and style of your prose – Famous Writers on the Creative Benefits of Keeping a Diary.