where the writers are
Second Chances


I’m get­ting ready to leave for the Writ­ers Police Acad­emy later this week. Today is also Rosh Hashanah, the Jew­ish New Year (it’s 5773 in that cal­en­dar), which means there’s another chance to reflect on the pre­vi­ous year and another chance to review those res­o­lu­tions and goals.

Did you set goals? How are you doing? Whether they’re writ­ing related or life related isn’t the point. It’s hav­ing a direc­tion, and a way to mea­sure that direc­tion. The key word is mea­sur­able. If you don’t know what you’ve done, you can’t know if you’re suc­ceed­ing. And if your goals are too vague, you’ll get frus­trated and aban­don them.

So, before you set a vague goal like, “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to fin­ish a book,” look at them more care­fully. How can you break them down?

If you’re look­ing to lose weight, what are your options? You can increase exer­cise. How­ever, say­ing, “I’m going to exer­cise more” won’t cut it. You have to say, “I will go to the gym 3 times a week,” or “I will walk 2 miles four times a week.” You can’t say, “I’ll cut back on calo­ries.” You have to say, “I will eat xxx calo­ries per day,” or “I will have one piece of choco­late” (I’m never going to rec­om­mend giv­ing up chocolate.)

For writ­ing goals, fin­ish­ing a book is kind of like eat­ing an ele­phant. You look at what a fin­ished book is going to be—my cur­rent one was over 100,000 words when I typed ‘the end’—and your first reac­tion is, “I can never do this.” But the way to eat an ele­phant is one bite at a time. If your goal is to write 500 words a day, you have some­thing to mea­sure. Know your lim­its, and set goals you can attain. But don’t make the bar so low that you’re not chal­leng­ing yourself.

For exam­ple, my writ­ing goal is to write 1000 words a day, 6 days a week. Do I meet the goal every day? No. But when I don’t, I’ll ask myself why—is it because of per­sonal chal­lenges? This year, I’m faced with an aging par­ent and have had to make sev­eral trips out to LA to visit. Writ­ing came to an abrupt halt for those trips. Or, is it because I’m research­ing, or work­ing out a plot prob­lem? That, to me, is still work­ing on the book, but it’s not putting words on the page.

I’d promised my man­u­script to my edi­tor by a spe­cific date. When it looked like it was going to require a strong push to com­plete it on time, I upped my word count goals, but I did it in smaller incre­ments. To dou­ble my pro­duc­tion looked daunt­ing. How­ever, to try to write 300 extra words wasn’t a stretch. And from that, I could move the bar to 500 extra words, until I was writ­ing well over dou­ble my word count.

So, on this first day of 5773, take a moment to reflect on how your own year is going—and there are nearly 4 months left in 2012 to address any changes you might want to make.