Category Archives: Motivation and the Writing Life

The Benefit of Small Goals

A winding highway leads off into a sunset with a lone runner on the road and the post title superimposed: "The Benefit of Small Goals"

by Elizabeth Spann Craig, @elizabethscraig 

I read an interesting article recently, “What Setting Small Goals is Costing You,”  from author and publisher Michael Hyatt.  I think it interested me because it had such a radically-different point of view from mine. But it was onethat gave me food for thought.

In it, he said:

“Setting small, unchallenging goals is one of the five blunders I cover. I call it “sailing too close to shore.” We tend to set small goals because we’re unaware of our own inherent fear of loss. We don’t want to risk much. But there’s a direct correlation between low risk and low achievement. The greatest achievements are waiting on the other side of discomfort.”

He gave a couple of pretty compelling examples to support his position.

I could see where he was coming from.  But for me, it’s totally the opposite.

For me, slow and steady wins the race.  I’ve had 25 books published, but this has been over nine years.  I set small goals that I can easily achieve. These small goals have made it possible for me to build a daily habit of writing and have helped to keep me motivated over the long-haul.

When I was first starting out and seriously writing, I purposefully set my writing goal as low as I could.  I had a toddler in the house and a kindergartener. I set a goal of writing for 5-15 minutes a day.  In less than a year, I had a book.

Knowing that I could accomplish my goals under challenging circumstances gave me confidence in my ability to push through, just like finishing a project (as opposed to stalling out or starting a completely different manuscript) gave me confidence in following through and trusting my ability to deliver.

But back to Michael Hyatt’s point of view. He does make some good points. For me, though, I think I’ll incorporate them differently.  It is important to stretch oneself.  But I’d rather that be a weekly extra goal instead of a daily challenging goal.  Since I nearly always hit my daily goal, maybe that is an indication that I need to re-evaluate how much I’m expecting of myself.

But let’s face it.  Some days just stink from start to finish.  The kids are sick, the dog needs to go to the vet, you thought there was chicken in the freezer, but there wasn’t.  I think on days like those, it’s best to still hit our usual goal, maintain our habit, and not feel disappointed in our performance.

What kinds of goals do you set?  Do you stretch yourself or set small, attainable goals?

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Rep Days for Writers

A weight room shows weights resting on racks and the post title, "Rep Days for Writers" is superimposed on the top.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I read an interesting article by writer Victoria Griffin called “Writing Gains are Made on Rep Days.

Griffin explains rep days for weightlifters:

“For lifters, rep days mean loading light weights on the bar and repping it out until you’re entirely sick of whatever exercise you’re doing…For example, hip contact is important to a good snatch. I’ll spend days doing nothing but hip contact drills until I’m black and blue. It’s not fun, and it’s not glamorous. But guess what? Next time I do snatches, my form is better and I lift heavier weight.”

She then makes the writing analogy:

“For writerly folk, rep days may be big word count days. Or they may be those days when we just don’t want to do it. For whatever reason, we don’t feel like writing, but we sit down and do it anyway. Writing on those days strengthens our writing “muscles” so that on the days we do feel like writing, when the words are flowing, we’re able to write more and better than we would have otherwise.”

I liked what Griffin was saying.  I agree with her that there is a sort of ‘writing muscle’ that atrophies when we don’t work it out enough.  It’s always harder to jump back into a story after taking a long break…the characters aren’t as familiar to us, we have to get reacquainted with the story world, and it’s easier to make continuity errors.

I’ll take it a step farther and say that it gives a tremendous boost to our overall confidence as writers to write on those days when we have to push ourselves through it.  I know that most days out of the week, I’m not feeling inspired as I sit down to write.  As I go, I get more into my story and into the flow of writing.  I show up.  I’m not one of those who says writers have to write every single day, but it sure helps if you can write for most of them.

Writer Teresa Frohock put this well in her post “Writing When You’re Uninspired“:

“By forcing myself to write, even when I don’t feel like it, I build on the self-discipline that I will need to get me through those deadlines when I must write.” 

If we know we can tackle our project on the toughest days, it can give us the motivation to power through most days.  Also, having a string of successful days of working in a row can help us to build confidence in our ability to keep making progress on a story. Writer Karen Woodward’s post, “How to Write Everyday: Jerry Seinfeld and the Chain Method,” explains how we can gain motivation by marking off writing days on our calendar.

While I don’t feel like it’s necessary to write every day (I’ll miss a day several days out of the month, if not more), I do feel it can help to write most days–and that there’s a special benefit to pushing forward with our writing on some of the more challenging days, if possible.

What if you have gone a while without writing, but you want to pick it up again?  Read this helpful article by Daphne Gray-Grant, “How to Get Back Into Writing After a Break.”

Do you write on the tough days?  What keeps you motivated, as a writer?

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Single-Tasking for Productivity

Stressed woman puts both hands to her head as the post title "Single-Tasking for Productivity" is superimposed on the top.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I used to think that I was a fairly adept multitasker, as long as one of the tasks was something completely mindless (I could stir things in a pot and make a list at the same time.  I could vacuum and brainstorm).  But after instances  where I’ve spattered supper on the stove and vacuumed up things that weren’t supposed to be vacuumed, I’ve come to the realization that I really shouldn’t multitask at all.

I’ve made an effort to dial it back and become more effective at focusing on a single task.

Is it really multitasking?

In the article “Brain, Interrupted” by New York Time columnists Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson, they stated:

In fact, multitasking is a misnomer. In most situations, the person juggling e-mail, text messaging, Facebook and a meeting is really doing something called “rapid toggling between tasks,” and is engaged in constant context switching.

The danger in this, as stated in the article, is that we may never really return to the main task we needed to work on.  The other tasks act as distractions … or maybe, more accurately, deterrents…to our productivity. Continue reading Single-Tasking for Productivity

9 Lessons from Book Signings

Black and white photo of a crowded second-hand bookstore with the post title, "9 Lessons from Book Signings" superimposed on the top.

by Elizabeth S.  Craig, @elizabethscraig 

Book signings come in different shapes and sizes.  Signing books after a conference panel is one thing.  Signing them in a bookstore is something else. Signing them after a luncheon or book club meeting is again a different animal entirely.

Unless you have a large local network, signings in bookstores can be tricky.  I’ve found that signings at conferences are mediocre, too. The times I’ve done best were signings right after book clubs or book-related luncheons/events.

Here are my tips for a better book signing: 

Make sure there will be books there.  While this sounds like a no-brainer, you’d be amazed how much miscommunication can happen between bookstores/conference organizers and the writer. Who is responsible for making sure books are there? If it’s the bookstore, you might want to remind them again in enough time to ensure the books are ordered and at the store. Continue reading 9 Lessons from Book Signings

Calendars for Productivity

Woman in a blue top holds a monthly calendar and the post title, "Calendars for Productivity" is superimposed on the top.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Happy 2018!

I’m never much of a fan of resolutions, but I do like making sure at the beginning of each year that I’m organized.

With that in mind, here are the calendars that help me stay organized and on top of everything for the year.  Since a writer’s life intersects with their homelife, there are also calendars listed that help organize my personal life.  If both parts of my life are organized, there’s a hope of retaining writing life-personal life balance.

Production calendar for publishing

You don’t have to overthink this, and it can always be changed!  Plan what you want to accomplish for the year: one book?  More?  Then pencil in those dates on your calendar for completion.  Even better, get on your cover designer’s, freelance editor’s, and formatter’s calendars.  Now you have something to work toward.

My cover designer always designs a book ahead for me.  This ensures that I don’t run into any scheduling snags.  (I do have to write back cover copy for a book that I haven’t written yet.)

Editorial calendar for blog (I use OneNote)

I used to put my blog’s editorial calendar on my Google calendar, but I found it more difficult to see upcoming posts and to make date changes.  Now I use a page in OneNote (you could just as easily use Word).

Again, try not to overthink this.  This is simply a place where I can list ideas for posts and resources to write them (or at least a note as to where my mind was going when I came up with the idea in the first place).  I list all the dates that I blog and then put the ideas/blog titles beside them.  This way I never feel as if I’m at a loss for what to post. Continue reading Calendars for Productivity