Henry David Thoreau once said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Pretty cool, right? I’ve come to find that my “castles in the air” are my lofty writing goals and unfinished projects (this blog post being one). The foundation is the hard part. It is built around hours and hours of work, completing hundreds of smaller daily goals just to finish one measly novel.
Writing a novel seems simple enough; after creating a plot and some characters, I should write until I’m finished. But if it were that easy, I would have 50 novels written and a slew of awards no one has heard of by now. Iron willpower is not inherent; it is earned through diligent, planned practice. As much as those motivational clips and quotes claim that sheer determination and perseverance are enough, they are not. Working hard is simply not enough to create a great product. So how can I go about efficiently accomplishing my goals? If I decide I’m going to write 500 words a day, what steps do I take to guarantee it gets done? Routines and a system of accountability. Accountability is easy (that’s why I’m writing this thing FYI). Routines are a completely different story.
As it is with most worthy goals, consistent practice is not the only necessary ingredient for success. If you want to lose weight, eating only salads for a month will only get you so far. Carefully planning a steady diet with the appropriate amount of exercise is essential for healthy weight loss. Similarly, a commitment to writing every day isn’t enough to make a writer successful. They need a consistent routine. But just like with any successful plan, one size does not fit all.
You see, writers are like snowflakes; they all share similar patterns, but it’s difficult to find two that are the same. Each writer has a unique set of rituals or quirks that ignite creativity. Some work well early in the morning, while others are productive night owls. Some work in short, sporadic spurts of writing barricaded in a room for days until their work is complete. Some take their time word-smithing every day, publishing only a few significant works every year. Writers come in all kinds, but they do share some similarities. Every writer has a set time in the day dedicated to writing, a designating room/area to do work, and most of the time, a set number of words they force themselves to write each day. Remember, word count is only worth it when the words count.
Lucky for me, I get off work early enough to write in the afternoon. As a writing space, I use an empty bedroom, and starting as early as 6, I lock myself in until 500 words are typed out. For the first few days, 500 words a day was a daunting task, but I was able to do at least that much and more on a few of the days once I set my mind to it. Sunday was probably the worst of the weekend. I stopped mid-sentence when I hit the 500 word mark because of a distraction coming from downstairs (my wife was watching a movie). One does not simply focus on writing when Gerard Butler’s godly baritone voice reverberates throughout the house (if it were Sean Bean, I probably would have given in to the temptation). My creativity was tapped, and the mulling bore of plotting was unproductive in the midst of a damn good romcom playing underneath me. But I hit 500 words–the bare minimum of my goal– and that is what is important. Although I felt slightly guilty for dropping it in the middle of a sentence, I was pleased with myself for finishing that day’s prescribed bit of writing. At this point, I’m satisfied with even the smallest triumphs. That feeling will hopefully build into pride when I finally reach my goal.
What goals have you accomplished? Did you achieve it through a steady routine? It doesn’t have to be about writing, it can be anything you were able to accomplish. I love hearing other people’s success stories; it’s one of the reasons I became a teacher. Comment below to let me know!
T. L. Fawcett