Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals, Part IV: Set Yourself Up for Success

Welcome back for the fourth (and final) post of my series, (You Can Still!) Meet Your 2017 Writing Goals. 

In my prior posts I wrote about Clearing the Decks for your writing, Reverse-Engineering & Revising Your Writing Goals, and Boosting Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive). Today I’m writing about setting yourself up for success.

Part IV: Setting Yourself Up for Success

When you’re aiming to set yourself up for success with an intensive writing effort, there are a number of things to keep in mind. I discussed some of these in the free clear the decks teleclass (which you can still listen to, if you’re interested), but they are worth reiterating in this context as well, along with some other keys to making your writing work.

  1. Have a Clear Writing Goal and Plan. We’ve already discussed this in prior posts in more detail, but having a crystal clear writing goal and a plan to meet it are a critical part of setting yourself up for success. You can’t “succeed” if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. This is one of those “so simple it seems obvious” things but you’d be amazed at how often we skip this step in our thinking and lives… and our writing.
  2. Manage Your Mindset & Expectations. You will also want manage your mindset when designing for success. This came up on our goal setting call yesterday for the Deep Dive. If we set goals, and don’t meet them, we worry we will then feel disappointed or feel we have “failed.” This can be a deterrent to setting goals in the first place. So you’ll want to be mindful of striking a balance between an inspiring goal that stretches you just outside your comfort zone and is achievable, but doesn’t scare the pants off you, make you want to stop before you even start, or fear feeling wretched if you don’t make it.
  3. Do Your Best Dance. When you embark on an endeavor like this, you will want to give it your very best shot so you can feel proud of yourself at the end, no matter what happens. Play full out and have fun, celebrate the ups and downs as being part of the process, and make sure to get a high-five at the end.
  4. Get Enough Sleep. When you’re a writer, sleep is not a luxury, it’s a requirement. One of the biggest things I work on with writers in my 1:1 coaching sessions is helping them set up a realistic writing schedule that includes getting enough sleep.

    This often means going to bed early enough in order to be able to write early in the morning, or get through a work day and then have the reserves to write in the evening. Sleep has a big impact on your decision making abilities and your fortitude in sticking with your plans, so when you mess with sleep, your resistance is likely to be higher and your commitment to your writing is one of the first things to falter. So make sure you get enough sleep. :) It’s one of the simplest things you can do to support your writing habit.

  5. Make Smart Choices and Eliminate Distractions. In order to free up time for writing (and getting enough sleep), you’ll need to make some super smart choices. You’ll probably have to stop staying up late, surfing the internet, playing Candy Crush, watching Netflix, reading your email, or whatever else you’re doing that eats time.

    You don’t have to stop doing these things, necessarily, but you can turn them into rewards for doing your writing. Just keep them corralled into an appropriate amount of time so you are putting your writing first and reserving the energy you need for writing. Oftentimes we do these things to “recharge” our energy, but it is worth checking in with yourself to see if they are actually recharging, especially past a certain amount of time spent.

  6. Take Care of Your Physical Body. When we write, we’re sitting for long periods of time. We have to take care of our bodies with stretching and exercise. I’m a fan of Pilates and yoga, myself, as well as eating lower carb, especially at lunch time, so I don’t zone out in the afternoons. I also make a point to drink plenty of water and other non-sugar beverages like tea and sparkling water. Think about what keeps you functioning optimally and be sure to put that in place alongside your writing time.
  7. Set Up a Support System and Create Accountability for Yourself. Embarking on a focused writing intensive is highly likely to trigger uncomfortable feelings. You’re taking a big step closer to reaching your overall goal of being a published writer or produced screenwriter, after all. That can trigger a cascade of doubts, fears of success and failure, and resistance. So set up a support system in advance of people you can turn to and lean on for help, if you feel yourself faltering.

    You can also create a system of accountability for yourself. This may be the same support system or it may be different. In my own case, I have outside supporters (friends and writing coaches) who are my support system, and my writing programs for accountability (the Deep Dive and the Circle). The primary distinction for me is that I tend to process challenging emotions with my supporters, while I rely the accountability for helping me stay on track and true to myself with my goals. The important consideration when setting up accountability is to have clearly named your goal and timeline so you feel that sense of internal responsibility to follow through.  

  8. Set Daily Goals to Support Your Overall Goals. While you’re working on meeting your larger writing goals, you’ll want to have broken them down into incremental daily goals too. Do this so you’ll know when you’re done for the day, and if you’re staying on track with meeting your larger goal. During the Deep Dive, we’ll be checking in every morning with our daily writing goals and our writing intentions for the day (see #9).
  9. Set an Intention for Your Writing. Setting yourself up for success includes being intentional about your writing practice, including thinking about the energy you want to bring to your writing each day. When I’m setting my daily writing goal, I like to think about the intention or energy I’ll focus on that day. I usually write it in capital letters somewhere, like PURPOSEFUL or FOCUSED. It helps to bring my attention to my intention when I do it that way.
  10. Reflect on Your Day, Each Day. At the end of the day, notice how it all went. What went well? Where did things go astray? Is there anything you can tweak or adjust for tomorrow? In writing, self-reflection is huge. It’s not about noticing “failures,” it’s about gathering information and learning and improving … and having fun with piecing together a puzzle that works. 
  11. Reward Yourself. Plan in advance how you’ll reward yourself at the end of your hard work, each day, each week, and at the end of your writing intensive. Is there a great treat you’ll reward yourself with? Something you wouldn’t normally give yourself? This might be just the right time to get it. :) 

Got questions?

Leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer. 

And check out Part I, here: Clearing the Decks, Part II, here: Reverse Engineer and Revise Your Goals, and Part III, here: Boost Your Writing Progress (Or, How to Design a Writing Intensive).

 

Make Massive Progress on Your Book (or Script!)

The upcoming two-week Deep Dive Writing Intensive starts on Wednesday, September 20th and the last day to join us is Tuesday, September 19th. Join us and get tons of support and accountability to make deep progress on your book or script. Find out more and register here

 

When performance anxiety rears its ugly head

I’ve had three experiences lately that have triggered performance anxiety for me. Two assignments, where I’ve delivered a project to someone else, and one where I’m sharing my work with other people in a public forum. Now you might think I’d be over that by now, given that I’m writing publicly every week, teaching classes, and coaching on the spot all the time. I’m in a constant practice of “performing” or being in the spotlight.

But the truth is, that whenever we venture into new territory, our fears and doubts about our ability to “deliver” can come cropping up fairly quickly. I’ve observed that performance anxiety tends to come up as a result of three things:

  1. We’re trying something new.
  2. We’re holding high expectations about the quality of the work we “should” be delivering.
  3. Other people are holding high expectations about our work as well (or we believe they are).

Performance anxiety tends to trigger an inner conversation (if we’re even conscious of it, which we might not be) that goes something like this: “What if I let them down? What if it’s not as good as they expect? What if I can’t live up to their expectations? What if I can’t live up to my own expectations?”

And that conversation in turn tends to leads to paralysis, perfectionism, and procrastination — the three Ps of writing doom.

What’s your mindset?

As I was noticing this behavior in myself as well as the inner conversation about it, I was reminded of Carol Dweck’s book on Mindset* that I’ve been reading lately.

In it, she describes interesting scenarios under which people demonstrate either a fixed or growth mindset. The sports examples particularly resonated for me.

In one example, she talked about how John McEnroe, a tennis player famous for his on-court temper tantrums, illustrated the fixed mindset perfectly. The minute anything would go wrong with his game, he was full of excuses about distractions, noises, other people, etc. It was never his fault and never his responsibility. This is very common among people who perceive themselves as talented or have the belief that other people see them as talented.

In other words, because we are so talented, we believe we shouldn’t have to work at it.

On the other hand, she also described Michael Jordon, and how after his basketball comeback, when they lost the big game of the season, he went back to the gym that night and worked on his game. He knew that he’d been resting on his laurels, thinking he could just drop back into the game after time away, and he was determined to change that — through hard work and dedication to raising the bar on his skill set.

And that’s the difference, that right there. The belief that talent and ability are fixed versus the belief that a skill set can be mastered and improved.

Strategies for dealing with performance anxiety

I’ve worked with two teachers lately who have really brought this home for me: Hal Croasmun of ScreenwritingU.com and Corey Mandell, both screenwriting instructors. Hal reminds me to have a “beginner’s mind” and to learn to be comfortable with the discomfort of growth. Corey reminds me to focus on what I’m learning, not on where I’m failing.

Ideas for dealing with performance anxiety:

  • Make growth mindset choices rather than fixed mindset choices. Keep working, learning, and growing. You’ll only get better.
  • As Hal says, be comfortable with the discomfort of growth and be willing to allow yourself to be a beginner.
  • As Corey suggests, keep your focus on what you’re learning, not on how you haven’t yet mastered the new skill you’re attempting to integrate.
  • Shift your self-talk by first recognizing that fear and doubt are coming up and helping yourself through it. “Okay, I’m worried about what other people think. What if I just let that go and focus on doing the best work I’m capable of right now, and allow myself to learn as I go?”
  • Give yourself permission to fully engage in the messy, glorious process of learning and revel in it.
  • Reward yourself for your efforts.
  • Have lots of support from your peers.
  • Be authentic about what you’re experiencing with yourself and with your peers. You’ll all benefit from it.
  • Find ways to create accountability for yourself so that you do the work, even in the face of creative anxiety.
  • Create a little extra time and space around the learning to help ease up on the pressure.

What works for you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

p.s. I haven’t forgotten that I promised last week to write more about creative identity — and I will, soon! Stay tuned. :)

 

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