The Practice of Writing

Katie Walking the Labyrinth by James Jen

This started as a post about goal setting. I was going to title it Setting Doable Goals. But the more thought about it, I realized that I really have only one goal:

To write every day for the rest of my life.

Writing isn’t a sprint, it isn’t even a marathon, for me it’s a way of life. To be both creative and productive is to be happy. I have a small constellation of lesser goals, but this one is my guiding star. This one keeps me focused on the fact that creative writing is, for me, a spiritual practice. This is important to remember when I find that I’ve committed to some overly-optimistic, unachievable goal that has scuttled my progress rather than encouraged it. That’s when I return to my ONE goal and remember that every day that I leave a trail of words on the page, I walk away from my desk ready to be filled up again.

With that in mind, I do use short term goals as a tool to push myself to become a better writer and to keep my work organized. The latter is a challenge for me as I’ve adopted what I call the English Muffin Method for my writing. This consists of filling every available nook and cranny of my day with little bits of writing and/or editing; parsing big projects into a million tiny pieces. Daily, weekly and monthly goals help keep me on track.

A couple of books that exist in the real estate between writing as spiritual practice and writing for public consumption are: Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Library).

Finding the Middle Way with Goal Oriented Writing

  1. Think about what you want to achieve don’t just fill in the blanks according to what the world dictates. As I said in my last post, think about what success means to you personally. Spend some time on this, write it down in your journal.
  2. Try simply tracking your output for a week or two before you set an arbitrary number. How many words can you write taking into account job, family, dog, a school of guppies, a flock of hens, or in my case, all of the above? You might be surprised, it might be more than you think.
  3. When you’re ready to set some goals be sure they are S.M.A.R.T. — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound
  4. Set low bar and high bar, and build in time off. My low bar is 250 new words each day. That’s one hand-written page, two double spaced pages on the computer. I’ve even tapped out 250 words with my thumbs on my iPod’s writing app. Almost anyone can toss off 250 words in under ten minutes. I am absolutely not allowed to feel bad about myself if I do this. It’s this low bar that keeps me on track with the real goal of writing every day.
  5. Rejigger if you need to. Things change. We change. Life. The advantage to seeing your creative life as a spiritual practice is that you can work out the smaller goals any number of ways to support it. If one method isn’t working, try something new. Even if it is working, but you’re just feeling a little bored, try something new just for a change.

Remember this is supposed to be fun. Serious fun, sure, but fun. Creativity is close kin to play, and if what you’re doing is not fun – not satisfying you on a deep, emotional level – then you’re doing it wrong.

Hello spring!


Making New Year’s Resolutions means that you want to make a change. One look at the Self-Help shelves in any book store and it’s clear that everyone loves the IDEA of change, but real, meaningful change; we don’t love so much. Because real, meaningful change is hard, and being creatures of habit, we resist it for all we’re worth. Luckily, it’s January and that means that there’s lots of how to stick to your resolutions advice floating around the Internet.

I found a couple things that seemed worth a try. First, James Clear’s post about identity-based habits talks about how important it is to change from the inside out. Every aspiring writer has heard that they should start thinking of themselves as a writer and calling themselves a writer. That’s all well and good but Clear’s advice adds a level of concreteness that makes all the difference.

After reading his example, here are my examples:

I’m the kind of person who writes 1,000 words a day
I’m the kind of person who finishes a story a week

If I keep doing this, then being the kind of person who sells stories will follow.

“When you want to become better at something, proving your identity to yourself is far more important than getting amazing results.”

He stresses that you prove your identity to yourself with SMALL wins. Baby steps here, people. I think of it as, first overlaying your new identity onto yourself, then encouraging yourself to GROW into that person.

The small wins are important because of the need for PERSISTENCE. And, to help with that Lifehacker posted an article about Seinfeld’s productivity secret AKA: Don’t Break the Chain

Of course there’s an app for that and I’ve tried it before, but this is just thekind of thing that works better analog. Actually making big red Xs on a paper calender is surprisingly satisfying. Here’s mind so far:
My daily minimum is to write 250 words on that week’s story. Once I write that, I can put an X on the day. If I write 1,000 words I’m adding a gold star. I have two gold stars on last Saturday because I wrote over 2,000 words that day. Who doesn’t love getting a gold star? Again, very satisfying. 

So my first full week is nearly over an my first story of the “a story a week” in 2013 is nearly drafted. Win!