I’ll be honest… the writing 2016 is off to a slow start. Part of it is simply being busy on other things but a significant chunk is that after writing 600,000 words in 2015, my brain needs to recharge.
My brain is a bit like an online RPG mana bar. The harder I work, the more it empties; until finally I have nothing left and have to recharge. When that happens, I bury myself into something – a game, a box set, a series of book – and rabidly consume them. I’ve only learnt this about myself through years of experience so the fact that I seem to be doing it now indicates that I should just let myself burn out on content. Soon, when I’m fully recharged, I’ll get bored and my thoughts will return to the writing and I’ll be off again.
It’s not that I haven’t been busy though. Far from it. I’ve been binging on World of Warcraft and found myself consumed with gold making in the game. I’ve been watching endless twitch streams, reading articles and watching a ton of Youtube videos. I’ve also been busy with my sword fighting school. I took on some of their IT last year – mainly blog posts and updating their website to a content management platform – but over December I’ve been putting in a payment platform for dues. It went live at the start of the year and whilst I’m really pleased with how it’s working there’s no end of tasks as people are people and have different circumstances and so need chasing or settings changed. Times this by 100 club members and it’s got me a little stressed at times. I’ve also been going over notes from my agent and beta readers on the last rewrite and trying to work out what I’m going to do and how. Finally, I’m trying to wade through putting together a bunch of synopses which, whilst I can do them, is procrastination central. Urgh! I want them done, but they are SO HARD!
The result is that whilst I’ve not been writing a lot, I’m stupidly busy. I also have some fitness goals for this year and trying to find time for those is proving difficult. I feel like I’m trying to juggle a load of things and not getting much done.
However, it occurred to me that all these tasks share something in common. They’re all long term goals and as such they need to be approached properly.
Let’s take my World of Warcraft gold farming for example. Yes, it’s good that I’ve been doing research. And the fact that being consumed by this currently means that my writing will benefit when I fully recharge.
But the problem is that I’m sitting there watching videos with content that I know about and wishing I was as successful as them. I look at some of the best fighters in my sword fighting club and find myself wanting to be as good as them. I look at the pile of synopsises I need to write and the rewrite of Black as Knight that needs to be started and I wish they were done.
And there’s the problem where most people fall over. You see, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with dreaming. In fact, I think it’s pretty healthy. How awesome would it be if I amassed the most gold in the game, or won a tournament or Black as Knight was lauded by public and critics alike to massive commercial success? Visualising the goals can help keep us motivated.
But for a lot of people it ends right there. They see this mountain of a task, dream of the result but never make any progress toward it. They put off starting because something might go wrong and they might have to restart. So they never start.
The reason I was able to write 600,000 words last year; the reason I had a stupidly productive day the other day despite feeling tired and stressed? It’s not because I have magic answers or super human powers.
It’s because I took those goals and broke them down into sub-goals. I then took those sub-goals and broke them down further and further until what I was left with was no longer a mountain of a task, but a mountain of mini-tasks.
That can be a little daunting at first. So much work. How can it possibly all get done?
The answer: baby steps.
It doesn’t matter if you have a hundred tasks or a thousand tasks, or ten thousand. What matters is that you have the tasks you need to work on right now. So I don’t need to amass in-game gold in World of Warcraft, I need to run the daily missions I need to get the reputation I need to work toward getting some lucrative recipes. I don’t need to be super-fit today, I just need to eat healthy and order the items I need off the internet to aid me. I don’t need to have completed the rewrites, I just need to work on one element of my planning for it.
We live in a culture where we are used to instant gratification. If we work out and don’t see a reduction in our waistline in the first week, we deem it a failure and give up. We write a thousand words but lament that the novel isn’t complete.
If there’s one thing you can do to aid yourself is take a baby step toward your goals. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday and who knows what will happen tomorrow. Become accustom to enjoying the journey rather than getting annoyed you are not at your destination. Take any task that you’re not moving forward and break it down into sub-tasks. And then just do one of those tasks. The rest can wait for tomorrow when you’ll work at the next.
Change your mindset so that whilst you have that goal you are working toward firmly in mind, that’s not the focus of your day. Instead ask yourself what small step you can take to bring you closer to that goal. And then do it… however small. In fact, the smaller the better because you’ll be more likely to do it. Make your goals effortless by making the tasks so small you hardly even notice the work.
Take baby steps, whether it be a long term goal in a video game, your fitness or your career and trust me, you’ll be there sooner than you know it.