Why I Never Would Have Written If Not for Goals By Cynthia Beach
I love the idea of writing. Yet daily I resist it. With a heap of discouragement from my not-so-friendly Critic, my typical resistance routine goes like this:
Cynthia: Gosh, now’s a good time to write.
The Critic: Write? Nah. What about all those rejections? Why don’t you do something useful instead like clean the lint out of the dryer vent?
Cynthia: [She veers away from her writing room and beings to wander through her house until she finds herself near the dryer. Then her lips compress. Her back straightens.] What? Where am I? I was going to write. I’m going to do it! [She marches to her writing room.]
The Critic: Hmm. So? And what exactly are you going to write?
Can you relate? My natural default is to resist writing. But with the helpful support of goals—and sometimes accountability partners, I actually do my writing.
Here are my top five slogans or tools that help me write:
- Set realistic weekly goals. Professor Gloria Baker taught me in those bygone days of my 1980s college career to use discernment in how I shape my goals. Don’t make your goal for seven times a week, she would say. Instead, make it for four or five times. Her reasoning made sense: Unrealistic goals can set us up for failure.
Although nearly everyone in the writing world says to write every day, I ignore them. Instead I adhere to Prof. Baker’s wisdom and set out my writing goals for four or five times a week—and meet them.
- “Write in the cracks.” Writer Daniel Taylor said this years ago at the Calvin Festival. We often have absurd expectations of hours of free time to write, he said. Sometimes we even think that we need hours and hours in which to do the writing. We don’t.
Instead, Taylor coached, write here and there. Write when you have fifteen minutes. Don’t wait for the hour or two. It may never come. His freeing words let me write while I’m cooking scrambled eggs or waiting for the cookie timer.
Write in the time you have.
- Have an accountability partner. My MFA pal, YA writer Noel Seif and I set weekly goals and then check in via email on Mondays. Knowing that a check-in is coming empowers me.
We’re familiar with accountability partners in everything from diets to running distances. There’s a reason that many fields use this tool. It works.
- Start with small goals. Alison Hodgson, author of The Pug List and fellow Guild member, once compared getting back into writing like getting back into exercise. This made sense. I, who haven’t run for eight months, would not run around the country block first time out. No way. I would run for short distances and then walk to build my leg muscles and cardio-vascular system.
Setting small writing goals works well, too. When I transition into my summers after my busy teaching semesters, I set small goals to build my writing muscles.
A little technique that the Guild and I use at times is to set a kitchen timer for fifteen minutes and write. When it rings, I’m done—if I want to be. (I never want to be; I keep writing.) This little habit gets us over the great stopper, inertia.
- Set a word goal. Had you told me that I would have written 60,000 words while I managed two very busy semesters, I wouldn’t have believed you. But James Scott Bell in his fantastic The Art of War for Writers challenges readers to write 350 words, six times a week. Not only did I meet my word count, but I exceeded it, too.
His helpful technique is to record our word count. Why this becomes a carrot on a stick, I’m unsure, but you know?—it did!
Maybe you, like me, often face resistance and the Critic in your writing efforts. But setting simple goals can let us become whom we’re called to be: writers.
Cynthia Beach is a long-time writing professor at Cornerstone University, whose latest contributions appear in Hope in the Mourning Bible (Zondervan) and The Horse of My Heart (Revell). She co-founded the two-day Breathe Christian Writers Conference. Currently she’s marketing her novel, The Seduction of Pastor Goodman.