I hate the phrase “No excuses!” because it often doesn’t do justice to the reality at hand. For example, I’m doing an Arctic 500 Challenge at work with a goal to walk five hundred minutes during the month of February. It shouldn’t be a problem. I like to walk, and the cold doesn’t bother me. Except that it snowed last night and there’s just enough ice on the roads and sidewalks to make walking more than one mile an hour a hazard to my health.
I’m finding a similar frustration with my writing. I have a long road of revisions ahead of me, and my first instinct is to jump to another long-awaited project I’ve been planning to write. I might because I’m pessimistic my current project, and I feel starting fresh is the best way to learn from my mistakes. Except that I know, deep down, when I jump ship, I’ll be right back where I started in a year when revisions come up again.
So how do I plan to stay on course, whether it’s walking or writing? The answers aren’t so different.
Set a Minimum. For walking, it’s at least eighteen to twenty-five minutes a day. For revising, it’s four chapters a day. Both are sufficient for me to finish the project within a month (although that’s just the tip of the iceberg as for as revisions go). Regardless, setting the bare minimum serves two purposes. First, it gives me a way an easy way to accomplish my goal when everything else is getting in the way (more on that later) and second, setting a small goal gives me plenty of incentive to earn bonus point by blowing it out of the water when things are actually going my way.
Expect Delays, Frustrations and Road Blocks. Even with a minimum in mind, there will be days I don’t come close to meeting your goals. Case in point, there’s a winter storm expected tomorrow, spitting snow and freezing rain all over the area. So much for my walk. Again, this is why I hate the phrase “No excuses”, because it implies a need to power through even when it is inadvisable (or darn near impossible). I prefer a more realistic approach: stuff is going to get my way and I will be knocked out of my routine no matter how good my intentions are. The trick isn’t staying on – it’s getting back in the saddle and starting again. It’s a frustrating part of the process to be sure, but you have a better chance to getting back up if you know it’s coming.
Don’t Forget the Big Picture. While I’m committed to both projects, I have to remember they are both a means to an end – one to get healthy, and one to further my writing career. So the Arctic 500 is not my only chance to get active – I also do T25 on my lunch break. Similarly, I also look for writing opportunities which don’t conflict with my current project – like short stories and flash fiction. I also have a notebook to jot down ideas, even if I recognized it might be a while before I start on the next project.
Reaching a goal is never easy, when it takes a month, a year or even longer. Just like putting a project aside, having to stay on course is a frustrating inevitability. Ultimately, both moving from and staying on course require a good degree of realism and humility in order to see what really lies ahead – and to stay objectively positive in the process.