If you’re like me, you like to set big writing goals. You dream of all you can accomplish and create a plan. A few days or weeks into the plan, you get distracted or worn out, and quit. This happens to me, and perhaps to you as well for two primary reasons:
- My writing goals aren’t realistic
- Shiny objects distract me
The problem is that my writing goals often only work if everything goes perfectly. I plan as if every day will be sunny and free of problems. We all know that’s not realistic. I often also compare myself with other writers, writers who for whatever reason seem to be able to write much faster (or something) than me. So I try to keep up, but can’t.
In this post, I dive into how to create a sustainable writing plan, a plan that you can do successfully day in and day out, no matter what. It’s a slow and steady approach that will ultimately help you accomplish all of your writing dreams and goals.
Read on for tips on how to create a sustainable writing plan.
Embark on a 20-Mile Sustainable Writing Plan March
I learned about the 20-Mile March in the book, Great by Choice by Jim Collins. The book includes a story about two men that set a goal of walking from San Diego, California to the tip of Maine.
One man consistently walked 20 miles per day, every single day. There were days when the weather was great, and he felt fantastic and could have walked more, but used restraint and only walked 20 miles. There were other days when the terrain was rough, or the weather was terrible. On those days, it was challenging to walk 20 miles, but he pushed himself and walked 20 miles even though it was hard.
Another man started the walk on the same day. On the first day, he was excited and motivated and walked 40 miles. The next day was tired from the first day and decided to wait until the weather cooled down to walk again. He kept up with this pattern, basing the amount of walking he did on factors such as weather conditions and how he felt.
Just before he hit the Colorado mountains, he felt great and walked 40 or 50 miles in a day to make up for the times he walked less. Then a winter storm hit, and he decided to stay in his tent until it warmed up. When the warmer weather arrived, in a weakened state, he continued his journey. By the time he reached Kansas, the guy who walked 20 miles day in and day out had already reached the tip of Maine.
Two Important Aspects of the 20-Mile March
There are two critical aspects of the 20-Mile March:
- A hurdle to jump over even in challenging times
- A self-imposed constraint that keeps you from going too fast when times are good
The 20-Mile March is more than a philosophy. It’s about having concrete, clear, intelligent, and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keep you on track. The 20-Mile March creates two types of self-imposed discomfort: (1) the discomfort of unwavering commitment to high performance in difficult conditions, and (2) the discomfort of holding back in good conditions. ~Jim Collins
Benefits of Applying the 20-Mile March to Your Writing
Here are some of the main benefits of applying this type of approach to your writing.
- Order and consistency in your writing
- You’ll build confidence as a writer, especially when you maintain consistency in hard times
- It keeps you moving forward with your writing goals and dreams regardless of the “terrain and weather”
- It helps you build self-control. Instead of the tail wagging the dog, the dog wags the tail.
- Keeps you from blaming a lack of progress in your writing on your circumstances or environment
- Because you don’t overexert yourself in good times, you have the energy to keep writing in more challenging times.
Tailor the 20-Mile March to YOUR Writing
It’s imperative to tailor the 20-Mile March to you and your own circumstances and abilities. For some, it may be writing 15-minutes per day. For others, it may be writing two hours per day. Some may set a goal of writing 500 or 1000 words per day, and others like Stephen King may write 10 pages a day, even on holidays. The key is to consider what you can do consistently in good times and bad, and what is in your control to achieve.
Pro tip #1: Consider working your way up gradually, like you would with exercise. For instance, you may start with 15 minutes of writing a day for a month. If you find that that’s a bit too easy, increase it to 20 or 30 minutes a day for the next month. The following month rachet it up it to 45 minutes a day and so on. Continue this approach until you find that it’s relatively easy (but not too easy!) on good days, and doable (even if a bit painful) on crazy days.
Pro tip #2: Consider having a slight range instead of a set in stone goal. A small range will enable you to make steady progress when life throws really big curveballs your way. For example, your range may be to write 45 minutes to an hour each day or write between 750 and 1000 words a day. This gives you a bit of flexibility, but still avoids the “all or nothing” extremes.
Avoid the “Next Big Thing”
We live in a modern culture that reveres the Next Big Thing. It’s exciting, fun to read about, fun to talk about, fun to write about, fun to learn about, and fun to join. Yet the pursuit of the Next Big Thing can be quite dangerous if it becomes an excuse for failing to 20 Mile March. If you always search for the Next Big Thing, that’s largely what you’ll end up doing – always searching for the Next Big Thing. ~Jim Collins
When I read the above quote, I thought of my own tendency to get distracted. Sometimes it’s more fun to learn and plan than it is to do the dull day in and day out grit work of simply writing.
I’ve worked for some amazingly successful people, and one thing that they have in common is that they create a plan and work the plan. Nothing, even extreme challenges, and setbacks derail them from working the plan.
In contrast, I recall one client that kept changing things, always tweaking, trying to improve. Not only did he waste a lot of money by paying me to do something and then paying me to undo what I did and do something else, he never made real progress in his business. He was amazingly talented and knowledgeable and yet ended up abandoning his business. His business failed at least in part because instead of plodding along, doing “boring” work consistently, he was easily distracted by “the next big thing.”
If you have a tendency to talk and talk and talk and plan and plan and plan, stop it! If you already know what to do, do it. If you’ve set writing goals and created a writing plan, march on with that plan, day after day, and week after week. Stay focused and plod along until you reach your destination. Only then should you focus on the next big thing.
Plan Opportunities to Recharge
When you consider what your 20-Mile March should look like, be sure to plan for and create opportunities to recharge. There are multiple ways to go about this.
One of my favorite ways recharge is to go on an artist date. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it was coined by Julia Cameron author of The Artist Way.
Artist dates are simply times to recharge your inner artist. They can be as simple as going to an art supply store and browsing the aisles or spending time in a park with your journal. I learned about artist dates when my children were young, and I was a stay-at-home mom.
During that season of life, once a week, I went to a local coffee shop, alone. I sipped coffee, people watched, and journaled. This simple act nurtured my writing soul at a time in my life when I had little alone time. Pure bliss!
If you’ve ever sat down to write and felt dead inside, it could be because your “well” is dry. It’s challenging to write if your well is filled with nothing but rocks and dry, cracked soil. Because of that, it’s essential to nurture your writing soul.
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