Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Stephen Watkins of The Undiscovered Author.
Whether it’s because you have kids, or a day job, or family crises, or you’re looking for work, or you’ve got a heavy class schedule at school–whatever it is, many of us have a lot of demands on our time, and those demands compete with the need to write.
A lot of the time, writing has to take the back seat to all those demands.
And that’s okay.
It’s easy to get hard on yourself when you’re not writing as much as you’d like. I do it all the time. If I go too long without writing, I start to feel uneasy and unhappy.
Writing is just a part of who I am. I know I’m not alone in feeling that way. But when life gets in the way of your writing, sometimes you have to let it go.
An important tool I’ve developed to help me cope with this reality is “taking the long view:”
When The Big Picture Gets Lost Among The Details
Taking the long view is about keeping things in perspective. It’s about finding balance in our lives. And it’s about keeping the dream alive and making progress toward our goals without losing our grip on our sanity or on the day-to-day things of life that we just can’t put down, even to write.
You already know that writing a novel isn’t easy.
There’s “NaNoWriMo” encouraging you to write a 50,000-word novel in a month.
There’s the “3-Day Novel Contest” which challenges you to write a novel in three days.
Sometimes, the stars align and you can make the writing happen.
But most of the time, writing doesn’t go that way. Life doesn’t have an “off” switch to let you write as much as you want whenever you want. Some of us write faster all the time, but some write slower. So, planning a writing career can mean thinking months and even years ahead.
“Someday” My Dream Will Come
By taking the long view, we condition ourselves to this process. We don’t expect overnight success and we don’t expect to be finished with our novel tomorrow. It all happens in the future.
But taking the long view doesn’t mean giving up on our goals and dreams. It doesn’t mean waiting and sighing and hoping for “someday” to come. It means doing what we can now, and taking each day as it comes: one step at a time.
5 Steps to a Keeping The Big Picture In Mind While Working Out All The Details
Here are my five steps to help you take the long view in your writing life, while keeping you moving forward with short-term goals:
- Have a Long-term Plan: You can’t take the long view if you don’t have a vision of where you want to be in the long-term. My “long-term plan” is equal parts Achievable Goal and Wildest Dream, and I think both parts are necessary–at least they are for me. I need to have something actionable and concrete that I know I can achieve: something like “finish my novel” or “write the next novel” and so on. But the dream of what might be possible for me if everything works out perfectly also sustains me. For me, that’s becoming a well-known and sought-after author in my preferred genre.
- Have Short-term Goals: Your long-term dreams and goals are little more than pipe-dreams if you don’t have something you can do in the here-and-now to make progress toward that dream–even if it’s just little baby steps. So you’ve got to set short-term, achievable goals for yourself that help you along toward that long-term dream. That means setting goals about how much, or how often, you’ll spend time writing.
- Be Accountable: You’ve got to be accountable for achieving those short-term goals if you’re going to progress. So, find someone you trust–someone supportive of your goals and dreams–to report your progress to: be that a friend, a family member, or even the audience for your blog. Being accountable means you have to be able to measure progress towards your goals. So your goals have to be based on something you’re willing to track and measure. Maybe that means tracking the word count you write each day or each week. Not into tracking your word count? Then track the number of hours you spent writing each day, or the number of days you spent some time writing, or even take note that you sat down once during the week to write. Make that part of your short-term goals, and then be accountable and report on your goals to the other party. This keeps you working out all the little details while moving you towards accomplishing the bigger picture of your dream.
- Be Forgiving: Some days, or some weeks–or some months–you’re going to miss your goals. Because of life? Yes. It happens. Sometimes it happens a lot, in rapid succession, leaving you little time to breathe. So when it happens, don’t get hard on yourself. Cut yourself a little slack, and…
- Keep On Going: When you run into bumps in the road, sometimes you have to slow down, or stop, or wait until things get smoothed out. But when you pass through the bumps, don’t dwell on your missed progress toward your long-term goals. Instead, pick up right where you left off and keep on going. You can lose a day, or a week, or a month, or a year of progress. But make sure that you’re still pointed in the right direction, and if you keep moving forward, eventually you’ll make it to the right destination.
Writing is a Journey
If you’ve got supportive people around you and a clear direction forward, there’s nothing to stop you from being successful on your own terms. There are a lot of things you can’t control: the vagaries of life, the tastes of readers, and everything in between.
But just remember this isn’t a sprint.
It’s not even a marathon.
It’s not even about whether or not you cross the finish-line.
It’s a journey. And the journey is all about what happens along the way to the destination. It’s all about what you learn along the side of the road, and how you handle what comes with each step.
Stephen A. Watkins lives, works, plays and writes in Atlanta, Georgia, where he recently completed his Master’s degree. He’s been an avid reader and writer (especially of fantasy and science fiction literature) since he could count his age in the single digits–and he still can’t get enough. Day-to-day, he precariously balances the demands of his day job, loving his wife, playing with his toddler, and walking the dog to find the time to read and write. He blogs about his misadventures at The Undiscovered Author.