When I first started school, my teacher would hand out worksheets at the beginning of each week, detailing our homework for every day of the week. You knew exactly what you were expected to do, and when you were expected to have it done. This was an environment I excelled in. My mother grins when she talks about how I told her that she would never have to nag me about my homework like she did my brother.
I was true to my word, too; I may not always have enjoyed doing my homework, but I thrived on the structure that school provided me with. It was never difficult for me to sit down to get my homework done, and I always settled down at my desk as soon as I came home. No dawdling, no fuss. Friends were invariably told to wait if they came to hang out before I was done. By me, not my mother.
Then, towards the end of elementary school, things changed. We were still given worksheets at the beginning of each week, but instead of detailing what needed to be done each day, we were told what needed to be done each week. That’s when I started slipping. Without specific tasks to complete each day, I started leaving things to the last minute, and that’s the way it’s been ever since.
My procrastination has led to a lot of frustration for me. Not just academically, but in most aspects of my life, including writing. Over the years, it’s become increasingly clear that I need to make changes, and, thinking back on the ease and willingness with which I did my homework, I think that’s the key. What works for me is to take small steps and reaching partial goals rather than trying to build Rome in a day, so to speak.
Last semester, I had three very simple goals to help me do better academically. I would go to the library every day of the week, I would read the assigned articles before every lecture, and I would create a clearer separation between school and free time (i.e. not study after getting home from the library). I won’t say that it worked perfectly, but it worked well enough because the goals were specific and not terribly hard to reach. In the past, I’ve always lost motivation because of my tendency to bite over much more than I can chew, and nothing is more disheartening than setting yourself a goal you cannot reach.
So I’ve decided that I will apply the same principle to my writing. Every day in 2013 I will write at least 100 words. To some, this might seem like a ridiculously small number. Why even bother turning on your laptop for such a measly progress, right? But I can already tell that it’s working for me. I’ve been doing it for a little over a week, and unlike other goals I’ve set myself, I’ve actually met this one.
It’s not like I have an excuse to not do it. It takes all of two minutes. And then, once I’m warmed up, I often keep going. The first day, I wrote 112 words, and it was agony. The second day, I wrote a little more. The third, a little more. And so on and so forth. I’m not expecting it to always be a little more, but a lot of days it is.
My goal is a minimum. I can exceed it if I want. But there’s no pressure to. I still get the satisfaction of having reached a goal, but there’s no guilt when I can’t carve out an hour to write in a schedule that is crazy and unpredictable most of the time.
So that’s my writing goal for 2013, and hopefully, beyond. What’s yours?