Who will be a muse d ?

Week 3: Setting Yourself Up to Succeed

Or, Why the Commercials Are Wrong

In the last two weeks we have discussed some good ways of getting started -- or keeping going -- in our writing. We have talked about shitty first drafts and crapulence: about being open and fearless in our writing. We have also addressed how to ground ourselves when we write by using what is under our (literal or metaphorical) noses. All of this is important in forging a deeper connection to our writing.

This week I would like us to take a step back and examine the framework within which we write. Because in order to engage the subconscious in our writing, it helps to have a trust in ourselves and our commitment to writing. It helps to have some guideposts that signify that we will come back to our writing on a periodic basis, and that we will do so with a sense of love and gentleness toward ourselves. In other words, if we want to build a relationship with the Muse, we have to let her know that we are responsible partners -- that we won't flake out and never return and also that offer reassurance that our partnership will be respectful of the gifts we each have.

In other words, as important as what to write is how we are writers. This week we ask the question: what are the guiding principles of how we fit writing into our lives?

Established, published writers grapple with these "writing lifestyle" issues as much as (or maybe more than) new writers. Seeing writing as part of a structure, a larger process of learning and living, helps us to write with greater freedom and connection. This might at first seem like a contradiction: I give you a bunch of rules and this will help you be wilder and more open in your work? It's a paradox, yet it works. I have used it to improve my own writing and have taught it to writer friends when they've gotten stuck. I have learned it to train my dogs, and I also apply it to my meditation practice.

Let's examine the way most of us try to squeeze writing into our lives. First of all, nobody has enough free time. We are working full-time jobs or going to school or taking care of family and friends or dealing with a chronic illness or some combination of all of the above. So, when we sit down to write, we might only have fifteen minutes or an hour or two that day or that week. If we feel that to get anything accomplished we must start with a blank page and end with a completed manuscript, we will do everything in our power to avoid sitting down to write in the first place. Because we will know in our hearts that there is no way we will be able to succeed. After all, how much motivation can you muster to force yourself to do something you absolutely know will end in failure?

Or if we are very motivated, we might sit down, make a terrific start at something -- a bit of fiction or poetry or memoir -- and then when we have to stop (because the dog needs to be walked or the kids have to be picked up or we're too ill to continue), we will feel like a failure because our project is not "done." And this will make us reluctant to continue working on the piece because we know that we will probably not finish it the next time either, and who wants to keep setting oneself up to fail?

That is what we are doing when we set unrealistic goals for ourselves in writing (or in anything else): we are setting ourselves up to fail. Take a look at two scenarios.

1) You say to yourself, "This evening after I put the kids to bed, I am going to write that short story I've been thinking about all year." You sit down and start writing and in an hour and a half you've written the first four pages of your short story. Then you have to stop and go to bed because you need to get up early the next morning. You feel bad about yourself: you didn't meet your goal of writing the entire short story. Maybe you decide if you can't write it after all this time, you should just give up.

2) You say to yourself, "This evening after I put the kids to bed, I am going to write for an hour." You sit down and start writing, and before you know it, an hour and a half has gone by and you've jammed out the first four pages of your short story. You have to stop and go to bed, but you feel great! You just wrote straight through for an hour and a half and finally got a start on a story you've been wanting to work on for a long time. You are already scheming how you can make time tomorrow to steal another hour to write.

What is the difference between these two scenarios? In both cases you have written four pages of a new short story. That should be cause for celebration. But in the first scenario, because you set an unrealistic goal (finishing the whole story) what should have felt like a triumph was registered as a failure. This is neither a kind nor a useful way to approach writing. It is a way of making failure a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a terrible thing to do to ourselves (or our dogs, our children, our parents, etc.).

In the second scenario, you set a goal you could meet (writing for an hour), met it, and thus felt excited and proud: ready to do more. That is part of setting ourselves up to succeed. This is how many excellent teachers, coaches, animal trainers -- and some greater writers -- get their finest results.*

(*By the way, if you want to learn more about this philosophy, please read Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training by Karen Pryor. It's not about writing or dogs. It's about applying behavioral psychology principles to real-life situations. In other words, it's about how to modify behavior and learn or teach skills. I read it to make me a better dog trainer, but I think it has also made me a better writer and teacher. It's a valuable, fascinating book and a great read, to boot.)

Setting yourself up to succeed is
1) starting with goals that are easily attainable;
2) raising the level/criteria in small increments;
3) changing only one criterion or new expectation at a time;
4) surrounding yourself with support;
5) when the going gets tough, returning to "go."

Now I will explain each step.

1) Starting with goals that are easily attainable is just what it sounds like. If you've never written a poem, don't start with the goal of writing a book of poetry. Don't even start with the goal of writing one poem. Start with a goal you know you can succeed at, such as taking a poetry workshop. Or reading a book of poetry. Or writing for ten minutes and then pulling out all the lines you think might be poetic. You don't want anything in the beginning that can keep you from starting and that can give you an excuse not to continue.

However, if you are an accomplished poet and you already spend plenty of time every day writing new work, you do not need to set yourself that goal. Perhaps you are stuck getting your poems polished. In that case, you might focus on doing revisions. Your attainable goal might be that you will pick one poem from your stack of unfinished poems every night and work on revising it for an hour. You don't have to finish any of the poems, you just have to spend at least one hour every night doing revisions.

If you are new to writing practice then you don't want to even think "poem." You just want to start by doing five-minute timed writing practices. Say to yourself, "I am going to write for five minutes." You can write anything you want, about anything you want, however you want, just as long as the pen (or cursor) is moving, for five minutes.

I know that what I am suggesting here seems unAmerican. I know it goes against our way of thinking that we must always Push Past Our Limits and Go for the Gold and eXtreme Everything to the MaX. Almost every commercial on TV is about rejecting limits and boundaries. However, behavioral psychologists back up my method with solid science.

For one thing, these scientists tell us, a lot of learning happens between lessons. That is when you integrate information, when you stew in the juices of your creative thoughts. Have you noticed how inspiration often strikes a day or two after you have worked on a piece of writing? That is because part of your mind is still doing the writing. That is the learning that is taking place while your subconscious is still grappling with the problem.

What this means is that the information you tend to learn the best -- the stuff that sticks with you the most -- is what happens at the end of a writing lesson (or any learning experience). If we translate this to our writing practice, it means that it is very useful to end your writing sessions on a high note -- to stop when you are still producing strong, connected, juicy writing: when the happy chemicals in your brain are still whizzing around whooping, "Writing! Wheeeee! This is good junk, man!" That's why timed writings are useful. You set your timer, you write for the allotted time, and at the end, when you are still cranking, you stop and tell yourself "good job!" and go do something else.

If you push and push and push and you stop writing when you are tired and worn out and discouraged and you have no words left in your head, that will be a big part of what you will carry around with you until the next time you write. It will be sitting on your head like an anvil when you next pick up your pen. That is why short, timed writing sessions are so powerful: not only do they give you permission to write whatever you want and to not have to spend your whole day at the desk, they allow you to walk away when you are still doing positive learning.

In fact, I often do my best writing when I have the lowest expectations. One of my most successful short stories is something I wrote at four in the morning. I was awake with my chronic illness. I got an idea for a story and the opening two sentences. I thought, "I'll just jot down these two lines and then try to go to sleep." But the words kept coming so I kept putting them on paper. I knew I could put the pad down and go to sleep whenever I wanted. It was a very short story -- less than three pages -- and when it was done I fell asleep. I think if I had thought, "I have to get this whole story down! I must write it before I lose it all!" I would have locked up and it wouldn't have flown out as naturally as it did. By giving myself permission to end at any moment -- by having the sensation that I could quit at any second -- I was able to relax, let go, and write until I was done.

2) Raising the level/criteria in small increments means that you are very gentle with your expectations of yourself. You don't push yourself too fast or too hard. Remember: you are setting yourself up to succeed. Often, if we are doing well writing one five-minute session every week we think the next step is to move to one twenty-minute writing session every day. Wrong! That is an increase in length and frequency of writing sessions! Too much opportunity to fail.

Instead, if you know you can write for five minutes once a week, then go up to ten minutes once a week. Or five minutes twice a week. Don't try to go from five minutes to half an hour. Be gentle on yourself. That's the beauty of this method: as soon as you feel that you have mastered one level, you can always raise it another level -- as long as you do it one step at a time.

If you're not sure when or how much to raise your criteria, here's a guideline for you to follow. Think about
your schedule,
your motivation,
your past patterns,
and the demands on your time.
Taking into account all these factors, figure out how much time you can reasonably expect yourself to spend on writing in a week. OK, got a number? Now, cut it in half. Seriously. That's where to take your next step.

Are you worried that this is too slow? Well, don't be. It's actually a very fast and efficient way to learn and train yourself. What is inefficient is constantly failing, self-flagellating, and getting nothing done as a consequence.

This system has built into it your ability to control your next move! If you do one writing session a week with regularity and ease, try two. If you write for twenty minutes and are chomping at the bit for more, next time write for thirty. If you write from nine in the morning to noon every day and you'd like to fit in more, try adding an evening slot after dinner from six to seven. If you are cruising at twice a week, go to three times. If that feels easy as pie, then go to four, then five. Just take it one step at a time. Don't go from twice to five in one breath, that's all.

As a person with physical and mental limitations due to chronic illness, I have relied on this type of self-regulation for writing. If I try to push past my limits I pay in very real and painful ways. It has been important for me to give myself permission to write for brief periods of time, to skip writing on days when I am too sick, and to not raise my expectations too quickly for what I expect myself to produce. On days when I am very sick, it is good to be able to say to myself, "I am going to write for five minutes today" and feel satisfied for having done that. Or to know that my goal for the entire week is to revise one essay and that I don't have to do anything else. It allows me to focus, and paradoxically, I am more productive than I would be if I was working longer. In such instances I am usually just spinning my wheels, trying to work past the point of fatigue and productivity on too many projects.

3) Changing only one criterion or new expectation at a time means that you only fiddle with one "variable" at a time. For instance, if you want to try writing for longer periods of time, don't also try to write more often. Just practice writing longer first. And vice-versa.

Or, if you want to experiment with sentence structure -- going for really long, bizarre sentences with experimental grammar -- just do that. Don't also try to switch from your habitual third-person point of view to a first-person narrative.

The same is true for trying new types or genres of writing. I wrote nonfiction all through school and at work. Then I took some poetry classes. For years I was comfortable with poetry and nonfiction, but I had never tried to write a short story. Then I slammed out one short story. Next thing I launched myself into a novel. Of course that novel never found its feet. I wrote about forty pages and then gave up because I didn't know where to take it. Now I see what the problem was -- I didn't yet know fiction writing. A novel was too big a project. It was too much of a leap from poet to novelist, without any steps in between. Now I have been writing fiction for a few years. When I step out onto the pages of a piece of fiction I feel the earth is solid beneath me. The next time I jump into a novel I will have a better idea of where I am landing.

And even within a genre, you have to take one step at a time; you have to practice one bit at a time. It is like when you are a swimmer and you just focus on your kick one day. Another day you focus on keeping your fingers close together. Another day you focus on the angle of your arm as it enters the water. Then, when you are in a race, you have learned all those elements separately and it's easier to put them together. If you are always trying to focus on your kick and your hands and your arms all at the same time, you will be overwhelmed and your swimming technique will suffer. The same is true for writing.

I have done this many times in my writing career -- separating out one area to focus on. For instance, at one point I decided I didn't understand plot and I wanted to work on plot. Rather than trying to write whole, complete, beautiful short stories that had vivid, lovable characters and stunning dialogue and also had outstanding plots, I decided just to write plots. I would sit down and tell myself, "write five plots." (Notice I did not tell myself to write good plots. The only requirement was that they be plots.) And then I would. I didn't write stories, mind you, just plots: six or seven sentences about what could happen in a story that would take the character(s) through some form of tension, conflict, and resolution.

Here are examples of two plots that I wrote one day, in 1997:

A rabbit learns to climb trees and ends up trying to sing like a bird. She masters eating seeds and bird chatter, but tries flying and plunges to earth. On the way down she realizes she never knew how to climb trees.

An elderly blind woman has to move into a nursing home because she can no longer take care of herself. She can't bring a lot of her things with her so she hires a young woman to sort through her books, papers, and belongings and help her decide what to bring with her. The young woman is newly single, having moved to a new city, alone and at loose ends. As the young woman learns all about the older woman -- reading aloud the intimate details in the papers the older woman can no longer see -- they become close and the two women decide to live together.

It was an exercise, practice in digesting how plot tasted and felt and smelled. After I'd done that several times over a period of months I decided to write a short story where the only purpose of the story was to write something with a plot. I wasn't worrying about the dialogue or the characters or anything else. I just wanted it to have a recognizable, real-life plot. I used the second plot, above, as the basis for my story. After I had some practice writing stories with plots, my stories just started having plots all on their own because some part of my brain had stored away "plot" through practice. If I wanted to, I could go back and rework some of those earlier stories that were just meant to be plot exercises, to try to make them into finished works. But so far I've just let them be what they were, which was learning tools.

4) Surround yourself with support . Writing is a lonely business. It is ironic because I think most of us who write feel strongly that we want to connect with someone: the reader. This might be a specific reader (our teacher, our mother, our lover, ourselves at a later date) or a particular audience (parents, peace activists, Muslims, business executives) or the whole world. We write to tell our story, to share the truth as we know it, to reveal ourselves. Yet we write by ourselves, at our desks or computers or kitchen tables. Even if we are sitting in a cafe, writing across the table from a writing friend, the activity is happening independently, contained in our own brains. That is why I think it is so important to get support for your writing -- so you do not lose touch with the communal aspect of what you are trying to do.

The best thing is to have writing buddies. These are people to whom you can read what you've written (and, ideally, who will read you what they have written, too). It is great if these are people who also love writing, who will talk about writing and the writer's life with you, and who will share your joys and sorrows about writing. I have found writing buddies through writing classes, writing groups I have started in my home, and friendships -- online and in person. Going to writing-related events, such as readings or lectures at libraries or bookstores, is also a good way to meet kindred spirits.

It is also useful to foster relationships with people in your life -- your friends and family -- who are supportive of your writing. Even if they don't know much about writing and can't offer you tips on plot or meter, they should still be able to say "way to go, honey!" when you have pounded out a piece of work. And they should commiserate and offer you chocolate when you get a rejection slip from a magazine and tell you, "you'll get them next time!" They should certainly not make nasty, belittling comments about your writing or give you a hard time about taking writing classes. If they do, let them know that this makes you feel lousy. If they still do it, maybe you don't want to share this part of your life and yourself with them. If you are the person in your life making nasty, belittling comments about your writing, then I hope taking this class will help you begin to be a better friend to yourself.

5) When the going gets tough, returning to "go." Another term for this is "going back to kindergarten." What it means is that if you get stuck somewhere and find yourself floundering, back up a step or two or three. Set-backs are a natural part of the learning process. Planning for them -- knowing that there is a way to deal with them when they arise -- is crucial.

Again, I know this goes against everything we've been taught. We've been taught Onward and Upward! We've been told The Sky's the Limit! We've been inculcated into thinking that any step back means we are pathetic losers. But that's a lot of hogwash. Set-backs and learning plateaus are inevitable. In fact, what we perceive as set-backs are often crucial opportunities for the learner to integrate the information and commit it to long-term memory. That is because, when we are learning, we are storing the information in short-term memory, where we can access it quickly, but it's not necessarily going to stick with us or become part of our mental map. To integrate information deeply takes more time, and usually, to do that, we have to take a break from new learning in the same field. That is when "relearning" the information briefly -- doing a review -- can help us to store it more fully in long-term memory.

Thus, there will come a time when you are cruising along, working on a poem or a story or a set of essays, and you will hit a bump and suddenly you will feel like you have forgotten how to write. Maybe you've been writing for two hours every day and then there is a family crisis and you go three weeks without writing a word and when you come back you feel overwhelmed and your head is empty of words. Or maybe you are revising a draft of your story and no matter what you do the characters have just lost all zest for life. Or maybe you had been slowly lengthening your writing practice sessions by five-minute increments every day, having transitioned swimmingly from five minutes a day to two hours a day over a period of weeks, and suddenly you can't write for more than one hour, period.

This is when you go back to "go." Whatever step you're at, return to the beginning. This doesn't mean you have to go through the entire process again for the same length of time. It just gives you a bit of time to reset your internal clock. For whatever reason, you need a mental tune-up.

Since this is about setting yourself up to succeed, you need to return to an earlier stage where you know you will succeed. Give yourself a chance to succeed at an easier level. Just for now. Then you can work back through the levels, really fast, to where you were when the set-back happened. You'll probably find that you're raring to go by the time you return. In fact, behavioral psychologists find that learning usually accelerates after doing such a tune-up.

How does one go back to kindergarten? In the example of the person who stopped writing completely, she would return to doing one five-minute writing one day. If that went well, the next day she'd do a fifteen-minute writing. Then thirty, an hour, an hour and a half until she is back to two hours a day; it will probably take her a week or so. She can go back through the levels faster than when she first started because this is basically just review. You don't want to go from five minutes to two hours in one leap, but you do want return to five minutes to give your brain a chance to remember how to write.

Sometimes I use this technique with a story or poem that I have been reworking, when I have finally reached the point where I can't tell anymore if I'm making it better or worse. I feel like I'm just moving the commas around. I set it aside and let it sit, sometimes for a year or more. While that's happening, I work on other projects. When I return to the piece that has been laying fallow, I am starting at the beginning. I print out a fresh copy and read it, as if for the first time. I try to see it with new eyes. By that time I have forgotten a lot of what I was obsessing about before. Then I can start again from "go" on the piece.

Giving yourself more breathing room and structure in which to write is bound to increase your creativity and connectedness to your work. If you get in the habit of trying to push beyond your capabilities, writing becomes a chore. When sitting down to write, you will not have as much energy to devote to creativity because part of your brain will still be busy telling you what a loser you are and how you better crank out something good this week since you failed last week.

On the other hand, feeling good about yourself and your writing -- having a supportive structure in your writing life -- gives you room to breathe. Inspiration means "breathing in." Being able to relax and breathe will lead to a looser flow in your work -- greater crapulence -- and greater chances of drawing in inspiration.


Please type or hand-write the five steps outlined above. Make sure that you put at the top, "I am setting myself up to succeed!" Put them in the "I" voice:

1) I will start with goals that are easily attainable.
2) I will raise the level/criteria in small increments.
3) I will change only one criterion or new expectation at a time.
4) I will surround myself with support.
5) When the going gets too tough, I will return to "go."

Please put this in your notebook or next to your computer -- wherever you will be doing most of your writing.

Now make two lists. On one list, put all the writing goals you absolutely know you can accomplish. Label it "I CAN." On a second list, put the goals you have tried, but failed to accomplish. Label it "I WANT TO."

Make sure the "I CAN" list reflects reality and not wishful thinking. If you have been able to do one ten-minute writing a week, put that on the list of "I CAN." If you feel that you should be able to write ten minutes every other day and you just haven't gotten around to it, put that on the list of "I WANT TO." The only things that should go on the list of "I CAN" are those things you have already done successfully, preferably more than once.

Below is a sample of two lists for a fictional person named Lori. Lori works full-time and has a teenage son and daughter. Her friend Cheryl is also a writer. Twice a week, when their kids have basketball practice, Lori and Cheryl get together to chat and do writing practice.

Lori's lists:

do a practice-writing session for twenty minutes every Monday and Thursday with Cheryl,
journal for 5 minutes every night before I go to bed
rarely write a rough draft of a short story
sometimes write a haiku
write a letter to my aunt once a month
occasionally write polished, completed essays

write for at least 2 hours every day
revise (finish) one of my short stories
write a collection of haikus
get my essays published
cull writing from my journals to use for a memoir

Now, pick one thing from your "I CAN" list to start with that you can see leading eventually to something on your "I WANT TO" list. The second part of the assignment is to move, little by little, from one item on your "I CAN" list to one item on your "I WANT TO" list. The instructions for how to do this are below.

Right now, sit down and make a plan of little baby steps that you can take, starting with one current success and moving toward a goal. Please note: Do not pick more than one item on each list! Only one. Also, notice that I did not say that you will accomplish your final goal (what is on the "I WANT TO" list) by the end of this week! What you are trying to do here is set up a workable process that will eventually lead to that goal. Again, don't worry about this being too slow. After all, which is faster, getting to your goal after several weeks or setting yourself up to fail and never reaching it?

Let's return to our example. Lori has been writing for several years, but she wants to get more serious about writing. She feels that she isn't dedicating herself to writing as much as she'd like on a daily basis. Now that her kids are older and don't need her as much, she is looking toward a time when she can devote herself more to being a writer. She has chosen "I CAN do a practice-writing session for twenty minutes every Monday and Thursday with my friend Cheryl," and "I WANT TO write for at least two hours every day."

Here are two different ways Lori could approach the assignment:

Lori's Assignment "A" -- increasing length of writing practices

Monday: do writing practice with Cheryl for 30 minutes
Thursday: do writing practice with Cheryl for 40 minutes and skip the chatting.
Saturday: lock myself in bathroom to take bath so nobody can disturb me and plan next week's writing schedule.

Lori's Assignment "B" -- increasing frequency of writing practices

Monday: usual writing practice for 20 minutes with Cheryl
Tuesday: do writing practice for 20 minutes during lunch hour at work
Wednesday: not realistic to try to write this Wednesday -- too hectic
Thursday: usual writing practice for 20 minutes with Cheryl
Friday: too much going on on Friday, better not to plan to write that day, yet
Saturday: lock myself in bathroom to take bath so nobody can disturb me and write for 20 minutes in the tub
Sunday: Plan next week's writing schedule

You'll notice that in both cases Lori has set up very tangible goals and is realistic about what she can expect of herself. Since she has been doing twenty-minute writings for a long time, she is comfortable with them, so it makes sense that that's where she'd start her new writing practices from. She's not starting the week -- Monday -- with a big, new challenge. She's starting with something she knows she can do. She's giving herself time to build on her successes as the week goes on. Notice that Lori added either frequency or length, but not both in the same week.

Let's look at the different paths Lori might take. In version A, Lori chose to Monday and Thursday to add time to her writing practices. There are two good reasons for choosing these days to try for longer. First, those are the days she habitually writes with Cheryl. So she has her friend's support -- they can egg each other on. Second, Lori has her familiarity with that routine of Monday/Thursday writing nights. Finally, Lori will have already gotten in one smaller increase on Monday before trying an even longer one on Thursday.

In Version B, Lori has assigned herself the task of writing four times this week. She is keeping to the twenty-minute session because that's something she knows she can do. However, Lori also knows that right now she cannot write on Wednesday or Friday. She did not want to plan in a failure by deciding to try to write on days when she knows writing will be too hard.

Lastly, see that in both versions one day is set aside to draw up a plan for the following week. (In version A it is Saturday; in version B it is Sunday.) Lori is not overburdening herself and setting herself up to fail by trying to set up a schedule and do writing practice on the same day. Setting up a writing schedule is part of writing. That time and energy needs to be factored in, too.

You may think that Lori's plan is not impressive -- she's not writing every day and she's nowhere near her two-hours-a-day goal. But consider that if Lori succeeds with this plan, she will have greatly increased the amount of writing she usually does. In just one week, Lori will have gone from writing forty minutes per week to writing either 70 or 80 minutes! That's double her previous amount! If Lori continues with lengthening her writing sessions, she may soon be writing for an hour every Thursday and Monday! It won't be long until that's two hours.

And let's analyze plan B. Lori has gone from writing twice a week to four times a week -- again, that is double what she was doing before. If she continues with increasing the number of times per week that she writes she may well be writing six or seven times per week. That's triple the amount she started with!

Either way that she chooses to go, she wants to take small steps, setting attainable goals. And she can decide what variable she is changing from week to week. She might start with version A -- making her writing sessions longer -- and then, the following week, add a twenty-minute Tuesday night session, too.

Regardless, if Lori is successful in meeting her assignment this week, she will have a great sense of accomplishment. She will be building on a foundation of success and feel confident in continuing to slowly, realistically work toward her goals.

A couple final notes:

Lori's schedule is appropriate for someone who has been writing for a few years and has an established writing routine. It is actually quite ambitious and would be unrealistic for a new writer or someone who is new to regular writing practice. I would recommend beginning with a less ambitious schedule. In the case of version A this would mean making Monday's writing twenty-five minutes and Thursday's thirty. In the case of version B it would mean adding only one extra day of writing (such as Tuesday or Saturday) in addition to her established Monday and Thursday sessions.

Also, do not think that your assignment has to look anything like Lori's! You might not have time to write at all during the week, but you have done long writing sessions successfully in the past. So you may want to make Saturday "writing marathon day," where you unplug the phone and write for six hours straight. Or you might have the goal of getting published more. If this is the case, then your steps to that goal might be buying Writer's Market and reading it for ten minutes every night before you go to sleep. If your goal is to finish your short story, then your assignment might take the form of spending half an hour every other day working on revisions. If you are very new to writing practice, your goal might be to write once for ten minutes, without feeling bad about yourself afterwards. That's a good goal!

Here are some writing topics if you need stuff to draw from while you write this week:
-A bird
-I never told anyone before
-My favorite meal
-If I could fly

How Did It Go?
At the end of the week, check off which days you completed your assignment. Give yourself a pat on the back (or a cookie or a hug from your sweetie) for each one you completed.

If you completed the entire assignment, hurrah for you! You rock! Keep going. Give yourself a big reward. (This can even be telling yourself what a groovy, attractive, intelligent individual you are.) You might want to make a similar schedule for next week.

If you discover that you did not complete your assignment, that's OK. Don't berate yourself. Instead, congratulate yourself on the part(s) that you were able to do. Then make a schedule for next time minus the parts of the assignment that were too ambitious. (You are going back to "go.")


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