A lot of people give up on things because they focus on goals.
Their goal is:
Write 50,000 words by April.
Lose 20 pounds before the wedding.
Have $100,000 in the bank by January.
Goals are lovely. Goals are sexy. Goals work brilliantly for some people, but for some of us goals are absolute bullshit.
I know this. Yet I still fall into the goal trap all the time. If I don’t lose twenty pounds and only 19.5, I feel like I’ve failed. If I only write 49,998 words, I feel like I’ve failed. And I’m not even going to talk about the bank thing.
That’s because goals are all or nothing. You get them or you don’t.
Habits though? Habits are an author’s and a human’s best friend. Habits are amazing and good ones? They create other good ones.
“Take, for instance, a bad habit I had of eating a cookie every afternoon. By learning how to analyze my habit, I figured out that the reason I walked to the cafeteria each day wasn’t because I was craving a chocolate chip cookie. It was because I was craving socialization, the company of talking to my colleagues while munching. That was the habit’s real reward. And the cue for my behavior – the trigger that caused me to automatically stand up and wander to the cafeteria, was a certain time of day.
“So, I reconstructed the habit: now, at about 3:30 each day, I absentmindedly stand up from my desk, look around for someone to talk with, and then gossip for about 10 minutes. I don’t even think about it at this point. It’s automatic. It’s a habit. I haven’t had a cookie in six months.”
As a writer, people always ask me how I’m so productive. It’s because I usually write every day. That’s my habit. I was a much better drawer when I drew every day. I was a much healthier human when I exercised every day. And so on. Some habits have great rates of return (like lifting weights, walking) and some don’t (binging Tiger King). The key is to find the habits that help you toward your goals.
They call these habits, keystone habits, which LifeHack defines as:
“In literal terms, a keystone habit is any small change or habit that has a domino effect in your life. You focus on adding the habit to one aspect of your life but determination helps carry this habit to the other aspects of your life too.
“Each keystone habit has three main characteristics:
They lead to the development of other habits
Every habit adopted from a keystone habit is positively affiliated with the keystone habit
These habits are small and easy
“Let’s take an example of a person who wants to improve the way he handles his emotions. He’ll start by visiting a therapist who helps him understand what goes on in his mind. Once he begins understanding his emotions himself, he’ll want an outlet to release these thoughts. So, he starts journaling. Journaling helps him put out his emotions in a structured manner on paper. This will help him get better at communicating in their workplace too.”
Working toward those goals in smaller increments (thirty-day habit forming cycles) is also pretty key because it seems doable and according to most research those thirty-day stints help us get the habit ingrained into our psyches.
Some Awesome Habits
Making your own food is way healthier and way more rewarding. Yes, it takes time, but if you can do it, do it. There are some great sites with 15-minute dinners. That’s less time than it takes to wait at McDonald’s lately.
I know! I know! No brainer, right? Start slow. Do something easy every day for that first month. Build from there.
Seriously. Step away from the screen. Read something in long form. Build your brain.
Making your thoughts make sense? Giving yourself some time with them? It’s pretty golden.
Chilling with other people
Yep. We have to remember how to interact in real life. Form those bonds.
Meditating or praying
Spiritual connections and purpose really help people. I swear.
You don’t want to flood your stories with flashbacks. You don’t want to be Captain Info-dump, but you do want the reader to know that there is something that has made your character the angsty mess that they are and that something haunting stems from the past.
Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Drug your readers. Five ways to get readers to want to lick your character like they're the Bowling Ball Guy
You’re writing a book. Yay! You send it out to people to read. That’s so brave! Look at you, you rockstar.
It feels awesome, right?
And then you hear from those readers: I don’t like your character. I don’t—I don’t know—connect with them?
When this happens, you are not allowed to:
Yell at those readers.
Threaten those readers.
Give up on that story.
Well, you could but you might go to jail and all your work on that novel will be for nothing.
So, it’s totally okay to:
Whine/cry for a second.
Be a little depressed about it.
Not give up on that story.
And what you want to do is figure out how to make readers like and connect with your main character super quickly.
So here goes. Five quick ways.
Gossip – Your readers want to know what makes your character tick, what makes them vulnerable. They want the deets, the gossip, right? They want to know something about your character that nobody else knows.
Goodness – Even if your character sucks a bit, you want to show the reader that they are someone that the reader wants to spend time with. Show that human worth, the fundamental goodness that’s somewhere in there. Make them actively do something good even if they are the devil.
Going all Angsty – The reason stories work is that the characters want something but they are conflicted about things inside. There’s got to be a bit of inner struggle. There has to be an outer struggle too. That struggle creates tension. Will they be okay? Will they get what they are searching for? What is holding them back?
Going into the Reasons – You don’t want to flood your stories with flashbacks. You don’t want to be Captain Info-dump, but you do want the reader to know that there is something that has made your character the angsty mess that they are and that something haunting stems from the past. The time before the story.
Goal!!! – I’ve already hinted at this, but your poor little character needs a goal, something they are striving for. The push towards that goal creates the tension.
Writer Chuck Wendig has said,
“You are the dealer; the character is the drug. The audience will do anything to spend time with a great character. We’re junkies for it. We’ll gnaw our own arms off to read just one more page with a killer character. It’s why sequels and series are so popular—we want to see where the character’s going. If you give us a great character, it becomes our only desire to lick him like he’s a hallucinogenic toad and take a crazy trip-ass ride where he has to go.”
Writing Tip of the Pod
Make your characters irresistible any way possible. Memorable characters are addictive.
Dog Tip for Life
Vulnerability is okay. It connects us. If nobody was vulnerable then nobody could be brave.
There are people out there who are just brilliant. Their brains are amazing. Their art is gasp-inducing.
But they can’t seem to achieve their goals.
These are the people who know twenty-two languages, have maybe five masters degrees, and shrug it off like it’s no big deal.
They can quote Derrida and Angela Davis in the same breath and make the connections between the two.
According to writer/blogger Jessica Wildfire, some people are ‘too good for their own good.’
She calls this the Cold Mountain Effect.
Someone can know too much. They can be too talented. They’ll turn any project into an epic journey through the Himalayas. They don’t get tired of working. They don’t want to see the end. They’re not even perfectionists. They just love their work too much.
This stems from the story of the writer of Cold Mountain.
It made history in 1997 with a 61-week run on the New York Times best-seller list, moving 3 million copies.
Based on its success, Charles Frazier got an $8 million deal for his second book, with nothing more than a 1-page proposal. Cold Mountain swept the award scene that year, and went on to become a hit film that earned seven Academy Award nominations.
Sometimes it takes an intervention.
You probably don’t know that Frazier spent almost a decade working on Cold Mountain. According to lore, he couldn’t stop.
One of his friends finally snuck an unfinished copy of the manuscript to a literary agent, who signed Frazier on the spot. That’s the only reason anyone knows anything about Charles Frazier. It’s hard to imagine how long he would’ve kept revising it.
It’s not perfectionism that keeps them going, she argues, but the fear of their own success. Or it can just be the joy that they get from creating and doing and not wanting that joy to stop.
Susanne Babbel MFT, PhD on Psychology Today’s blog talks a bit more in depth about this fear. She’s dealt with a lot of clients who are afraid of success. Many of her clients had PTSD.
For them, the excitement of success feels uncomfortably close to the feeling of arousal they experienced when subjected to a traumatic event or multiple events. (This feeling of arousal can be linked to sexuality, in certain cases where trauma has been experienced in that realm, but that is not always the case.) People who have experienced trauma may associate the excitement of success with the same physiological reactions as trauma. They avoid subjecting themselves to excitement-inducing circumstances, which causes them to be almost phobic about success.
There is another layer to the fear of success. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that the road to success involves risks such as “getting one’s hopes up” — which threatens to lead to disappointment.
And many of us — especially if we’ve been subject to verbal abuse — have been told we were losers our whole lives, in one way or another. We have internalized that feedback and feel that we don’t deserve success. Even those of us who were not abused or otherwise traumatized often associate success with uncomfortable things such as competition and its evil twin, envy.
She suggests this exercise.
Recall an event where you were successful or excited when you were younger, and notice what you are feeling and sensing in your memory. Stay with the sensation for five minutes.
Recall an event where you were successful and excited recently in your life, and notice what you are feeling and sensing. Stay with this sensation for five minutes.
Now tap into the sensation of a memory of an overwhelming situation. I suggest not to start with a truly traumatic event, at least not without a therapist’s support. Start with something only moderately disturbing to you.
Now, go back to visualizing your success story. Do you notice a difference?
WRITING TIP OF THE POD
You have to be brave sometimes and show your work to the world. Don’t get stuck endlessly tinkering because you love a project so much. You’ll love another.
DOG TIP FOR LIFE
Don’t be afraid of hope. Bad crap happens but even if you’ve been abused and lived in the pound, you can find that success and excitement and the joy again. Us dogs do it all the time.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License.
Okay. It’s not officially the end of the decade, but 2020 is such a cool number to get rid of right now, So, I thought about what I was like back in 2000 and I realized that I was:
1. Much cuter. 2. 20 years younger. 3. Had more brain cells.
But that doesn’t matter because in the last 20 years (or 21) – I don’t know it’s math and confusing – I’ve:
1. Gone from being a freelance reporter to a newspaper editor to a book author who gets royalty checks with actual money in them to being a NYT and internationally bestselling author to independently publishing too and also being a writing coach and editor and teacher. Whew. 2. Gone from having a toddler to having a teenager to having someone in graduate school at Dartmouth. 3. Gotten a super cool dog and cat and lost them and now have five furry babies living in this house with me that aren’t humans.
How about you? Has your life changed since 2000? Have you achieved any of your goals? Do you have goals for the next 10 years? The next twenty? I do.
Here they are:
1. Hike the AT – this can be done in parts, I’m not fussy any more. (Same as ten years ago. Ugh.) 2. Go somewhere warm that is not in this country and not bring my computer. (I’ve done this. It just seems like it will never happen again.) 3. Make the world a tiny bit better somehow in some way and write more books and do more podcasts and get okay at marketing somehow. 4. Do the MDI Marathon somehow, even if I have to walk it. 5. Not be super poor and live in a condemned shack hoarding cats and newspapers and scrunchies.
No, there aren’t like big spiritual/personal life/family goals there because well – I am too shy to post those.
The most important goal, however?
Yes, Grover is missing again. I think he may have run away. I haven’t been paying much attention to him. And he has been drinking a lot of schnapps lately and I fear he may have wandered outside into the snow. Or maybe Gabby the Dog took him on a little adventure because she’s super into him.
My life is so empty without him.
SPECIAL PLEA TO GROVER: Please come back, baby. I won’t make you wear the cape anymore. I will try not to be neurotic. Please, baby…please… Don’t make me write a country song about you.
LET’S HANG OUT!
HEY! DO YOU WANT TO SPEND MORE TIME TOGETHER?
MAYBE TAKE A COURSE, CHILL ON SOCIAL MEDIA, BUY ART OR A BOOK, OR LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST?
On one of my Patreon sites I read and print chapters of unpublished YA novels. THE LAST GODS and SAINT and now ALMOST DEAD. This is a monthly membership site (Hear the book chapters – $1/month, read them $3-month, plus goodies!). Sometimes I send people art! Art is fun.
On this, my second site, WRITE BETTER NOW, you can do a one-time purchase of a writing class or get two of my books in eBook form or just support our podcast or the dogs. It’s all part of the WRITING CLASS OF AWESOME.
It’s a super fun place to hang out, learn, read, and see my weirdness in its true form.
Okay. Okay. I know we always try to be positive because we are positive people. Cough. But New Years? It’s a little frustrating.
That’s because it’s all about goals and new starts. And you know, every day should be about that, right? And then you’re like, “Crap, I failed in my goals. Crap, I need new goals. Crap, why is this party boring? Crap, should my new goal to be to never attend a party?”
And so on.
But that pressure? To be Instagram-worthy, to be super achiever goal person, to be extra? That’s what makes New Years suck. At this house, we like to just celebrate that we’re still alive, not bankrupt, and not in jail. It’s way better that way because there’s not as much pressure.
A long time ago – back in the 1980s – this guy Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was studying happiness. He gave people pagers. Remember this was in the 1980s. Then he and his research assistants would send the people messages at random times and ask how they were doing, feeling, what they were doing, etc. It sounds a bit like when your mom texts you, honestly.
And he discovered flow. People were happy when they were super engaged in the task they were doing. People weren’t happy when they were doing nothing. They were happy when they were involved in something.
Minds were blown.
When people were in the ‘flow,’ they forgot about time, space, all the other detritus in their lives. They were focused on the now, on what they were doing. What they were doing might be writing, sports, hanging out with other humans, art, and so on… But for them the involvement was so intense that they became engaged and absorbed into it and were happy.
Writing should do that for you.
Writing Tip of the Pod
If you aren’t in the flow, why are you writing? Give yourself ten minutes. Set a timer. If it isn’t working, get up and go back later. Life is too short to be unhappy. Make that your new year mantra.
Dog Tip for Life
Fun and work aren’t mutually exclusive. Having fun and being useful aren’t either, man. Pull out your inner dog and go with the flow this year. Look for the flow.
Be a Part of the Podcast!
Hey! If you download the Anchor application, you can call into the podcast, record a question, or just say ‘hi,’ and we’ll answer. You can be heard on our podcast! Sa-sweet!
No question is too wild. But just like Shaun does, try not to swear, okay?
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.
People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.
The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?
It’s awesome and quirky and fun.
FLYING AND ENHANCED
Men in Black meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You know it. You can buy them hereor anywhere.
OUR PODCAST – DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.
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