Stuck? Ask your kids to help you out. No matter how old they are, they can help you with ideas for a new piece, how to get a character out of a sticky situation, or even whether to send the piece for publication or not. Sure, their answers might be ridiculous or (hopefully) hilarious, but even if they don’t actually help you solve your problem, they’ll give you some scope on the issue. Bonus: this is a pro parenting tip. Asking your kids for help with your problem normalizes the habit of asking for help when it’s needed and being vulnerable with family, helps develop skills in empathy and problem-solving, and gives them a sense of connection and community. Who knew there was so much cross-over between Writing Life and Parenting Life?!
As a mentor in two writer-support groups, the number one thing I see in the self-sabotage department is setting unrealistic goals. Many of us believe that setting the bar higher than we can realistically reach means that we’ll “at least be trying” to get there, but what happens in reality is that we become dissatisfied with our writing lives and discouraged about our progress. When you see yourself failing to reach the goals you’ve set over and over again, it can really make your despair-o-meter go haywire. Here are some suggestions for how to set a SMART Goal:
- Make it manageable – whether you set the goal in time (30 minutes a day, 3 hours a week, etc) or whether you set in word counts (1000 words this week!), or even in “chunks” (finish that essay! Write that dialogue scene!), you need to make the goal something you can actually do. Try setting the bar low at first and if you manage to meet it, try setting it a little higher next time. If that’s too high, go back. Don’t compare your goals to what you used to be able to do, or what someone else is doing.If you’re a primary caregiver, take into account how much time you need to spend on everything else (cooking, cleaning, sleeping, working, chauffeuring, etc) before setting your goal
- Check it off the list – the goal you set should be “concrete” enough that you can easily write it down and say either “yes, I did that” or “no, I didn’t do that.” Writing vague goals makes it too hard for you to gauge your success, and so you’ll always feel like you’re not quite measuring up.
- Don’t get ahead of yourself – it’s great to have long-term goals, but those can be difficult to juggle on the day-to-day. Set weekly goals for yourself so you know exactly how much you need to get done and by when. You’re much less likely to put something on the “back burner” if you know it has to be done by dinner time! If you have a definite long term goal, you can split that up into weekly goals so you know you’re staying on track as you go along.
- Be adaptable! – goals don’t have to be the same every week! Some weeks are harder than others, so you should change your goal to match. Got a crazy work week ahead? Don’t expect yourself to do so much. Kids sick? Kiss that writing time bye-bye! Got a cancelled meeting? Good news, extra writing time for you! Being adaptable means giving yourself grace, getting rid of that guilty feeling you might experience when you don’t get done as much as you wanted.
J.L. Scott writes YA as well as short stories in everything from fantasy/sci-fi to contemporary literary. Her work can be found at Typishly.com and The Black Fork Review. She holds a BA, MA and MFA in Fiction, and she teaches writing at Ashland University where she developed curriculum and wrote a textbook for the Composition program for their Corrections Education program. She also serves as group leader for PenParentis and belongs to the Ashland University Research and Writing Community (AURWC). She lives in rural Ohio with her two kids and a very, very old cat. She can be found at https://jscottroller.wixsite.com/writer