This was the title of a course during last year's Swanwick Writers' Summer School
, which was meant to help me kick-start some momentum. Of course what actually happened was I spent the summer looking after a boyfriend with two broken hands, and by the time he was out of plaster we hit the winter and my chain of colds. So I've dug my notes out to try and make a belated start on Getting Stuff Done.
The first part of the course dealt with how the unconscious mind works. There was a lot of cross-over with the Ways of Seeing course I was also taking, and I need to put the notes from that into action too since that's another thing that got put to one side. Basically, because of the way the brain filters things, we all see the world differently. We "delete" things that aren't important to what we're doing now, "distort" things to have meaning that isn't really there, and "generalise" about pretty much everything. This is all tied into the part of the brain called the reticular activating system, which is the bit that drives automatic functions. It's the reason you can perform an action you do every day (like taking the bus to work) and have little or no memory of it - most of it's done on auto-pilot, and the brain deletes the bits it doesn't need.
The problem is this makes it very easy to drop into a mindset where writing isn't and won't get done. Something else has replaced it in importance (Minecraft! The brain prefers instant to delayed gratification) and so the RAS is focussed on that instead. Opportunities just aren't spotted - that spare twenty minutes is time to spend on Candy Crush instead of time to write. You aren't writing so the brain deletes things that might be helpful to writing because it's not important right now. This leads to distorted thoughts like "I never sell any stories" - but this is because they're not being written and sent out, not because they're not any good - and generalisation: "Everyone else is more successful than me."
The way to deal with this is to have specific outsomes and goals in mind. This is so the brain knows where it's going and what it should be looking out for. The goal is what you're aiming for ("finish a novel") and the outcome what you get as a result ("buy a house with my whopping advance and royalties").
I know there's a lot of talk in writer circles at the moment about not having goals you can't control ("sell a novel") - because it's demoralising when you can't meet them. This is why having goals you can control as part of this is important - it's no good deciding on what you want but giving no thought to how you'll get there. The outcome is just to give the RAS something to aim at, so it spots the opportunities that will help you in that direction and keep you moving. Otherwise you could stall when you get to an outcome you meet unexpectedly, which is something I found when entering Writers of the Future. Although I wasn't thinking in these terms at the time, the goal was to write and submit to every quarter and the outcome was to win. The winning wasn't the point - my expectation was to build up an inventory of stories I could get rejected by WOTF and submit other places.
And then I won first time, and ended up with one story I couldn't send anywhere else, and I stalled.
On one hand, you could say that having a goal and outcome had the desired effect. On the other, I hadn't planned beyond the winning.
Part of the method for setting up your goals is to have a timeline. Where do you need to be in six, nine, twelve months? During the course I decided I needed to have completed my novel in progress by the end of 2015 so I could have it ready for the 2016 round of open submission periods (if there were any) and start looking into submitting it. However shortly after starting the work I realised I didn't actually want to be writing a novel . So I scribbled out all those plans, and tried to decide what I wanted to do instead.
And then stuff happened and here I am nine months later having got no further with anything. I still don't want to write a novel yet, but I've decided I do need to start small to avoid being overwhelmed. So the plan is, blog every Tuesday (twice a month about writing, once about jewellery, and once or twice about whatever), do the Flash Challenge every weekend except the one before late week. Now I've started on those, I'm going to go through the various drafts lying around and start finishing them, and also go through my reprints to see if I can get them out the door.
Small steps, but as I get the momentum going I'm confident I can add larger goals. I have novellas to finish, poetry to write. Maybe I'll get to a novel eventually, but for the moment I'm happy to start with baby steps.