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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

New Book Update: Are Targets Dangerous for Writers?

target dangerous writer's block canstockphoto16363834 (2)About a month ago, Sara, a coaching client, and I talked about how she could set target dates as she drafted her novel. She decided to set a target for so many words per week and target dates for reaching specified total number of words.

We talked about the potential emotional hazards this posed for her and the potential benefits it offered. We strategized how she could set reasonable targets and keep them motivating, not demoralizing.

It occurred to me that I might set similar target dates for revising my novel. In the past, I’ve set goals that were unreasonably optimistic about how much I could accomplish, which invariably left me feeling demotivated, demoralized and depressed. For me, targets have been a source of writer’s resistance.

But if I trusted Sara could make target dates work for her, I figured I should be able to make them work for me.

I had a specific date I want to finish the revision (a week before the Loft’s Pitch Conference in November). I also knew how many chapters I need to revise and how many new ones I need to draft. So I could identify where I need to be each week to stay on track.

Targets Work — For Sara

target creativity writer's block canstockphoto17359646 (2)Sara’s system is working for her. She is “on target” for reaching her end goal of 80,000 words by October 1. More importantly to me, she is proud, satisfied, confident and motivated.

My results are more difficult to interpret.

The first couple of weeks, I completed the chapters by the target dates. I was “on track,” which I now realize is synonymous with “on time” when it applies to me. Like Sara, I felt proud, satisfied and motivated.

Then I realized it would be more effective to draft three chapters for my new POV character one after the other, temporarily skipping chapters featuring the other two POV characters. This threw off my target dates for the skipped chapters. I was behind on chapters 40-42, but I was ahead on chapters 38, 43 and 47.

I felt uneasy. I tried to convince myself I was on target. But I just wasn’t sure.

In retrospect, I probably should have adjusted the target dates then. But I had entered the targets into a table that listed chapters in order and that locked in my perception. I couldn’t see how to adjust the targets without a lot of unnecessary work.

target lock canstockphoto18292018 (2)Then came the week when I went back to the skipped chapters. They took more time than I anticipated. I knew I was “behind.”

My history of underestimating how long it takes me to do tasks caught up with me. I was frustrated and scared. I felt the old familiar frenzy that comes with thinking I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in. I was, according to Claudia (and I have to trust her assessment on this), unpleasant, irritating, cranky and a little crazy.

The problem, I realize, lies not in the targets, but in the beliefs I have about targets. Interestingly, I don’t have limiting beliefs about other people’s targets. I advise students and clients to remember that a commitment is what you do no matter what and a target is something you shoot for. If you hit the target, great! If you miss the target, just as great! (Assuming you honor your commitments.)

I haven’t struggled with targets for the amount of time I spend on my novel. Sometimes my actual time is above the target, sometimes it’s below, and it’s just information. I have no judgments about those targets.

But when I combined a specific accomplishment (finish revising chapter 46) with a specific date (July 31), I don’t end up with a judgment-free target I can shoot for and see what happens. I have a Commitment. A Deadline. A Do-or-Be-Doomed Expectation.

The solution (as it so often is) is to treat myself the way I’d treat a coaching client or student. I need to kick the Saboteur out of the driver’s seat and stop criticizing myself. I need to treat myself with compassion, respect and non-judgmental discernment.

I need to remind myself what a target really is — something you shoot for and then observe what happens. I need to look at the results dispassionately and use the information I’ve tracked to adjust target dates as needed without buying into the Saboteur’s lie that needing to adjust target dates means I’ve failed.

yoda quoteYoda said “Do or do not. There is no try.” This is true for commitments. You either honor them or you don’t. (If you consistently don’t honor commitments you make, there is a problem that needs solving.)

With targets, it’s all try. Try and see what happens. Try, and if you do, fabulous. Try, and if you don’t, fabulous. Because the trying is what matters when you set a target.

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6 Comments on “New Book Update: Are Targets Dangerous for Writers?”

  1. Nan July 30, 2015 at 8:08 pm #

    I feel the same way about targets–I perceive them as deadlines and anxiety triumphs over productivity. Showing up at my desk two or three times a day for a set period of time is what works for me. Depending upon the topic I can write paragraphs or pages.


    • rosannebane July 30, 2015 at 9:08 pm #

      Thanks Nan. I, too, find that showing up is what works. And I’m going to see if I can shift my thinking about targets. I’ll keep you posted.



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