One piece of writing advice that is tossed around the internet is to write every day for at least 10-15 minutes or any period of time you could spare. I decided to give it a try. I set a writing habit goal to write every day for 15 minutes.
Maybe you have tried this too. And just maybe you ran into the same problem as me.
Not even for 15 minutes.
I started to panic because a daily writing habit is a great habit for an academic writer and a new university assistant professor. A daily writing habit will help me to meet the publication requirements for tenure and promotion. I wanted to build the writing habit because I know all too well how writing for research can easily be set aside for teaching when the semester starts.
So why the hell was I not meeting this 15 minute daily writing?
I decided to return to goal-setting articles and self-help books. My initial thoughts were that I needed to run this goal through the S.M.A.R.T framework.
But before I even got into the well-known S.M.A.R.T framework, I saw one line that probably explains why I wasn’t practising the daily writing habit.
Goals should be motivating
One of the fundamental premises of goal setting is that the goal itself is something you greatly desire. The goal should motivate you take action.
Frankly, “Write 15 minutes a day” is not motivating. Yes I know there are other problems with this habit goal but the statement itself is bland and uninspiring.
So how do we make a writing habit goal inspiring?
According to Edwin Locke’s goal-setting theory, goals that are motivating are:
- goals that you personally care, and
- they are difficult or genuinely challenging yet doable.
You must personally care about the writing habit goal
When I reread my writing habit goal of “Write 15 minutes a day,” I did not feel anything.
In fact, I was indifferent…which is bad. Indifference could kill goals. I did not feel inspired, scared silly or hatred. I simply did not care about the goal.
One of the proponents of goal-setting is that if the goal does not mean anything to you then delete it. No way was I going to because that would mean eventual career suicide and having future periods of extreme stress to get the required writing done.
A goal that you personally care about is one that has meaning to you. The goal has to make you want to get up every morning with a burning desire to do it.
The obvious step to make the goal one that you care about is to ask Why.
Why are you developing a writing habit?
In my case, I am building an academic career that depends on published articles. A submitted manuscript gets a line on my CV and moves me one step closer to tenure and promotion. Building the writing habit is a means of creating a manuscript.
In your case, you might be writing a non-fiction article, a short story, a non-fiction book, a novel, a memoir (okay, I know this is also non-fiction), or a host of other types of writing.
In summary, you need to know where the daily writing goal is going to lead you to. You need a bigger inspiring goal.
So I rewrote my goal to: “Write 15 minutes a day on a scientific article to submit for publication.”
Now on to the next characteristic of a motivating goal.
The writing habit goal should be genuinely challenging yet doable
Another way to make the goal motivating is to make it challenging. The work to do the goal should take you outside of your comfort zone.
When the work at hand is within your knowledge and skills you feel comfortable. When it is just outside of it, you get to push yourself a bit.
Researchers often have to build new knowledge and skills to collect data or to analyze data. But these activities are often not involved in the heavy writing stage and are often dealt with during the learning and research stages of an academic project.
Most researchers have some sort of writing skill that was developed during their postgraduate studies.
So to make the writing goal challenging you can aim to write a certain number of words or pages in the 15 minutes. Some authors claim that they can write 500 words in 15 minutes. Not me. At present, I can write 100 words because I think and write. I know I can write the 100 words in the 15 minutes. I have tried greater word counts in the past and became demotivated when I could not meet the word count. More often than not I will stop writing. But 100 words is doable for me. And I also know that once I get started with the 15 minutes writing habit goal I often want to do another. So days when I can write 200 words are good writing days.
This is how I calculate my word goal. One hundred new words mean that at the year’s end I will have 36,500 words which are about 4.8 articles @ 7,500 words. This will help me more than meet the minimum requirement for my job and put me on a good track for promotion. Yes…only one hundred necessary words.
But, this is one caveat. I can’t write blindly. I need to know that the 100 words are going towards a paragraph in say the discussion of the manuscript or the methods or any section of the manuscript. Then I can determine when I will finish a particular section of the manuscript in terms of the number of days. I can meet milestones in between such as completing an introduction in 8 days for an 800-word introduction. In total, the typical length of an article is 7,500 words. So this translates to 75 days to create a manuscript if I alone was writing it. Then another 15- 30 days to clean it up before submitting to a journal.
My writing habit goal is now, “Write 15 minutes a day to create a 100-word paragraph for a scientific article to submit for publication.”
Some may say that this is a low goal. Yes, it is. But, I know where I’m starting from. I’m now building the writing habit. I will start low. If I can do this for one year then I know I will be in a much better position to increase my word count. Baby steps first consistently over the long-term will lead to big results.
Now you try
Take your writing habit goal and make it motivating. Check that the goal is one that you personally care about and that it is challenging yet doable for you.