Several years ago I taught a group of novelists who were struggling a little with that old ‘I can’t seem to get it written’ problem. Listening to them, it became apparent that each time they failed to hit their ‘target’ (usually a word count), they panicked and raised the bar for the next day.
I have been an expert at this sort of game myself.
I wrote my first novel in a flush of excitement. Whole chapters would burst out in a rush, and when my agent sold it in a two-book deal, I decided that I needed a plan to keep those words rushing out whole chapters at a time. More than a plan, I needed a plan with dates, and numbers, and times. And a great big red marker pen, so that I could cross off each chapter as I wrote it.
And each time I failed to write my chapter, I had to create a new schedule, with higher and higher word counts. My inner dialogue went like this: “Okay, so today I didn’t write two thousand words. That’s okay, because I’ll remake the schedule and as long as I now write three thousand words every day, I’ll be fine.”
Each week, my bar got higher and higher, until I realised that the only way I was going to stop sabotaging myself was to lower the damned bar.
When I told my students this, I said that I realised that I needed the bar to be so low that the only way I would fail to get over it would be if I was slithering on the ground. They took to this low-bar plan and gave it a new name: ‘Snake goals’.
You can only fail to get over the bar if you are an actual snake.
Whether it’s for a word count, or an amount of time, or for some other measurement – can you lower the bar this week?
If it’s a word count, find the figure that you know you cannot fail at. If it’s an editing project, set a smaller number of pages.
Or set a timer for twenty minutes, and show up wholeheartedly just for that twenty minutes. Or fifteen, if that’s really all you have.
Sometimes, all you can do is turn up at the desk. You’re training yourself into new habits. And that begins one minute, one word, at a time. So, seriously, make like a snake, and lower the bar.
Write about crossing a threshold