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Day 3 – Target Practice

How can you know you’re successful, if you haven’t defined ‘success’?

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Stephen King didn’t become “Stephen King” overnight. He did it step by step, and at each step he refused to quit, for some reason.

Often we are tempted to quit because we aren’t seeing the results we thought we would, fast enough (“I thought I’d have an agent by now”, “I thought I’d be published by now”, “I thought I’d be able to leave my day-job, by now.”)

Some of the end goals you have for your writing, today, might be true and reasonable and motivating for you.

But consider that some of them are rooted in other people’s expectations. And usually in the expectations of people who are not writers and have a very sketchy picture of how the words ‘writer’ and ‘success’ can fit together.

There are so many different ways to ‘be a writer’ – and to be successful as a writer – that it’s vital for each of us to define what ‘being a writer’ looks like for us, for now, and to be willing to revise that at each stage.

Before you can build a writing practice, or even successfully write a story, it’s helpful to figure out what ‘success’ looks like for you, for now….so that you know if you’re hitting the target.

Today’s task is to define success for yourself.

Grab your notebook and let’s go through this exercise together.

Set a timer for 3 minutes and move to the next question after each. Keep going even when you think you can’t answer the next question.

Write down your current biggest, most outlandish wish for your writing life and what does your life look like when you achieve it?

(feel free to think about money, fame, impact on others, and what your daily life would look like in that Best of All Possible Worlds). Go nuts with this.

E.g. create a fictional world that has a series of best-selling novels, a movie franchise and a line of tie-in action figures. I go to movie premieres in borrowed diamonds. My family compound is nestled by the woods at the bottom of a mountain, on a river that leads to the sea, but is also conveniently located for big city cultural events. I write in the mornings and spend afternoons walking the hills with my favorite humans, then do some more writing in the evenings before sleeping soundly and breakfasting on eggs from my free-range chickens (that someone else looks after). Fans write to me and tell me I changed their lives for the better.

What is a smaller success than this, that might lead to your Best of All possible Worlds goal? And what does your life look like?

e.g. Write the first book in my story world, putting all my current craft skills into play, and learning a few more along the way. Have trusted first-readers who give me excellent feedback, and are clamoring to be on my ‘street team’ and help promote it when the book comes out.  My life is pretty hectic, doing everything I had to do before, and deal with publishing and promoting a book, but I’m learning a ton and I have a team of great people around me. It’s exhilarating, and a little exhausting.

What is a smaller success than this? And what does your life look like?

E.g. write some and complete some short stories set in my fictional world, to help me build the craft skills I need to build compelling characters and hold the reader enthralled all the way through. I’m spending a significant amount of my free time on my writing, mostly writing, but also taking classes from writers/teachers I admire and leveling up my skills. I don’t spend as much time on Twitter, doomscrolling or watching dumb TV anymore. My other creative hobbies are being neglected, but I had to pick a lane. I chose writing and I can feel myself making progress. It’s quietly satisfying.

What is a smaller goal than that? And what does your life look like?

E.g. write a single story and complete it. It is hard for me to give myself permission to take time for myself, consistently, but I’ve noticed that when I stopped asking for permission and simply gave it to myself, it wasn’t that big a deal to anyone else. When I have done my writing, I am tired but  somehow refreshed and relaxed. I am definitely more fun to be with after I’ve played with my imaginary friends. The people I live with are starting to notice, and even occasionally say,  ‘do you want some writing time?’ I have decided not to be insulted by that!

What does a smaller success than that look like? And how is your day?

E.g. I brainstormed an idea for at least part of a new story, and I put it somewhere I will be sure to find it again. It’s a step in the right direction and something I can work on tomorrow, or next time I need a story idea. I didn’t write 2000 words of deathless prose, but I showed up for my writing and played in a serious way. The rest of my day goes great. Somehow decisions seem easier, my day job is less annoying, and I’m able to give some energy to other people when they need me…without resenting it!

What does a smaller success than that look like? And how is your day?

E.g. I captured three story sparks. It didn’t seem like ‘writing’, but it unleashed my creativity and made the mundane stuff I had to do today a little more fun. Running errands and folding laundry is a lot more fun when I keep imagining backstories for everything from the supermarket cashier to the towels! Someone told me I made them smile because I looked like I was having a good day. 

Phew!

(You can stop your timer now!)

My final question

Do you need to reach that Best of All Possible World goals before you can feel successful? Can you build a writing practice that improves your life and the lives of people around you, with a few tiny, starter goals?

Tomorrow I’m going to give you one more, really fun exercise to do, to get you jazzed for writing, before we start work on the One Story you’re going to write this month, on Day 6.

Bingo!

Right-click to save me. Make sure you set your printer to print this at original size, not full-page!

Here’s your next Bingo Piece. Download the pic, print it out and paste it onto your bingo sheet. Then share a picture of it on social media with #storyadaybingo

You don’t have to do all the tasks on the day they’re assigned, so paste your tokens on the gameboard on whatever day you get to it!

Leave a comment: what was the tiniest step you came up with? How would it feel if you could have a little of the feeling that evoked, every day? Would it lead to bigger and better things?

31 thoughts on “Day 3 – Target Practice”

  1. Part way through, I thought I might have needed to aim higher with the first goal (finish all my unfinished stories and have a community to share and discuss them with) because each directive to go smaller was met with a mental “How???” But then the heart at the center of each goal/success would become clear – on and on until I finally reached the true heart of my writing – “I have my eyes open. I see the world around me and the people within it. I am curious and open to learning. I am thankful, and I am inspired. I am a creative being, like my Creator.” This is something that I have been thinking about lately, so it was such an affirming experience to see these words as the natural conclusion of this exercise. Thank you!

  2. This was a really cool exercise. It’s always been so difficult for me to break down a big goal into smaller pieces (mainly because I’m worried I’m missing steps and my perfectionism works against me), but it felt good to brain dump what my Big Dreams were and get a bit smaller and smaller–good ol’ fashinioned journaling at it’s finest 🙂

  3. I have a chronic illness that keeps me from writing every day. The advice we’ve all heard about the crucial importance of writing every day used to suck the wind right out of my sails! Now I consider it a tiny success if I can write on days that I feel well, and when I don’t, writing down possible paths the story can take, character quotes, etc for later use. Anything to keep the story growing and developing. This challenge had been great for my situation so far – thank you, Julie!

  4. My smallest successes are writing down some sparks, actually occasionally looking back at them, and reminding myself that I’m a writer and it’s never too late to get the ball rolling. Time to be proud of every little step!

  5. This was extremely helpful. I’m very clear on the big vision but often get overwhelmed trying to get there. This exercise is like a roadmap! My tiny step is about getting focused, starting with a meditation led by the author that inspires me the most before I do any writing. Thank you Julie!

  6. This task was just what I needed. I’ve had a huge setback. Last month the marvellous tutor of our local writing group passed away suddenly. Focusing on my goals has been very cathartic.
    My last target, the tiniest one of all, is this:
    I am determined I will not be stopped because building stories and striving to write them in an engaging way brings me self-worth and satisfaction.
    Thank you Julie for being here to turn to once again. You are a treasure.

    1. This is such an inspiring target, Wendy, thank you for sharing! So sorry about your beloved tutor.

  7. Such a sweet exercise! Once again, thank you, Julie! As most in the comment section, I find that, yes, the tiniest step is the one of most importance, especially when we are having an off day/week/month, or simply when we are juuuust beginning to think that writing is something we can actually do (not from a place of capability or talent, but from one of possibility.) When facing something that daunts us, I’ve found it’s soooo important to build our self-confidence little by little 🧡 Wish you all the best! 😊🍀🌻

  8. My smallest daily goal is to write something. I could write for two hours a day, and I’ll work up to this. Thanks for this exercise. As long as I am working on my writing consistently and persistently, I am a success in my mind.
    Tiny tasks keep me doing something every day. If I can just do this until the end of May, I think I’ll be okay.

  9. Frankly, right now I need the tiny steps more than the Big One. My smallest step was observing the world around me and collecting story sparks. It gives me something to focus on when I am stressed, or bored, or depressed.

    1. Yeah, I probably should have pointed out that we ALL need the tiniest step. That’s actually where we should start.

      Some days you might be able to bound up a few steps, but even if we only take one step a day, we’re making progress!

  10. I loved this exercise – it’s so practical and something I can apply to anything else or do again when I want to revise my goals. My tiniest step is to get a small notebook that will live inside my handbag, so I don’t miss the sparks that pop into my mind at random unexpected moments.

    1. …and it’s utterly transferable to any “I have to do this thing and it’s overwhelming me” project 😉

  11. I had to smile when I read your example of the biggest wish – quite familiar! Reading down the questions made me realize the progress I’ve made already, because I do ‘feel’ like a writer!

  12. As with my fiction, the hardest part for me was capturing some of the emotion related to my success! It’s true that I’m energized even if I have only fifteen minutes to capture a few words from my imagination and not solely from my angst. This is a building phase, so I’m ready for bigger and better and more.

    1. Oh that’s interesting. Journaling and morning pages are valuable but often do leave us wallowing in the angst. Taking time to play with our imaginations or be in the moment, noticing details, can be a really good antidote to that.

  13. It is always interesting to get down to the nitty-gritty of such a small action that you can’t possibly not do it. To make it so easy that it just rolls off your to-do list. I would like to be able to think like that every day so that I would accomplish even something small every day.

    1. “That you can’t possibly not do it”.

      Yes! That’s the thing, exactly!

      Well put.

  14. The tiniest step for me was reminding myself that my writing matters. It matters to me. It matters to that one reader. And because my writing matters, it’s important that I write whenever I can. I have seen some fruit from this mindset already – which further motivates me to write more and to do more. 🙂

    1. Brava!

      That is an important step.

      And yes, your writing really does matter. ::high five::

  15. This was hard! The tiniest step for me was to do some reading and catch some real-world story sparks of my own. Keeping myself in the written world will keep me on-track to building healthy habits as a writer.

    1. Keeping yourself in the writing world is a great aspiration because it so easy to get dragged out of it, and yet, as you’ve noticed, it doesn’t actually take that much to get back in!

  16. The first tiny step is re-affirming my writer mindset. Last year I added “writer” to my email signature but have felt like a fraud with every email sent for the last 6 months because I haven’t worked consistently at actually writing. Now I’m getting up in the morning and asking myself, “When am I going to write today?” and putting it in my day planner.

      1. Isn’t it funny how the answer to almost any problem is “do something” (not ‘do all the things’ or ‘do the perfect thing’)?

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