Writing Commitments Instead of Writing Goals/Plans

Jan 13, 2021Publications

Originally published at Ideas on Fire, January 13, 2021

’Tis a new year, which for most writers means a flurry of ambitious new writing goals and plans for the year ahead. Even in the midst of a pandemic and massive political upheaval, many authors are trying to figure out how to get their writing and publishing done. Instead of highlighting how to set achievable writing goals, I want to talk about writing commitments.

Writing commitments are regular practices you engage in that move you forward with your writing. They’re different from writing goals or plans in that they’re focused on the journey of writing rather than a specific destination. To commit to writing in this way means to incorporate it into your regular routine, to experience the act of writing itself as something to look forward to and cheer along, without burdening that writing with expectations.

Now, I’m all for an awesome writing plan and if breaking down your big goals into concrete writing tasks and scheduling them in a calendar system is motivating you right now, by all means go forth and rock that. But given how much uncertainty structures our lives these days, maybe writing commitments would fit better.  

Committing to generosity

It is SO easy to look at writing—ours or others—with critical eyes. Indeed, as scholars we are trained to thoroughly examine the logic, effectiveness, and stakes of any claim. But when we turn that critical eye on brand-new words, it’s too easy to find flaws. Instead, consider committing to generosity in writing this year.

Committing to generosity in writing means deliberately focusing on the elements of writing that you appreciate. That might mean designing a celebratory ritual for the end of each writing week where you toast the writing your writing group has done, regardless of the amount or type of writing it was. Or it might mean noting three great things about your writing each time you sit down to revise, to avoid only finding the flaws. Directing generosity toward our and others’ writing helps us celebrate the intellectual, emotional, and creative power of the written word.

Committing to inspiration

Writers are no strangers to inspiration. When you get into that zone and new idea are buzzing around in your head, writing can feel like the most energizing thing in the entire world. There’s really nothing like it. But if we wait for inspiration to arrive from outside to spur our writing, we run the risk of never getting words onto the page at all.

Instead, commit to seeking out and cultivating inspiration yourself, rather than waiting for it to appear from an external source. Track down and read non-work-related books and publications. Follow social media accounts from people and brands outside your usual communities. Try out some low-stakes hobbies without worrying about being any good or sticking with them for the long term. Watch a movie or video you never would have thought to before. Check out a new neighborhood block or area. Hit shuffle on your podcast queue or read a few random Wikipedia pages.

The goal here is to change up the stimuli you’re perceiving and to actively pursue inspiration rather than waiting for it to show up on its own. As interdisciplinary scholars have always known, creative juxtaposition yields the richest ideas. And that’s something to write about.

Committing to change

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that very little goes according to plan during a global pandemic. And if you’re like me, you’ve had to constantly postpone, scrap, and redo many of your writing and other plans lately. It’s easy to feel resentful and dejected when this happens, especially for those of us planning nerds. 😀

So instead of creating yet another elaborate writing plan that will need to be adjusted due to upcoming events, consider embracing the inevitability of that change. How we write this month will probably not be how we do next month, the practices we have energy for today might not be those we have energy for tomorrow, and the topics we are working on this winter could very well need to be retooled come spring. Committing to that change ahead of time can make it more bearable, especially if it is accompanied by present self-compassion for how future you will navigate that inevitable change.

In practice, committing to change might look like scheduling out your writing week by week rather than for the whole semester, especially if you think your schedule will shift. It might look like banking writing hours when you’re feeling energized, in anticipation of future moments when you won’t have the energy or resources to write. Or it might look like regularly reviewing and adjusting your project’s structure, rather than assuming it is set in stone and any deviation is somehow a failure.

Committing to generosity, inspiration, and change in our work means we can let ourselves off the hook for not writing in the ways we think we should or the ways we worry others are expecting us to. In any era, but especially one with so much changing by the hour, focusing on writing commitments instead of elaborate goals or plans gives us the space to remember what we love about writing—and why we do it in the first place.

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