Goals and discipline versus motivation

January 11, 2013 Jessie

I have never been much of a new year’s resolution maker. I am more of an ongoing goal setter. Lose weight, be thriftier, be a better friend… these personal goals pop up throughout the year, halfway through June or at the end of October or whenever I realize I need to improve. But when I look back at my sporadic writing process with my first novel—the one that took me almost a decade to write—I realized I need to sit myself down and hold an intervention.

My writing group has a tradition of sharing writing goals at the end of every year for the next twelve months. The first time I participated was in December of 2011. I had a very rough novel draft almost written. I told my group I wanted to have it completed and edited and revised (and parts rewritten) by the end of the year, and be ready to search for agents at that time. Lo and behold: accountability worked. By November I had polished my novel enough that I think it’s ready for industry pros to have a look.

What did I learn from all this? The writer in me had always acted on the whims of fleeting motivation and inspiration. I had never applied DISCIPLINE to my writing. Lots of pop psychologists harp about seeking out motivation, but I think discipline is more important (and of course harder). You don’t have to be excited about everything you do. If you wait for that feeling, you’ll be waiting a long time for your goals to come to fruition. But if you approach your dreams with discipline, you will be more successful.

Here’s how Oxford Online defines discipline:

  1. the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience
  2. the controlled behavior resulting from discipline
  3. activity or experience that provides mental or physical training
  4. a system of rules of conduct

Discipline is something you have to train yourself to maintain. You have to plan it. You have to make it routine. You have to do it even if it’s the last thing you want to do.

Last month, my writing group met again for goal-sharing, and I gave them an even more ambitious goal: to write a first rough draft of the sequel in one year, along with moving forward on the first book. Despite being a creative and a pantser as well, I do have my analytical side, so I broke down daily writing goals and put them in an Excel spreadsheet. Currently I am 5,389 words behind on my goal, but I’m not going to give up or draw back my goals; I’m going to work harder to catch up. I’m still learning about discipline. I’m far from being an expert. I’ll need help and encouragement along the way. But this simple shift in thinking can be a revolution in the way I move forward in my writing life… and, heck, maybe my personal life, too.

Are you a goal setter, a resolution maker, a planner? How do you stick to your goals? How do you stay disciplined when your motivation and inspiration wane, and life intrudes?