(For the month of November and December 2011, I am embarking on a 30 Plus-Day Challenge to finish a final rewrite of my young adult novel. To do so, I am taking a hiatus from posting my Tuesday morning flyingnotscreaming essays. Essays will resume the first week of December, 2011. In the meantime, I am posting a weekly Hiatus Report on my progress during my 30-Day Challenge. See the essay “My Next 30-Day Challenge” for more information.)
Back in November, when I first embarked on this 30-Day Challenge to rewrite my young adult novel, I thought I’d put in my month and finally be done with it. I even announced my challenge publicly to apply a little more pressure. But Matt Cutts, TEDTalk speaker who initiated these month-long projects, was right when he said that 30-Day Challenges can change your life. This undertaking has turned my world inside out forcing me to examine the stitching holding it all together.
Although I have been working diligently on my rewrite, I am still nowhere near the finish line. But I have gained invaluable insight into the process of goal achievement, and this week’s hiatus report is a review of the lessons I’ve learned thus far.
Lesson #1 Don’t Forget to Make Space
In my essay posted October 25 announcing my 30-Day Challenge, I stated that when goal-making, it is not only important “to write down what our goal is, but to write out the steps necessary to fit that goal into our lives.”
This is excellent advice that I completely failed to follow. I made no space for the added hours of work required to complete my rewrite, but instead heaped it upon my already full schedule. I said I was going to put my flyingnotscreaming site on hiatus, but when push came to shove, I couldn’t let go of my goal to complete 52 consecutive weeks of posts, and so these weekly hiatus reports have taken on a life of their own. Not only that, I chose to do all this as we headed into the holiday season, the busiest time of the year.
No wonder I have become more and more strung out as this challenge has proceeded.
When you add something, you have to take something else away, and as I have learned, even the most capable and organized of us have their limits. So, as of January 2012, I will suspend further posts on my flyingnotscreaming site in order to make space for the completion of my novel rewrite. And I really mean it this time.
Lesson #2 Accountability is Faith Making
I’ll admit that I’m a little embarrassed to have made such a big deal over this rewrite challenge. There is no way the end product can live up to the hype surrounding the process. At the same time, having accountability to others regarding my goal has helped me through the past few weeks of challenge doldrums.
In my Week Four Hiatus Report, I wrote that I frequently stall out and derail mid-project. I have trouble finishing what I start, not due to laziness, but because I become overwhelmed by boredom and doubt. This 30-Day Challenge has proved to be no different. For weeks now it has been a daily struggle to keep myself at the keyboard, and each sentence has been hard-won.
But the first small step to change is awareness. For the first time, I am aware of the forces that are working against me, and I have realized that doubt and boredom are the least of it. Since day one of the challenge, I’ve been carrying guilt on my back, not wanting my writing to interfere with my other responsibilities. The past few weeks, regret has been poking me unpleasantly, reminding me of all the years I set aside my writing, sending me into a panic about my “late start.”
I probably would have quit at some point during this long middle stretch, if it weren’t for the public accountability. If Diane at East Side Books didn’t ask now and then, “How’s the rewrite coming? Are you getting it done?” Or if my husband and children didn’t inquire each night at dinner if I wrote that day. Or if my friend Ardyth didn’t tell me that my 30-Day Challenge inspired her 30-Day Challenge. Accountability builds faith in the process, and nothing helps add to my supply of faith more than the supportive people in my life who are holding me accountable to my writing. As my faith grows, my insecurities shrink, and I can continue to move steadily forward.
Lesson #3 Wins Don’t Just Come At The End
When we think about winning, we think of the “big” wins. Finishing the race. Being awarded a prize. Getting that promotion. But those wins happen only occasionally in a lifetime. Even when we set goals and achieve them, rarely do we take the time to celebrate our accomplishments. Did you throw yourself a party when you lost those 15 pounds or when you quit smoking or when you attended church every Sunday for six months? Probably not. You probably thought as I do that you should have been accomplishing these things in the first place so what is there to celebrate?
I’ve realized that one of the crucial missing elements of my goal-seeking is that I never, ever celebrate the wins. Not at the end, and certainly not along the way. It’s like climbing a mountain and not bothering to stop for a breather on the way up or admire the view from the top. I’ve realized that during this extended challenge as well as in my daily life, I need to stop at least once a day and assess my wins.
Until I started a “daily wins” practice, I was demoralized by how slowly this rewrite was proceeding. By stopping to take a breath and assess my progress, I realized that despite the turtle speed, the first nine chapters are done and I am satisfied that I’ve told my story well, to the best of my ability. And isn’t that the ultimate goal? Listing my wins helps me gather the courage to sit down at my desk each morning. It also gives me a much-needed sense of contentment when I turn off my computer each night.
Even though this challenge has been much more difficult than I anticipated in very unexpected ways, it continues to be a life-changing, mind-altering experience. And I am not going to quit. I will make the space and find the faith to return again and again to the page until the very last sentence is rewritten. It might be a while, but when I finally get this thing done, I think I’m going to throw a party, a little celebration to admire the view from the mountain top. Of course, you all are invited to attend.