All or Nothing

Why is there this perception in our culture that you must do something all the way, be completely immersed in it, and be the best, or it’s not worth doing at all? It’s everything or nothing.

I’ve seen this time and again on a variety of things. Why can’t walking for 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, make everyone happy? This is what science says is great for our health. At least, so say the New England Journal of Medicine. They don’t mess around with faux science there. Why does our collective society look down on walking and instead believe we have to be doing hours of grueling cardio and intense weight lifting before we feel like we’re really excising?

This does NOT count.

I don’t have an answer for this need for all or nothing, but I’ve seen the same thing in writing.

Stephen King, one of the preeminent writers of our time, wrote a book called On Writing. Yeah, I know, you’ve already heard about it. Maybe even read it. But in that book, he says he writes 2,000 words a day. And, I believe him.

I’ve only read a handful of his books. There’s a reason for that. I’m a coward.

Please, no! I want to sleep again!

However, that seems to have translated into everyone out there who is writing thinking they need 2,000 words a day, too. I’ve heard it over and over again. Watched people tout this goal. Watched them try to live up to it.

Interesting, though, how few achieve it more than a few days a month. Even more interesting is how many of them stop writing altogether because they “failed” at being a writer. Not mocking them, as I’m not writing 2,000 words a day either. But then, I stopped holding myself to that criteria about 30 seconds after I finished reading Stephen King’s book.

See, he was making that word count as a full time writer. As one of the most prolific writers alive today. As a man at the top of his field.

Trying to hold myself up to that is like trying to hold a flashlight up to the sun. Yeah, I think my writing is pretty good, but there’s only one sun. I can still illuminate the darkness and make people happy without being the sun.

I can dream.

Sort of like I can walk thirty minutes a day and still get the health benefits. No, I’m not going to look like a Hollywood celebrity doing it, but then even dedicating myself to exercise isn’t going to accomplish that.

I set my goal at 500 words a day. Yep, 500. It’s enough that words get on the page, but not so much that it’s daunting to even sit down at the computer. And here’s the thing. When I have a goal I’m pretty sure I can achieve, I’m much more likely to start it.  Sometimes, I sit down hoping to eke out 500 words, and I get a 1,000. Sometimes more. But what got my butt in the chair was the knowledge it was just 500.


How about you? Do you set smaller goals for yourself and then try to surpass them? Or are you more motivated by larger, grand goals that may be very challenging to reach?

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15 thoughts on “All or Nothing

  1. I try to have smaller goals, with a bigger goal in mind – say, one entry a day for my Travel Bits books. Sure, it means it takes me several months to finish a book, but in the end, it gets finished. And I look forward to the day I’m making enough from them and my other writing that I can work on them full-time and get more done!

  2. It’s funny. I’m so disciplined in many areas of my life, but when it comes to my creative projects, I find that I have very little energy left over for them at the end of the day. I’m sharpest in the morning, but that’s when I do my “real” job. However, smaller goals seem less daunting and if I make the small moments count (like swim meets, where I literally have nothing to do but write), I end up making more progress than I give myself credit for.

    1. I agree. Smaller goals do seem less daunting. Four base hits still gets you to home plate, the same as a home run. And I think smaller base hits are easier to do, or at least easier to get us up to the plate to try to do.

  3. I’m the same: I cycle 4 times a week for 15 minutes. It gets me a little exercise, and I can manage it after breakfast and before I start my day. If I tried to do half an hour I wouldn’t be motivated. It’s too much. (Although even 15 minutes is a challenge now it’s gotten colder!) Manageable goals are important.
    I dedicate a lot of time to being an author, but I don’t write every day. I spend time on my blog, Twitter, and my weekly hashtag game on Twitter (This takes 12+ hours a week!) I write 4 days a week, and aim for about 2000 a session. I’m going to have to up my game for NaNoWriMo!

    1. I wish you luck with NaNoWriMo. And please, if it doesn’t work, don’t be discouraged. 8k a week is still a lotta words. Eight weeks of that brings you to novel length. Never forget that 🙂

  4. When life cooperates I can pull 2k words easy, but with a recently disabled wife and two special needs kids my days are full already. Ugh, but it’s hard because I KNOW I could do it if life cooperated.

    1. Life is ugly and messy and loud. And wonderful. And sweet. And filled with love.

      I don’t have the same troubles you do, but I get it. Day job. Spouse. Kids. Life.

      I know it’s so hard balancing another full time job, or even part time job, into all that. Especially one that isn’t paid.

      That’s why I think setting yourself up for daily base hits and celebrating them is a better way than holding ourselves accountable to a home run every day. Yeah, we know we can do it. Yeah, we do actually do it now and again, but those base hits add up, too. And sometimes, that’s okay 🙂

  5. Humans have always been competitive, and that’s a good thing, but I think we collectively miss the plot when it comes to the concept of ‘success’. My generation grew up aiming for a ‘personal best’, meaning we set a personal goal, one based on our own individual strengths and weaknesses, and aimed for that. These days a PB is worthless unless it goes hand-in-hand with a gold medal at the olympics.
    Same with writing. And in a strange twist, reading. Instead of reading what we enjoy, so many people feel compelled to read the books others have approved. They end up hating every minute of the process and don’t touch another book for years.
    It seems crazy to me that we’ve turned pleasurable things into stepping stones on the path to what? Someone’s approval? A ‘like’ on Facebook? A tiny ego boost that’s over almost before it’s begun?
    I don’t know how it happened, but over the years we’ve taken this whole competitive thing to toxic levels and it’s just getting worse.
    Apologies for getting too philosophical. 🙁

  6. Personally, I like the idea of stretch goals, but I can see how they might be really damaging to some people. On the other hand, my goals are more along the lines of “make progress on my book pretty much every day”. Often that’s writing, but it can also be brainstorming, plotting, or anything else useful. When I do write, I like to complete a scene–which might be anything from 200 words to 6,000 words–but if I don’t then I don’t feel like I’ve failed. I wrote something, so I won. And usually I find I write about 1,500 words.

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