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?
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.
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.
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?