Do You Have a Plan or Just Goals?

SMART goals, planning,

When SMART Goals Make You Stupid

In project-management, the concept of SMART goals is highly touted as a way of setting objectives in a way that makes it easy to test whether or not you have succeeded. As a quick review, SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related.

Working with my clients, I often find that they are familiar with the concept of SMART goals and that it doesn’t work for them. The format strikes them as impossible to reconcile with their overarching goal of writing a meaningful novel, getting more gigs, or painting a series of found objects. They know from past experience that the creative process is usually non-linear and their temperaments resist constraint.

When faced with a suggestion that they create specific, measurable, realistic goals, many of my clients without deadlines panic, fearing that setting such goals will take away the big picture. And that fear creates anxiety that often manifests as a creative block.

Keep the Big Picture in Sight

The aspirational goal of a beautiful or meaningful art work is what drives many of my clients to create. In many cases, it is the very nature of that goal to be intangible and hard to measure.

Without that larger, abstract goal, the whole project becomes meaningless. Creating something that cannot be finished in a single session requires maintaining a vision of the desired end.

For many of my clients, the word goal has to refer to the big picture, the abstract desire to create something deep and meaningful or beautiful. To keep the big picture in sight, they need to avoid SMART goals and embrace their sublime aspirations.

Have a Plan

But, creators must have a plan. Without a plan, the aspirational goal becomes overwhelming and creates potential for creative blocks. Without a plan, it can be hard to claim that progress is being made during the portions of the process that require incubation, research, dreaming of options, playing with an approach that ends up not working, and the other parts of the process that do not result in specific, tangible results.

In addition, there is psychological stability in a plan. Think of Yoda’s famous words, “There is no try, only do;” the plan is the commitment to doing. The plan is the action will lead to the goal.

Many creative people struggle with creating plans because they do not want to stifle themselves when creative inspiration strikes. If, for example, the plan was to write a particular scene that day and they are inspired to write a different scene, there is a battle between following the inspiration and working the less inspiring material. The inspiration usually wins, and if the plan is not flexible enough to accommodate the inspiration, this can generate conflict within the writer about the value of plans.

However, plans are the antidote to a lack of initial inspiration. Many people find that although they aren’t conscious of inspiration before beginning work, inspiration comes when they start working. Working actors have the advantage of a rehearsal schedule. When they show up at rehearsal, the work begins, and creativity wakes up even if it was slumbering before rehearsal. People working on solo projects or projects without an inherent schedule have to create a plan that encourages the inspiration to flow.

What Does a Good Plan Look Like?

A good plan allows flexibility for inspiration while also requiring work when ideas are not spontaneously flowing before the creative session. For many successful artists, this simply consists of a commitment to put in a certain amount of time working.

Some examples of good plans:

  • Write something every day.
  • Sketch one object every day.
  • Improvise at my piano for 10 minutes every day.
  • Dance for 30 minutes every day.
  • Write for an hour first thing in the morning.
  • Take 3 photographs every day.

 

Do you have a plan for working towards your goals?

What stops you from committing to a plan?

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For Those Who Can’t Read or Why I’m Taking a Summer Weekend to Stay Inside and Write

MNM
This year, I am joining 39 other writers in a writing marathon in support of adult literacy services provided by the YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka. Please help us share the power of reading by sponsoring me. You can click here to donate now, or you can click the link at the end of this post. Any amount helps.

On July 11, 40 writers will start 72 hours of pounding out words as fast as we can. Prizes will be awarded for the best novel in each category (Juvenile, Young Adult, Adult), most words written, and most funds raised.  It’s the 2014 Muskoka Novel Marathon, in Huntsville, Ontario, Canada.

It is a mad dash, a word frenzy. For what purpose?

Why will we be throwing our literary skills at the page?

Because we can. And too many people cannot.

We are raising money so the people who cannot read this blog post can learn how. 

I cannot remember a time before I could read. My earliest memories include being shamed at school because I came to school being able to read and my teacher didn’t know what to do with me while she was teaching my classmates. I took reading for granted.

But, it wasn’t until I started talking to my friends who have participated in the Muskoka Novel Marathon in the past that I gave much consideration to how deeply embedded reading is in my life.

Written words are everywhere.

Think about the things you would not be able to do if you could not read.

  • Any interaction, research, or learning that you use the internet for.
  • Reading want ads to find a job.
  • Understanding the materials your children bring home from school.
  • Sending messages back to the teacher.
  • Reading street signs.
  • Checking the dosage of medication on the packaging.
  • Keep a shopping list.
  • Fill out forms: taxes, school information, etc.
  • Maintain a calendar.
  • Follow a recipe.
  • Check that a bill is correct.
  • Understand a contract.
  • Check tv listings.
  • Read ingredients in packaged foods.

For the person who cannot read, all of these, and all the other sources of and uses of information in this information age are out of reach. The text to voice apps out there only address a few of these issues, and not the most important ones.

The stigma associated with illiteracy makes it hard for a person who has left school functionally illiterate to ask for help. A lifetime of hiding this inability takes is toll.

And it isn’t a small problem

According to the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network, 42% of Canadian adults between the ages of 16 and 65 have low literacy skills.

The YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka is part of the solution. Through their Literacy Services programs, they offer free instruction in literacy, numeracy, computer and basic life skills to out-of-school teens and adults.

Their success stories include Nora Bartlett, who upgraded her literacy skills to the point that she now participates in the Muskoka Novel Marathon as a writer.  Some grads, Lowe says, “have since opened businesses of their own; others can now read and write well enough to help their children with their homework.

“All have seen their self confidence grow in leaps and bounds as a result of the success they have had.”

And that is why I am joining the rest of the writers for a weekend inside, ignoring the call of summer and giving of myself. To pass the gift of reading on to someone who needs it.

Won’t you help me by clicking here and making a donation?

Embrace Imperfection

embrace imperfection

Embracing my own imperfection and learning to ask for critical feedback is one of my biggest growing edges at the moment. After decades of trying to look perfect, I am discovering the power of showing others my flaws. The result is better work, deeper friendships, and a more pervasive sense of ease in my life.

A week or so ago, I found myself saying to a friend about something I wrote, “What I really want to know is where you disagree with me.” And I meant it.

I want to conquer the sloppy thinking that I got in the habit of during my years of education where sloppy was good enough. Somewhere in my childhood, I adopted an expectation that I should be perfect. I did not develop skills for working through failure to success because success came easily.

I got As in school without trying. Although this sounds nice to people who haven’t lived it, it had a serious drawback. I never learned to work hard for anything; in fact, I learned to run away from challenges and give up easily. For most people, school provides many opportunities to practice tackling material beyond easy comprehension. For me, I didn’t reach that until the mathematics classes I took after calculus. By then, mathematics was optional for my education and I dropped math completely because I figured I just wasn’t good at math. The fact that I was 17 and doing advanced college mathematics didn’t register at all. The truth was that I was excellent at math, but I had never had to work at it so I had no idea how to approach a challenging problem.

Later, at Harvard Law School, I figured out that I could graduate with low honors by showing up in class and spending a week each semester studying for exams or I could study all day long and maybe do a little better. I chose to spend my time in rehearsal instead of the library.

Luckily, the hurdles to jump if you want to traditionally publish fiction are immense. Despite starting with a modicum of talent, I have had to work hard to improve my writing and learn how to overcome my own limitations.

Learning to accept critiques of my stories has allowed my writing to improve much faster than I could have figured out on my own.

But, more importantly, it has taught me a huge amount about making deep connections between people. Showing early drafts to others necessarily reveals your imperfection. The whole point is to put your weak work out there for people to see, to point out what can be improved. By its very nature, the process puts a spotlight on your current failure to meet your own goal. Creative work comes from our deep selves. Even though good critique focuses on the work itself, the work is so personal that I feel exposed when I share. By talking with people about the weaknesses in the work, I reveal the weaknesses in my thinking processes, my writing skills, and my understanding of people and the world.

When the critique focuses on the work and the reader’s experience of the work, the pressure is taken off the writer’s psyche. And, at the same time, the acceptance of the work as it is invites acceptance of the writer as they are. And, when a small group of people do this work together, an intimacy develops. It starts with care for each other’s work, but becomes a connection between individuals, mediated by the work.

Embracing imperfection in myself and sharing my insecurities and challenges with people lets them see me, not my persona, my deeper self. And this is transformative. It is when this deeper self gets seen and witnessed without judgement that we develop both deeper acceptance of ourselves and intimate connections with others.

We have to risk being judged in order to be seen at all.

I have learned this lesson in an intellectual way through my writing and through learning to accept critique.

However, intellectual learning is not enough for deep change. Carl Jung wrote in The Undiscovered Self that a person must have inner experiences of their deep self to maintain freedom and autonomy in the face of the inevitable social structures that pressure individuals to become bodies performing social roles. This deep self is that vulnerable, imperfect, unique individual.

InterPlay has given me fully embodied inner experiences of being acceptable in my vulnerable imperfection. One of the gifts of InterPlay is that leaders create invitations for the individual to show up as much or as little as the participant wants. In a group setting, nervous newcomers often discover their own willingness to let themselves be seen by observing others as they share themselves and are fully witnessed. In a one-on-one coaching environment, the coach creates the invitation more directly, but still gently.

I have taken decades to learn how to ask for help, so I have learned everything the hard way. It is amazing how much faster and easier change is when I embrace my imperfections and address them directly. And the indirect benefit of becoming more deeply connected with people and more at ease with myself is the best part of the whole process.

The principles and practices of InterPlay are the foundations of my coaching practice. To experience the power of this approach for yourself, join me for a free Focus Session.

 

 

 

You Can’t Win if You Don’t Enter

If you want to win, you have to enter

 

How often have you not done something because you were afraid somebody would judge you unworthy in some way?

You Can’t Lose if You Don’t Enter, Can You?

Life is full of competition. Too many qualified students want to go to particular college; many applicants want a job; thousands more stories are written than are published every year.

Too many people don’t put their name in the hat for an opportunity because they are afraid of how the rejection will feel if they don’t succeed. It can be easier to tell yourself that you didn’t really want something than to have tried for it and failed. Because you were never tested, you can imagine that you would have been awesome without worrying about facts.

But, too many opportunities passed up often turns to regret.

Not only doesn’t not putting your name forward for something you want make it impossible for you to get what you want, it sets you up for the bitterness about life that arises when looking back and regretting actions not taken.

Dare to Dare

At the Writers’ Community of Durham Region RoundTable this past weekend, historical fiction writer Barbara Kyle shared some tips for survival as a writer. Her final tip was “Dare to Dare. Dare to write. Dare to live.” Be bold. Don’t let life you pass you by because you have given in to your fears.

This was a particularly poignant end to her talk given that earlier in the meeting, the longlist for the WCDR Short Story Contest was announced.

I shared a table with a group of writers who will be part of this year’s Muskoka Novel Marathon, a writing event that raises money for the adult literacy programs run by the YMCA Simcoe/Muskoka. (Click here to donate in my name.) Ruth Walker, a wonderful writer and workshop leader, sat across the table from me. She teaches a “Write to Win” workshop on entering contests with Dorothea Helms and they consistently encourage frightened writers to enter contests because “You don’t win every contest you don’t enter.

After four years of planning to enter this contest, failing to polish a story that fit the prompt in time, and being reminded by Ruth and Dorothea that this was a losing tactic, this year, I finally entered. Although I was pleased with story, I had no idea how judge Sarah Selecky, whose first book of short stories was a finalist for the Giller Prize, would respond to the piece. She writes literary fiction. “Bitter Vision” is dark fantasy or horror. Would the genre put her off?

I still jump a little when I think back to Saturday morning, hearing WCDR President, Sally Moore say”Bitter Vision by Kate Arms-Roberts” as part of the longlist. Many of the writers whose names I also heard that morning are writers whose previous stories I have thoroughly enjoyed. I am thrilled to be among them. The shortlist and winners will be announced next month. And yes, I want to be on that list, too.

But, even if I don’t make the anthology (I don’t even dare imagine I might win), I feel like a winner already. I have already submitted more stories, applications, proposals to teach, etc. this year than in all the years since I returned to writing fiction after decades away.

I have my head in the game.

How about you?

Are you Daring to Dare? Entering into Life? Or are you letting your fears hold you back?

Comfort Moves are Better Than Comfort Food

Movement for Mood enhancement

 

The Problem With Comfort Food

Comfort food. It is usually full of fat and salt and makes us feel loved. Maybe your comfort food is what your mom made when you were sick, or when you had a good report card, or scored your first goal of the season. We turn to comfort food when we feel blue.

But eating to make ourselves feel better often leads to not-so-good feelings if we eat too much or blow our diets. What if we could get the good feelings without the guilt?

I have found something that works for me, something I call comfort moves. Movement I can do that makes me feel good in the way that comfort food does.

We all Have Movement Habits

I went for a run this week.  I am a warm weather runner, and it was my first run since the first snowfall of winter. I was being optimistic when I decided it was warm enough for me to go, but this long, cold winter had been getting to me and I needed to get out.

I wasn’t sure how it would go. Until this time last year, I had never run without pain, but I turned that around with commitment and the Couch to 5K podcasts from the UK’s National Health Service. By the end of the summer, I had come to look forward to running for 30 minutes three times a week.

Because I had not run in months, I didn’t push myself. I wanted to keep running for 30 minutes without worrying about how fast I was moving. And I did, without much difficulty. I even found myself spontaneously breaking into a sprint for the final portion of the run as had been my habit last year.

At the end of the run, my legs were complaining, but my heart was light.

Because I had been disciplined last year, my body had formed a habit and slipped into the run with ease. By the end of the run, I felt great. Running has become a comfort move for me.

What Moves Bring You Comfort? Or Joy?

Yesterday, as my legs were recovering from the run, I danced in my kitchen. I love dancing while I do the dishes, especially ballet. Yes, I do développés while drying. It takes longer than standing at the sink and washing pots, but the joy is worth the extra time.

I can dance to anything, and in many styles, but there is one combination of music and movement that invariably brings me more joy than any other.

As a child, I was a serious ballet dancer. This was challenging for a girl whose body was converting all available calories to height. Even when I started at 8, it was clear I was going to be tall. And, in those days, there was no future for a 6-foot tall woman with classical ballet training. But I loved it. Even when I added jazz, modern and musical theatre to my dance repertoire, ballet felt better in my body than any other form.

However, when I dance to classical music, my body remembers the disappointment of learning I could no longer pursue ballet in the good classes because the schools only accepted students who were the right height to be members of a professional corps de ballet. So, I don’t dance to classical music.

My favourite music to accompany kitchen ballet is Keane’s album, Strangeland, a comfortable album on the edge of indie pop and alternative rock.

When I pirouette to the strains of Sovereign Light Café, I invariably discover that I am happier.

And unlike indulging in comfort food, there are no nasty side effects.

We all have movements that bring us pleasure, but we must identify them for ourselves. Like the food from our childhood that brings us a sense of being unconditionally loved, they are unique to us. What brings me joy is not the same as what brings you joy.

What movement brings you joy?

Identify it, claim it, and move.

And she’s back…

backnow

Once upon a time, I wrote a blog post about how part of my creative process involves periods where I disappear for a bit. But this last gap has been unusually long. So, before I dive right back into blogging again, I feel I owe my readers an explanation.

Last fall, I was in rehearsal for a production of The Tempest in which I had the lead role. The work involved in that production took a lot out of me. In November, while performing the role, I became sick and without the time I needed to rest, what started as a nasty upper respiratory virus became pneumonia and I spent months recovering properly.

After Christmas, while still recovering from pneumonia, I had another theatre production, this time mentoring a new director and helping her learn how to run a show. She did a great job, and I spent a lot of time in rehearsal coaching her when she needed it.

At the same time, I committed to a major deadline for the next revision of my novel in progress, took on three other writing projects, and managed the winter sports schedule for my four kids.

The result has been an exhausted and over-scheduled Kate, and the blogging has suffered.

Now that the major writing projects are off my plate for now, I am coming back to the blogging. So there should be more from me coming up soon.

Cheers,

Kate

30 Days of Writing Prompts – Day 30

30 writing prompts logo2.jpg
A Writing Prompt for Every Day in November

Don’t miss a day, enter your email address on the left and get a reminder with each new prompt.

How to use these prompts for NaNo participants:
Do ALL writing in your manuscript. Keep your word count climbing.
Do NOT worry that following a prompt will take you away from the focus of your story. Your unconscious will make the connections for you. Your job is to get words out. Revise later.
Do follow your story over the specifics of the prompt.
Have Fun!

Writing Prompt Day 30

Describe the ideal resolution of your story from your protagonist’s perspective.

Extend it: Write a scene in which the protagonist gets almost the ideal ending.

Now, go write!

If you have missed any prompts, they can all be found here.

30 Days of Writing Prompts – Day 29

30 writing prompts logo2.jpg
A Writing Prompt for Every Day in November

Don’t miss a day, enter your email address on the left and get a reminder with each new prompt.

How to use these prompts for NaNo participants:
Do ALL writing in your manuscript. Keep your word count climbing.
Do NOT worry that following a prompt will take you away from the focus of your story. Your unconscious will make the connections for you. Your job is to get words out. Revise later.
Do follow your story over the specifics of the prompt.
Have Fun!

Writing Prompt Day 29

Write a list of weaknesses your main character could have.

Extend it: Write a scene in which the main character displays that weakness.

Now, go write!

Don’t miss a prompt: enter your email address on the left and get a reminder with each new prompt.

30 Days of Writing Prompts – Day 28

30 writing prompts logo2.jpg
A Writing Prompt for Every Day in November

Don’t miss a day, enter your email address on the left and get a reminder with each new prompt.

How to use these prompts for NaNo participants:
Do ALL writing in your manuscript. Keep your word count climbing.
Do NOT worry that following a prompt will take you away from the focus of your story. Your unconscious will make the connections for you. Your job is to get words out. Revise later.
Do follow your story over the specifics of the prompt.
Have Fun!

Writing Prompt Day 28

Write a scene that includes a coconut, a luggage rack, and an escape.

Now, go write!

Don’t miss a prompt: enter your email address on the left and get a reminder with each new prompt.

30 Days of Writing Prompts – Day 27

30 writing prompts logo2.jpg
A Writing Prompt for Every Day in November

Don’t miss a day, enter your email address on the left and get a reminder with each new prompt.

How to use these prompts for NaNo participants:
Do ALL writing in your manuscript. Keep your word count climbing.
Do NOT worry that following a prompt will take you away from the focus of your story. Your unconscious will make the connections for you. Your job is to get words out. Revise later.
Do follow your story over the specifics of the prompt.
Have Fun!

Writing Prompt Day 27

Write a list of things you hate. Pick one of them for a character to like and describe it from their point of view.

Extend it: Write a scene in which the thing appears.

Now, go write!

Don’t miss a prompt: enter your email address on the left and get a reminder with each new prompt.