Get SMART

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Few doubt the efficacy of goal setting as a means of accomplishing what you need or want. Yet for most people, goal setting is limited to “Lose weight” or “Get fit” or even “Get better at _____.” Those who leave their goals at this point are either doomed to failure, or damned with faint success. I’ve recently encountered two acronyms for goal setting: SPIRO and SMART.

SPIRO
Specific
Practical
Inspirational
Realistic
Obtainable

A SPIRO goal contains all of these elements. But what do they mean? In brief: Specific means something concrete, something you can point to and say “I achieved that.” Practical means the goal has to be applicable in a meaningful way, a specific goal of lifting 150 lbs. is not really germane if your overall objective is to write 2000 words a day. Inspirational means the goal has to be something that you not only want to achieve, but will provide something on which you can base further developments. In other words, the goal itself is something you want to achieve as opposed to being merely a means to an end. Realistic means it has to be achievable without having to take drastic, and potentially harmful, measures. For instance, losing 30 pounds in two weeks can be done, but only at severe hazard to both short term and long term health. Obtainable means it must be achievable within a person’s limitations. For instance, someone with advanced cerebral palsy is probably not going to be able to type 100 words a minute, though typing as an activity is not necessarily out of their range of ability.

SMART
Specific
Measureable
Attainable
Relevant
Time-bound

SMART goals have a lot in common with SPIRO goals. “Specific” is obviously the same, “attainable” and “obtainable” are close enough in meaning that most people use them interchangeably, “practical” and “relevant” in all the discussions I’ve seen on these two processes are essentially the same. The main differences, then, are that SMART goals tend to be more numbers drive (or at least have an emphasis on concrete results) and SMART goals have a time limit. It should be noted that “attainable” includes not only “obtainable” but also “realistic”.

Despite their similarities, SMART and SPIRO goals have different emphases. SPIRO goals appear to be more applicable to therapeutic milieux. In that setting, “realistic” and “obtainable” are separate. While an inspirational goal is generally to be desired in any setting, it plays a special role in therapy that is not generally required in other settings. SMART goals lend themselves to benchmarking. The acronym actually contains the word “measurable”. SMART goals are more likely to be used where productivity is a factor since time is a component both of the goal and of productivity.

So why does it matter that there are multiple acronyms to guide goal setting? Who cares about the differences? For many people, it doesn’t really matter. Those will read this post and say, “Meh. Kind of a dry subject.” Others, though, may have encountered multiple goal setting methods and been confused. To those readers, I’d like to point out that goal setting methods are not really interchangeable…a particular method may or may not be appropriate to a specific setting. All these methods guide you to setting good and appropriate goals, but in order for the goal to be truly good and appropriate to your purpose, the guide must also be appropriate. For instance, if there’s no reason for a goal to be time-bound, as in some therapies, adding an artificial deadline adds yet one more thing for the client to deal with, which may act as a barrier to the client’s ability to achieve the goal. On the other hand, if you’re training for a race, time will definitely be a factor in setting goals since the deadline is not only concrete, but very public.

Having a goal is often necessary to progress. It provides something to strive for, something to make it worth overcoming obstacles. It’s the first step in motivating yourself. For a goal to accomplish these things, though, it must be meaningful. Both SPIRO and SMART are guides to creating a meaningful goal. They are not the only ones, but they’re a couple of the easiest to remember.  Which one gets used will depend on the activity or activities in question.

Searching for Topics

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Excepting the previous two posts, I haven’t blogged for more than a year. I’m out of practice at seeing topics in everyday life. I reread my post on finding topics and I wonder, who is this guy? I remember thinking those thought. I remember writing that post. I remember posting it. Yet in some way, that person is so different from where I am now that I don’t remember being that person at all. This isn’t a complaint. Nor is it a celebration. It goes back to the title of by blog: Maunderings of a Baffled Man. I’m very baffled right now…at least concerning getting back into blogging.

I enjoy writing. I enjoy sharing my ideas with people…at least those who are willing to listen. I even think about lots of things. And yet, I’m finding it difficult coming up with blog topics. I have confidence that this will pass as long as I keep working at it. For now blogs are likely to be short and fairly simple until I get back into the swing of things. I hope to start off with one blog a week…beginning next week. I’m counting these first three posts as a single post since they could probably have been combined into a single post.

Precision Language

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I love coming upon new words as I read. I came upon a new one, today: dilatory. It refers to being slow or lazy. So why not say ‘slow’ or ‘lazy’? In most instances, I probably would. But when it comes to characterization, I tend to look for ways to make each character sound unique. Vocabulary is probably the easiest for me.

I’ve been called to task for using words that the reader doesn’t understand. I understand the reasons for such a critique. Anything that could draw your reader out of the world you’re creating is usually to be avoided. My personal viewpoint, however, is that it is better to use the appropriate word, not the easiest word.

The downside is that I tend to use these words in everyday conversation, often without realizing it. Worse, I use them without realizing that not everyone enjoys language like I do. I’m occasionally afraid that I come off as pretentious or patronizing. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t use vocabulary to show off, I use vocabulary to communicate.

I’ve been told (multiple times) I’m very precise in how I speak. It’s not something I really focus on. I focus on the message and what words best communicate that message. I have a decently large vocabulary, so I use it.

That said, ‘dilatory’ probably won’t appear much in my speech. It seems to be mostly associated with attitude rather than a state of being. I’m far more likely to end up using ‘desultory’.

All Worked Up And No Beneficiary

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The problem with writing erotica, romance, or even a plain old love scene is that it gets you all worked up. Why is this a problem? It’s not, really, unless you have no one to gain the benefits of your creativity. You think the stereotyped gamer geek is frustrated? That’s nothing on the lonely romance writer. I’ve been both places. Trust me.

What’s the solution? Stop writing? Not really an option. Here’s what happens to writers who stop writing: they have to stomp so hard on all those ideas flying through their brain that the ideas end up in a box labeled “REPRESSED”. Those ideas then come back up in therapy as actual memories. (It could happen.)

Could another solution be to put those scenes behind doors? That might work for mainstream or even SFF. Certainly some genres are amenable to this kind of treatment. Doesn’t work so well with romance or erotica. The other problem with relying on this method, even in mainstream, is that sometimes those scenes provide a crucial piece of information about the characters or, heaven forbid, something that pushes the plot forward.

Other than the couple of obvious solutions, I don’t see what can be done about it. On the whole, though, it’s a dilemma I can work with. Psychotherapists have a wonderful word that applies: sublimation. In essence, it’s channeling the pressures of various emotions in a positive manner. What does this mean for the writer? Turn that frustration into better sex scenes, better fight scenes, better resolution scenes.

Word Counts: The Ultimate Procrastination Tool

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Setting a word count goal is a massively useful tool for chronic procrastinators. I set a word count goal and immediately accomplished several chores I’ve been putting off. There’s just something about having a concrete measure that encourages me to say “I can make it up after I (fill in the blank) .”

The writing program “Scrivener” has a couple of ways of tracking your word count. So if the session goal isn’t enough for you to finish your chores, you can go back and check your entire manuscript word count for that extra boost you need to clean the cat box.

Not only do you gain the benefit of having an extra-clean house, by setting a word count goal, you finally have proof that your inner negativity can point to to justify all your “I suck at the writing” urges. Why is this good? I’ll tell you. It allows you to later rebel against THE MAN by spending time creating bad writing.

Imagine! Just one tool can give you an extra-clean house, a way to satisfy those masochistic “I suck” urges, AND stick it to THE MAN. How cool is that?

All joking aside, though. Having a word count goal is an excellent way to concretely measure your productivity. It’s a great way to counter the “you can’t measure creativity” arguments. Aside from that, there’s always something satisfying about crossing a finish line. The Tour-de-France is not raced all at once, it’s a series of successive races. Writing a book, whether fiction or non-fiction, is much the same. It’s not written all at one sitting; it is written in a series of sessions.

Even if you consistently fail to meet your word count goal, just having it means you have something to reach for. Just as with weight lifting, you keep trying, building strength in increasing weights until you can lift your goal consistently. Consistently is the key, not ease of doing it. Once you have consistent success, then you increase your word count goal per session.

I have my word count goal as 2,000 words per day. Lately, I’ve barely been able to get 1,000. But I know there are times when those 1,000 words are all that’s necessary to say what needs to be said.

(BTW: The word count for this blog, including this message is: 385)

Writing: A Matter of Place

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Common images of writers include someone hunched over a piece of parchment with a quill pen and scribbling madly in the light of a candle, a person typing feverishly at an old fashioned typewriter, a man scratching out verse in a notebook, a woman sitting at a computer filling the screen with words. Yes, some of the images are true. But more often than not, a writer’s most often observable action is sitting and staring into space. A writer staring into space is usually in the throes of feverishly trying to tie two plot points together, or coming up with two plot points to tie together.

Leaving aside the issues of outlining versus not outlining, quite often the easiest part is the actual putting down of words onto paper, real or virtual. Sure there may be a brief struggle to find the exact word you want to convey an idea, but on the whole, by the time words start appearing in a concrete fashion, the hardest part is done: formulating a coherent message or story or idea that will (hopefully) interest other people enough to purchase said message, story, or idea.

One of the greatest challenges in writing seems to be finding a time and place where people do not assume you are doing nothing when you are gazing into the middle distance. I know many writers with families have to remind those in the house that they are working and not necessarily available. Personally I find it easiest to write when not in the house…unless there’s something very distracting going on at the location I’m writing. (Lesson learned from last night: do not try to write while supporting friends in a volleyball tournament.) Libraries are good, as are bookstores. Amusingly enough, I find fast food restaurants fairly easy to write in.

My advice for those who say they want to do some writing, whether journaling for personal enjoyment or writing something for publication: don’t write at home. You’ll get more done if you write away from people who will not only distract you, but actively disturb you.

Helpless writing?

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I thought about doing a blog on learned helplessness, but I’ll save it for a day when I’m more depressed. Seriously, check it out. Since that’s not on my problem list for today, I’ll just leave that link in place and move on.

I thought I’d outlined the next story. Turns out it needs so much overhauling, I might as well start from square one. One of the things I’m doing on the revision is to use more than one view point. My last book was entirely from one perspective. That was fine. It had enough stuff to make a full length book on its own. This new one, though…. According to the outline, I had like 20 chapters. That’s, at most, 50,000 words. (I calculate based on averaging 2,500 words per chapter.) Not enough for a book that can be shopped around to agents.

Unfortunately for me, I’ve fallen into the trap of: two-viewpoints-isn’t-complicated-enough-so-I’ll-use-three. As if matching timelines and the like between two characters wasn’t enough, now I have three characters to match to a timeline. It’s a good thing I like puzzles. On the other hand, maybe it’s too hard. After all, I’m writing a blog about it rather than actually doing it. Hmmm. Can you actually procrastinate with no deadline?

So now I’m taking the original outline and inserting viewpoints between most of the major dots that need to be connected in order to create the story. I’m not actually complaining, because it gives me a way to show how the things the protagonist has to deal with develop. (Wow. Talk about an awkward sentence.) For instance….oh wait. Gotta go write this into the outline. Have a nice day!

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