Structure: The Secret Weapon to Help You Achieve Your Goals

By Nita Sweeney

I’d been running for five and a half hours through the rural countryside surrounding Xenia, Ohio. My tired legs were intermittently cramping and the bottoms of my feet ached. I’d run out of catchy songs to sing to myself and all the mantras I’d been chanting sounded stale. The trees lining the rails to trails which had looked beautiful earlier that morning closed in. I thought I might suffocate. I was right on schedule, twenty-three miles into my third full marathon. “I really want this to be over,” I thought. “But I still have to get back to the car.”

My next thought made me laugh, “This is just like writing!”

Throwing in the towel would be a relief – for a while. In this marathon, I could easily stop at the next water station and ask the EMTs to haul me back to town. With writing, I could start fresh on a new, more interesting, more marketable writing project. That’s what I’ve done with every other book I’ve begun.

While I’m still looking for the right publisher for my recently re-titled memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, I have some great prospects and the book placed as a semi-finalist and finalist in two contests. Even if traditional publishing doesn’t pan out, I can self-publish. This process is exhausting, but also exciting – just like the final miles of a very long race. It’s no time to quit even though I’m really really tired and everything hurts.

So, I remembered what I know how to do: continue. Just now. Just here. This moment. Feel your feet (even if they hurt). Do one thing and then the next. Right foot. Left foot. Just keep going.

But how does someone who continues to have depressive episodes so crippling they make it difficult to get out of bed some days achieve her goals?

Structure!

In running, I found a training plan and followed it. I joined a group. I took a running class. I signed up for a race. I logged miles using online tools. I told everyone I knew. And, I ran.

With writing, the following similar structures work for me:

1) Classes and Workshops.
In my case, a writing instructor suggested I enter every contest that fit my book. As a result, my book is on the short-list for a big award. Other students might offer helpful suggestions as well. In either case, these people help you do what might not occur to you, what might seem too difficult, or what you might think is a waste of time and money.

2) A deadline.
The final days of a contest or publisher’s reading period is often enough to spark me into action. It’s that pressure cooker effect. There’s no time for perfectionism. I just have to get it done.

3) Tracking Tools.
I love querytracker.net and Submittable. Real numbers don’t lie. I can see my submissions and percentages. The geeky part of me loves this. Plus, Submittable recognizes people who collect the most rejections in a month. Anything like that helps.

4) Accountability Partners.
I tell a friend I’m going to do something. I tell my little writing group. I tell my husband or my neighbor. I tell the regulars at the coffee shop where I write. Eventually, one of them will ask about my goal. I don’t want to let either of us down.

5) Online Groups.
These are a different breed of accountability partners. But be careful with this. Choose wisely. I’m in a secret Facebook group for artists collecting rejection letters. If I’m not entering, I have no rejections to report. Telling these kind strangers is oddly satisfying.

But here’s the true secret. At some point, these external structures become internal. They light a fire inside me and I’m surprised to find myself motivated to attempt things I would never have done before. Magic? Perhaps. But I’ll take it.

After all, I finished that marathon in Xenia and I will publish this book. You have my promise.

What is your marathon? What kind of structure do you need to meet your goal? What will help you not give up? I’d love to hear about it. I want to cheer you to the finish.

Nita Sweeney’s articles and essays have appeared in magazines, journals, and books including Buddhist America, Dog World, Dog Fancy, Writer’s Journal, Country Living, Pitkin Review and in several newspapers and newsletters. She writes the blog, BumGlue and publishes a monthly e-newsletter, Write Now Newsletter, which features a short essay, a schedule of the classes she teaches, and a list of central Ohio writing events. Her forth-coming memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, was short-listed for the 2018 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Award. She was recently interviewed for the radio show and podcast Word Carver. When she’s not writing, Nita is running and racing. She has run three full marathons, twenty-six half marathons (in eighteen states), and more than sixty shorter races. Nita lives in central Ohio with her husband and biggest fan, Ed, and her future running partner, the yellow Labrador puppy, Scarlet (aka #ninetyninepercentgooddog).

Comments

  1. Hi Nita,

    I enjoyed this piece so visited your blog and was charmed. Love your pup too. Let us know when your memoir is available. Go girl.

    Jennifer

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