Conversation 76: Setting Challenges, Goals & Structures to Foster Good Habits in your Creative Writing Practice

When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.
Confucius 551-479 B.C

I want to thank Ann Smith for setting me on this path today looking at challenges, goals and writing structures. Taking part in our popular Interview series she highlights the fact that from 1 haiku she now has 500, also that her work is contributing to a wider memoir project incorporating artwork, photography, writing and haiku. While putting together a course I am running on Diaries and Journaling I began to further realise that my own participation in THE DAILY HAIKU has become my own daily challenge. Furthermore I have now completed over a year of writing haiku everyday, sometimes more than once a day. I now realise this has fundamentally become a creative diary from which often other forms of writing burst through alongside important opportunities for introspection and through sharing wider connection.


Of course when I set up THE DAILY HAIKU I felt that a daily prompt would help kickstart many of us into writing. Haiku is a short enough medium to facilitate this, fit into busy lives whilst also allowing those with more time to play for longer! In thinking about haiku but other forms of writing I realise that it is helpful to set goals, understand our motivations for writing and prepare as if for an expedition. Without this preparation the best laid plans can flounder, be put off and fizzle out. Wear the wrong clothes for your writing adventure and it can be all too easy not to start.


Whilst a daily goal and challenge is implicit in THE DAILY HAIKU what can we take from this practice into other creative activities and writing? Certainly with keeping a diary or a journal that sense of daily practice is built in or at least a time limited goal eg, to write about a particular experience for a given time. But I sense that the most important part of setting challenges and goals is in helping us to get going and to make that crucial leap to start. This can so often be the most difficult part of writing whether that opening paragraph to a novel or introduction to a review on your favourite book. If you know what you are doing, what the structure is, what your goals are this is half the battle.  There is nothing more frightening than a blank piece of paper.


Goals can also revolve around finding the time to write, something that is often the biggest excuse I hear for why people were unable to finish that novel or short story or poem. If you are motivated to write then you will find the time.  Swap in that over-checking of emails at night or too much time on social media (unless it’s THE DAILY HAIKU of course!). Take the Duolingo approach, just 15 minutes of writing a day and try and stick to a time that works for you, whether just before bed, first thing in the morning or a lunch break. Then if you write outside of these times it’s a bonus. But also if you miss a daily slot don’t beat yourself up, guilt around writing is huge and can build into writer’s block!


Make your goals and challenges realistic to avoid disappointment at not being able, for more of the time, to achieve what you want. Interview yourself about your writing or better still get someone else to do it, but try and get to the nub of what interests you. This about what you like in other peoples’, what you read or want to read, what you might want to do with your writing, what forms of writing interest you and how you want to go about developing your writing. Focus on your needs.


Structure is everything, whether in how you organise yourself and time but of course how you organise your writing. Again on THE DAILY HAIKU we offer a guideline for the structure which, give or take the odd syllable debate, conforms to three lines. It’s a helpful given that is easily understandable and means that anyone coming to the group can get going and is clear about the basics. But again within this a myriad of choices remain which is the key.  Find a structure that liberates and does not constrain or tighten your writing. With longer writing forms such as novels a whole host of preparatory decisions that can allow for adjustment will need to be in place to allow you to start what will be a commitment if you are to finish it.


Goals and Challenges are inspiring.  Structure is enabling and empowering.  The opening Confucius quotation recognises the important part these elements play together in supporting building good habits with our activities in this case writing.


So when your goals, challenges and structures are aligned all that’s left is your writing. Decide on a date, a timeline, set your goals and you are ready to start that expedition.  You’re wearing the right clothes for all eventualities (which you can change), have some idea of the weather conditions along the way, know where you’re going and have a map. Of course to help you on your journey you might want to take a friend along – join a writing group or go on a course to get some extra help. Also you will definitely want to find out about other peoples’ adventures, read their writing and take part in discussions.


Then before you know it like Ann you will have gone from 1 haiku to 500 or like me have been haiku-ing for a year and formed a daily habit. You may even have completed the first draft of your novel or have started to write your memoirs.Maybe you have completed 30 poems like Carolyn Crossley in 30 days for the National Poetry Month Challenge. But whatever happens, even if you break your goal, make a new one or adapt it. Sometimes a goal reveals itself in the completing of a challenge, it helps you see where you want to go next and crystallises your motivation. Goals, challenges and structure bring organisation but also a satisfying reward to our creative endeavours.


Do please share your experiences and tips for setting goals, challenges and structure here.



Setting writing goals

Power of Goal Setting

Writing Structures

Kurt Vonnegut on Writing

Story Structure why it is important

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One Comment on “Conversation 76: Setting Challenges, Goals & Structures to Foster Good Habits in your Creative Writing Practice”

  1. Thanks for this article, Amanda. It is very inspiring. Like you I have several daily practices now. From writing at least a haiku a day, 4/5 weekly and now kigo themed haiku too. I also do daily affirmations, gratitude journal entries and good vibes which is an inspiring quotation. My life has structure and despite my chronic pain I.have been able to do it.
    One of my writing tips is to use a spider drawing. A circle in the middle and write the subject for your haiku. Then using spider legs, write words and phrases about the subject at the end of the legs and you don’t have to confine yourself to just 8 legs!
    Then you try writing three lines, then you try and fit them into the 17 or less syllables. Then you should leave it for a while and tweak it and there you have it.

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