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Paint one wall
The simplest shifts in our writing habits can have the greatest impact
This is Roots + Branches, a free newsletter on the craft and joy of writing and creativity by Root creator and award-winning author Julia Skinner. I hope it supports you in your creative journey!
For the last 8 years, I've needed to paint the walls in my house.
Yes, you read that right: 8 YEARS.
It's a task I actually kind of like doing (except for the part where you try to match shades of white paint, which makes me yearn for the sweet embrace of death), and since it's my house, no one can stop me from painting it whatever colors I want.
It's certainly much more fun (and cheaper) than the other home repairs I've done this year.
So why the hell has it taken me so long?
In short, because it's a task that doesn't have an immediately reachable goal: painting the whole house won't happen in a day or probably even a week (or a month), and since it involves moving all the furniture out of the way, it takes even longer.
Even when I tried to break it down into smaller projects, painting one room at a time, it still felt TOO BIG.
Enter my friend Ellen, longtime co-conspirator in house project conversations, who said "why don't you just paint one wall at a time instead?"
Suddenly, painting the house felt possible! Doable! Why had I never thought of this before?!
The next day, I started painting and taping things, and while my progress is kind of slow, I'm actually making progress, which is way more than I was doing before.
Setting writing goals that support our progress
The 'one wall at a time' advice got me thinking of the number of times I've given similar advice to myself, and to clients and other writers, when we're working on something that feels so big it's hard to see the end of.
The wall metaphor feels perfect, and exciting, and easy to grasp on an intuitive level, and since this newsletter is all about sharing writing ideas that excite me, I'm passing it on to you.
This one mindset shift gave me the ability to set goals that actually support my progress, rather than standing in my way.
The purpose of goal setting is not to force ourselves to do more, faster, but rather to foster the momentum that we already have. Goals are there to support consistent progress towards completing your book (or house painting, or whatever) and to provide you with evidence of that progress.
A good goal is one you can reach.
A good goal probably stretches you a little, maybe pushes you outside your comfort zone, and asks for you to consistently show up for your work. The best goals for me may not be the best goals for you (which is why I spend so much time with folks figuring how goals best work for them).
As a broad-strokes breakdown, I tend to think in terms of two kinds of writing goals:
Content goals ('write 500 words') and
Time goals ('write for 30 minutes')
Content goals are great when my time is more flexible or I'm really on a roll with a project. Time goals are great for when my days are busier or when I'm struggling to find my momentum.
Learning which feels more reachable for you, and when, is a huge step in setting goals that help rather than hinder your progress.
Many writers I work with set content goals almost exclusively, and find that the content goal they've set suddenly feels overwhelming.
What if I am struggling to find my writing momentum?
Will I have failed at writing that day if I don't reach my word count?
This is where timed goals come in handy: I said I would write for 30 minutes, I wrote for 30 minutes, I met my writing goal.
It's also helpful for parts of our process that aren't necessarily drafting or editing: Say, reading supporting material. Or, staring at the wall, or drawing bubble graphs, or doing the many other things that help us get our ideas out of our heads in the first place.
Or, just for days when writing feels hard and holding ourselves to a word count feels harder.
It's a way to help me witness my own momentum, and to honor the fact that progress can't always be measured in the number of words we put on the page.
It's a way for me to break down my writing from painting a room to painting one wall.
Setting different types of goals is a great chance to learn more about your own unique creative blueprint (the term I use to describe the specific way you write):
This week, try setting a timed writing goal (if you don't set them already) and notice how it feels in relation to your content goals.
Where does each type of goal fit into your writing practice? How can each support you in witnessing your own progress?
Some exciting news from my front, as in addition to my own regular writing practice, I've been expanding my writing coaching business and helping even more writers build a sustainable writing practice.
I'm amazed every day that I get to do this work!
I've mentioned Mycelia (skill-building a co-working groups for writers), as well as Bloom (two-month individualized writing coaching to help you find your own creative blueprint and build a sustainable practice).
Since we're entering into the mayhem of holiday season, I've decided to open up Bloom a bit further:
If you want to work with me in 2024 without being on the waitlist, you can reserve your spot now and start in the new year.
And, drumroll please, for something else I'm very excited about...
These are geared specifically towards your work and your creative journey, and I deeeep dive into both.
In addition to pulling cards, you get recommendations for herbs, crystals, movements, meditations, and other activities to support your unique work, plus channeled writing and any other information that comes through.
I've never seen anything like these, and the ones I've done already have been absolutely amazing (they're also entirely remote, so no need to align schedules with me to get one!)
So far I've done readings for creatives including writers, arts administrators, chefs, and engineers, so whatever your creative path, I'd love to help you!
My big goal is to help as many other creative folks as I can, and I'd love to support your + your loved ones' creative practice in the new year:
Newsletter subscribers get 50% off readings (either full-size ones or the smaller, more affordable version) through the end of the year. Just use the code CREATIVE2024 at checkout.
Use as many times as you'd like: For gifts and for you!
Folks who buy a reading as a gift (and, critically, contact me and let me know it's a gift!) by November 30th get a (free!) handmade, calligraphy gift certificate to share with the recipient.
If you buy a gift reading, shoot me an email (email@example.com) with:
the recipient's name
your preferred name
and the address to mail it to.
I’ll take care of the rest!
Whether or not we’re working together this year, I’m wishing you all the success for your writing practice as the year winds down.
And I'd love to hear your writing goals (or your goal setting successes!) for this month!
Thanks for reading Roots + Branches!
I'm on a mission to help my fellow creatives build sustainable, joyful writing practices that give their biggest, most magical, and important ideas space to come to light.
Thank you for your support, and happy writing!