Call Me Maybe? Nay, Call Me Definitely.

Back in March, I set out on a mission: For the first time in my life, I wanted to write a novel from beginning to end. I had started two novels before that, approaching them as daunting, monstrous works that could only be completed if I took lengthy sabbaticals in a log cabin in the mountains where I would be served hand and foot by an sultry handmaiden with a penchant for Southern cooking and backrubs.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that never happened. (Although I’m still taking applications for the handmaiden. Must come with log cabin and internet access.)

We all have these daunting life goals that we think we’ll figure out “someday.” Someday you’ll write your novel. Someday you’ll go to Ireland. Someday you’ll hold a penguin like a baby.

As we build up these goals, we actually get further away from realizing them. That is, until we look around and see other people realizing the same dreams all the time. 

Over the last few years, I’ve seen writers all around me completing novels. Talented, albeit mostly unpublished authors. In fact, they’ve all written multiple novels over the last few years. They live busy lives, and yet they find the time to write. Nay, they make the time to write. Time isn’t going to find you. You have to grab it by the corset and make it yours. I’m talking about you, Anne, Trisha, and Regan. In terms of the novel writing. Not the corset grabbing.

So I gave myself two months. If you can’t commit to doing something in two months–something that means the world to you–then it probably doesn’t mean the world to you, and it’s probably never going to happen. Give it up and move on to new dreams. (The one exception to this rule is having a baby. Give that 9 months.)

This isn’t meant to be a self-congratulatory post (I already did that on Facebook), but I completed my goal. At 11:15 pm on Saturday night, I got to write “The End” at the end of a 74,226-word novel.

I have to admit, it felt amazing. I was beside myself with joy. There may or may not have been some sing-talking of “Call Me Maybe.”

I have a lot to say about the Two-Month Gauntlet, because I want to inspire people to give it a shot. It will be one of the most gratifying things you ever do. Blog reader Emma took the challenge and started a laughter yoga club, as did another writer friend of mine, so I’m not alone here. It can be done.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean this in a vague, ambiguous, inspirational speaker, “you can do anything if you put your mind to it” kind of way. I mean that you should pull out a piece of paper right now and write down five dreams you have, pick one, and start working on it tomorrow. I really mean this. Stop holding yourself back and make one of those dreams happen–not “someday,” but in two friggin’ months. Start out with a small one if you want.

Here’s how:

  1. Pick a goal for which you have control over the outcome. For a long time, my goal was, “write a bestselling novel.” In hindsight, that was ludicrous. I have very limited control over whether or not my novel is a bestseller. I can write a great novel and promote the hell out of it, but it may not matter. What I do have control over, however, is actually writing a novel. So that was my goal.
  2. Pick general, attainable daily goals that add up to the overall goal after two months. My goal was write 1,000 words a day. Your goal may not be a creative goal–maybe it requires money. Do something every day to save money (see my post from two years ago about planning for spontaneous travel), and something every day to make money. Even just a few bucks. There’s a lot of variation here depending on your dream, but the point is that you spend an hour or so every day working towards your goal. If the dream is worth it, it’s worth an hour a day.
  3. Move forward every day. I wanted so badly to go back and edit every day, but it would have been way too easy to get caught up in editing instead of moving forward. Focus on forward momentum, and in doing so, let go of perfection. Wouldn’t you rather accomplish something great in an imperfect way than not accomplish it at all? (Exceptions: bowling a perfect game and getting engaged. Shoot for 300 on both of them.)
  4. Give yourself a way to productively procrastinate. If you’re a master procrastinator like I am, use it to your advantage. Find something else that you should be doing over those two months and put off doing it. Pick something legitimately important, and every time you find yourself about to do it, procrastinate and work on your goal instead. I’m dead serious about this.
  5. Don’t overplan. Surprise yourself every day. It’s human nature–this is why we gamble. We don’t know what the next roll of the dice is going to be, but we’re thrilled to find out. With my novel, I wrote about a chapter a night, and at the end of the writing session, I wrote down a few ideas of what was going to happen in the next chapter. Beyond that, I had a few tricks up my sleeve, but I really didn’t know where my characters were going. Which sounds like total writer’s BS, I know. But it’s true. And it let me be surprised every day by what happened next. You know how I describe “the chase” as being the best and most elusive part of a relationship? My novel was one two-month chase, and I bet you can apply the same theory to your dream.

So yeah, I’m quite serious about this. I want this for you. I want you to dance to “Call Me Maybe”  too (wait, did I mention the dancing? Am I teenage girl?).

If you read this and have the balls to pick a dream–and if you’re serious about it–send me an e-mail at jamey.stegmaier@gmail.com. Or post it in the comments if you’re ready for public accountability. Specifically, tell me your dream and your daily goals to get there. If I have any thoughts, I’ll share them, but most likely you’ll just know that someone else out there is rooting for you. And I’d love to write about your experience on the blog in two months.

What’s next for the novel? Well, I’m sitting on it for a few days, and then I’ll read it for the first time and make any necessary sweeping changes. Then I’ll send it out to a few beta readers to see if it’s any good. If it is, I’ll send it out to a few more beta readers to give it a hard edit. Then I’ll send it out to one more beta reader to really show my manuscript who’s boss. And then we’ll see.

So go ahead and pull out that piece of paper. Write down a few dreams. And then, if you dare, circle one and make it yours.