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 Talented, albeit mostly unpublished authors.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.

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.

7 thoughts on “Call Me Maybe? Nay, Call Me Definitely.”

  1. Ahhh yay, congrats! This was such a good exercise for me. I also have been trying to do something every day. I just took your advice again and made a small list. Gauntlet #2, here I come.

    I think you make a really good point, that if it matters to you, you make time. I actually am working on re-wording my responses of “I can’t afford it” or “I don’t have time” to new ones. Because, in actuality, it’s all about how you prioritize and choose to spend your money or time. And it’s good to be honest about what matters to you, and strive to spend your time, money and energy appropriately. It also makes me feel more free to do what I want, instead of being limited by “can’t”.

    • I also think it’s freeing that it’s only two months. If you really need to save up an extra $300, you can eat peanut butter and jelly and not go out at all for two months. It would be rough to do that for 6 months or a year, but 2 months? If it’s really that important to you, you can do it.

      Although, Emma, you’re going to start making people look bad if you’ve done two gauntlets before they’ve done one! 🙂

    • And, you should know that, while I am good for amazing backrubs from heaven and southern cooking from the gods, I may not be sultry. But I will wear a red cape if need be.

      Consider my application sent.

      • But do you have a cabin?

        And yes of course you get to be a beta. You come with the highest regards from the most respected Anne Riley. It’s just a matter of whether you’re a Round 1 beta or a Round 2 beta.

        Your guest blog is going up in a minute!

  2. Somewhere, on the shady back alleys of West Hollywood, Alia Shawkat is disappointedly going back to her cardboard box and trashcan fire after realizing that your new favorite song is not, in fact, about her.


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