Why Some New Years’ Resolutions Are A Bad Idea

Will you change your stripes in 2013?

Will you change your stripes in 2013?

Happy New Year, Collaborative Writers!

Here’s a thought that’s been forming in my mind over the past few days, while I’ve been engaged in reading other people’s New Years’ resolutions. Many of these resolutions sound extremely ambitious. Even if these people do the work they say they’re going to do, at some point this coming year, they’re going to lose steam, get sick, or become physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted by their own resolve.

Instead of plowing willy-nilly into your resolutions, consider something educational professionals have known for a very long time: you can only expect to make one major change in a short (three-to-six-month) timeframe.

The aphorism was, and is, expect anyone in the process of learning brand new skills to backtrack a great deal on their way to change. In other words, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to live up to the deep change most people imply with New Years’ resolutions, for reasons that are not entirely in your control.

You don’t lose initiative, per se, you just don’t take into account how difficult permanent change really is.

When we make resolutions, we’re usually also trying something new. One of those new things might be increasing how much time we give to our writing, for example, or changing the way we think about our writing. Maybe your resolution is to get up earlier and spend more time writing. But what if you don’t get up early now? You’re talking about adding two new systemic changes into your life.

If you seriously want to change your habits, what you should consider is trying one new thing this year. Only one. Make that change permanent, and only after you’ve changed one thing, try to take on another.

Honest-to-god, systemic change, is much, much harder than people who are motivated in the moment take into account when they’re busy making their unrealistic resolutions.

One thing to keep in mind is deep-seated ambivalence. Since changing what time you get up each day requires you to shift a whole bunch of other things around, and reorder your day, you have to know that when you decide to focus on your writing, turn off the television, wake up earlier, push your grandchildren away, or set boundaries around your time, you’re also dealing with any number of reasons why you don’t want to change, including guilt, and a possible lack of belief in your abilities. You have to allow yourself to be ‘selfish’ about how you use your time, and you have to put yourself first.

Those, on their own, might be major changes for you. If you’ve never put yourself first (or done it very rarely) the overwhelming guilt might undo your best resolutions. So instead of thinking about change as ‘merely’ difficult or hard, think instead about what you’re giving up to make these changes, because the thing you’re giving up will pull and tug at you in ways that make you react with ambivalence when any residual emotional need you haven’t adequately addressed rears its ugly head and interferes with your resolve.

You can do it, it’s just not as easy as many people would like it to be.

Change is not automatic; it takes time, resolve, and persistence. You have to believe in yourself and honestly want the change that you’re pushing on yourself. Good luck and best of wishes in this new year!

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The Intrinsic Writer

Deep River Dream, Robin Urton

Intrinsic writing

is about writing for your own, self-motivated reasons, such as the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal you’ve set for yourself, or discovering something about yourself.

Intrinsic meaning occurs during an autotelic activity, one we direct and have a sense of control over. You become an intrinsic writer when you write because you feel like it; or more importantly, because you feel happier and more engaged with life when you’re writing.

Alternatively, extrinsic writing is about writing for an externally-motivated reason (a deadline, a publisher, need for approval, to win against an opponent as part of a competition). This creates an exotelic situation, which comes with a potential problem: since we are all raised within an agonistic worldview, one’s exotelic reason for writing too often involves some form of competition.

This might never be a literal competition. Instead, this could be the sense that anonymous others are achieving when you’re not. To the extent that you are motivated and feel good about yourself, responding to an externally-motivated stimulus has little or no negative connotation.

Blooming Meditation, Robin Urton

Ideally, of course, competitive situations are supposed to be pleasurable and bring out our best.  However, when it comes to writing, an activity complicated by individual psychology, emotional states, and perceptions of reality, there can be a negative component to being raised in a strongly competitive culture.

Because competition is not necessarily a positive energy, there’s a potential chasm lying between autotelic and exotelic writing. There are specific times when writing goes badly or feels forced. I believe at least some of these moments are caused by external, socially-reinforced stressors on the writer.

There are certain expectations imposed on those who come to the writing situation. For the writer to succeed, she must overcome hurdles that do not necessarily exist for those who fulfill the ‘social contract‘ of what a writer is expected to be, based on what we’ve been told to believe—our legacy of writing myths.

A Dreamer’s Odyssey, Robin Urton

‘Successful’ writers, I think we can agree, have all, to a great extent, accepted the unspoken social contract that says that writing is, like any other commercially-viable activity, competitive in nature. In addition to money, fame and glory, there is something for the successful writer to “win,” and it’s called cultural capital—not an insignificant possession, since it grants you access to power in ways that should be discussed more often than they are.

Cultural capital is a form of social cachet or status granted to the person who attains intellectually significant achievements. That these achievements are defined by a group in power with cultural values that shift and change over time is a detail that goes largely undiscussed, since instead we focus on the writer’s attainment, rather than the elitism of the cultural milieu in which she attains whatever status is granted to her.

Meditation Dream, Robin Urton

But what happens for the writer whose self-motivation is provisional, who depends largely upon someone else’s approval if she is to continue writing without feeling discouraged? To continue being interested in the challenge of writing, she’s going to have to add to the complexity of her own writing experience by adding new skills. Ideally, complexity should be balanced by a difficulty factor that includes attainable goals.

By using the word ‘attainable,’ of course, I have complicated the situation, since many goals you might want to achieve seem utterly unrealistic if you believe the myths about writing and writers we have inherited through the centuries, so let’s look at some of those myths.

Writing is an activity unlike any other for one specific reason: writers are imbued with magical ability because society puts high value on the ability to communicate in ways that affect our emotions. This is true, I believe, because we don’t understand ourselves very well, and we’d like to think that writers and other artists have a mystical understanding of humanity’s inner dimensions, combined with an ability to explain ourselves to ourselves.

Then society decides that ‘good’ writers (usually writers who can explain the human condition via poetry or lyrical prose) are so special, so magical, so inspirational, that the writer is placed on a pedestal of heroic proportion. During this process of ‘deification’, the writer becomes A Great Author, and society loses any sense of proportion in terms of valuing the person as an average human being.

Brave New World, Robin Urton

The danger of being externally-motivated in an environment where writers are pitted against one another, and are encouraged to live up to a mythic status available only to an anointed few, seems clear. Only the intrinsic writer will succeed in having a meaningful reason to write when up against such strong beliefs about what makes writing and the writer important and valued.

As long as we continue to perpetuate the elitism that surrounds the act of writing, we risk alienating potential writers who lose faith in themselves when they come up against hurdles that have nothing to do with ability, talent, or skill, and everything to do with perception, belief, and mythology about writing and writers.

Writing to Persuade: Proven Techniques That Convince Others To Listen To You, Take You Seriously, And Change Their Minds

Making Aristotle and Plato palatable!

My book about how to argue effectively is now available on Amazon.com! I am in the process of getting them to ‘unlock’ it so that the reader can look inside it.

Writing to Persuade: Proven Techniques That Convince Others To Listen To You, Take You Seriously, And Change Their Minds is intended to be a guide for those who need to construct an effective argument.

These days, argumentation can include anything from writing political blogs, to letters to the editor of your local newspaper, to convincing your partner to buy something they don’t want to spend money on, to convincing a wide audience that their perspective is limited by a lack of information. What connects all of these writing situations is the need to persuade the listener or reader of your way of seeing something.

The goal with persuasion is not, in and of itself, to be proven ‘right.’ Being right is often attained at the expense of furthering the conversation, and will also usually lose your audience. Your audience isn’t as concerned with who is right or wrong as they are with results. Effective argumentation shows you how to see an issue comprehensively, holistically, so that instead of focusing on ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ you become aware of the issues at stake.

An effective argument is usually an impassioned argument that contains enough believability and factual evidence, that it impresses your listener with the power of your position. To persuade is not to cajole, manipulate, or ‘sell’ someone on an idea. Instead, a truly persuasive argument educates. You broaden your audience’s awareness of a subject, with the goal of helping them understand the subject, and see it from your perspective.

To argue effectively is to gain the respect of your listener, no matter how opposed s/he is to your position. Anything less is not oratory or rhetoric in the traditional sense; it’s mud-slinging and manipulation, neither of which I believe in. If the goal of argumentation is to educate and enlighten, nothing comes of ad hominem attacks, or any of the many tactics used against one’s opponent.

That’s why I wrote this book: to provide an easy-to-read, quick, and accessible view of argumentation, and to show that it’s actually quite simple to persuade others when you have the goal of understanding each other in mind, rather than ‘winning’. This book is not about winning an argument, being right, or appearing smarter than your opponent; it’s about approaching the person you disagree with, with respect, realising that they have a right to their position.

And yet you will show them how your position is ultimately the better, more reasonable, sensible approach. That’s the essence of effective argumentation, just as it is in creative writing: show, don’t tell.