12.20.2006

Thoughts As I Go #6: Gap Analysis For a Writing Life

Paper Coach : Teach Yourself to Write Fiction

Phase:1, Month:4, Week:3
Phase:1, Month:4, Week:4

I just completed Chapter 21 in Cameron’s The Right to Write. It was an interesting chapter, and I wanted to share a few thoughts from it that feel useful.

Here’s a paraphrase of useful thought #1:

“…explore daily what [you] can do to move the life [you] have closer to the life that [you] want…”

To begin with, this is a useful focus for one’s morning pages, and I suspect that this fact is no accident. Additionally, in project management terms, this is called gap analysis.

In classic, simplified gap analysis, we first make an accurate and objective (key requirements, those) assessment of where we are now. Next we draft a realistic and achievable (more key words) statement of where we want to be. Last (and it’s important to do this part last), we list the clear and measurable (two more important qualifiers) steps required to get us from where we are to where we want to be. Afterwards, all that is left is following the steps.

Upon reflection, it strikes me that a number of Cameron’s exercises are aimed precisely at guiding the reader through a gap analysis for the writing life. She writes exercises to help you understand who you are and what obstacles plague you. Next there are exercises aimed at showing you the life you hope to have. And she includes at least one daily exercise (morning pages) for clearing your head, reflecting on your next steps, and taking at least the one step that must be part of anyone’s plan for getting from A to B; namely, writing.

In its classic form, however, meeting the qualitative requirements when drafting the three components of the gap analysis (Where are we at? Where are we headed? What's the gap?) are what really makes your plan into something more than just a curious exercise.

For instance, an accurate and objective assessment of our current writing life takes a form similar to “I write at least one page 3x per week, and I read approximately 30 pages of writing instruction per week.” While a statement like, “I write” or “I write a lot” is neither accurate nor objective, because it is not measurable.

Similarly, a realistic statement of where we want to be as writers cannot read “I want to complete my first novel next week”; especially if we’ve written precisely 50 words so far. Also unacceptable: “I want to write 5 novels next year” or the like.

As for crossing the gap, "clear and measurable steps" translates into statements like, “I want to write for at least 1 hour, 5 days per week, at least 3 weeks per month for 6 months” or “I want to write 50 draft pages on my novel each month.” Not, “I want to write more than I’m writing now,” or “Read more writing books.” Again, not measurable.

The steps across the gap from A to B should also include milestones. These are achievement points that are not tasks themselves, but indicate a point of progress in which we may take pride. For example, “Completed 1st draft” or “Read all three grammar books” are both decent milestones.

I’d like to add one more qualitative requirement for our plan to cross the gap: whatever steps we choose -- for getting from where we are to where we want to be as writers -- must resist backsliding. Our steps must be sustainable as ongoing habits.

It does no good to add a new habit (a step) to our lives one month, only to give it up the next. If “Write 1 page of anything, every morning, at least 5 days a week” is step one in forging a new writing life, then that step needs to be a commitment for which our lives have long term, even permanent, room.

That said, I still feel we could do worse than use Cameron’s The Right to Write to draft a gap analysis of our writing life. Start by accurately and objectively defining where you are (Point A). Next, define an achievable and realistic goal (Point B). Lastly, list clear, measurable and sustainable steps (tasks you must accomplish) that take you from Point A to Point B. All tasks (new habits, realy) need specific timeframes, so you can state with certainty when you've accomplished them.

As long as our plan includes actual writing, I think gap analysis can help us improve our writing habits.

Good luck, write on, and never look back!

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