Have you made some New Year’s resolutions? “This year I’ll lose weight, get more exercise, write that novel, marry Prince Harry.” Sadly, only about 8% of people actually keep the promises they make to themselves. One of my goals for 2014 was to finish the first draft of my novel, but I fell way short of that mark. It’s easy to beat ourselves up when we don’t meet our expectations, but that doesn’t mean we give up. Perhaps we need to set more achievable goals or come up with a better plan for achieving them.
In my former life as a social psychologist, I came across a theory that might explain why our resolutions don't always lead to actions. According to the Theory of Planned Behaviour, there’s a correlation between our intention to perform a behaviour and what we actually do. No surprises there. However, our intentions are affected by three things: attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control. Okay don’t panic! Let me give some examples to show what each of these mean and how they apply to our writing goals.
If you feel there are more positives than negatives associated with a particular behavior, you’re more likely to do it. As you’re reading a blog from a writer’s group, I’ll go out on a limb and assume that you’re already favourable towards writing. Creating something fresh gives you a buzz. You like the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a manuscript or receiving positive feedback from a reader. However, it’s not always fun. It can be hard slogging your way through the middle section of your novel without any guarantee that you’ll find a publisher.
While it’s important to be realistic, we need to recognise that the negatives are not always the barriers we perceive them to be. Yes, it is harder to get published these days. Yes, most writers don’t make a lot of money. Yes, cleaning the oven would be more fun than editing the mess you wrote yesterday. However, don’t use the negatives as excuses to give up. If God has given you a desire to write, He’ll enable you to do it.
Subjective norms are based on what significant people in our lives think and also the values that society places on a goal. For example, if writing is seen as something worthwhile and our family and friends encourage us, we’ll be more likely to write.
If you’re already feeling discouraged because the people around you aren’t as supportive as you’d like, your dreams don’t have to stop there. You can surround yourself with like-minded peers who do value writing. Groups like Christian Writers Downunder, Omega Writers, FaithWriters and Australasian Christian Writers can provide the support and encouragement you need to pursue your writing goals. There are also many genre-specific groups that will adopt you as part of the tribe, whether it’s romance, science fiction, creative nonfiction or Amish steampunk. In the cyber world, you never have to swim against the tide alone.
Perceived Behavioural Control
Perceived behavioural control refers to our beliefs about whether or not we can perform a particular behaviour. Can we actually write that novel, screenplay, magazine article or biography? It’s important to note the word “perceived” here. Our intention to pursue a particular writing goal doesn’t depend so much on our actual ability, but on whether or not we think we can perform the behavior and whether we have the resources and opportunities to do so. Perhaps spelling and grammar aren’t your strong points or a significant person was critical of something you’d written. Maybe you have seven unfinished novels in your drawer and have lost confidence.
The good news is that we can always learn and improve. Try subscribing to a writing magazine or joining a critique group. Go to workshops in your area or enrol in one online. However, as Christian writers we also have a huge advantage. We have God on our side. Nothing used in His service is ever wasted. If you have a desire to write and you step out in faith, the Holy Spirit can nurture your gifts and guide you in your journey.
Although attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control can all affect our intention to write, intentions are more likely to translate into actions if we’re specific. If your New Year’s Resolution is to write a book, try breaking it down into manageable steps. For example: “I will attend the workshop on ‘plot and structure’ being offered by my local writers’ centre (or enrol online).” “I will buy some index cards and use them to jot down ideas for different scenes.” “I will write X words per day or per week.” You’re more likely to do it if it’s something concrete and manageable.
Don’t be dismayed if your plans for 2014 didn’t quite work out. It’s a brand new year with a whole new set of possibilities. Let’s stand alongside each other in prayer and cheer each other on towards our writing goals for 2015.
What are your hopes for the new year?
Nola Passmore has had over 140 short pieces published, including poetry, devotions, true stories, short fiction and magazine articles. She's currently writing her debut novel and loves encouraging others to develop their God-given talents. She and her husband Tim have their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish. You can find her writing tips blog on their website