by Jennifer Vander Klipp
Over at Pencildancer, we’ve been following the theme of Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. GMC is writing shorthand for the needed ingredients in a book. We spent January covering goals from different aspects, and in February, we discussed motivation. Now in March, we are talking about goals.
When you’re writing a novel, understanding conflict, what it is, and how to use it are tools you need to create a well-crafted novel. But to even begin to write the novel, you need to first resolve the conflict you have, personally, as a writer.
Just as your characters should have internal and external conflicts (with corresponding lessons to learn), you as a writer will have internal and external conflict in attempting to write your novel. And if you focus on the lesson you need to learn (let’s call it a goal or a priority), you’ll be able to manage that conflict and turn it into a novel.
Conflict and Connection
Part of what makes conflict emotionally treacherous is that it comes with a corresponding connection. Think about who you come into conflict with the most. It’s probably your family, close friends, or coworkers—the people that are closest to you. It’s because you have a connection that you have conflict. You care about them and their opinions of you and what you do. Or you spend a considerable amount of time in close proximity to them.
There is conflict when their words and actions come into opposition with your own. If you didn’t care about them, you’d just do what you want and not bother with what they thought.
For example, you probably don’t care nearly as much if a stranger sees you buying ten bags of Hershey’s Kisses, but you might hide nine of those from your husband (or children!) and parcel them out as needed. You may not care if your mother’s knitting group thinks you’re nuts for writing a novel, but it might bother you if you mother thinks that. The stronger the connection, the more likely their opinion will matter and the greater the chance for conflict.
Conflict and Change
One of the things that adds to conflict is that when two ideas, thoughts, or opinions come against each other—in many cases—one of them has to change. Nobody likes change. It’s part of our human DNA to want things to remain the same, whether that’s a good thing or not.
This correlates to connection. The closer we are to someone, the odds are one of us will have to change if there is a conflict. If someone at your kid’s school wants you to serve on a school committee on a night that conflicts with your writing time, you can say no and not change your schedule. She’ll have to find someone else, and you can just avoid her at school functions.
It’s a lot harder to avoid someone within your own house. If your kid has a rehearsal during your writing time, that’s harder to say no to without someone having to change his or her plans.
So far this has been a discussion about problems and not so much about solutions. Conflict does create a lot of chaos, and it can be hard to see through all of that to create a plan to move forward. So let’s talk about that goal or priority. Focus on that for a moment. Write it down.
What do you want to accomplish in this season of your writing? I use the term season because, at least in my life, things don’t stay the same for more than three or four months. Plus, that’s a chunk of time I can get my mind around. So let’s say for the next four months, my goal is to write two hours a day. I’m going to write that down and focus on that goal.
And I’m going to write down why I want to accomplish that goal. How will I feel when I do that? What’s my motivation? The emotional component is just as important as the logical one and will keep you sticking to your goal when you feel like giving up. So the reason I want to write two hours a day is that it will get me most of the way toward finishing my novel. And when I finish my novel, I will have the satisfaction of completing a huge project many people want to do but few actually do. And for many writers, it’s one stepping stone on a larger path to publication and a writing career.
Let’s see how that plays out in a couple of different scenarios.
If I’m going to write two hours a day, I need to mark that out on my calendar. Maybe it’s the same two hours every day. Maybe it isn’t. But by putting it on my calendar, I’m making it a priority.
So what happens when I run into a scheduling conflict? I need to run it through a filter based on my goal. Is the thing that is coming into conflict with my writing time of equal importance to my writing goal? Maybe my friend wants a McDonald’s Playland play date during my writing time. While it’s nice to have girl time while the kids are occupied, that can be scheduled another time, even if it has to be put off a week or two.
But what if the specialist I’ve been trying for months to get in and see only has an opening during my writing hours? I grab it. You can’t write if you’re not in good health, and doctors’ appointments are infrequent (hopefully).
You won’t be able to keep your schedule perfectly. Your goal should be to hit it 80 to 90 percent of the time. If you find you can’t do that, change when you’re scheduling your writing or go back and re-evaluate your goal. Maybe it needs to only be one hour in this season of your life. Maybe mornings will work better than evenings. Don’t be afraid to change what isn’t working.
Conflict with Those Who Matter
As we talked about earlier, the closer people are to us, the more likely we are to have conflict, and the more likely that conflict is going to matter to us. Explain to your family and close friends what your goal is and why it is important to you. Get them on board to help support you and be your cheerleaders. That way, when you are asking them to make changes to accommodate you, they’ll understand why.
Conflict with Those Who Don’t
There are a lot of people who will not understand or care about what you are trying to accomplish. They’ll ask you to do all sorts of things because they don’t consider writing important. So—to be blunt—if they don’t care about your priorities, why should you care about theirs?
That sounds harsh, and you don’t have to always act on that, but you need to consider it. In your filter of priorities, where do they fit? You can’t possibly do everything, or even most things, so you’ll have to cut out the things that aren’t a priority for you. Simply say, “I’m so sorry. I have a scheduling conflict.”
For the writer, it might seem as if everything is about conflict. You’re writing about conflict, you’re living conflict. It’s not going to go away, so make a plan to value your writing and those closest to you. Use your motivation and goals to conquer conflict. And then take notes so you can use it in your novel!