Craft Book

Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #1


Ecology has been defined as the study of interrelationships between an organism and its particular habitat, like an individual being a member of society or a sport club. The principles of ecology are important to the concept of evolution. Darwin suggested that an organism’s survival and reproduction depend on its ability to adapt to its environment. Likewise, the Law of Requisite Variety in systems theory refers to ‘flexibility’ as being key to survival.

Goal-setting requires an ECOLOGY CHECK

A desired outcome must meet certain conditions to produce a positive result. In NLP life coaching, the term personal ecology refers to the harmony of all the elements that make up the system within which an individual operates. All too often, when we set goals, or the intention to make behavior changes, we pursue the desired outcome half-heartedly because we, subconsciously, assume the change might upset someone else. It is, thus, important to purposely consider the ecological effect our goals might have on the various systems of which we are members—these can be our family and social groups, the workplace or any political, economic or global organization.

To make sure your goal is ecologically sound and well formed, start the process by answering the following questions truthfully:

  1. What, exactly, do you want?
  2. Do you know how to get it?
  3. Are you prepared to give yourself time to achieve such an outcome?
  4. Do you believe the desired outcome is possible?
  5. What will change in your life and your environment when you get what you want?
  6. Do you really want the change?
  7. How will the change affect other members of your groups?
  8. How do you expect others might react to the change?
  9. *How can you make changes to your life yet retain the positive effects of the current situation? [a complete discussion of the ‘positive intention of your current state’ will follow in a later post of this series]

In NLP, making an ecology check involves gathering information from an ‘objective’ perspective when considering the possible consequences of change on other members of groups within your environment.

Goal-setting for WRITERS

As a writer, you need to consider the personal ecology of your future career. What kind of support would you need from others to become as prolific as you’d wish to be? Who could be affected by your ambition? How would your readers benefit from your writing? Would anybody be at risk of being wronged by the work you intend to do?

Goal-setting is also a LITERARY concept

Not only do goals motivate WRITERS to be productive and creative but they inspire the actions of STORY CHARACTERS too—on the flip side, their actions may lead to the breakdown of their goals.

Let’s look at the value of ecology in the context of creative writing as it pertains to character development through a study of Lionel’s Shriver’s novel: So Much For That. You might want to refer to the introduction of this series for a recap of the book description before continuing with this part of the discussion.

Shep Knacker did, indeed, have an ecologically sound goal. He wanted to swap the so-called American Dream for ‘The Afterlife:’ early retirement in an idyllic Third World destination where his nest egg could last forever. His impression that you could survive in Africa “on a dollar a day” came from a family sojourn in Kenya when he was sixteen. It inspired him to work hard and salt away as much of his middle-class American income as possible, an endeavor that would persist until he was close to fifty. For most of that time, his wife Glynis shared the dream. Together, they did their ‘homework’—summer vacations became “research trips.” Shep’s colleagues envied him and his best friend, Jackson, fully supported the notion of ‘The Afterlife.’ Apropos ecology, I’d venture to say that Shep proceeded toward his dream with utmost integrity. But neither Glynis nor the American economy would remain as steadfast as Shep. On top of that, Fate would intervene with bad news.

Personal ecology in creative writing

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It is, ironically, in Shep’s refusal to acknowledge the reality of these new developments where you can expect to see the cracks start appearing. So, if Darwin suggested that an organism’s survival and reproduction depend on its ability to adapt to its environment, then the dramatic question in this novel is surely this: “Is Shep prepared to be flexible regarding ‘The Afterlife’ in order to salvage what he really stands to lose?”

Can you recall a time when you were on track to achieve a goal and then, suddenly, the outcome was thwarted by someone else or something outside your control? If so, how did you respond? Did you blame yourself for not having foreseen that possibility? Were you resentful about the interference? What about your favorite story or movie? Was the protagonist mindful of his personal ecology when he set his sight on the desired outcome? Can you recall a book or movie that features a protagonist who pursued a goal half-heartedly because he, subconsciously, assumed the change might upset someone else? Maybe you’d like to take a look at “Revolutionary Road” by Yates to examine the personal ecology of Frank and April Wheeler, a couple who felt superior to their middle-class surroundings and had little but disdain for bourgeois things like tract houses and mailboxes emblazoned with family crests. In the end, their bohemian ideals met with tragic results, all because of their inability to connect emotionally to their environment, each other and, therefore, their desires.

I hope now that you understand the dynamics of personal ecology in terms of goal-setting better, the knowledge will serve your storytelling well in future.

Follow my blog to learn more about CREATIVE WRITING as well as the dynamics of BEHAVIOR CHANGE and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT and how to implement these concepts in storytelling. Please watch out for the publication of my creative writing guide (title and publication date TBA soon), which will offer a more comprehensive discussion on Story and Character Development based on a Life Coaching Model.

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21 thoughts on “Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #1

  1. I love this set of questions, Belinda: “As a writer, you need to consider the personal ecology of your future career. What kind of support would you need from others to become as prolific as you’d wish to be? Who could be affected by your ambition? How would your readers benefit from your writing? Would anybody be at risk of being wronged by the work you intend to do?”

    The idea of the ecology of one’s own career (and life!) struck me as an original framework this morning. Thank you!

  2. Hi Shirley,

    It’s great to see you here; thanks for stopping by and offering encouraging feedback. It’s always such a good feeling to know that one’s work is inspiring to others in some way or another.

    In this day and age, it’s so easy to be “me” oriented – like the main characters in “Revolutionary Road” – and not realizing that our self-seeking actions do as much harm to ourselves as to others.

    Let’s all promote mindful writing!

  3. Your list of questions above are very relevant but need a little more emphasis of disclosing the strength of desire to achieve the goal. I used the same principles for years in industrial development programmes and they work.
    After those questions i asked participants to consider newton’s three lws of motion – since in progressing towards the goal they were inevitab;ly going to omve from the status quo. This was done in reverse order, with the Third Law first – the eual and opposite treaction one – and they were asked to predice the likely reactions to all proposed efforts and initiatives.
    TNewton’s second law is about the force needed to move a mass and relates directly to e effort required to reach the goal and whether the participants had the resources and commitment to apply that effort.
    The First Law of motion is about the effect of lateral forces and brings us neatly to mathie’s First Law of Goal Setting: When setting a goal and deciding theactions necessary to attain it always have at least three contingencies planned for when things go wrong becasue Sod’s Law says they will.

    I see no reason why the same principles can’t be applied to writing, but be warned, the more complicated you make the goal tghe more complex the consideration part of the process becomes and it would be easy to get lost in that and never begoin the adventure.
    There is something to be said for the simple ‘Go for it’ technique as long as you’re prepared to change course (still keeping the goal in mind) each time you beet Newton’s No3.

  4. Ian,

    Such a focused approach is, indeed, appropriate in the industrial development context that you describe. Although I don’t consider myself qualified for organizational development coaching, I have done executive coaching for many years (in addition to life coaching). In those instances, my coaching program regarding goals was a lot more comprehensive than what I’m proposing in my creative writing guide.

    I’m putting this ‘light touch treatment’ forward entirely on purpose; I want writers to be playful with these principles so that they can approach character development more mindfully. If they’re bogged down with the minute details of each principle, it might (to the layman) become a minefield of do’s and don’ts, which is not the objective of this creative exercise. Writing a historical novel has taught me the importance of treading lightly with the ‘facts,’ for it’s bound to trip you up in the creative process and, ultimately, mess up the story.

    Having said that, I appreciate your input, as always. And I can see how your approach and knowledge can serve a writer within a purely goal-setting coaching program.

    • Oh I agree, Belinda, A light touch is always better, even in the focussed industrial or commercial environment. In the end the better you undertand the principles the easier they are to apply.One is then able to apply the bits that are most relevant to the context.
      From your earlier comments I can see writing contexts in which a lot of variables will exist so the chpoice will be wide. Also, you’ve turned it into quite a fun approach.
      I likre things that are fun!

  5. Well, since you’re going to be my most important beta reader (just in case you didn’t know), I’d love you to put some of my thinking to the test and let me know how it works for you in practice. Of course, that means you’ll have to keep on writing, so don’t throw any of your notes away :)

    • My next book, Sorcerers and Orange Peel, should be out in late October and there was I thinking I could have the winter off to scan 2,000 old slides, sort out old and translate old notebooks and do a hpost of other things like trying my hand at fiction.
      So, bang goes the quiet winter. Sure, I’ll beta read for you and it will be fun applying the principles again in a new way.
      Mathie’s Second Law is always to have more tasks in hand than you can realistically achieve as it stops you getting lazy and, believe it or not, if you’re properly goal driven you willk somehow complete them all on time.

  6. Well, I’ll offer this in return: as soon as this guid is done and published, I’m focusing my writing career on fiction, so we could be fiction critique buddies. I can help you with structure and elements for fiction and you can help me with the psycho profile of my very badass protagonist … seriously, I’ve got to take him through a very dark period in his life committing a heinous crime – not easy writing the bad character as protagonist.

    • I’ll be delighted to help where I can but clinical psychology wasn’t my speciality. I was industrial and occupational, working primarily in the development of motivation and performance. Inevitably that involves dealing with some screwed up people but usually I haded them over to someone else to sort out and concentrated on driving the ‘normal’ ones insane with crazy activities that increased their dleivery tenfold. This wasn’t too hard as most people generally deliver less than 30% of their potential.
      That’s why this Goal Setting blog holds so much interest and I’m looking forward to seeing where you take it. Your NLP experience should produce some great stuff.

  7. In a pure creativity coaching setting, I make use of the Disney Model of Creativity. Walt Disney was a firm believer of the 3-step / 3-role approach to achieving a goal: the dreamer, the critic and the realist. Without acknowledging the value of all three, he said, you’d rather get yourself into trouble than get yourself where you’re supposed to go. His approach discounts the notion that ‘positive thinking is King at all times and under all circumstances.’ I’m so with Disney on that score! Maybe this will become another blog series with the objective of another how-to guide … hmmm.

  8. The set of questions you ask at the beginning are ones I am grappling with in my life right now. This series will be beneficial on 2 levels, one as a writer and secondly as a human being on the journey to self actualization. Great stuff, Coach!

  9. Hey Pat, it’s so good to hear from you. And I’ve just opened your email about posting your review of my book on Goodreads – thanks for that. It reminded me to check that I’ve posted mine of your book there too, so I’ll do that in the morning. I’m delighted to know that one coach can serve another coach. If there are any points you’d like be to elaborate on, be sure to nudge me. I hope all’s well on your side.

    • If one coach serves another coach, does that mean there could be little busses in the offing?
      (A very English joke for those in the US who speak American and to whom it may not mske sense).

  10. Belinda, dropped back and read your intro to this series, having overlooked it previously. This is going to be an interesting and exciting journey with you. I especially like the concept of “personal ecology” and the questions you pose. It certainly gives us fodder for character development, our own relationships, and future plans. Thanks much for writing and posting this.

  11. Hi Sherrey, you’re welcome. I’m very excited that my training allows me to be both life coach and writing teacher to my peeps. I’d love to get as much feedback on this series as possible for the final revision of my book, so please do share the link on your social media. Thanks for stopping by and your ongoing support.

  12. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #2 | My Rite of Passage

  13. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #3 | My Rite of Passage

  14. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #4 | My Rite of Passage

  15. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #5 | My Rite of Passage

  16. Pingback: Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #6 | My Rite of Passage

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