Craft Book

Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #2

Creative Writing Goals

Do NOT feed the bears.


Negation is a complex linguistic phenomenon that is present in all human languages. It is a statement that might subconsciously appear affirmative on the surface yet is negative by default thanks to a process whereby a certain unit—word, clause, value—turns part(s) of the statement into its opposite. Examples: The sunset is INcredible. She does NOT want to be UNhappy. A life of riches is UNknown to them. NOT all vegetarians do NOT eat meat.

Goal-setting requires POSITIVE statements

A desired outcome should be stated in positive terms. All too often, when we set goals, or the intention to make behavior changes, we’re preoccupied with what we ‘don’t want’ because we’re so anxious to escape from, or avoid manifesting, the opposite quality of our desire. However, it really is more constructive to design goal-setting strategies that operate toward a positive outcome rather than away from a negative one. An example would be:

  • Incorrect: “I do not want to be so anxious anymore.”
  • Correct: “I want to be more relaxed and confident.”

According to NLP, it is not practically or logically possible to reach the negation of an experience.

Goal-setting for WRITERS

You can boost your creativity and productivity by thinking about the process of writing in positive terms. Focus on what works for you rather than try and avoid what doesn’t. Seeing as learning is a process, you should allow yourself to discover which strategies are more effective than others. Start by asking yourself some questions: Are you more productive at a certain time of the day? Does soft background music stimulate your creativity? What inspires you—good books or exciting movies, or both? Do you prefer working at home on a desktop computer or on your laptop at a coffee shop? What do you do to overcome writer’s block? Once you know the answers to these questions, rephrase the information in positive statements to set your goals. You can be realistic and reasonable in your goal-setting AND be positive too.

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, however, their actions may lead to the breakdown of their goals.

Let’s look at negation 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 and #1-part of this series for a recap of the book description before continuing with this part of the discussion.

goal-setting in creative writing

Library of Congress
Image in Public Domain

Shep’s dream about early retirement in the Third World stemmed from a positive association with his childhood vacations, when “kids were privileged with real summers, expanses of unscheduled time receding to the hazy horizon.” That’s what the idea of ‘The Afterlife’ was all about to Shep and—“He wanted his summer back. All year round.” Now that’s a great example of a goal-setting strategy that operates toward a positive outcome if ever I’ve seen one. You’ll find that this trait remains pretty constant throughout the book within the context of what Shep desires, which does NOT mean that our protagonist completely avoids negations in his general speech; using negations is a natural way of speaking (like I’ve just done). Example—Shep: “This isn’t a free country, in any sense of the word. [NEGATION] If you want your own liberty, you have to buy it.” [GOAL-SETTING].

Hence, it is acceptable to use negations in storytelling, as long as you keep in mind that a character who expresses avoidance language in terms of a desired outcome will demonstrate similar behavior. The opposite mental strategy will be true for a character who is drawn toward positive outcomes. These tendencies should be portrayed in a consistent manner until such time as the character has learned from his mistakes and personal transformation has taken place, or not, as the plot might require. The use of, and ability to overcome, negations need NOT be a big part of character development, or constitute a significant dramatic twist, in a story—writers should also strive to depict the subtle nuances that help to render three-dimensional characters. So, which part of the previous statement do you prefer? Does any part generate a positive response better than the other part? Or maybe the parts work well together because they compliment each other? Make sure to have fun in the way you use language—after all, you’re a CREATIVE WRITER, not so?

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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12 thoughts on “Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #2

  1. Isn’t this a cleverly written piece about negations? I agree with you that goals need to be stated in positive terms–much clearer and more actionable that way. As for characters, whatever is true to their personalities and humanity is good. Great reminder to attend to the details of how they speak and think–some might be more into negations and negativity, some not.

  2. Hi Jagoda, you’ve got such a beautiful and unusual name, but then – as you state in your blog – you’re from an interesting multi-cultural background. Thanks for visiting and offering affirmative feedback. I’m excited about my creative writing guide; by coincidence, I’m planning a section about conflict resolution, though I’m not sure that I’ll be blogging about that section … don’t want to give too much of the book’s content away at this stage. Let’s stay in touch.

  3. You’re really making me think with all these creative tips, Belinda! I have started reading SO MUCH FOR THAT with an eye on the development of Shep’s character via a goal-setting perspective. It’s an interesting study in presenting characters in a multi-dimensional way through the details. I’m with you so far and hope I can continue to learn from your lessons. Thank you!

  4. You’re so welcome, Kathy. And as I’ve said on FB, thank you for your support and for believing in my tuition skills.

    Out of respect for copyright issues and because I don’t want to include ‘spoilers’ in my analysis of Shriver’s book, I’m really just scraping the surface. As you know, it’s quite a big book (over 400 pages), and you’ll see that the story contains a strong sub-plot (the story of Shep’s friend, Jackson, and his family). It’s interesting to compare the plots to see how Shep and Jackson differ in terms of these goal-setting principles. Of course, the objective is not to judge the characters, but to see how this knowledge can help one as a writer to portray a character’s process of goal-achievement in a credible and interesting way.

    I don’t know how deep into the story you are at this stage, but I believe Shep was more respectful of the Ecology principle (tip #1) than Jackson. It does not (and should not) bode well for Jackson to change such a big (physical) part of himself without consulting his wife or considering the consequences. As for tip #2 – Jackson is more inclined toward an ‘away from the negative outcome’ strategy: Shep says this about him: “Jacks, you hate government. You’re an anarchist.”

    All for now; next week is about ‘sensory evidence’ – until then, have a lovely week.

  5. Hi Pat, thanks for stopping by. I’m hugely relieved that I can approach creative writing with all my skills intact rather than feel that the life coaching part of my career has come to an end. In this country, people spent so much time, energy and money on training, relocations and career changes and, yet, the unemployment figures are so high – maybe this is my (subconscious) way to resist skills wastage.

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

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

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

  9. Color me catching up, Belinda! I decided today would be devoted to reading the blog posts I’ve missed lately. These creative writing tips are beyond awesome. Negation wasn’t even something that immediately comes to mind for me, but I looked back in my writing and there it was in several places in my memoir wip. Now, as you say, I need to make sure that person is behaving in that same way! :)

  10. Sherrey, I’ve missed you; thank you for coming back and gracing MROP with your lovely presence. It’s such fun exploring one’s w.i.p. manuscript in the revision process and finding the most unlikely gremlins. I hope your writing is flourishing.

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

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