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Goal-setting in Creative Writing: Tip #3

Goal-setting in creative writing

Image: Creative Commons License


Sensory perception refers to the level of awareness we bring to our external and internal worlds. In addition to our eyes, ears, skins, noses and tongues acting as filters for a range of external stimuli, we also have an internal map of knowledge consisting of thoughts, values, beliefs and a sense of self. A certain threshold of awareness of both these references is necessary for effective learning and communication. Increased sensory perception will help you to make more detailed and accurate observations about yourself and the world around you, an important life skill for personal development and relationship building that will serve you well in creative writing too.

Goal-setting requires SENSORY qualities

Your progress toward a goal must be measurable every step of the way. It’s good goal-setting practice to create a detailed mental image of the desired outcome—focus on the following questions:

  • What do you see?
  • What do you hear?
  • What do you feel?
  • What thoughts are you saying to yourself?
  • What emotions are you experiencing?
  • Where do you feel it in your body?
  • How do others respond to you?

In NLP life coaching, a sensory description of your goal gives you an explicit reference for evaluating ongoing progress and the end result to know whether you are successful.

Goal-setting for WRITERS

Find some quiet time, sit back and relax. Exercise your sensory muscles by meditating on the following:

  • Recall what your best friend from school looked like?
  • What would it look like if sunsets were green, instead of orange?
  • What is the most common phrase you usually say to yourself?
  • Spell your name out loud, then say it out loud backward.
  • Recall the smell of honey, then imagine eating a slice of warm, fresh bread dripping with sticky honey.
  • Fully access a memory of the most relaxing experience you’ve ever had; focus on where and how this sensation is manifesting in your body now.
  • Imagine what it would feel like to run over silky soft grass with your bare feet.
  • What was the saddest news you’ve ever received?
  • Describe your present state—what emotion are you experiencing right now; where and how is it manifesting in your body?

Now that you have stretched your sensory muscles, take note of the smell, taste, external sound, internal voice, emotion and kinesthetic quality associated with a particular visual image as you contemplate your creativity and productivity in the past, how you think and feel about yourself and the way you’re currently performing, and what you imagine could be possible in the future. Remember, mental images rich in sensory detail are more compelling than those that are flat, dull, scentless, insipid, dissonant and inanimate.

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.

I suggest you look at the value of sensory perception 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 as well as #1 and #2 of this series for a recap of the book description before continuing with this part of the discussion.

Pemba island, Tanzania

Pemba Island, Tanzania
Image available under
Creative Commons License

That Shep Knacker is a meticulous planner is no overstatement. We see in the book description that his key expectation of the ‘Afterlife’ is to be fully alive: “Traffic jams on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway will be replaced with talking, thinking, seeing, and being—and enough sleep.” We learn early on that the couple’s vacations were really “research trips,” jotting down practical details like the local electricity current of a specific destination. His observation skills obviously stem from childhood, and as early as that he demonstrated a practical mindset—at age sixteen, when he learned on a trip to Kenya that it was cheap to live in Africa, he asked his father, “So why don’t we take our savings and move here?” Shep Knacker plays it safe: he “always packed too much, covering for every contingency.” On top of that, he’s in touch with the metaphysical aspects of his life: “Like it or not, Shep’s element was water. Adaptive, easily manipulated, and prone to taking the path of least resistance, he went with the flow, as they said in his youth.”

So, what do you think readers can expect from Shep’s state of mind as his dream fades in the face of what fate has in store for him? Here’s an indication: “Carol asked how he thought Glynis was taking it, and Shep said that she was pissed off but that she was always pissed off, so it was hard to tell. Then Carol asked how Shep was taking it, and he seemed to find the question irrelevant. Obviously I’m scared, he said, but I can’t afford to be scared, or to be anything else, either. I’m the one who has to keep it together. So it doesn’t matter how I am. I don’t matter anymore. It was the first thing he’d said all day with real passion.” Later, toward the end of the book when Shep activates his dream again, he tells Glynis, “[Pemba is] warm [and the] beaches are white. The trees are tall, The fish is fresh. And the breeze is spiced with cloves.”

Imagine how you could use sensory descriptions as an explicit reference of where your character is ‘at’ in terms of his issues, goals, obstacles and success.

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 #3

  1. Wonderful summary of how our senses and our writing need to connect, Belinda. Thanks for a timely post useful in my class next week. I will share as a resource in my class Between Self and Story.

  2. Hi Shirley, you’re so welcome. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck with your class. Let me know how it goes and your students’ feedback, and also don’t hesitate to ask if you need more/better guidelines.

  3. Hi Joan, thanks for stopping by. I’m delighted to know you can put it to good use. Good luck with your project; I look forward to reading your memoir one day. Have a great week; do swing by again next Friday for another installment in this series.

  4. Excellent help here. Try to use sensory descriptions, feelings, responses in my writing. Sometimes in memoir that’s what reminds us most of the past or of an important incident..

  5. Hey Susan, you’re so right about sensory qualities being triggers for memories, meaning that a sensory observation can be a strong anchor of a particular experience. Did you know that emotion is the strongest anchor of them all? I know a lot of people seem to think that smell is a particularly strong anchor/trigger, but it’s actually the accompanying emotion that causes the experience to be so firmly anchored in our memory banks.

  6. This rings so many bells. Having just completed the fifth volume of my African Memoir series, Sorcerers and Orange Peel, (due out in October) I can see so much of relevance that i used when writing it.
    Since the African bush is an environment so different from the plains of Kansas, the great cities of thew world or the small farms of the Warwickshirecountrydide in UK, making my story accessible to readers from all these places and further afiled is important. Also, with the subjext matter being something betyond most people’s experience or understanding it becomes even more important to take note of the descriptive requirements in your checklist.
    Describing what it was like when the first sorcerer transformed himself into a new form right before my eyes is difficult enogh. But to let readers have any hope of understanding what it was about they need to share the feeling of the mice running down my spine, the hairs rising on the back of my neck and the terror of facing a wild hyena with only five feet separation and nohting between us to stop an attack. The rotten carrion smell of the animal stood out against the hot dusty smell of the bush. This and the feint background amoniac smell of termites assaulted my nose while the haunting call of the mysterious hoopoe as it flopped from bush to bush and the incessant scrapings of crickets that count for silence in the bush ocupied my ears.
    Yes, indeed, one needs to use all the senses when writing and it’s just as important in non- fiction as it is for fiction.
    For those who are interested more details about Sorcerers and Orange Peel will be released soon.

    • Yes Belinda I certainly did get it. I thought I had acknowledged. If not, apologies. Writing seomthing for that is in fact my current task. I have drafted two sections and hope to have done two more by Monday.If they knit together as planned I will then float them over for your consideration.

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

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