How To Meet a Big Goal

 

On the summit of Jay Peak, a day away from the Canadian border

On the summit of Jay Peak, a day away from the Canadian border

Following a “footpath in the wilderness” from Massachusetts to Canada has helped me learn how to meet a Big Goal.

I’ve just returned from Hiking the Long Trail – the 275 mile recreational footpath that follows the spine of the Green Mountains the length of Vermont.

The trip was an unqualified success and, blisters aside, a great deal of fun. In addition to meeting all ten goals I set for myself beforehand, I also learned important lessons about writing. In particular, I learned how simple and easy it is to meet a Big Goal by setting and meeting daily, smaller, achievable and measurable ones.

While we set out to hike the length of Vermont, we did so by hiking between six and sixteen miles every day, for twenty-five days.

Over the chin of Mount Mansfield - Vermont's highest peak

Over the chin of Mount Mansfield – Vermont’s highest peak

The terrain varied. What remained fairly constant was not the distance we covered, but the number of hours on the trail. Every day, we woke, breakfasted, broke camp and returned to the trail. Only after we reached our nightly goal did we take time to wash, write, and read – except on the days we just collapsed.

Substitute hours at the desk for hours on the trail, and the analogy to writing a book becomes clear.

Wake, breakfast, write.

Everything else that has to be done will fall into place. For me, this means work on the novel first, then everything else. I’m not likely to miss writing a scheduled post, or fail to prepare for a lecture or class. But I won’t schedule or work on these tasks until I’ve put in two to three hours on the book first.

My goal is to finish this section by the end of the year.

So far, so good: my first week back was a complete success, and I’m determined to carry over the determination I had on the trail to life at my desk. Indeed, I learned so much about how to live from this long-distance hike, that I’ve started a new category on my Wednesday blog, Lessons From the Long Trail.

The trick now is to learn how to apply those lessons learned on the trail to life sitting still.

In the fire tower on Stratton Mountain.

In the fire tower on Stratton Mountain.

Novelist, essayist and educator Deborah Lee Luskin lives in southern Vermont.

The Short Form

The short form crosses the skills of puzzle solving with the compression of poetry

The short form crosses the skills of puzzle solving with the compression of poetry

For the past seven months, I’ve been writing, publishing, broadcasting and posting short form essays at a rate of more than two a week. This has been gratifying work, connecting with my various audiences who listen to my broadcasts, subscribe to my blogs, and read me in The Rutland Herald.

Even my pen-for-hire work tends to be in the short form, from 400-word profiles to 700-word essays.

I’ve come to love the short form, which forces me to choose the exact words I need and to arrange them in the most effective order. The short form requires clear emphasis to establish a sharp focus all while telling a very short story. I think of the short form as a hybrid that crosses the skills of puzzle solving with the compression of poetry.

I like the short form, and I think I’m good at it, at least most of the time. But I long for the long form.

I have two book-length projects in different stages: an incomplete rough draft of a novel and a rough idea for a long piece of non-fiction.

I long to write in the long form of books.

I long to write in the long form of books.

These two long thoughts keep me company like imaginary friends. They comfort me at the oddest moments: in the shower, in traffic, in my dreams. When I can, I jot down notes of ideas and tuck them away for later. If later ever arrives, I’m not sure I’ll be able to find them, but I don’t worry about that. I still have the ideas. What I haven’t yet found is the long time in which to write the long form.

The short form suits my current life, which has been interrupted by both duties and delights. The long form requires more consistency than I’ve managed lately.

I’ve managed the long form before, so I know I can do it. I even know how: rise and write – before breakfast, before chores, before coffee. But I’ve been resistant, which is normal; now I’m tired of that, which is good.

I'm setting off to hike the Long Trail along the spine of the Green Mountains, the length of Vermont.

I’m setting off to hike the Long Trail along the spine of the Green Mountains, the length of Vermont.

In need of a kind of reset so that I can double down by getting up early to work at length before pounding out short form pieces later in the day, I’m setting off on a long walk. Walking never fails to help me find my writer’s voice, so I’m looking forward to listening for it as I hike The Long Trail, which follows the spine of Vermont from Massachusetts to Canada.

I’ll be carrying a tent, a sleeping bag, and a camp stove, as well as a pen and paper. I’m sure I’ll be writing, but I’ll be offline for a month. I’m looking forward to being unplugged. Before I leave, I plan to schedule some reruns of favorites, both here and on my personal blog.

Barring bears, broken limbs or other unforeseen mishaps, I expect to plug in again in mid-September. In the meanwhile, I wish good words to you all. –Deborah.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin hikes and writes in Vermont and on the web at www.deborahleeluskin.com