Target Fixation is a Trap for Writers

As writers, we’re constantly pushing ourselves to get those words on the page. To finish the job. We work ceaselessly for months on end, pursuing the elusive goal of a completed novel. This is target fixation and it’s a phenomenon associated with bike racing and driving that can lead to disaster. Chasing after word counts and pages may accomplish the goal of having a completed manuscript, but is it any good? As it turns out, target fixation is a trap many writers fall victim to.

What is Target Fixation

Ever drive your car only to have the vehicle behind you seemingly latched onto your back bumper? Or perhaps you had a squirrel or rabbit zip past you, snagging the direction of your gaze? You’ve fallen victim to target fixation. 

Whenever you focus your mind solely on one thing, yoru awareness of your surroundings slips away. You fixate on one single target. Try to avoid it and you’ll find yourself plowing straight into it. This occurs many times in cycling races, where one rider targets the rider ahead. 

We often fixate on end goals when attempting creative ventures. We focus so much on our eventual success that we hardly notice the steps we take to get there. 

The Need for Quantity

There are certainly times when we need to churn out the pages. Certain writers thrive on that free form first draft as a way to feel out the story. After all, this is why NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was invented. Sometimes this goal-oriented mentality is the only way some people can get to the finish line with a manuscript. 

When Target Fixation Falls Short

What happens after we crank out 90,000 words and type “The End”? Will those pages be ready for publication?

It’s noble to set your goal of producing so many words each day. But what guarantee do you have that these pages will be any good? How much revision will be needed to get the writing into shape. Or worse, will you find you’ve gone int eh complete wrong direction and need to scrap the whole thing. 

Not all progress can be neatly captured into a number. 

A New Viewpoint on Goal-Setting

Crafting the perfect sentence. Pausing just long enough for inspiration to strike on that daunting scene. World building. All of these are stil progress toward a completed novel, yet often without the page output. 

And sometimes, removing pages is actually a way forward. Cutting unnecessary bloat or revising your writing can also progress you toward your goal of a finished manuscript. 

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t reach some arbitrary goal. Maybe it’s the universe telling you to slow down and think carefully about the direction you’re moving in. 

Your goals should be flexible and change with the needs of your work. 

Tim Kane

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