Gradual Exposure


For many reasons, we set writing goals–and then promptly get stuck. The reasons vary:

  • The goal is overwhelming, and we don’t know where to start.
  • We don’t have an hour or two each day to devote to reaching our goal.
  • We don’t really believe you can reach goals “a little bit at a time.”
  • We see others going gung-ho toward similar goals and feel intimidated by their (seemingly) effortless success.

Easy Answer

Regardless of what your writing goal is, one answer that nearly always works is the concept of “gradual exposure.” Certainly gradual exposure can be a negative thing, like the poor frog who is boiled alive when the water temperature gradually rises. But “gradual exposure” can also be a very positive–and easy–concept to work into your writing life.

Gradual exposure simply allows you to take actions toward your daily and long-term writing goals little by little. These small actions build on each other over time and form habits (such as daily writing, networking with other writers, writing a novel, etc.) According to Kelly Stone in Living Write“This technique [of gradual exposure] is particularly helpful in areas where you have resistance to writing or fear taking some action that is required to attain the success you desire.”

One Task Per Day for a Week

Stone’s recommendation for gradually inching your way into your desired writing habit is to break down the task into tiny baby steps. You take one baby step toward your goal every day for a week. And you try to enhance or increase the action daily until you reach your goal.

Example: Let’s say your goal is to eventually write an hour every day. Currently you only write sporadically. Your first week of gradual exposure might look like this:

  • Monday: write 5 minutes
  • Tuesday: write 10 minutes
  • Wednesday: write 15 minutes
  • Thursday: write 20 minutes

and so on until you hit 60 minutes per day.

Or maybe you want a production goal that gradually gets you to the point where you can write 2,000 words per day. Start small, and increase daily by small amounts.

  • Monday: write 200 words
  • Tuesday: write 250 words
  • Wednesday: write 300 words
  • Thursday: write 350 words

Each day is a tiny stretch, but with enough tiny stretches, you can soon be writing those 2,000 words per day this way.

Other types of writing tasks can also be accomplished using ”gradual exposure.” Let’s say you want to eventually have a successful social networking group of writer friends. When starting out, it can look overwhelming! But by using gradual exposure, you can get your feet wet and not feel like you’re drowning. This can apply to getting involved in Facebook, on Twitter, commenting on blogs, writing a blog, etc.

  • Monday:  subscribe to five writing blogs
  • Tuesday: read two blog posts and leave one comment
  • Wednesday: read four blog posts and leave two comments
  • Thursday: [continue building until you scan perhaps ten blogs daily]

When you’ve met your blogging goal, set up a gradual exposure schedule for creating a Facebook page, inviting friends, commenting on others’ posts, etc.

Gradual Vs. Gung-Ho

For me, I think the “magic” of gradual exposure is that I am not so apt to give up before reaching my goal. My personality tends to want to rush in and do it all RIGHT NOW–or do nothing. (e.g. decide to get in shape and start by running two miles although I haven’t run in a year; decide to get serious about studying the writing craft, read for five hours and get a ripping headache)

I tend to have rapid burn-out because my enthusiasm takes me where my tired body can’t keep me. The technique of gradual exposure prevents you from doing stupid things that lead to early burn-out and quitting. It applies to any goal you have in mind.

Are there some writing habits you would like to incorporate into your week? If so, I’d encourage you to try this method of gradual exposure. While it may not feel like you’re accomplishing a lot in the beginning, if you keep it up, you’ll be well on your way in a matter of days.

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