What’s Your $10 Million Cheque? ✍️
Or, Why Writing Goals are Important
Jim Carrey was flunking out. At least in his books.
Although Carrey has taken a lower profile lately, he is still one of the most recognizable stars in Hollywood. With hit movies including Ace Ventura, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber, he ruled the silver screen in the 90s and beyond.
It was a much different story in the 80s. After some success as a stand-up comedian in Toronto, Carrey moved to Los Angeles in 1983, trying to break into movies. He was doing alright – he got a spot on David Letterman, made some appearances in films like Peggy Sue Got Married, and even dated Linda Ronstadt for about eight months. Most people would chalk up any of those as a win!
But Carrey wanted more – and he knew his time in LA was running out. He famously drove up to a lookout on Mulholland Drive every night to visualize his success. One of these times he wrote himself a cheque for $10 million “For acting services rendered” dated for fall 1995 – a goal to work towards. Shortly before the due date, he signed the deal for Dumb and Dumber, getting him to that $10 million mark.
Yes, he “put it out to the universe”, but Carrey recognized the hard work involved, too.
“That’s the thing,” he told Oprah once. “You can’t just visualize and then go eat a sandwich.”
(You can scroll down to the end of this post to see a clip of that show on YouTube.)
Setting Goals is Important for Writers, Too
So what is your $10 million cheque? Do you have dreams of winning a Giller, a Pulitzer, a Booker? Do you want to get better and better as a writer, or is writing more of a hobby of sorts?
There are no wrong answers here. No matter where you want your writing to take you, visualizing yourself as a writer is important for several reasons. It helps you overcome things such as imposter syndrome and The Fear. But as Carrey said, visualization is not enough. You still have to sit down and write. You have to do the work.
Setting goals can help.
I want to be clear here: your goals can be as flexible as you want. They’ll depend heavily on what you want to accomplish as a writer. And, your $10 million cheque might change over time. But having specific goals is motivating and helps you focus on getting those words down onto the page.
Contests Make for Great Goals
Personally, I believe that contests make for great goals for writers of any level. That’s because:
They have a hard deadline
They give you other specs to follow as well, such as word count and sometimes topics/themes
There are contests available for just about every type of writing from flash fiction and haiku to novel excerpts, short stories, and longer creative non-fiction pieces
Contests help boost your ego whether you want to “get serious” about your writing or you’re just in it for fun. Submitting anything gives you a delicious sense of completion and satisfaction.
There are hundreds, probably thousands of contests out there. You probably know of some already. But if not, a quick Google search will uncover a boatload of them.
How Much and How Long?
The next question is, how much writing do you do during that time? For prose writers of all types, there are basically two ways to set objectives: by time spent or by word count. You can choose to work for a set amount of time such as an hour per night or three hours on the weekend, etc. Or, for example, you could write a thousand words per day or 5,000 words per weekend, etc.
Personally, I prefer timed sessions. That’s because some days the writing comes easily while other days... not so much. I don’t want to feel like a failure after putting an honest hour’s worth of work in! But some people feel extra motivated to reach that word count. (And, it may help you to write without thinking, which is a bonus too!)
Whatever you choose, give it a fair shake – at least six or eight solid writing sessions. If it’s not working for you by then, change it up as you like.
For poets and non-prose writers – honestly, I’m not sure what the best approach would be. Maybe write a certain number of lines? Or write until you finish a poem? Experiment here too, and see what works best for you. (If you’re a poet and you have some ideas, chime in below in the comment section below!)
A side note: scheduling your writing time is extremely helpful to keep you on track. If possible, schedule your writing time in advance. Ideally, writing every day will help you develop faster as a writer. But if you don’t have time every day or you are happy just working weekends, that’s fine too. Either way, setting specific days and times and sticking to them is another way to make sure you’re getting the work done.
Failure is Not an Option...
One last word. Goals are meant to be motivational, not stressful. If you fail to completely meet your goal… so what? Would Jim Carrey be happy with $1 million instead of $10 million? Maybe. Maybe not. The real question is: would you? Compared to the $0 Carrey had (or thereabouts) before he wrote himself that cheque, he would be much further ahead of the game. After all, 10 per cent of your goal of $10 million is a lot more than 100 per cent of nothing.
Basically, my point here is that failure shouldn’t be an option because we can reject the notion of failure altogether. Unless you are writing professionally, the only person who cares whether or not you finish that piece is you. So YOU give YOURSELF goals to help YOU get down to writing. And if that doesn’t work, YOU find something else that does work for YOU. Not every writing session is going to be a bed of roses. And there will be times when you simply don’t want to haul yourself to your laptop and do it. Give yourself a break already!
Which again circles back to my core philosophy: writing should be (wait for it...) FUN! You should look forward to your writing sessions, revved up to dive in and get creative. If it’s not fun some of the time, that’s normal. Push through it and do it anyway. If it’s not fun most or all of the time – something else is happening that you need to examine.
I guarantee you though, if you approach your writing with the main goal of having fun, you’ll win your writing sessions nine times out of ten.
Key Takeway: Setting goals like entering writing contests and setting a schedule to help you complete your piece are great motivators. But as always, your number one goal should be to have fun writing!
Fun Writing Exercise
This time, we won’t have a writing exercise. Let’s do some research instead! Go online for 20 minutes and find a writing contest. It could be any contest, anywhere, for any amount of prize money. (Just make sure it has a realistic deadline...) If you really don’t want to enter a contest, then find some publications that publish the type of writing you do.
Then, create your writing schedule and get to it!
For your further inspiration – watch Jim Carrey at the bottom of this post talking with Oprah on the couch about his $10 million cheque.
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!
Thanks for this, Graham.
I found an interesting idea recently Atomic Habits, namely that instead of thinking in goals, we should define systems that produce particular results, here, directly from my post (https://eightyfour.substack.com/p/james-clear-atomic-habits-takeaways?s=w):
1) Building a system is much better than setting goals
"Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results." Goals are fine, but how many people stop running after their (half)marathon? I know at least three. So you should "fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves." This will make you play the game (=process/system) and "your commitment to the process will determine your progress."
It is an interesting addition to the "goal" thinking, and it closely relates to creating an identity (also saying "I am a writer" instead (or on top of?) of saying you will write 1h per week. I wonder what do you think?
What a super insightful post Graham! And I love the title. Well done!!