ROW80: The Writing Challenge That Knows You Have a Life

Posted by Kathy Waller

It is a truth universally acknowledged that to accomplish anything of worth, one must first set goals.

English: 85. Functions and Use Scenarios Mappi...

English: 85. Functions and Use Scenarios Mapping to Requirements and Goals (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Richard J. Mayer and others [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But goals drive me crazy, and that’s no secret either. Periodically, fellow Austin Mystery Writer Gale Albright pulls out her notebook and says, “All right. Let’s write down our goals.” Her goals, my goals, goals for us as a team. She’s serious about goals.

As soon as she says the magic word, I start a major case of the fantods. I can come up with goals, but when I see them on paper, claustrophobia sets in. I dig in my heels and think, “I will not do [whatever I’ve written that I will do]. And you can’t make me.” Sometimes I don’t just think it–I say it.

I’ve said it to Gale so often that now when she pulls out her notebook, she begins with, “I know you don’t like goals, but…”

I don’t think she knows I have a long history of goal-setting–I love trying to organize myself. And there are so many goals out there just itching to be adopted.

Writing challenges lurk all over the Internet: Write every day, write a thousand words every day, keep a journal, do morning pages, do evening pages, write for an hour-two hours-three hours every day, produce a 50,000-word novel in November by writing 1,667 words a day…

That last, which you no doubt recognize as the goal of NaNoWriMo, really drives me up the wall. Every year, I register. Then, every October 31, the fantods set in, and there goes my chance of winning. I’ve given up all hope of getting a NaNo tee-shirt.

row80logocopySeveral years ago, however, I discovered a writing challenge I can live with: A Round of Words in 80 Days: The writing challenge that knows you have a life.

It goes like this: Each year, there are four 80-day rounds. On the first day of each round, participants decide on goals and post them on their blogs. Then they put links to their posts on a ROW80 Linky for a ROW80 blog hop.

For the rest of the round, participants report their progress on Sundays and Wednesdays, and publish their links on the day’s Linky.

If they’ve met their goals, that’s great. If they haven’t, that’s life. Participants are free to change goals and post new ones.

Anyone who wants to join is welcome, and it’s okay to jump in at any time during the round–just post goals on the next Sunday/Wednesday check-in day and go on from there.

I’ve done ROW80 several times without even a hint of the fantods. The secret, I think, is in the subtitle: The writing challenge that knows you have a life.

I have a life. And sometimes it gets in the way. Cedar fever, company coming, hauling cats to the vet–so many things can bump writing down to second or third or tenth priority. When I  set out to write every single day, or one hour every single day–or adopt any goal set by someone else–and then don’t meet that goal, I’ve failed. And I’m likely to stop altogether.

But ROW80 not only allows me to set my own goals, it also acknowledges I might need to set them aside. It allows me to tweak them, change them, and if I need to, scuttle them and start over. There’s no pressure to conform or to make excuses for lapses. I’m in charge.

Now, here’s the evidence that I’m a little crazy: No matter what goals I set or what challenges I face, I’m always in charge. No one stands over me holding a machete to make sure I write one hour a day. No one pins a Scarlet F-for-failure on my tee-shirt when I don’t write in my journal.

Nobody. Not even Gale.

But there’s a flexibility to ROW80 that somehow makes goals easier to live with. I’m free, free, free… In addition, I’m not in this alone. At present, fourteen bloggers have registered on today’s Linky. Tomorrow there will be more. Reading their posts is instructive as well. Participants don’t make excuses; they evaluate, consider what didn’t work and what might work, and go from there.

Yesterday I drafted some goals, posted them on my blog, and registered on the Linky. On Wednesday, I’ll report on my progress, or possibly on my not-progress. But when I’m part of ROW80, I usually make some progress, even when life gets in the way.

Rules for A Round of Words in 80 Days, appear here. Information about how ROW80 started appears here. Find the ROW80 blog here.


fantod: Usually, fantods. a state of extreme nervousness or restlessness; the willies; the fidgets (usually preceded by the)

I came across the word fantods in a story by O. Henry and liked it so much I decided to have the fantods as often as possible.


Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly
and at the group blog Writing Wranglers and Warriors
as well as here at Austin Mystery Writers.
Her short stories appear at Mysterical-E
and in Murder on Wheels



15 thoughts on “ROW80: The Writing Challenge That Knows You Have a Life

  1. Boy, you sure hit the nail on the head. I think we’re both so stubborn that we don’t like to be told what to do, even from ourselves! I’ve been battling this for weeks.
    I do like to make lists and check off items. But what motivates me the most is getting rid of that sick, guilty feeling in my stomach when I accomplish things. Then I feel free!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Moi, stubborn? Well, yes, stubborn is the word. I love listing and checking off but don’t like doing the thing that has to happen between. I have trouble believing you battle this kind of thing–I mean, you’ve written a novel with beginning, middle, and end. That must make you feel free to the nth degree.


  2. Reblogged this on Kathy Waller and commented:
    Today I’m posting on the Austin Mystery Writers blog about A Round of Words in 80 Days (ROW80): The Writing Challenge That Knows You Have a Life. I hope you’ll want to read the entire post. To do so, click the link at the bottom of this excerpt.

    (If you read the whole thing, you’ll find out what I mean when I say I have the fantods.)


    • I think everyone I’ve ever known has had them. Except perhaps my calm and rational husband. I prefer the fantods to butterflies or the heebie-jeebies. It sounds like a more serious condition.

      Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry I didn’t make it to Malice. I was looking forward to seeing you.


  3. Hi, Kathy! I followed you over from ROW80. I so know what you mean about the fantods (love O. Henry!) I used to be the same way.

    What I do now is set lots of goals – but set them as a buffet. That way, they’re a selection of lovely options I can sample, nibbling or devouring as mood and life allow. It’s something I’ve learned from my unschooling kids, and it totally works for me!

    See you around the Round!

    Liked by 1 person

    • P.P.S. Explanation: No, I was in the Austin Mystery Writers blog instead of my personal blog, where I should have been. (See rest of comment.) Anyway, this is a reply from Kathy Waller, who wrote the post to which these comments are attached. I need a nap.

      Do you mind if I quote part of your comment in a post that will appear on a different group blog? I link to your blog and to ROW80 in the post and will send you a link to the post when it’s up. It will appear on July 19. Here’s what I say:

      A ROW80 friend who blogs at shanjeniah’s Lovely Chaos offered a perspective on goal setting that complements ROW80. “What I do now is set lots of goals – but set them as a buffet,” she writes. “That way, they’re a selection of lovely options I can sample, nibbling or devouring as mood and life allow.”

      It’s really the heart of the post, and the reason I’m posting about goals again so soon after this one.

      P.S. If you read this comment earlier and it said it was from “Wranglers,” that’s because I was logged into that group blog when I replied to your comment. So I deleted it and tried again. I think I’m in the right place now. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • You were clear – I just got busy with other things – life was rather full of them yesterday. You can feel free to use any quotes you like. I just ask that you attribute them to me. =)


        • Thank you. I’m big on attribution. Maybe a little compulsive with a touch of paranoia. It’s a holdover from grad school.

          And Ellen Goodman didn’t say what I said she did. She said we should look for potential, and I remembered it otherwise. I guess I think potential and enjoyment go hand in hand. They ought to.

          Liked by 1 person

        • I definitely think that potential and enjoyment ought to go hand-in-hand. They certainly do for the unschoolers at my house (and their parents!)

          Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you – July is an insanely emotional and chaotic month, and this year brought some new wrinkles we totally weren’r expecting….


  4. I’m so glad you followed me to the AMW blog. Your buffet is an excellent idea. Better to be able to pick and choose than to feel weighed down by the have-tos. I’m going to reset my brain to look at my current goals that way.

    In one of her op-ed columns, Ellen Goodman said instead of making New Year’s resolutions that require us to work work work to do and be better, we should resolve to do things we enjoy. That could be a buffet, too, huh?


  5. Pingback: Writing, Reading, and the Watermelon Buffet | Writing Wranglers and Warriors

  6. shanjeniah, I’m with your unschoolers. If we could convince ourselves that bo-ring (to quote some of my former high school students) and unpleasant work is enjoyable, we’d all be be better off. If I read that sentence several times, it might sink in.

    Please don’t apologize re commenting. You have a life. I hope the emotion and chaos are soon resolved in the happiest way.


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