‘Tis the season for New Year’s Resolutions: and many of us writers might, in addition to other goals, resolve to shape up our writing routine or schedule. Maybe we want to get more organized. Maybe we need to be more productive. Whatever the case, I thought some tips might be useful as we form our resolutions.
In fact, here are four.
1. MAKE SURE YOUR WRITING RESOLUTION IS CONCRETE.
What do I mean by that? Resolutions need to be measurable in some way. They needs markers by which you judge whether or not you are successfully completing your goal.
Just like it’s better to say, “I will go to the gym three times a week” than, “I want to exercise more,” your writing resolutions should be along those concrete lines.
- I will write for forty-five minutes a day (rather than, “I will write more.”)
- I will write five hundred words a day (again, instead of just “becoming more productive.”)
- I will freewrite for fifteen minutes twice a week, without stopping (rather than, “I will break my tendency to edit while I write.”)
- I will outline chapter by chapter before I start writing and create character sheets (rather than, “I will organize my writing.”)
- I will solicit ten, twenty, or thirty agents.
Make your resolutions measurable, and you will be able to hold yourself to them. Rather, you won’t have any reason not to, because you can’t make really weak excuses. Yes, writing twenty minutes a day is “more” than writing fifteen, if fifteen is what you can usually scrape together. But if you aim to shoot for forty-five, and make that number a priority, you won’t cop out after just twenty.
2. BREAK “BIG” RESOLUTIONS DOWN INTO STAGES WITH BENCHMARK GOALS AT THE END OF EACH.
Always, always break things down. I can’t deny that saying “I will edit my finished draft by the end of 2014” is a good goal. A great goal. But if you want to meet it, you need to break things down a bit more than that.
Your book has twenty chapters? Then maybe plan to spend a month on a read-through, where you read your work without editing and take detailed notes on things you really like and things you need to iron out, change, delete, or add.
That leaves you eleven months to edit. Plan to cover one chapter every two week period, and that’s two chapters a month, or twenty chapters in ten months. You have all December to spare: extra time, in case you fall behind or a couple chapters become particularly difficult.
Are you planning to write a novel in 2014? Then figure out how long you expect it to be, word-wise, to see how many words you need to write each week, or two weeks, to meet your goal.
Setting yourself smaller benchmark goals will keep you on track and help make reaching your major goal a reality in the time that you want to reach it.
And don’t forget: “big” goals are scary. They are overwhelming. We often doubt we can ever reach them. Breaking them down makes them seem achievable. It’s about mindset and emotion as much as it is about mathematics: Set yourself up for success, not for failure!
3. MAKE SURE YOUR RESOLUTIONS DON’T DEPEND ON ANYONE ELSE
“Soliciting twenty agents” is a great goal. “Sending a short story to fifteen journals” is another good one (though that might take a while, because most journals require exclusive submission, meaning that while they are considering publishing your short story, they want to know no one else is currently doing the same).
“Getting an agent” is not a good resolution. Why? In short, you can make sure you send your best work, meet industry expectations, and present yourself as professional.
You can control how many agents you solicit.
You can’t control how those agents respond to you and your work. (Remember how many times J.K. Rowling had the Harry Potter series rejected!)
That’s why “getting an agent” is an awful resolution. Resolutions are about SELF-EMPOWERMENT. About taking charge of your life and improving yourself. A resolution that requires action on the part of someone else is setting yourself up for disappointment and a sense of failure when you haven’t failed at all!
4. MAKE SURE YOUR WRITING RESOLUTIONS ARE REALISTIC.
We are all in different stages of life, with different challenges and different obligations. Make sure your resolutions are realistic for you, and try not to fall into the trap of comparing resolutions.
Maybe writing two hours a day is an attainable goal for your best writer friend. You? You are lucky to get twenty minutes in there.
If two hours, or even one hour, is genuinely not feasible for you, don’t shoot for that. And don’t feel bad about it; it is what it is. If scraping together half an hour or forty-five minutes is doable, and aiming for half an hour a day will help push you to write every day when often you let writing slide, that’s a GREAT resolution.
Again, the idea here is improvement and self-empowerment. If you know you just can’t make the time to write a full two hours a day, how are you empowering yourself by telling yourself you SHOULD do that and you’re a failure if you don’t?
We all have limitations. We can only do what we can with what we have. And if what you have is half and hour, you are doing just as much taking charge of that half hour as someone with two hours to spare who is taking charge of those two hours.
So, do you plan to have a writing resolution? A resolution of a different type? Feel free to share if you’d like. If you have other advice about crafting a good resolution or sticking to one once you’ve settled on it, you can share that too. We’re all in this together!
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