I figure five is a manageable number, right? It isn’t betting everything on just one or two all-important resolutions. Nor is five so overwhelming that you can’t even commit them all to memory. So here goes:
- Resolve to set some realistic goals — daily, weekly, monthly/quarterly, and yearly. By this, I don’t mean the vague and perennially popular “finish a novel.” Instead, resolve to COMPLETE certain component tasks in the project-management sense. It could be to complete research by X date, to have an outline done by the end of Feb., to reach 20,000 words by the Ides of March, to spend the month of April editing, to prepare query letters, etc.
- Memorize your resolutions. Repeat them to yourself in the shower, on your way to work, or at some point every day. You’re apt to feel silly, but they’ll be more on your mind. Plus, you’re more likely to do what you said you’d do.
- Build your goals into your calendar, to-do list, and whatever organizational system you use. While a sticky note next to your laptop seems to be one approach, maybe it would be better taped to the TV remote.
- Get accountability. By this I mean tell your writing buddies, or friends or a trusted family member or two precisely what it is you intend to achieve. See if they’re willing to ask you how you are progressing from time to time. Even if they don’t ask, give them regularly scheduled progress reports. Don’t expect to be perfect, as we all get derailed for all sorts of reasons. But do expect to show them demonstrable progress.
- Keep a written record charting your efforts. There are word-count spread sheets out there, not to mention all sorts of time logs and journals for noting what you’ve achieved periodically. I think it’s important to have annual totals to give you a sense of what’s realistic given everything else in your life.
Lastly, for those who’ve read this far, make sure to celebrate your ability to do this thing.
Conventional wisdom says that we’re more likely to keep our New Year’s resolutions if they are specific and quantifiable rather than vague generalities. As writers, or at least for those of us who have not gone the indie-publishing route, our New Year’s resolutions also need to be achievable. In other words, we need to focus on what is reasonably under our control, such as completing a first draft or a final draft, as opposed to those things that are entirely or predominantly in the hands of others, such as selling to XYZ publisher, or getting a nomination for a particular award, or selling a set number of copies.
The main thing that is in the hands of any writer is um … well … the writing. By this, I mean that a reasonable, achievable New Year’s resolution might be to spend a specified amount of time each day, week, or month on writing. Other achievable resolutions involve researching, plotting (except for 100% “discovery” writers), and editing/revising a set number of pages or scenes or chapters in a given time-frame.
It strikes me as important to not only make resolutions that we can keep, but also to do so mindful of the larger context of what will further our writing careers. For example, rather than simply hoping to sell a few stories this year, a more useful goal is to have a specified number of completed stories circulating to potential markets by a certain date. Similarly, the goal could be to have one or more finished novels making the rounds of agents’ or editors’ desks by no later than the end of 2015. If that sounds overly ambitious, break it down into what can be done each week, each day.
I think it’s crucial to record our efforts at the end of each writing session so that we can see visible evidence of progress. That’s ever so helpful when discouragement sets in or life intervenes. It’ll also help to identify just where our efforts flounder. Let’s say the difficulty lies in finishing things. So a New Year’s resolution could be to finish just one new short story every month. Yes, I know there will always be the lure of the bright, shiny new idea demanding its own writing project right now. Let that new project become the reward for finishing the current work in progress that’s devolved into a slog.
I’ll close with the thought that I’ve come to realize an important resolution is simply to be receptive to new writing opportunities. Sometimes we get so fixated on a given direction we’ve already mapped out — perhaps a series of linked stories or novels set in the same world or featuring the same characters, or always writing in the same sub-genre, that it’s hard to see what else merits our attention. For example, I was recently offered a chance to try my hand at a different type of writing project. I said yes, though I knew it would take some time away from what I already had in mind. No matter. It’s turning out to be fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it will lead.