New Year Resolutions for Writers - The Best Kind to Make and How to Keep Them

On the first day of a bright and shiny new year, stretching out ahead of us full of possibilities, it's so easy to feel a sense of determination. ("This year I'm DOING it! I'm going to write a book / lose weight / take more time for myself... etc etc.)

But as the first month of the new year gives way to the second, what happens? The old, comfortable routines are still there. The problems from the previous year haven't magically disappeared.

  • There's still not enough time to write.
  • There are still family responsibilities to be taken care of, and
  • editors still send out rejection letters.

So what do you do?

You ease into it. A new year resolution is, after all, just another name for a goal. Goals become difficult to attain when you set your sights too high. (Am I saying "Don't aim high"? No, not at all. Read on.)

Here's a step by step method of setting goals (or, if you like, making new year resolutions) that work.

1. Make A Resolution That Is Impossible Not To Keep

This one has to be ridiculously easy. Like "Write a polished first chapter by the last day of December." That gives you 365 days to plan, write and polish just that first chapter.

Or: "Join an online critique group."

Or: "Find 5 websites for writers and print out some good advice from those sites."

Your resolution may be entirely different. Whatever it is, make it so simple you'd have to be comatose not to achieve it.

2. Make A Resolution That Involves Your Family/Friends.

To be able to write effectively, most of us need cooperation from people who are important to us. Think about what you need.

  • Do you need more time to yourself, without interruption? (Start by negotiating small amounts of time with your family. You can increase this later.)

  • Do you need encouragement, not put-downs? (Talk to those who are negative about your career. Tell them that you really need their support if you're going to make it.)

  • Do you need to cut down on outside activities? (Be firm. If committee work is draining you, let someone else step into the role. Organize other parents to take turns driving kids to sport or dance lessons.)

  • Do you need to take action against time bandits? (Friends who talk for an hour on the phone; neighbors who drop in for coffee 3-4 times a week; relatives who are always asking you to do things for them.) Take a stance. Tell them you're going all out on your writing career this year. Use the answering machine; make appointments for coffee.
3. Make A Resolution That Keeps You Healthy.

Writers spend a lot of time sitting and staring at a computer. They get cramps from crouching over a desk editing drafts. In order to squeeze in as much writing time as possible around other commitments, good health goes out the window.

It is essential to look after your health if you want a long-lasting career as a writer.

Here are some simple, easy-to-keep resolutions to keep you healthy. Well, at least a little healthier!

  • Keep a glass of water on your desk at all times. Sip constantly, and keep refilling it as you work. Don't underestimate the importance of a regular intake of water.

  • Choose a form of exercise you can live with for at least one day a week. If you hate jogging, don't do it. If you hate the gym, don't go. Everyone can find ONE thing involving physical activity for a 20-minute stretch. Go bowling - go swimming - take up line dancing. Commit to just one day a week. If you choose well, you'll enjoy it so much that you will want to increase your time.

  • If your weight is a problem, commit to healthy eating for one day a week. Even one day is better than none! Choose simple food that's easy to prepare. If you can do it, opt for a healthy eating day every second day. (Another way of looking at this: decide to change your eating habits for the better, but allow yourself a 'junk food day' once a week or once a month.)

  • Check your desk and chair. If one or both are uncomfortable, resolve to buy something better before the end of the year - the sooner the better!
4. Make Stepped Resolutions About Your Writing.

We've already talked about the really easy resolution - the one you would have to be comatose not to achieve! That can be the bottom step of an imaginary staircase.

Let's say you have ten steps. The lowest step is your "easy" goal. Now you need to decide on the next nine. We're going to do the tenth and highest step first. (This is where you have to aim high!)

Goal number 10 should not be something out of reach. It should be something you feel you can attain with some hard work (and maybe a little bit of luck). A goal where you stretch yourself a bit.

  • It might be "have a completed, polished novel ready to send away".

  • It might be "have my own literary agent".

  • It might be "start selling my own e-book from my own internet site".
Once you have your very easy goal and your stretch-yourself goal, it's time to fill in the eight middle steps. These should be relatively easy - just ask yourself how you can move steadily from Goal 1 to Goal 10.

Here's an example: Step 1: Find 5 internet sites for writers and print out useful articles.

Step 2: Decide on the project you most want to work on. Outline it.

Step 3: Look for other writers to give you support. (An online critique group, a local group that meets in each others' homes, a writing buddy in the same town.)

Step 4: Keep working on the project decided on in Step 2.

Step 5. Look around for a writer's workshop or seminar or festival. Commit to going.

Step 6. Keep working on main project. (If it's not working, solve the problems or start again. Don't give up.)

Step 7. Decide on what you need to learn. (To develop characters? Write dialogue? Improve grammar? Write a proposal? Build a website? Create an e-book?) Take action to build your skills. Enrol in a short course, download information from the Internet, work with a friend to overcome problems.)

Step 8. Keep working on main project. Review your ten-step "new year resolution" program. What's working? What's not working? What needs to change? Be adaptable. Nobody knows what life is going to throw at them. You could have a dream year - or everything could fall apart. The important thing is to be flexible, call on supportive friends and family, and set some new goals if necessary. Just don't give up.

Step 9. The end is in sight. Keep working on your main project or projects. Are you close to your 'stretch yourself' goal? If so, that's great - you've had a good year. If not, analyse what went wrong. Rather than getting angry or frustrated, move into damage control. There's a solution for everything. Learn from roadblocks; see if you can turn obstacles into opportunities.

Step 10. Have a completed, polished manuscript in your hand/get an agent. If everything's gone according to plan, you're either one of the lucky ones (life didn't intervene!) or you're very well organized. If you didn't achieve what you'd hoped, go back over your ten steps and see what you did get done. Many writers, frustrated at their apparent lack of success, overlook how much they actually have achieved. You're sure to have moved ahead in your skills, your achievements and your career generally.

Just keep moving forward. After all, resolutions are not made to be either broken or rigidly adhered to. They're made to give you direction. Use them to cast a light on the path - and especially keep looking up to that bright, shining light on Step No. 10!

(c) Copyright Marg McAlister

Marg McAlister has published magazine articles, short stories, books for children, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers' tipsheet at http://www.writing4success.com/

In The News:

Opinion | Why I Write  The New York Times
Write-in for Chalich  The Spokesman-Review

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