4 Tips for Making Your Writing Resolutions Stick

 I know. I'm lazy. But I made myself a New Years resolution that I would write myself something really special. Which means I have 'til December, right?

—Catherine O'Hara

78%. No, that's not the amount of Americans who've vowed to disown at least one member of their family during the holiday season. It's the percentage of people who, according to a recent study, end up failing to keep their New Year's Resolutions. For scribes like us, this statistic is especially fraught. Sure, everyone else plans to do general things like lose weight, learn a new skill, or give back to the earth by turning at least some of their bongs into bird feeders. But for so many of us writers, when we make plans for the coming year it's personal; so much of who we are is what we do.

So what to do?

I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done.

—Steven Wright

1) Be a One-Hit Wonder: Focus on 1 goal at a time.

Multi-tasking: modern-day wisdom tells us that this is what life is all about. To an extent, that's true. However, if you're determined to achieve your goals in 2014, there's another verb to keep in mind:


Sure, there may be some goals that complement each other: researching agents and perfecting your query letter, for example. But in many cases, the surest way not to lose your way is to focus on one thing at a time. How can you tell which of your goals would be the best to achieve first? Ask yourself the following:

A) Is it time-sensitive?  Contests have deadlines, magazines have lead times. Many lit mags, agents and smaller publishers have a submission window. If you have pieces you want to submit, it helps to research the time-frame in which their intended markets operate.

B) What’s the time required? Let’s say you have two short stories and a novel that need revision. Finishing the shorter works first can give you that “Mission Accomplished” feeling that will buoy you along as you tackle larger projects.

C) Some goals are best achieved progressively. Is writing dialogue one of your weak spots? Best take a class or read a book that will improve you in this area before starting on that screenplay.

I think in terms of the day's resolutions, not the year’s.

—Henry Moore

2) Break It to Make It:

Some of the projects you may want to tackle are so “big” and multi-faceted that it makes sense to break them down into smaller, more manageable steps, setting a time-line for accomplishing each. First time writing a blog? You would need to consider everything from web hosting and analytics to what the heck you’re going to write about.

In the case of larger projects, it can also help for you to formulate your end goal (“Start a blog that attracts x number of visitors a month”) and then work your way backwards to see what needs to be done and in what order.

Writing a book is like telling a joke and having to wait 2 years to know whether or not it was funny.

—Alain de Botton

3) Power Play:

One of the main reasons so many New Year’s Resolutions fail is because we try to control the uncontrollable. This is especially true when dealing with market forces. You can hardly blame us. Nowadays, writers are bombarded with all sorts of quick-fixes that practically guarantee success. “Write a Bestseller in Three Months!” “Tweet Your Way to a Pulitzer!”

The important thing to remember here is to shift your focus from things you can’t control (“Get an agent in the next six months or I’m DOOMED! DOOMED I tell you…”) to aspects of your journey which you can (“Research three appropriate agents and tailor my query/proposal to them each month”). True, the second resolution may sound considerably less sexy than the first. But by making consistent, manageable progress in areas where you have total power, you minimize the risk of giving up the game before the year is out.

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.

―Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson in His Journals

4) Get By With a Little Help from Your Friends:

Some books make you feel understood. Some help you to understand others. A great movie or TV show can unite whole swathes of the country.

But writing? That’s some lonely shit.

But keeping your New Year’s Resolutions doesn’t have to be. Why not form a support group of writer buddies for when you need someone to keep you focused, cheer you on or kick your ass? You could even plan face-to-face meet-ups at points throughout the year for kvetching, support and, let’s face it, a little friendly competition.  If there’s any person in the group who has temporarily lost focus on what they want to achieve, then that person has to buy everyone else a drink. If your friends are as cheap as some of mine, that should motivate 'em.

Most of the world's problems could be avoided if people just said what they fucking meant.

― Marilyn Manson, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell

So Whatcha whatcha whatcha want?

So, what do you say, folks? Would anyone like to post in the comments at least one resolution they have for next year? We can all “meet-up” here in March to see how we’re doing? C’mon, you know you want to…

I will leave you now, with a few words of inspiration.

My mother always told me I wouldn't amount to anything because I procrastinate. I said, 'Just wait.'

—Judy Tenuta

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else.

—Gloria Steinem

 People love a happy ending. So every episode, I will explain once again that I don't like people. And then Mal will shoot someone. Someone we like. And their puppy.

—Joss Whedon

Happy 2014!

Naturi Thomas-Millard

Column by Naturi Thomas-Millard

Naturi is the author of How to Die in Paris: A Memoir (2011, Seal Press/Perseus Books) She's published fiction, non-fiction and poetry in magazines such as Barrow St. and Children, Churches and Daddies. At Sherri Rosen Publicity Int'l, she works as an editor and book doctor. Originally from NYC, she now lives in a village in England which appears to have more sheep than people. This will make starting a book club slightly challenging.

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Turi's picture
Turi December 30, 2013 - 1:51pm

Okay, since I wrote the article, I might as well go first... For years, I've had a novel languishing in drawers, under my bed, and once on the desk of a very lame agent who was afraid to talk on the phone. This year, I'm going to do ONE thing a week towards getting it published, in some form.

eirikodin's picture
eirikodin from Auburn, NY is reading Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler December 30, 2013 - 4:14pm

Last year I forced myself to finish my story with the threat of never allowing myself to leave the ship.  I ended up writing almost everyday, whether it was adding or editing and now I have another completed manuscript collecting dust.  Yes, there were nights I didn't leave when I really wanted to, but that negative reinforcement turned out to be quite positive.  Now I got the query letter and synopsis finished, but every agent I like has closed their doors.  

Winter has come and agents are hibernating.  Something is lurking...

Thanks for the article,


Lori-L's picture
Lori-L December 31, 2013 - 9:55pm

I write almost daily but never seem to finish anything.  This year I will post at least 4 pieces for review.  I have a novella kicking aroundin  my head and getting a chapter or two done will also be a goal.

I needed to read this right now.  Thanks for the support.


Jonathan Lucas French's picture
Jonathan Lucas ... from West TN is reading Assholes Finish First January 1, 2014 - 2:12pm

I'm writing a large body of work where stories are built upon specific ages of the main character. So, it is kind of a short story compilation with that each story leading to the ending of the character's life. Maybe it is a generic way to try and write a book, but I've got 14 well developed chapters and need 21 more (ideas and layouts are ready on them) to finish it altogether. My writing resolution is to A) graduate in December but also B) have at least 11 of those stories rough drafted and ready for revision. For anyone focused on writing a novel size work, the character development as a youth on up really has allowed me to cut a lot of fluff and just get straight to the story (each chapter) at hand. But then again, what do I know.

Charles Ayala's picture
Charles Ayala January 1, 2014 - 3:38pm

I am writing a book that isn't any one particular story or even any smaller stories. It is a collection of prose, poetry, riddles, philosophies, humorous pictorials, artwork and basically a cluster of interactive nonsense that will give the reader stupid tasks to figure out and hidden messages within the text its self.

My goal is to write at least 2 or 3 paragraphs a day, and if I can't, at least think and develop some interesting concepts to include in the book.

The reason I decided to write this is because, I have a love for writing, poetry, storytelling, and etymology, but I don't enjoy reading at all. I am a huge music and movie fan. In fact I have lived for 33 years never having picked up a book in my life (that is including book reports and reading assignments) I wanted to give people like me a book that was more than just a bunch of pages together. I want it to be more like a treasure map.

kensmosis's picture
kensmosis January 1, 2014 - 4:32pm

That's really solid and practical advice, Naturi!  I like your emphasis on focusing on specific means rather than vague ends.  And I love the idea of tweeintg one's way to a pulitzer.  We know it's just a matter of time... and then the world will end.

Since we're sharing writing-related resolutions, I'll offer a couple of mine:

1. I have a literary blog that I'd like to promote to the point where more than 15 people a year visit it and at least two aren't offering me male enhancement products or cheap mortgage refinancing,

2. There is a hefty pile of poems languishing for want of a home.  They're not as cute and cuddly as kittens, and it's hard to find a publisher that will lovingly adopt them.  So I will submit 3 poems a week to magazines and, by year end, any unwanted poems will be ... no, not euthanized you sickos ... submitted to an online poetry sharing community.   

Thanks for the New Year's advice!


IndieMum's picture
IndieMum January 2, 2014 - 4:49am

I am a jack of all trades, master of none.  I will focus on finding/achieving my 'one hit wonder' - just need to figure out what that is!  Thanks for the inspiration.

nickhilden's picture
nickhilden January 2, 2014 - 11:21am

Long time Litreactor fan, first time poster. 

There are some great tips here. I dealt with tackling one goal at a time in my most recent Life Done Write post: http://lifedonewrite.com/2013/12/24/makes-good-new-years-resolution-make-stick/


James Balbirnie's picture
James Balbirnie January 2, 2014 - 1:02pm

Some good advice there Naturi.

It's always hard for writers to keep the pace up, and I think all writers have trouble finishing a novel, in fact I think there were times when writing all four of my currently published novels when they looked like they wouldn't see completion. For those there are also 20 'works in progress' (those inverted commas are there because they're far from in progress, and many haven't been for a number of years). I think the main thing is not to let these experiences hold you back or to see them as failures, at the very least you'll have been practicing your trade whether you wrote 20 or 300 pages towards that novel. Also bear in mind that there may be some which you get passionate for again in the future, whatever you do just don't bin them, you can always cannibalise some ideas from an incomplete novel for another one with similar themes.

I think the most important one of all is to cut the meal into bite-sized chunks, without tackling the job like that anyone would get overwhelmed. Right from the beginning when you start with your idea, start as if looking at something from a way away and think how you want the basic storyline to go, then at each stage move closer and consider how you want things to develop, working ever closer until you’re looking through a microscope at the minutiae. Also, it’s not good to decide how long you want a story to be, let it fill the space it needs, there’ll likely be things you can cut without damaging the story, but stringing things out will be transparent to the reader.

Eirikodin - honestly, try not to get despondent about rejection by publishers and agents, the most honest rejection letter I’ve had was last year and in it they admitted that they were only looking for novels which were very similar to those currently doing well in the shops. As a low-risk high-return economically sound approach as this is from their viewpoint, it was pretty frustrating to feel like a creative positive like writing something different to what’s on offer can be seen as a negative by the guardians of the door to being published. I considered digging out the vampire novel I wrote more than a decade ago or writing something more commercially mainstream and jumping into the flow but in the end I thought “Bugger them!” and am self-publishing, distributing and promoting until I find a publisher who’s looking for what I enjoy making. Sure it’s definitely not the way to make any money (I’m a veeery long way off breaking even) but the important thing is I’m writing what I like and I’m secure in the knowledge that, if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, the books are out there for people to enjoy.

Kensmosis - Poetry is notoriously difficult to publish for an unknown author (I’ve got a couple of poetry collections myself but haven’t formally published them yet as I’ve been working on my last and now current novel). But while continuing to look you could always collate your poetry and make them into an e-book, that way each time you send one to a magazine you can say that they’re also available in your collected poems. Your up-front cost would be that of an ISBN. You’ll not only build an audience and get noticed in the magazines but have a showcase of your current work for potential publishers to take the baton for the next leg of your writing career.

Anyway guys, hope you’re all feeling motivated and enjoying your writing, if you want any other advice about self-publishing (though I’m definitely no expert) or fancy reading the prologue to my new novel “The End of the Road” come find me on facebook.