13 Resolutions To Make You A Better, More Productive Writer In 2013
We’ve all been burned by New Year’s resolutions. Otherwise, we’d have statuesque physiques, shelves lined with our best sellers, and pools full of cash instead of hangovers, unfinished manuscripts, and maxed-out credit cards. Most of us have failed so many times that even the words “New Year’s resolution” elicit shame and fury. (Or maybe that’s just me, but I sure hope not. Schadenfreude is the best.)
That’s why I’m not asking you to make a resolution for 2013. I am, however, asking you to make a resolution for January of 2013. On February 1, you can go right back to your old ways. But you won’t. See, resolving to change for all eternity is as daunting as skydiving from space (I mean, did you see that guy?), but resolving to change for one month is manageable. Reasonable even. And in most cases, it’s all you need. It takes an average of 21 days for a new habit to stick. January has 31, so get through the month and you’re golden, with room to spare.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
I used to think that whole three-weeks-to-a-new-habit thing was rubbish, but in September I decided I was sick of talking about getting fit and failing. I signed up for a four-week boot camp, telling myself, “It’s just four weeks. You can do anything for four little weeks.” I purposely avoided making huge promises about marathons and Olympic gold. At that point, I enjoyed exercise about as much as deer enjoy having their heads lopped off to be displayed on some hunter’s den wall. So, like, not at all. After my third week, in a move that mystifies even me, I signed up for six more months of boot camp. The habit was in place, and it didn’t seem so intimidating anymore. Today, brutal workouts are just part of my day. No big. If you knew me, that’d blow your mind. In 2013, I’m going to use the same method to work on my writing goals. One month at a time. One thing at a time. I think you should join me because if a desk potato like me can be turned into someone who enjoys working out then, trust me, you can do anything.
For starters, don’t think of the New Year as a time to do a massive overhaul on your life. That’s overwhelming and likely to end in tears and swearing. Think of it, instead, as a clean slate that gives you permission to stop beating yourself up for the failures of 2012. You didn’t finish the novel, enter that writing contest, take any classes, whatever. It doesn’t matter now. Let it go. Face forward, brave soldier. Self-doubt and guilt are among a writer’s worst enemies. It’s time to stop hoping and start working.
Here are 13 resolutions to consider for January 2013 if you’re ready to be a better, more productive writer, and some tips to make them work for you…
1. I will write X minutes a day or write X words a day
Make your goals as specific as possible. Vague “I’ll write more” kind of resolutions are way too easy to fudge. “Uh, yeah, I wrote more today. More than that one time I wrote my initials in the snow with pee.” That’s why giving yourself a specific number of minutes or words to hit every day is a great way to spend January. Yeah, every day. All of them. Consistency is the magic behind establishing new habits. It’s just four weeks. You’ve got this.
Start with something that you can definitely sustain for a month. If you haven’t been writing regularly, don’t start with 5,000 words or nine hours a day. (It’s not that you can’t do it, but it might be that you can’t do it YET.) You need a win here. Start as low as you need to; 500 words or half an hour a day is still more than zero words and zero minutes, and at the end of January, you will have kicked out 15,500 words or written for fifteen and a half hours. Boom! Sense of achievement! If, at the end of the month, you’ve consistently written every day, you’ll be excited about stepping it up a notch in February.
2. I will start writing at X o’clock every day
Here’s the thing about developing a habit: While you’re trying to cement it into your life, there’s no room for flexibility or for giving yourself a break just this once. This resolution is good for that reason. After a month of writing at the same time every day, your muse will start to understand when to show up. Sometimes she'll be out posing for art students, trying to make some extra cash, and you've still got to work on those days. But most of the time she'll be there. Create a trigger to remind yourself that it’s time to put pen to paper: set an alarm, train your dog to attack your crotch, put the coffee pot on a timer, whatever it takes. Experts in habit-forming swear by triggers.
3. I will finish a chapter in my novel
Look, you could go balls to the wall and resolve to finish your novel, but breaking that down into smaller goals is much more likely to result in high fives and celebratory toasts. A shopaholic should resolve to put $20 in the piggy bank, not $2,000. A couch potato should resolve to run around the block, not to run a marathon. The same goes for writers. Tiny steps are better than no steps. Add up enough chapters, and you’ll end up with a novel anyway. It’s just a less terrifying approach.
4. I will read X books per week
Again, put a number on it. How many books exactly equal success? This one is a less direct path to improving your writing, but no less important. Good writers are avid readers. There’s an undeniable correlation. Like most of these resolutions, you need to ask yourself why it’s not something you’re currently doing. Most likely, the answer is that you don’t have time. Unless you're a time-bending wizard (and if so, is writing really the career path for you?), the number of hours in the day isn't going to change just because you want to do a bit more reading. You need to make some decisions. Where is the time going to come from? Don’t think of it as adding a new habit. Think of it as replacing an old one. You’ll need to spend less time doing something else in order to spend more time reading (or writing). What’s that something going to be? Figure that out before you start. Spend less time watching television, using Facebook, Bigfoot hunting, or whatever’s sucking up hours you could spend reading or writing. That leads us to…
5. I will minimize other commitments in order to focus on writing
Your schedule will get stacked with as many blog posts, unpaid writing gigs (to get your name out there, of course), volunteer projects, social events, household obligations, leisure activities, and goth costume balls as you allow it to. If your priority is writing, make a conscious decision to truly make it a priority in January. Look at your current commitments. Figure out what you can cut out to make more time in the day, and learn to say no when you need to. Nobody’s gonna hate you for working hard to achieve your dreams, and if they do, they sort of suck anyway.
6. I will submit X stories for publication
The important thing about this particular resolution is that you need to redefine success so you don’t get frustrated. In this case, success has nothing to do with whether the pieces you submit are met with rejection or publication. If you actually send the appropriate number of polished stories with good query letters to publications, you win. I don’t need to rehash all those stories about world-famous authors who could wallpaper their homes in rejection notes for you to understand that this industry is all about persistence. Go buy some stamps.
7. I will improve my writing space
An ergonomic desk is a productive desk. There are lots of factors to take into consideration, from height of your monitor and proper chair dimensions to placement of your mouse and position of your feet. This chart uses your height and several other factors to diagram the ideal set up for you and Lifehacker has more tips. While you’re at it, remove distractions. The television? Cage of dancing hamsters? Desk clutter? It’s all got to go.
8. I will limit my use of social media and/or non-essential internet to X minutes per day
Speaking of distractions, let’s talk about the internet. For most people, there is no bigger time suck. It is like having a beeping file cabinet full of baby animal pictures, porn, and notes from friends next to your desk while you try to work. Oh, and the information you need to research your book is somewhere in there too, so good luck with that. If this is your January resolution, you could try software that blocks distracting sites or sheer willpower, but if you’re serious, you need to remove temptation entirely. If possible, disconnect the internet from the computer you use for writing. I don’t mean turning the AirPort off on your Mac, because you’re still only two clicks away from the circus that is the Internet. I mean making it pretty much impossible to connect without some serious effort. Have a friend change your WiFi password to something you’ll never guess. If you have, say, a desktop and a laptop, disconnect the desktop from the internet and write with it. Then use the laptop when you need to research, check email, or read LitReactor. The more inconvenient it is to get to the wonders of the web, the better off you’ll be. Set a timer to keep yourself in check when you’re on Facebook. Again, it’s only four weeks.
9. I will take a writing course
Signing up and committing to a writing course, whether here on LitReactor or at some in-person facility near you, will give you structure, deadlines, and perhaps most importantly, people who will hold you accountable and expect something of you on the regular. An accountabili-buddy if you will. Whatever your goal, it will help tremendously to have someone who is expecting something of you. It works with any of these. If you aim to write X words per day, have someone (preferably someone who is unwilling to listen to your rationalizations and excuses) see if you’ve met your goal at the end of the week. Let them know that if you’ve failed to meet the goal, they have your permission to pour a pitcher of eggnog onto you and your freshly laundered sheets whilst you sleep. You’re only going to let that happen once.
10. I will submit X stories to a workshop
Maybe your work isn’t ready to submit to a publisher. Or maybe you’re not sure if it’s ready. If you’ve been writing with no feedback from the outside world, your self-doubt or self-confidence can bounce around your brain until it multiplies tenfold and you’ve lost touch with reality. Submitting your work to the LitReactor workshop or to a local writers group that you meet with in person will provide you with a reality check. It can be unnerving—nay, terrifying—to show your work to others for the first time; just remember to aim for progress, not perfection.
11. I will do a public reading
Resolutions work best when they are tied to consequences. If you’ve been shying away from reading your work in public, decide on a reward if you follow through and punishment if you don’t. Commit to them. If you know that chickening out again will mean listening to six hours of Skrillex’s “Bangarang” on repeat while an angry monkey throws feces at you, you’re going to read your damn story, particularly if doing so will earn you that new jacket or iWhatever you’ve been eyeing.
12. I will fix a weakness in my writing
Is there a particular grammatical issue that plagues your writing? Do you spell like a six-year-old on a sugar high? Do you overuse a particular word or phrase? Could your vocabulary be expanded? Identify your weakness then spend the month overcoming it. Chart your progress in some visual way—a gold star on the calendar for every day you catch and avoid a particular error, a line chart of the number of misspelled words per thousand words, one of those color-in thermometer drawings sales people use that denotes the number of words you’ve added to your vocabulary this month. Any kind of visual representation of progress will remind you to keep going.
13. I will exercise more
This is one of those indirect ways to improve your writing. As writers, we spend way too much time hunched over keyboards and sitting on our asses. You don’t have to go hardcore Crossfit here, but adding a bit of movement to your day will clear your head and open you up to new ideas, improve your mood, and generally make you a more productive writer. Tell a few key people what you’re up to and how you’re progressing so that they can support you when you’re doing well and shame you into getting back on the wagon when you fall off.
Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man."
As for me, I resolve to minimize other commitments, write a minimum of 1,000 words daily, finish a chapter of my novel, and read three books during January. So who's with me, and what's your January 2013 resolution?
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