Columns > Published on December 30th, 2013

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!

About the author

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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