Well, it’s been just about a month. How are those New Years resolutions going? So far I’ve managed to walk my dog every morning, signed up for a ballet class, and published 3 blog posts. As for daily meditation, I tried it once, but I fell asleep.
I imagine many of you have writing-related goals. And I bet a lot of you have kept them, and will continue to keep them, no sweat. That’s awesome.
But for others, those writing-related resolutions may be feeling a little more slippery. Maybe you woke up on January 1st, cracked open that brand new notebook and got to work. But then the holiday weekend ended, or winter break came to a close, and everyday life kicked back in. Maybe that first day back, you set the alarm an hour early and cranked out some words before you headed to the office. But on January 4 you hit snooze, promising yourself you’d write in the evening. Then when evening rolled around, there was laundry to do and dinner to cook. Your favorite TV show was on, and your brain was fried from work, anyway.
You’ve picked up that notebook sporadically since then, or carried it around with you — always, of course, with the best intentions. But the pages just aren’t filling up.
Sound familiar? Repeat after me:
It’s not too late.
It’s not a lost cause.
You have not failed.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading on resolutions and transformations, lately, and picked up some helpful tips — on building and keeping momentum, and on getting back up when I fall off the horse. Most of these came from outside the writing world, but they’re helping me stay on track with my writing goals, and I hope they’ll help you, too.
1. Make sure your goals are measurable
Did you resolve to become a better writer in the new year? That’s a great goal. But one question: How will you know when you’ve achieved it? One of the biggest reasons we give up on our goals is because we don’t see progress. And of course that’s discouraging. So set yourself up for success by making resolutions you can check off the list once they’re done.
So if you want to become a better writer, what about these for your revised resolutions?
Take 3 writing classes
Find a writing partner (or join a group) to hold you accountable
Write a poem (or personal essay, or anything outside of your comfort zone, to stretch those creative muscles)
Submit two short stories to literary magazines
2. Make sure your goals are achievable
Writing the next Great American Novel this year is a perfectly legitimate dream. But by making that your goal, you may be setting yourself up for frustration.
Because, think of all that goes into writing a novel: First, you have to write the thing, which, in itself, is a monstrous undertaking. Then you have to edit it, and have someone else edit it, and revise it. Maybe several times. If you’re going the traditional publishing route, then you have to find an agent, who will have you revise the manuscript, then help you find a publisher, who will also have you revise the manuscript. Then you can expect to see it on shelves within the next 18 months, and only then will you get back the sales reports that prove you have, indeed, written the next Great American Novel.
So much of that goal is out of your control. So much of it is about waiting on somebody else. The enormity of it is likely to overwhelm you. It would, me.
But what if you break it down into bite-sized pieces?
Complete the first draft by May
Send to an editor
Complete the second draft by September
Submit to 6 literary agents
Does that feel more manageable? These are resolutions you’re in control of, and that you can absolutely achieve.
3. Think Like a Yogi
Call it practice.
This last piece of advice came out of the industry that invented New Years resolutions (probably) and profits from them more than any other industry (almost definitely): fitness.
But it relates to literally everything we do. I stumbled upon this bit of wisdom a few months back, and it has really started to help me reframe the way I think about my own goals, in writing and everything else.
In most sports, most activities, really, we talk about performance. We talk about results. Wins, losses, records, ROIs. But in Yoga, whether you’ve just begun or you’ve been doing it for 20 years, you call it practice.
And it may seem like a small semantic issue, but the beauty of calling it practice is that it gives you permission to fail. Need a little help popping up into wheel? Fell on your face trying to do that headstand? Try again.
Missed a day writing? A whole week? Try again. Nobody’s benching you, nobody’s firing you.
Sure, you’ll need to think about the stats and the results and the deadlines, but don’t let those be the driving force — the only place they’re likely to drive you is crazy.
First and foremost, be kind to yourself. After all, it’s practice.
So how are you doing on your resolutions? What strategies do you use to stay motivated?