How to Make New Year’s Resolutions (for Writers)

Let’s take a moment to be perfectly honest with ourselves about our abilities. Is it realistic to say we’ll write ten novels next year? Probably not. Is it realistic for some to write five? Yes. Is it unrealistic for others? Of course. If you’re of the resolution-making type, you probably have some experience at this game, whether it was good or bad.

A good first step to making your custom list of writing resolutions is to look back at what you accomplished this past year. What did you do and how did you do it? I wrote three books, several short stories, and an obscene amount of poetry and essays, thanks to NaNoWriMo, a fiction writing class, a poetry class, and an expository writing class. How much time did these various projects require of me? A lot, but it was packed into the school semesters and November. I wrote virtually nothing during the summer months.

Is it reasonable for me to expect more of myself next year? My class load for spring semester is similar to this fall’s and my summer will be even more packed. BUT, I know that I squandered a lot of time this past year, and if I tighten up my schedule, it’s realistic for me to expect more of myself.

What kind of goals should you make? My ultimate dream is to have one of my novels published, so I spend a lot of time writing and editing my novels. If I’m honest with myself, I know my poetry will fall to the wayside now that I don’t have a class for it. Am I okay with that happening? Do I want to keep it in focus?

When it comes to choosing the specific goals you want to accomplish, the more you know yourself and your desires, the better. My golden fleece is the as-close-to-perfect-novel as I can possibly write, so I’ll let the poetry go for now. I have another expository writing class, so that will naturally fit itself into my schedule. I don’t need to make goals for that because my professor will be making them for me.

Now that I know my novel(s) is my focus, I have to be tough on myself in two ways: 1) What is realistic to expect of myself? 2) How hard can I push myself without neglecting other things?

I have a trilogy to finish, a mostly-done first draft to finish, a mostly not-done first draft to finish, and a fantasy to write. That’s not even mentioning editing projects. Can I write them all? Sure, if I wanted to kill myself. But that’s just my position on it now. So instead of saying I CAN’T DO IT WAAAH or I CAN DO IT ALL BECAUSE I’M SUPERMAN, I’ll prioritize. I’ll finish the mostly-done in the first weeks of January before I go back to school. Finishing the trilogy is next, then the mostly not-done. I’ll start the fantasy after graduation or in mid-summer, when my brain is fresh.

Those are very loose time goals, but I know myself, and I know I can work with that. If I slack off, I’ll tighten the reins, but until then, I’ll let it flow.

Think of your priorities like a newspaper story. The important stuff is at the top, so if something has to be cut, you can chop it off the bottom. It won’t hurt me or break my heart if I start my fantasy in 2015, but it might hurt those half-finished projects if I put them aside so long that I lose the characters’ voices.

Do very strict time goals work better? That depends. I have yet to fail NaNoWriMo, and that’s a pretty strict time goal. 50k by November 30th or else. But I rarely – no, not rarely. I have never followed the daily word count goals for NaNo. I write 10k one day and then nothing for a few days to deal with class papers or tests.

Flexibility can help or hurt you. That’s why it’s so important to know yourself. If you tell yourself write 3000 words this week, will you do it? Will you write each day, or leave it all to the last day? That might work for 3k, but it probably won’t for 50k. I like the flexibility because I’m a procrastinator but work well under pressure. If you don’t, strict time goals might be better.

Plan out how much you’ll write each day or each week, and set milestones. Halfway done with Project X by March/June/whatever. Send out however many queries by July. Odds are, whether you go with the flow or are very strict with yourself, you’ll grow more disciplined as the year progresses.

A good writer is accountable and not just to herself. I am a huge advocate for writing buddies, whether they read and critique your work or just crack the whip over your head. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some of both. Find someone who will cheer you up when you’re down and then kick your butt back into gear. Look for an empathizer, not a sympathizer. The last thing you need is an enabler.

Take a look at yourself and figure out what your writing buddy needs are. I can usually kick my own butt back into gear, so my writing buddies tend to be people knowledgable about craft who can help me sort out plot problems or someone with a good listening ear who will let me whine for a little bit before I go back to work. Find your weaknesses and surround yourself with people who are strong in those areas.

I probably don’t have to say this, but I will anyway. Having a good partnership with another writer means you’re working at it, too. You also need to be supportive, encouraging, and useful in some way. If you’re constantly a drag on the other person’s energy, just see how long that partnership lasts.

It is reasonable to occasionally beat yourself up. If you fail to reach a goal because you couldn’t stop watching western movie marathons, heck yes, you should be hard on yourself. You should be appalled. Because while I completely condone a break to watch a movie as awesome as Open Range, you wouldn’t have set your goals if they didn’t mean something to you.

Now, if you miss a goal because your kids were sick and you had to take care of them, don’t you dare beat yourself up. Life happens, and that’s okay. Roll with the punches. It’ll all be all right. But know the difference between reasons and excuses. One is unavoidable. The other is deplorable.

In recap: 

1. Look back at this past year. What did you do right? What did you do wrong? What can you reasonably expect from yourself next year?

2. Know what you want to accomplish long term so you can arrange your priorities and make the best use of your time, instead of spreading yourself too thin.

3. Decide whether you need a very detailed and strict schedule or if you can be looser and more flexible with yourself.

4. Find someone to be accountable to, someone who compliments your strengths and weaknesses, and hold up your end of the partnership.

5. Be tough on yourself when you make excuses and poor choices. If you don’t take this seriously, no one else will, either.

And I’ll add a number six: be optimistic and energetic about your goals and the work you have to do to accomplish them. Nobody is forcing you to write (I hope!). This is something you enjoy, so keep it that way. If you’re totally adverse to the work and it makes you want to run screaming, then you probably shouldn’t be writing.

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