I’m not usually big on resolutions
Have you broken your New Year’s resolutions yet? It’s been three days and I’m doing great! Sorry to gloat, but this—as Joe Biden would say—is a big f***ing deal for me. I generally break mine immediately, so most years I don’t bother to make any.
Last week, though, a blood test revealed the need for me to lower my sugar, so I’ve been eating healthy meals, rather than my preferred potatoes, rice, doughnuts, waffles and muffins. Hubby brought a lovely cantaloupe home from Acme today, so I have that to look forward to for breakfast tomorrow.
I usually crave candy in the evening, but last night I covered my ears to that box of Christmas truffles calling to me and washed a handful of blueberries instead. They were remarkably satisfying, some squashy and others firm, but all deliciously sweet. And I sucked them in them one by one, drawing out the pleasure, just as I would have with peanut butter M&Ms (OMG, why did I just remind myself of those?!).
Food is my addiction. I can’t remember the last time I stuck to a meal plan for a single day. But dieting is a day on the beach compared to making writing resolutions. I break out into a cold sweat and come seriously close to a Breyers mint chocolate chip binge.
Writing resolutions are slippery creatures
Why is it so hard for writers to write? We want to write. Love to write. Need to write. So why do we find so many excuses to get out of actually cranking out words?
Stories started and left to die in the bowels of the hard drive…ideas never developed…pieces inches away from publication.
I clean my house to keep from writing. Run errands. Dream up home improvement projects. When you add those to the tasks I really must do, there’s my day. No time left to write! Whew—dodged that bullet!
But since I’m doing so well with my healthy eating resolutions, I decided to go all out and make a clean sweep for 2016. I’ve added suggestions for how you might set your own writing goals for the new year.
Ta-da! My writing resolutions for 2016:
1. Read more.
To be a successful writer, you must read. A lot. In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Mirror the master and carry a book everywhere. Turn off that television, which he calls “poisonous to creativity.” A couple of writers I have enjoyed recently: Anthony Doerr and Diana Gabaldon.
What interesting authors have you read recently? Whom do you plan to read?
2. Improve my mechanics.
You may count heavily on spellcheckers and expect to hire an editor when you publish, but less-than-stellar grammar, punctuation and sentence structure dog your success more than you realize.
Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White should be on every writer’s shelf.
Plenty of online resources can up your game:
- Grammar Girl devotes a full humorous article to each topic.
- Grammar Bytes offers a daily grammar workout on Twitter, definitions of terms, exercises, irreverent videos, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), handouts, presentations and tips.
- Grammar Slammer has well-organized topics offering short, straightforward explanations and examples.
- Creative Power Writing (that’s me!) will personalize a program to your individual needs.
My grammar and punctuation are already good. They have to be—I teach them! But I’m still looking for ways to learn. What do you need to improve?
I resolve to work on improving my sentence structures using the Building Great Sentences DVDs from Great Courses (the ones that have been gathering dust on my shelf for several years).
3. Hone my craft.
Even professional, published authors work continually to improve their technique. I’ve separated this from grammar; here I mean the skills involved in telling stories, presenting arguments, creating poems. Identify two areas you’d like to develop. Find books or online lessons, articles or podcasts on those topics or invest in a writing coach.
Books that should be on every writer’s shelf:
- International Writing Program—sign up to receive information about future University of Iowa free creative writing MOOCs, like last summer’s “How Writers Write Fiction” and “Nonfiction Writing Seminar”
- Flash Fiction (podcast)—The Writing University at the University of Iowa
- Building Characters (podcast)—The Writing University at the University of Iowa
- More Ways to Use Fiction Techniques in Nonfiction
- Show, Don’t (Just) Tell—Jerz’s Literacy Weblog
- Creative Power Writing –your personal writing coach will design a program tailored to your writing strengths and targeting your needs.
I continually look for resources to improve my writing technique. Still, I resolve to take a course on memoir writing (I haven’t identified which one yet).
4. Reconsider my content.
Sometimes it’s okay to write about lots of different things. But I’ve been writing willy-nilly about this and that, anything and everything. I need to focus on the things I care about most. Don’t we all want our limited writing time to be as productive as possible? Look at what you have been writing and where your passions lie. Stop working on pieces that take you to a dark place. Maybe poetry is fun, but writing a great short story is what makes your heart sing. Resolve to spend more of your time there.
Or maybe you have the opposite problem—you’ve been stagnating in a genre and need to try something fresh. What new genre might you be interested in exploring? Flash Fiction is positively old school! Have you considered Twitter Short Story, Cli-Fi, New Weird, Nordic Noir, or New Adult?
Whatever it is, analyze your writing for the past six months. Note how much time you spent on each piece, how much energy you expended and how much satisfaction you achieved. Also list 5 pieces you read by other writers that you wish you had written. This should give you an idea of the types of writing you want to move forward with and which ones to move to the back burner—or the trash.
My analysis showed that I want to spend more time getting back to writing that’s been moldering in my computer. Several pieces about my son’s death and my grief are near completion. I resolve to move them to publication.
5. Make—and stick to—a schedule.
As Stephen King says, if I want to be a great writer, I actually must write—a lot. I can’t write only when the mood strikes, or when I have nothing better to do or when I feel like it. I need to make writing a priority, and that means scheduling it—like I do other “musts” in my life.
This has been difficult for me. My preferred writing schedule is to wake without an alarm and lie in bed ruminating. Shower, percolating one or more of those topics. Eat breakfast while reading the newspaper, getting more ideas. Do minor chores. Mosey to the computer and read email. Get lost in Facebook (I hate this scourge!) and pull myself back to more productive tasks. Maybe finish the “musts” by about 4 and begin to do some creative writing. Write until I run out of steam—11? 2?
My real life, however, doesn’t support this schedule. I watch my granddaughters a couple of days a week and am too tired afterward to do anything creative. The other days I cram in chores I didn’t finish when I was singing “The Wheels on the Bus,” reading Bad Dog, Marley! and wiping spitup off of everything in sight. Plus, my husband rolls in from work for dinner (he cooks, so I don’t have to do that) just when I’m ready to write. He wants to spend time with me in the evening during my prime creative hours. I used to like to write ’til one or two a.m., but when I have to get up early, I’m too tired to stay up half the night.
These articles address planning and scheduling your writing:
- Men With Pens offer examples of different schedules—which one will work for you?
- LitReactor provides strategies for making your writing schedule “sacred.”
- The New York Times reports that hours-long stretches of any kind of work—not just writing—is no good. Florida State Professor K. Anders Ericsson found that 90-minute sessions maximized productivity. Three such uninterrupted periods, with breaks between, might be the best prescription for long-term writing success.
So, when will you write? When should I? Although I don’t write full-time, the 90-minute sessions appeal.
I resolve to schedule 90 minutes each morning and evening on days I don’t watch the girls. However, I’m loath to stop writing when I’m on a roll, so I’ll allow occasional overtime.
6. Network with other writers.
Writing is a solitary, lonely affair. Although I do network with other business professionals, they don’t understand the trials and tribulations of writing. It’s easy to sit in a chair and type, they think—much easier than what they do, of course. We writers need one another for moral support, to bounce ideas off, to mine for resources and to buddy with for workshops.
Identify some events, courses, workshops or meetings you might attend. Here are some resources for my Delaware writing friends:
I resolve to post more regularly to my Facebook group, Delaware Writers Network, and to attend my first meeting of the Writers’ Breakfast Club.
7. Work on the business side of my writing.
A writer is also a small business owner. We must deal with expenses, taxes, proposals and contracts, I hate marketing, but it is a necessary component to a successful writing career. What do you need to add/delete/change to make your business plan (you do have a business plan, right?) function better?
I resolve to send out my marketing emails more regularly and to join a chamber of commerce to do additional marketing.
What will you publish this year? Will you go the traditional route or self-publish? What steps will you need to take to accomplish this? Make a plan.
Because I resolve to complete some of my work, I also resolve to educate myself on publication options. My go-to person is Lois Hoffman, the Happy Self-Publisher
9. Expand the teaching component of my writing business.
I resolve to write online courses and upload them to outlets such as Udemy.
10. Take more risks with my writing.
I am a huge fan of Anne Lamott, drawn in by her unfiltered, down-to-earth style that uses specific details, imagery and examples. Lamott’s freewheeling stream of consciousness makes you feel like she is speaking to you alone. My style is controlled and scholarly, more at home in research papers than a blog. I’ve struggled to loosen up and let my writing become more conversational.
I resolve to read more Anne Lamott and let her style sink into me via osmosis. I further resolve to take more risks in letting my hair down when writing. If I fall on my butt, you can laugh. But I hope my writing itself will make you laugh—a good belly laugh—or cry or comment, think and feel.
What risks will you take?
What are your 2016 writing resolutions? Please share them!