Five More New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

Last December, I offered our WU readers a set of New Year’s resolutions to consider, and the post sparked some lively discussion. As this year draws to a close, I thought it might be fun to offer up a few more resolutions.

I say this not because I have already completed all of this year’s resolutions. On the contrary, I have yet to lose 30 pounds, master the Lambada, or go para-bungie-wind-scuba-roller-diving off the White Cliffs of Dover. (In my defense, there are still 22 days left for me to cross these off my 2013 list – hey, it could happen! But I digress…)

Below you’ll find five more New Year’s resolutions to consider. Let’s start with one that’s guaranteed to put your name in print around the world…

1. Grab a URL already.

Although Prince may have decided the Internet is completely over, so far his opinion places him in the scant minority. The online universe – and the marketplace that has developed within it – is clearly here to stay, yet many writers drag their feet when it comes to staking a claim on their own slice of the interwebs. It is a truth universally acknowledged that every author needs his or her own website, so if it’s an author you aspire to be, there’s no time like the present to try to nail down a web address that will make it easy for readers to find you. The obvious first choice would be YourName.com, but if that’s already taken, there are usually some decent options left.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every author needs his or her own website.

Even if you’re not ready to build out a full website, you can reserve a URL for the future for a small annual fee. A note to those of you who are parents: consider grabbing URLs for your children’s names. I did this for my daughter years ago, figuring it might one day come in handy for her to have a URL based on her name. Now her law firm is using the URL that I grabbed back when she was in middle school. I use Go Daddy, but there are a variety of providers who offer similar services.

2. Write more than you Tweet.


I arbitrarily chose Twitter as an example, but feel free to substitute Facebook, or blog, or Pinterest, or whatever your online addiction may be. While I’ve heard many writers complain about feeling obligated to be active in social media, the reality is that this stuff can become a diversion that is entertaining to the point of addictiveness. I understand the attraction – I mean, I like Facebook (although I could never get into Twitter), and I’m a major junkie for online discussion forums. But it’s important to take a look at just how much time – and writing energy – you are devoting to these activities.

Case in point: I’ve logged more than 6,000 posts at Backspace, the online writers’ forum I’ve been active in (okay, addicted to) for the past eight years or so. If the word-count for each of my posts averages out to 50 words per post (which I’ll admit would be a surprisingly low estimate for a talkative type like me), we are talking about three hundred thousand words. That’s the equivalent of three or four novels! Don’t get me wrong – I have benefited immeasurably from my membership at Backspace, but still, that’s a whole lotta words, and a whole lotta time. So it’s worth measuring what you gain versus what you put in, and remember, any time you put into writing blogs, tweets, or Facebook statuses (or is it stati?) is time you’re not spending on your book. I’m just sayin’.

3. Invest in yourself.

Over the years I’ve been surprised by how many aspiring writers I meet who seem reluctant to spend their money on writing- or publishing-related goods and services. Many don’t own a dictionary or thesaurus, relying instead on the spell-check function in their word processors. People of Earth, do you really want Bill Gates or Steve “damn you, autocorrect” Jobs making editorial decisions for you? Noooooo! As an alternative, many people will simply use free online tools. I urge you to dig deeper. Yeah, dictionary.com is okay, but I’ve still never found an online thesaurus that can compete with a basic paperback copy of Roget’s.

People of Earth, do you really want Bill Gates or Steve “damn you, autocorrect” Jobs making editorial decisions for you? Noooooo! 

Similarly, the amount of bandwidth I see eaten up on writers’ sites discussing basic style issues like capitalization, punctuation, abbreviations, and so on is just mind-boggling. Folks, there are style guides out there that make it easy for you to write consistent, professional-looking prose. The Chicago Manual is the industry standard, but at 1,000+ pages, it’s a massive doorstop of a book, and not cheap. A great and economical alternative is this guide from Merriam Webster, and for business writing a copy of the AP Guide is essential. And no writer’s desk is complete without a copy of The Elements of Style. Spend a few bucks, and put some basic tools within easy reach, and I guarantee your writing will reflect well on the investment.

There are other areas where writers short-change themselves. Author photos are a biggie. I’ve seen countless shots that are clearly taken from the company holiday party, with the person-the-author-is-no-longer-dating cropped out of the picture. Just like a website, it’s a simple reality that an author is going to need a decent photo – and in multiple sizes and levels of resolution. If you’re putting a book out – whether on your own or through a conventional publisher – put a little time and money into a good headshot. It’s an investment that will serve you well for years to come.

It’s a simple reality that an author is going to need a decent photo – and in multiple sizes and levels of resolution.

At a broader level, there are countless opportunities to invest in yourself as a writer, such as:

  • Books (how-to’s, and books by authors you admire and want to compete with)
  • Writers’ conferences
  • Writing courses at local colleges (I highly recommend these, if nothing else to clean the rust off of your tools, since the last time most of us actually studied writing was years – if not decades – ago)
  • Writing software and other related technology
  • Membership in professional associations (RWA, MWA, etc.)

Look, I know money doesn’t grow on trees (although that might make a cool idea for a sci-fi novel). But if you’re serious about being a writer, put some serious thought into how best to leverage your own economic resources to help your writing, and ultimately, your career.

4. Back up your computer.

I know, I told you this last year. But it bears repeating – a point I had driven home vividly this year, when my Acer netbook spontaneously decided to become the world’s most expensive paperweight. Fortunately all my files were backed up on Carbonite, and I was able to load them onto my hastily purchased replacement laptop quickly and easily.

Guys and gals, this is NOT a hard thing to do. Particularly if you use a service like Carbonite, the process of backing up your files can truly be a set-it-and-forget-it thing, happening automatically in the background without you having to remember to do anything. The risks for not backing up your stuff are just too high, and with computers now being made with approximately the same life expectancy as a disposable razor, it’s simply crazy to play an ongoing game of Russian Roulette with the files that contain all your hard work. Back ’em up!

5. Be open to change.

I started working on my first novel back in 1999, and the changes I’ve seen in the publishing industry since then are simply staggering. The marketplace now is nothing like what it was when I first began studying this business, and the rate of change is accelerating so much that I wouldn’t dare predict what the landscape might look like five years from now. My takeaway from all that I’ve witnessed is that it pays to be nimble, and to remain open to trying avenues that might initially seem non-intuitive or flat-out wrong.

An excellent example is the new direction we’ve seen our own Allison Winn Scotch taking, which she has been generous enough to share with us in her recent WU posts (along with this excellent related post from her agent Elisabeth Weed). Even though she was well-established in conventional Big House publishing, Allison weighed her options carefully, and has now embarked on a new leg of her journey, which I bet she would never have envisioned a few years ago.

It pays to be nimble, and to remain open to trying avenues that might initially seem non-intuitive or flat-out wrong.

Although the breakneck pace at which changes are occurring in the publishing business can be daunting, the reality is that we writers have never before had as many options as we currently have. With the freedom to choose from those options comes the responsibility to stay on top of these seismic shifts, and to consider our choices with a cool and analytic eye. Sadly, the days are long gone where all we had to worry about was the writing. But the tradeoff is that we now have far more control of our journey than we ever did before. So I recommend you approach that journey with your eyes – and your mind – wide open.

What about you?

What resolutions are you making? Do any of these resonate with you? Please chime in, and remember one thing while you’re chugging that fourth glass of champagne as the clock strikes midnight on December 31st: Friends don’t let friends read Clive Cussler.

Happy holidays, and thanks for reading!

Image licensed from iStockphoto.com

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About Keith Cronin

Author of the novels ME AGAIN, published by Five Star/Gale; and TONY PARTLY CLOUDY (published under his pen name Nick Rollins), Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. Keith's fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele.

Comments

  1. says

    I have my own extra: always add something to the online discussion if I have the temerity to put words in a text box such as this one. This is my goal for myself – ‘thank you for the wonderful post’ should be understood, but I don’t want to do only that – that’s what Like buttons are for.

    I have accomplished ‘sit in chair and try writing first'; now I need to accomplish ‘sit in chair and BLOCK the Internet and try writing first.’ In my defense – and this may be true for others – the brain is not actually on for many hours until the meds kick in. But I know perfectly well when the moment kicks in – my resolution is to aim for that sweet spot, recognize when the brain has kicked in enough to start writing, and have the self-discipline to get to work even if I don’t feel like it. Because writing ALWAYS makes me feel better: a bad day spent writing is ALWAYS better than a good day spent some other way.

    Your recommendations for resolutions form an excellent short list – phew! I have already implemented all, except for grabbing the kids names as URLs – that will make a wonderful Christmas present. Thanks for that one.

    I hope time invested upfront in such things will pay off handsomely down the road – when I go from a free WordPress blog to my own site, and already have my name.com saved.

    All the people like you who pay it forward are saving the rest of us from making bad mistakes, and it is much appreciated. I will never be a frontrunner – but I can be a pretty good follower when given the right information.
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt´s last blog post ..Resistance to writing is futile when there is Joy

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    • says

      Alicia, with a great attitude like that, you may become more of a leader than you’d expect – thanks for your response!

      I have the same difficulty avoiding internet distractions when I write, so I do a lot of my initial drafting on a NEO keyboard, which does one thing and one thing only: word processing, with no connection to the web. It helps me get a lot more work done!

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      • says

        Thanks!

        I’m gathering the information from all my notes to blog about the odd process I have to go through to make sure there is something inside the brain pan to write with.

        I’m starting to figure out at least one possible way to make it work – even with brain fog.

        As a writer, I am compelled to write down what happens to me – I have miles of notes on how my own brain works. Data can always be mined – but only if you collect it first. Memory, ESPECIALLY mine, is very fallible.

        I’m often surprised by what I come across in my own notes, shrug – and use it.
        Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt´s last blog post ..Resistance to writing is futile when there is Joy

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  2. says

    Backing up my laptop is something I need to do, and I promise to work on that right after finishing this comment. I’ve gotten my name URL already but need to develop the sight yet. Interesting idea about getting an URL for my kids. Will consider that one. My writing focus for 2014 is to have 3 books ready to publish. I’ve got rough drafts on 2 already.
    Kari Scare´s last blog post ..Weak is the New Strong

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  3. says

    Hey, these are great points. Thank you for this shot in the arm. I love it when you point out that “we now have far more control of our journey than we ever did before.” This thought spurs me on. I have two novels published with good reviews and several short stories getting lots of attention. So my 2014 goal is to get my third novel completed, and three more short stories published. If that means less time on FB and Twitter, so be it. But I still want to keep my “reading short stories” blog going. It hit 10,000 views recently and that’s another goal … to keep up that pace for 2014. I think you are right when you say to keep all the avenues open.

    Snowing today in NY. All that white stuff falling all around makes me want to go interior and write!
    paula cappa´s last blog post ..The Face in the Darkness

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  4. says

    Keith-

    You can do a lot in 22 days. I like your resolutions, especially the one about investing in yourself.

    My wife just started professional culinary school. One of her heroes is chef Marcus Samuelson, an Ethiopian adoptee (like our son) who has made it big. (Catch him on the Food Network or try his Harlem soul-food-with-and-Ethiopian-twist restaurant Red Rooster.)

    When Samuelson was starting out he spent all of the little money he had eating in restaurants. He says that to cook you must know what food tastes like.

    My wife’s first instructor is a protege of Samuelson’s. In his autobiography, Samuel writes about this man, Chef Mike, who boldly asked Samuelson for a job when he had only Cheesecake Factory on his resume. Samuelson said that the problem in teaching Chef Mike was not his disadvantaged background but that he had never tasted many of the foods that he aspired to cook.

    Writers need to read–a lot. They need instructors and mentors. Given that those things are relatively low cost (compared to, say, a BMW) it’s amazing to me that so many developing writers don’t make the investments. It’s crazy.

    To your fifth suggestion, I’d add this: Be open to what’s new…but remember that just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s great. Witness the Delorean gull-wing car, the Rocket e-book reader, and vibration platform weight-loss. Self-publishing is new. So far it’s been great for a few and may become great for more, but it’s early days.

    Good luck with the next 22 days. Let us know how it goes.
    Donald Maass´s last blog post ..Deal: Matthew McBride

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    • says

      I would never have dared to write if I hadn’t been stuffed to the gills with reading.

      Though not part of the 10,000 hours of writing, reading voraciously is the only way to see how stories really work, and to log that deep in your soul.

      My biggest regret now is that energy constraints and brain fog make it difficult to do as much reading as I’d like – and still write. And, you know, take showers and stuff.

      I manage – but I’m always grateful that I put the reading hours in long ago – and have a huge database to add to when I can.
      Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt´s last blog post ..Resistance to writing is futile when there is Joy

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    • says

      I totally agree about these being “early days,” Donald. Hell, it’s the wild wild west out there at the moment, but if nothing else, it sure is interesting to watch this evolution in real time.

      And context is everything: Allison is in a unique position, with her solid history of conventional publishing. A mistake I see many people make is falling into the “if XYZ_writer can do it, so can I” mindset, without really analyzing whether their situations are truly comparable.

      Great point about the chef! Back in my Ramen-noodle-eating days, I did a lot of free reading in bookstores, and I’ve always been a huge library user. I’ve got to believe it’s a helluva lot easier for writers to sample their chosen marketplace than it is for a chef.

      Damn, now I’m hungry. Thanks a lot.

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  5. says

    It is crucial to back up your files every day. My laptop was stolen a couple of months ago. Within hours I had fired up an older laptop and transferred all of my files to it.

    I back up by:

    1. Saving files to both an external hard drive and a thumb drive. (The thumb drive is always with me.)

    2. Saving files to an external hard drive at a friend’s house.

    3. Saving files online.
    John Soares´s last blog post ..How My Computer Screen Background Photo Inspires My Writing

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  6. says

    I learned about backup the hard way. When I took my laptop in for minor repairs, the machine was stolen from the repair shop. The shop gave me a new laptop, but when I tried to download old files from my backup, the disk was corrupted. I lost everything. I had to re-enter whole manuscripts from hardcopy. Now, I backup regularly, but I also run a virus scan on my backup disk.

    I don’t have the funds for major investments–travel to workshops or conferences. But, I do have a library card. Next year, I’m following Don’s advice to read more.
    elisabeth crisp´s last blog post ..Down Memory Lane

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    • says

      Elisabeth, that library card is a ticket to countless new worlds. Libraries were basically my second home, so I’m a lifelong advocate of taking advantage of the wonderful resources they offer. Happy reading!

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  7. says

    Keith,
    Elisabeth beat me to the punch. I love my local library. I troll there for people writing in my genre(s) and am happy to pay the late fine I always accrue in support of this wonderful resource. Yeah, money is always an issue, but you have to invest in yourself to learn a craft, right? The right workshop can be a game-changer, as can reading the right novel at the right time. BTW, my daughter nagged me for years about the backing-up thing. I am now a believer. Thanks for an instructive post!
    Susan Setteducato´s last blog post ..Susan’s Blog

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  8. says

    I have two resolutions. The first is multi-tiered, but I think it counts as one.

    1. Live in the moment/Be grateful for where I am in my writing journey (includes gratitude for readers, mentors, encouraging and supportive spouse-family-friends, WU)/Let go of the outcome.

    2. To just write already. Every chance I get.

    Great list, Keith. Thanks for a great crop of posts this year! (Never to early to start on the gratitude thing.)
    Vaughn Roycroft´s last blog post ..Spartans, What is Your Profession?

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  9. says

    My resolution came to me a couple weeks ago. A real Aha! moment. And it is: instead of fretting about whether anyone will care about what you write, instead focus on the fact that you are the only one who has the vision and voice to write like you do. You are the only one and you should feel and act both grateful and committed because of that fact.
    Tony Vanderwarker´s last blog post ..Writing Prompt – don’t figure it out

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  10. says

    I created five original resolutions as well.
    1. I’m going to grab me a fistful of website,
    2. work on my novels more than social media,
    3. devote more time and money to my craft,
    4. make sure I have some secondary storage for my laptop,
    5. and practice being more flexible. :)

    I like your suggestions too, Keith.

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  11. Jeanne Kisacky says

    “People of Earth, do you really want Bill Gates or Steve “damn you, autocorrect” Jobs making editorial decisions for you? Noooooo!” :-)
    I have got to learn to read your posts without drinking coffee at the same time–I always end up cleaning it off my computer screen when I laugh while taking a sip.
    Great post to help keep writers focused in these demanding times.

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    • Jeanne Kisacky says

      And in true confession mode, I cannot live without my old-style version of Roget’s where you have to look the word up twice (in the back and then in the subject area). Beats the pants off dictionary style versions that don’t catch all the nuances and variations of meaning.

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  12. says

    1. Stay off of &%$#@! facebook during my writing time.

    2. Read 52 books (I actually started a “52 Book Challenge” on my website). Mix in classics, genres outside my own, non-fiction, and of course, some how-to-write-more-better books.

    3. Finish two novels. This one may be tough, but it’s time to get serious.

    4. Get my writing time in, even if it means staying up ’til midnight after the high school band concert. Stop laughing, “late” is anything after 8pm when you’re on the downslope toward 50.

    5. Donate one of my 2 coffee grinders to Mr. Maass. I really need to reach out to those less fortunate.
    Ron Estrada´s last blog post ..Read for your Life

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  13. says

    Keith, your five dictums are already part of my writing practice. Practice makes for more practicing, as I always say. My resolution is to rewrite the beginning of my newest novel (again, and yet again on that again) so that it produces that mad lever-banging cocaine-fueled urge to read on like those lab rats we so loved years ago, rather than the “That’s nice, what’s for lunch reaction I’ve been getting.”

    My second resolution is to make a decent bourbon at home. Got the oak barrel, most of the grains and a tabletop distiller, and working on recipes. The second resolution will make any failure of the first resolution better. If I go blind, I will become an opera singer.
    Tom Bentley´s last blog post ..Poking the Eyes Out (At Least One) of the Green-Eyed Writing Monster

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  14. says

    Great list. I already have the one (my own URL!) and I could stand to work on a few of the others, especially back up my computer, which I don’t do nearly enough.

    I always set new goals for myself at the beginning of each year, usually those tied to specific projects, which has worked well for me (mostly). I like to have goals that I can measure and easily check off my list (finish novel draft, run three miles), rather than make generalized resolutions (write more). It helps me to feel accomplished.
    Andrea Blythe´s last blog post ..Movin’ and groovin’ through these dark days

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  15. says

    I especially like No. 3. Sometimes, as writers, it’s hard to justify spending money on writing when we make so little. But perhaps we need to see it differently – like as a treat equivalent to a game of golf, dinner out, a massage. The things that give us pleasure – like writing. Thanks for the post. Very inspirational.
    Gemma Hawdon´s last blog post ..The Science of Procrastination

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