I know, I know—an article in early January about New Year’s resolutions? How original is that? But I happen to be a list maker junkie and New Year’s resolutions are the mother of all lists, so I can’t help it. I look forward to setting new goals, charting my progress, marking off the accomplishments on the list (yes, I’m a geek). Lots of people despise resolutions and feel they set us up for failure, disappointment, and self-loathing (and who needs any more of those?), so if it’s not your thing, no worries. They work for me, and my only hard and fast motto for this crazy business of writing is “whatever works.” If making writing resolutions sounds like something that might galvanize you, too, then here are some tips that make your resolutions more likely to stick.
START WITH THE REVERSE OF RESOLUTIONS
While it is important to challenge ourselves, it’s just as important to acknowledge the things we already accomplished. I know, I know, we are taught not to “toot our own horn,” but really, it’s good to take a look at all you’ve done in the course of a year—good for the soul, good for the ego, just plain good any way you look at it. Take an indulgent, congratulatory look at all the cool stuff you did between this year and last. It will make you feel proud, it will make you feel kinder towards yourself, and it’s a nice affirmation.
Some years, your list might include more “biggies” than others, for example “I landed an agent,” or “I published my fifth novel,” or, for me, 2014 included “I finally started teaching online writing classes after people have been bugging me to for years” (I have brand new ones beginning January 15 if you’re interested…) and “finished a draft of a new novel.”
But be sure to include accomplishments no one else might recognize or know about, such as: “Never got lost a single time while renting a car on book tour” or “Stopped going to writing group with X because it was toxic and not giving me anything.”
You get the idea. Nothing that comes to mind is too small to include. Sometimes, on discouraging days, it helps to go back and read your list—especially on days you feel you aren’t living up to your resolutions. You’ll go over your list and think, “Look at me. Look at all I did. Okay, tomorrow is another day. I’m inspired to do better.”
Start making your list. Look at you! Look at how strong, kickass and interesting you are!
Don’t you feel better already?
MAKE SURE THE OUTCOME IS IN YOUR OWN HANDS
As you make a list of resolutions for your writing life in 2015, don’t allow anyone else to control your success or failure. It’s not a good idea to resolve “I will be published in 2015” or “I will become a bestseller in 2015” because that outcome is not something you can actually control. Publishing can be a capricious and crazy-making business. If you want to be published, list resolutions such as “I will create an excellent query letter for my novel” and “I will submit queries to agents beginning in March” or what have you. Those are things that will certainly set you on the path to publication, but more importantly, they are goals you control.
MAKE YOUR RESOLUTIONS CHALLENGING BUT DOABLE
Both parts of that sentence are important. Challenging is key. It’s one of the reasons people bother to make resolutions at all—you are trying to kick start your productivity, get yourself out of your comfort zone, push yourself in some way. But don’t set yourself up for failure by setting insane and impossible goals. In my Inspiration & Motivation class, I first coach students to carve out a writing schedule and keep it sacred. It’s a mistake for a relatively new writer to declare “I will write every day for four hours.” They’re not likely to sustain that kind of discipline, and then, after a week or so of failing to live up to that resolution, chances are they scrap the whole idea. Make your goal doable, and if you find you are accomplishing your goals with flying colors, celebrate it (more on that later) and then raise the bar for yourself.
KNOW THY ENEMIES
Chances are, there are reasons why you haven’t already met this particular goal you’re resolving to meet; that’s why you’re resolving to do it now. It’s crucial to assess and be aware of the enemy to meeting this goal. Another exercise we do in my Inspiration & Motivation class is to identify what has kept you from meeting your goal in the past. What do you foresee being an obstacle to meeting your goal in 2015? First, identify it. Then, decide what preemptive plan will prevent this same obstacle from foiling you again. You have to be brutally honest and defensive. I’ll admit it: Facebook was/is a huge enemy to my writing time and productivity. For me, it’s a rabbit hole, a giant time suck. So, for starters, my plan was to set a stopwatch when I logged in so I could track my time, kind of like punching a time card. Well, that didn’t work! I’m embarrassed to say that I’d tell myself “I’m just going to change my status and answer messages and I’ll be off in ten minutes,” but the reality was (revealed by my stopwatch) that an hour would go by! So, I began to use my timer instead, and set an alarm for ten minutes so the time couldn’t slip away. Which leads me to…
HAVE MONTHLY CHECK-INS TO SEE HOW YOU’RE PROGRESSING TOWARD YOUR GOALS
You need to set time to assess how you’re doing. I was able to see my little time card plan was a bust and figured out something else. Seems obvious, I know, but if you don’t actually set a time to take a good objective look at how you’re doing, you might end up spinning your wheels and reinforcing bad habits. Be willing to make changes. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Don’t be insane. But also…
CELEBRATE EVERY SINGLE SMALL SUCCESS
Don’t be stingy! Be good to yourself. Any time you can mark something off your list or you do a check-in and recognize you’re right on track, celebrate it. I firmly believe celebrating each small accomplishment keeps them happening, and all those small steps build up to big leaps. Reward your writer self however you see fit—ice cream? A new writing book? A trip to a book store? A weekend writing retreat? Just as only you will know what your obstacles will be and what is doable for you, only you will know what is a worthy celebration.
Dan Blank wrote beautifully about this here last month in his post “Do You Have the Clarity to Celebrate Success?” (http://writerunboxed.com/2014/12/16/do-you-have-the-clarity-to-celebrate-success/#more-34735). If you didn’t read it then, I highly recommend you return to it now.
I wish you all the best with your writing projects in the New Year. May the words and inspiration flow for you in 2015!
Will you track any of your writing goals this year? How? If you had goals for 2014, did you reach them?