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The Hack’s Guide to Reviewing Your Writing Year

Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.

Welp, another year over (yay!), a new one just begun (ARGH!). It’s that time of year when all of our apps send us emails about how many books we read, what music we listened to the most, or how much exercise we got. In this online world of ours, it’s important that we quantify what we’ve done so that we can make our passions more closely resemble math homework. And your writing career is no different. Taking stock of what you’ve done this year is like your annual review at work, except without the possibility of your boss giving you a raise at the end of it. For some writers, looking back at the year that was is like admiring a full trophy case (or possibly a bookshelf full of one’s own publications). For the rest of us, the annual review involves dwelling on a dozen short-story misfires, reliving cringeworthy interactions with your favorite author at a convention, or failing to come up with a funny third beat in a comedy triplet.

Lucky for you, there’s hope. Before my divorce, my marriage counselor liked to say that the difference between success and failure is all about how you frame things. I’m passing this good advice along by showing you how to take an honest look at your the past year in your writing career, then spinning that honest look into something that doesn’t look like you’ve just been spinning your wheels for twelve months.

First, tally your publications. Twitter.com [1] and Facebook [2] are two of the most popular websites in the world, so it’s pretty rad that you got your work published there.

Celebrate your successes. For example, you got paid for writing a magazine article? Pat yourself on the back, you’re obviously doing something right! But success isn’t only measured in money. There are many achievements that you can take pride in that don’t necessarily involve you cashing a check. Get an agent for your novel? Hey, not too shabby, buster! Buy a fancy new pen? That’s cause for celebration in my book! Abandon your NaNoWriMo project [3] that was making you miserable? I will personally throw you a parade! The nice thing about being your own boss is that you get to decide what success looks like. Unless you’re relying on your writing to pay the bills, in which case you definitely should measure success with money. I hope you like beans and rice!

photo by Paul Keller

It’s the count that counts. Even if you didn’t finish a single piece of writing, you probably wrote a lot of words. Even the most unproductive year of your writing life seems like it was filled with accomplishment when you look at it one word at a time. If your word count is less than that of a paperback novel, have your word processor do a character count instead. The important thing is that you have a really big number you can show off to someone. Counting characters makes even the thinnest output sound astronomically huge because who has any idea how many letters are in any piece of writing? Best of all, mentioning your character count to someone gives them a terrific opening to say something clever like, “Well, you’re quite a character yourself!” At which point, you’ll both laugh and laugh and forget all about your lack of production for the year.

Set realistic, achievable goals for next year. These are not to be confused with New Year’s Resolutions [5], which are usually vague and always set you up for failure (it turns out that writing a bestseller every other month sounds way more attainable when you’re drunk on New Year’s Eve). The main difference between resolutions and goals is that writing goals are created when you’re sober, which therefore leave you with fewer excuses if you don’t meet them. If and when that happens, take solace in the fact that you can return to this very article again next year and remind yourself how to spin another year of professional failure into an annual death spiral of lowered expectations. See you next year!

How do you like to take stock of your writing each year? Share your thoughts in the comments!


About Bill Ferris [6]

After college, Bill Ferris [7] left Nebraska for Florida to become a rich and famous rock star. Failing that, he picked up the pen to become a rich and famous novelist. He now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and looks forward to a life of poverty and ridicule.