The promise of a new year usually inspires me to cobble together a list of writing resolutions for the months ahead. But as the possibilities of 2020 glitter before us, I find myself in the mood for something different. Something with flair. So rather than dusting off old favorites, like write 2,000 words a day or finish my novel, this year I’ve decided to put a new spin on a tired tradition.
To get the ideas flowing, I called on our ever-helpful Writer Unboxed Facebook community  to learn how other writers approach New Year’s resolutions. With their creative insights, I’ve assembled a list of “un-resolutions”—alternative approaches to traditional goal setting to help you realize your writing goals in 2020 and beyond.
- Choose a theme.
Fellow WUer Lisa Montanaro doesn’t begin the new year with a list of goals but rather a one-word theme. She uses it as her battle cry throughout the year, applying it across all areas of her life, not just her writing. To keep herself honest and accountable, she shares her theme on her blog every January and announces it to her clients (many of whom have adopted this practice themselves). Lisa has followed this tradition for over a decade—past themes have included implement, discover, and presence—and it’s helped her navigate major changes in her life and business.
Following Lisa’s example, I’ve decided my theme for 2020 will be experiment.
to try or test, especially in order to discover or prove something
I am equally excited about my theme’s promise of discovery (new things about myself, my work, the world) as I am about proving (what works, what doesn’t), so I can focus my energy where it has the most impact.
In the coming year, I hope experiment will give me the freedom to try new things without fear of failure (because failure is a necessary component of any experiment, right?). In my creative life, experiment might mean trying my hand at a new genre. Exploring different formats and emerging technologies. Forging new partnerships. Creating beyond words.
What word would you choose as your theme for next year?
- Write a letter to your future self.
We all know that writing can be a powerful way to clarify your vision and focus your intentions, but it doesn’t have to be a list of goals. Fellow WUer Mandy Webster and her kids write letters to their future selves laying out their hopes and plans for the coming year. They open them the following December and delight in learning which elements of their dreams came true. (They also write longer-term letters, which they open five or even ten years into the future.)
Mandy’s approach is a refreshing alternative to making a list of specific, measurable goals because it enables us to aim in a general direction and allows limitless possibilities for getting there.
Inspired by her approach, I’ve started drafting a letter to my future self to open next December. Here are a few excerpts: By the time you read this, I hope you’ve found a writing partner you connect with … I hope you’ve completed the next book in the High Flyers series … I hope you’ve been invited to speak at elementary schools outside of Pennsylvania … I hope your writing has taken you to new places—real and imagined.
What would you say in a letter to your future self?
- Create a vision.
Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, famously altered a New York Times Best Sellers list to show Chicken Soup for the Soul in the number 1 slot of the “Paperback Advice, How-To and Miscellaneous” category. He posted the image around his office where he saw it repeatedly throughout the day. Within two years, his vision had become reality.
In recent years, vision boards—a collection of images or pictures that represent one’s dreams—have gained popularity as a tool for helping people visualize and achieve their goals. Instead of written goals, channel your inner Jack Canfield and harness the power of visualization to create an image that reflects your aspirations. Place it in a location where you’ll see it regularly to keep your goals at the forefront of your thoughts.
While there is no shortage of articles and videos on how to create a vision board, the result should be whatever you want (or need) it to be. It can contain a single image, like a mockup of your novel’s cover to represent your goal of finishing your book, or a collage of images that represent your aspirations in all areas of your life.
If you’re feeling crafty, break out a pair of scissors and a bottle of glue and go to town on a stack of old magazines. If you’re prone to gluing your fingers together, there’s plenty of free design software that can help you create a digital vision board to use as your phone’s screensaver or your computer’s desktop wallpaper.
Regardless of how you create it, the process is just as powerful as the vision board itself because it requires you to slow down and concentrate on your vision.
What images best represent your goals for 2020?
- Resolve to do less.
New Year’s resolutions tend to add work to our already-bursting-at-the-seams To Do lists. This year, eliminate goals and commitments that take a lot and give little in return.
For fellow WUer Nicholas Belardes, reassessing his writing goals is as valuable as setting new ones because it allows him to delete those that have gone stale, creating more time and energy for those already adding value.
Take an inventory of your activities and evaluate the return you’re receiving against the time and energy you’re investing. Resolve to change or eliminate those that require the most and return the least.
I recently went through my master To Do list and deleted all projects that had been hanging out on the back burner for six months or longer. While I felt some initial disappointment at letting go of some projects I’d really wanted to tackle, having fewer tasks hanging over my head was freeing.
What commitments can you eliminate to free up some extra time and energy?
- Start whenever, end whenever.
While January 1 is a logical date to begin working toward a new goal, it’s also arbitrary. Fellow WUer Mara Pelrine-Bacon doesn’t wait for a holiday or special date to make adjustments. When she wants or needs a change, she starts that day or the next. Marilyn Steinick Miller does her planning around the time of her birthday.
Similarly, there’s no mandate that your resolutions must span a year. Heather Bouwman maintains a five-year plan and adjusts her goals along the way. If you prefer to think shorter term, try refreshing your goals quarterly or monthly. Or daily, if the mood strikes you.
What’s your ideal time of year and duration for setting a new goal?
- Compare yourself to YOU.
It’s human nature to compare our lot in life to others’, but unhealthy comparisonitis can lower your confidence, dredge up negative emotions, and hamper your productivity. This year, rather than measuring yourself against the prolific writer whose got it all figured out, use a more realistic benchmark: YOU. Consider where you were last year, five years ago, ten years ago and look for evidence of progress. What are you doing today that felt impossible back then? What have you learned? What have you achieved?
Follow the example of fellow WUer Alisha Rohde, who makes time each December to take stock of where she’s at and make notes about her aims for the coming year. She uses these notes to stay motivated and remind her of the progress she’s making.
In what ways are you closer to your goal today than you were last year?
- Reward progress.
It’s easy to get swept up in visions and plans, but make sure to account for how you’ll reward yourself when you reach a milestone. Fellow WUer Laura Seeber gives herself a bonus when she achieves a goal, just as an employer might reward a valued employee. For Laura, the bonus isn’t monetary but rather a simple luxury, like a cup of her favorite tea, a bunch of Oreos, or a new book.
Laura’s insight made me realize that the only reward I ever give myself for a completed goal is more goals! (No wonder I struggle with burnout.) Laura’s example has inspired me to ramp up my reward system. As she demonstrated, rewards don’t have to be expensive. They don’t have to be things at all. In 2020, I will reward my accomplishments with something I love, like spending time outdoors. Complete a chapter, earn a mid-afternoon walk by the water.
How do you plan to reward yourself for a job well done?
How will you approach 2020?
Based on the diverse responses I received from the Writer Unboxed community, it’s clear there’s no right or wrong way to approach your New Year’s resolutions. Some writers, like Birgitte Necessary, don’t make a big fuss over the changing calendar but keep ongoing goals to work on throughout the year. Other writers, like Marie Andreas, are a bit more formal about it, taking cues from their business plans. Some writers, like Katherine Nyborg, set principles (“Do the work. Keep doing the work.”), while others, like Ellen Elizabeth Cassidy, find the best resolutions are no resolutions at all.
As we get ready to welcome a new year, I hope you’ll join me and our community members in finding (or creating) the un-resolution that helps make all your writing dreams come true.
What’s your (un-)resolution for 2020?