Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Year's Writing Resolutions

A friend on Facebook is talking about what writing resolutions she might take, to take herself more seriously as a writer - and how on earth you can measure that. I made a similar commitment to myself ten years ago, and over the last ten years have set myself multiple different challenges, with varying levels of success. I've also learnt a lot more about goal-setting and creativity than I knew ten years ago. So here are some ideas for New Year's Writing Resolutions, to inspire you.

Before I list them, though, let me enter two major caveats. First, I don't make Better-Self resolutions at New Year. It's dark and cold, and so are the coming months; I've just spent two weeks eating, drinking, and spending considerably more than usual; I'm thoroughly knackered, with or without seasonal flu. Those aren't conducive circumstances, for me. Instead, I wait until the beginning of April, when spring is filling me up with optimism. For New Year's, I usually choose just one resolution that I will genuinely enjoy and which is not Worthy or Self-Improving. Last year, it was to cook a new recipe each month. (Mostly curries, as it happened.) This year, I'm toying with "do something I haven't done before" each month. One year, it was "Only read books I haven't read before" (which was great, but oh the Pratchett cravings!).

The second caveat, is this: beware of goals. I've written before in The joy is in the doing about how focusing on goals actually sabotages our success, while focusing on the process increases it. Goal-setting is useful for that initial kick of energy to get something new underway, but once it's started, focus on the process much more. This is especially important because we've all been so trained that goals must be measurable - but most of our measurements aren't process-based, they're based on the end product. If the difference isn't clear, or product feels more important to you than process, read The joy is in the doing first.

With all that in mind, here are some of the writing resolutions I've found useful or would recommend:

  • Set aside the time, protect it, and use it. This is the one ring that rules them all. How much time you set aside and when is completely up to you. I like big swathes of time: when I was writing full-time, 3 evenings a fortnight, from finishing work till bedtime, was right and sustainable for me. (I adjusted it down from 2 evenings a week when I realised that wasn't workable.) One of my students leaves for work 30 mins early and spends 30 mins in a coffee shop every morning, writing. Don't listen to anyone who tells you that you have to follow their way or their routine to be a "real" writer. Go with whatever works for you. And keep revisiting the plan and tweaking it to work out what does suit you, and how to protect it best. More on writing time...
  • Send out 3 submissions a month. Yes, this is pretty goal-focused, but I found that did actually help to do something emotionally difficult. If my goal was to send out 3 submissions, that was within my control: I can't force someone to publish me, but I can send them my stuff. This was especially useful when I was sitting with a hard drive stuffed with finished stories and poems which I simultaneously believed were brilliant and would never be published. One pointer: it's easier to default to sending stuff to competitions only, as their deadlines make them more compelling. That's a helluva way to shoot yourself in the foot / reinforce negative beliefs about whether you'll get published. It's much easier to get published than to win a competition!
  • Polish and submit one thing a month. If your hard drive / drawers / notebooks have a heap of stories, articles, or poems that are sort-of-almost-done, this could be the year of the realm of the last inch for you, and there are things to be learnt in that realm which you can discover nowhere else. NB: Note that I'm not suggesting the goal of "finish" (which is end-goal) but "polish", which is a process. I find that as soon as I focus on finishing something, I lose patience with the work at hand, and work considerably less well. Polishing is an act of love.
  • Embark on a creative course. I recommend The Artist's Way very, very highly - it's a 12-week creativity course in a book, with a chapter each week and lovely, tiny, doable creative tasks that unexpectedly transform everything. Incidentally, it's also the gentlest, most helpful therapy you could wish for, but that really is incidental, which is part of what's so lovely about it. If you've never worked through it, I couldn't think of a better gift for yourself this year. If you want to develop story-building and writing, the Story Elements Complete Set has 34 games and activities, so you could do one a week with 18 weeks set aside for holidays, time off, etc. Alternately, as there are 12 topics, you could divvy it up that way, and play your way through one topic each month. And of course if you're in Oxford, you can come to my writing course.
  • Start or join a writing group. Having regular meetings and real-people readers brings your writing life alive wonderfully and keeps you enthusiastic (the path of joy). Here are some tips on finding/starting a group and giving/receiving feedback. If other people's responses motivate you (as they do for me), this is invaluable.
  • Go to a writing event each month. Poetry slams, readings, conventions; look up what's happening in your city / town and in your genre. (Personally, I don't count literary festivals: that's a reader's event and they can make everything seem so wildly far-off and glittering that they can be dispiriting, at the wrong time.) Seeing writing as a living breathing thing that people do is hugely inspiring and motivating, especially if it's in a forum where you can share your work too (such as readings / slams) or find out about new opportunities for submissions (such as conventions).  
If you have any more ideas or lovely writing resolutions that have worked for you, please do add them in the comments. Have a wonderful New Year's eve and a year of joyous writing ahead.

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