A new year, a new writerly you. New Year’s Day is a time for reflecting on the past year while thinking about the goals, wishes, and hopes for the new year ahead. What does this mean for your writing goals? Maybe 2013 is the year you finish your novel. Maybe it’s the year you commit to a sustainable writing habit. Or maybe it’s the year you get published.
To start the New Year right, here are five resolutions you can make to improve your writing, focus yourself, and achieve your publishing goals. Pick one to start, or dive in with all five. The result will be the best writing year you’ve had yet.
1. I resolve to … make time for writing.
Writers hear this all the time: If you want results, you have to apply butt to chair and just … write. But it isn’t that simple, is it? Most of us have jobs, kids, chores, and other outside interests that take away from our writing time, and there are only 24 hours in the day. And most of us also need to sleep.
But there’s always time to write. Excuses are easy to make (and there are many responsibilities to which we must attend) but most, if not all of us, have at least one hour of quiet time a day to devote to our writing. Think about it this way: If you’re able to write even 500 words in an hour, and you write for one hour a day, you’ll have written about 15,000 words in a month. And even if only 50% of those words are usable, if you keep up the habit for a year, you’ll have written 90,000 words. And that, my friend, is a novel.
And don’t think that writing time means just typing words–any words–into a blank Word document. Outlining, research, and writing exercises are also great ways to spend your writing time, because they are moving you toward your writing goals.
2. I resolve to … embrace my personal writing style.
We’ve heard the debate for years. It’s probably spanned millenia. The debate to which I refer, is, of course, that of outliners vs. “pantsers.”
Whether you consider yourself an Outliner or a Pantser (non-outliner) doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you fully embrace your method of writing. There is merit to both styles, and there are pitfalls, too. Knowing the pros and cons of both camps of thought will aid your writing. (And if you haven’t decided whether you’re more of a planner or a non-planner, I encourage you to try both methods and see which one you prefer.)
Outliners are often more organized, but their rigid structures sometimes get in the way of lightning rod flashes of creativity. Their works often need less major editing or structural work (but not always!) and they tend to “know where they’re going” from the first page to the last.
Pantsers are much freer in their writing methodology, preferring to “make it up as they go” rather than adhere to a strict outline that they write ahead of time. They often find surprises as they write, and they also tend to feel less inclined to “stick to a plan” … because they don’t necessarily have one. Their works sometimes suffer structurally, or meander in places where they didn’t know how to further the plot, but they are also often incredibly innovative and creative.
I’ll say it again: There is nothing wrong with being either a Pantser or an Outliner. Both will get the job done. Wherever you fall in the spectrum, be aware of both the advantages and disadvantages of your method, and work accordingly.
3. I resolve to … self-edit as I write.
Don’t confuse self-editing with that niggling voice of doubt in your head that screams What the heck are you doing?! There’s no feasible way that will work! Do yourself a favor and silence that voice right now.
Self-editing is different. It’s a method of revising as you write in order to produce a cleaner manuscript that requires less revision on the back end. It prevents larger structural issues later on, as well as issues of characterization, plot, and pacing. While it does slow down your writing output, the result is a better and clearer first draft that will have fewer problems to solve during revision.
While you can learn bits and pieces about self-editing on this site (such as this post on 4 great ways to revise as you write), no one instructs this method better and more fully than James Scott Bell. If you’re resolving to self-edit more efficiently in 2013, Revision and Self-Editing for Publication, 2nd Edition has all you need to know about the self-editing process.
4. I resolve to …step outside my comfort zone.
Some of us are fiction writers and aspiring novelists. Some of us are memoirists. Some of us are freelancers. Some of us are a combination of all of these, in varying degrees. But all of us have a comfort zone, and if we stay within it too long, we risk stagnation.
So resolve to step outside of your comfort zone. Experiment with styles and voices that you’re not used to. Emulate authors that you don’t normally read. Read books that you wouldn’t normally pick up off the shelf. If you’re strictly a fiction writer, branch out into the world of freelance articles, where science and special interest articles provide great fodder for new stories. Or, if you’re a nonfiction writer, study plot, structure, voice, and pacing, all of which will help you write tightly wound, concise pieces with distinct tones. My point is that we all get stuck in a rut from time to time. Actively finding ways to get unstuck is the mark of a great writer.
5. I resolve to … call myself a writer.
This may be the most important resolution you make for 2013. You may consider yourself a writer; you may not. You may think you just dabble in this stuff, and that it may work out for you in the end, but maybe not. But writing isn’t a short journey, at least not for most of us. It’s a lifetime of work. It’s often hinged on the culmination of sweat, blood, and tears. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to reap rewards, and it’s a bit of a cruel mistress, too.
Start calling yourself a writer. Then ask yourself why. Acknowledging your writerly status is one thing; living it is another. One of my favorite musings on why we choose to be writers comes from Larry Brooks, in his book Story Engineering. I encourage you to print it out, tape it into your writing journal, and flip to it from time to time, especially when you’re feeling discouraged. Remind yourself why you’re a writer, and why you call yourself one. It will be a tremendous help in the 365 days ahead, and beyond.
We are lucky. Very lucky. We are writers.
Sometimes that may seem more curse than blessing, and others may not regard what we do with any more esteem or respect than mowing a lawn. To an outsider this can appear to be a hobby, or maybe a dream that eludes most.
But if that’s how they view you, they aren’t paying enough attention. If you are a writer–and you are if you actually write–you are already living the dream. Because the primary reward of writing comes from within, and you don’t need to get published or sell your screenplay to access it. …
Whatever we write, we are reaching out. We are declaring that we are not alone on this planet, and that we have something to share, something to say. Our writing survives us, even if nobody ever reads a word of it. Because we have given back, we have reflected our truth. We have mattered.
2013 is your year for writing. Make the most of it.