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An Easier, More Meaningful Approach to Your Writing Resolutions

I’ve never been big on New Year’s Resolutions—not because I don’t believe in trying to make a change or to work toward a goal, but simply because I don’t believe in waiting to flip a calendar page to do it. I’m just as likely to reboot my writing routine in the middle of August (and often do), so that when January comes along I don’t usually hear alarm bells that it’s time to shake things up.

Writing Resolutions

There’s no denying that a fresh start is a time for reflection, though—on the year we’re leaving behind as well as on what might lie ahead. It was during such a reflection period a few years back that I decided maybe I did want to make one particular resolution after all. In fact, I’ve made the same one ever year since.

The approach is simple and open-ended—and regardless of whether you’re into Jan. 1 goal-setting, it might just be the benchmark you need, too.

A Year of Rejection

My thinking on this changed in 2014—not an easy year for my writing. It started, ironically, on a great note: I signed with an agent and had a novel go out on submission right around the time I gave birth to my daughter in mid-January. Then, Ohio was plunged into a deep freeze meteorologists dubbed “The Polar Vortex,” and while I was snowed in on maternity leave with my 2-year-old climbing the walls around me and my newborn, occasionally my phone would ping with news of the outside world: Specifically, a rejection.

A steady stream of these continued for a few sleep-deprived months, until there were no yesses left to wait for, at which point my agent and I had a strategy phone call in which we agreed I should revise once more before submitting further.

Never mind that this call occurred just as I returned full-time to Writer’s Digest, choked back tears in the daycare parking lot, put our outgrown house on the market, sold it within days, and scrambled to find a new home. Between bank inspections and stacks of cardboard boxes and 3 a.m. feedings, I revised to the limits of my sanity (and my husband’s). Just in time for the move, I shuttled it off for a fresh round of submissions.

While unpacking and settling into life in our new neighborhood, occasionally my phone would ping with news of the outside world: Specifically, more rejection.

Correspondence from my agent grew spotty. I started writing something new, to take my mind off of the submission/revision/rejection cycle. My new house had something I’d never had before: a room just for my writing. The small satisfaction of filling that space fueled me even as the radio silence on my submissions grew louder.

Still, come Thanksgiving, my relatives were asking about my novel with sympathy in their eyes. I couldn’t hide my disappointment. I'd started the year with high hopes, I'd done all that was asked of me even when it was hard, but I'd failed.

And then, I wrote an essay. And I sold it. To the Sunday Style section of The New York Times.

The Power of One Good Thing

My essay, “An Extra Angel on Top of the Tree,” was holiday themed and thus ran in mid-December. It was also deeply personal, and I can’t say I didn’t have reservations about publishing it—but the warmth of the response thawed my doubts. I closed out the final weeks of the year with my phone pinging with news of the outside world: Specifically, encouragement, gratitude and support.

While my 100,000-word tome had been getting me down for months, it turned out all I needed was an unrelated 1,000 words to get my spirit back on track. In part because it was the end of the year, that’s when I realized the power, in this writing life of long stretches of solitude punctuated by small victories, of doing one thing you’re truly proud of.

That’s not a bad goal, I thought. Not too intimidating, in those non-specific yet still important terms. I should aim for that again.

And I did. Though not directly. The first nine months of 2015, in fact, brought another slog through rejection. Then, my agent and I parted ways. But by the end of the year, I had a new one—thanks to the new manuscript I’d completed and revised. By the time I signed my two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press in December (in case you missed it: a story I shared in the post How I Got My Agent—and Book Deal: Writer's Digest Editor Edition), my head was spinning with how fast things had turned around—and the realization that I’d managed something else I could feel thoroughly good about.

So now I stand in the wake of 2016—my busiest year ever as I worked alongside my publishing team to get that novel ready for its publication (Almost Missed You is coming March 28, 2017!). But when the ball dropped on Dec. 31, what brought me the greatest sense of achievement was having written another novel, my first under contract, and turned it in before the holidays, two months ahead of schedule.

I haven’t gotten feedback from my editor yet, but (while I really, really hope she likes it!) that doesn't preclude me from counting that big finish as my One Thing. Because among the benefits of setting a goal to simply do one thing every year that you’re truly proud of with your writingare these:

  • It’s not necessarily external. It doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn't be) contingent on someone else saying yes.
  • This approach is about perseverance.
  • You can (and should) work toward this goal while resisting the urge to force or pressure things.
  • You might just surprise yourself!

The Only Resolution You Need

None of those years did I set out knowing what my One Thing might be, but this is clearer than ever to me now:

That One Thing a year, if you can manage it, really is all it takes to keep yourself going—even at full throttle.

Yours could be a big byline, or it could be a quiet blog post. It could be a new friendship with a writer you once found intimidating, or it could be typing “The End” on Page 300. It could be courage, or, yes, it could be a contract. Ultimately, it needs only to be meaningful enough to stand apart in your mind, to fill your tank, to rev your engine.

Whatever your One Thing turns out to be, you’ll know it when you see it—or, rather, when you feel it.

Every day is a new chance to get there. And the real beauty of a new year is that it holds 365 of them.

Yours in writing,
Jessica Strawser
Editorial Director, Writer’s Digest magazine
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