Monday, December 23, 2019

Writing Resolutions

It may be a little early to talk about New Year's resolutions, but since this will be my last post until 2020, this is my last chance to talk about writing and the new year. What's the point in making those big resolutions in mid-January, when everyone else is already breaking their own? This post will be things to think about as the next year gives us a chance to turn up our game.

I'm not a firm believer in hard-and-fast, ironclad resolutions. In my experience, they become obligations rather than representations of our desires, and if we break them, they become wellsprings of guilt. Rather, I like to think about a set of goals, and lay out some milestones for the year. I also set up a few different degrees of accomplishment as well, so I can put some wins under my belt as I go for the bigger tasks.

The simplest way to build this out, in my experience, is to have three tiers of goals: to do something new, to make something a habit, and to make progress to a larger goal. Not surprisingly, doing something new is very achievable once we set out to do it, and it gives momentum toward the other tasks. Of course, as a writer, we can tailor these to how we want to progress.

Do something new. As writers, there is always something new to do. The real question is whether we are willing to try. I often offer beginning writers the goal of writing a poem. You can guess the responses: "I'm not a poet," "I don't know how to do that," "That's not the kind of writing I like." These are grown people trying to avoid writing with the reasoning of a six-year-old who doesn't want to try broccoli, and all I'm doing is recommending one bite. Being a writer is about exploring things and trying out the unfamiliar, so write one poem just to say you did, and it's a win. Write a seventeen-syllable haiku that nobody has to see, and you've grown.

Make something a habit. As intelligent beings, we learn a lot through repetition. All those annoying math problems and spelling tests in grade school taught us the basics, and that's true for anything else we do constantly. If we can accept that not all our attempts will be perfect, that we will not ace all our spelling tests, and that our mistakes are more educational than our successes, than doing something over and over is always beneficial. I always recommend writing every day to keep a good habit, but maybe just journaling thoughts on a regular basis is an accomplishment. Before bed every night, write down three ideas for a book (that you are not obliged to write). Three times a week, take ten minutes to describe where you are with just one of the senses. Get into one of these habits, and good things happen.

Make progress to a larger goal. I think one of every person's greatest sins is to think too big. This is different than thinking big - thinking big is deciding to write a book. Thinking too big is deciding to write a book then sitting down and trying to write the whole thing. Some people can do the latter; most will quickly be disappointed. If your goal as a writer is to write a book, then great - so prepare for it and take it piece by piece. Think about the characters. Write up an outline of the story. List the problems that will be encountered, the obstacles to be overcome. Read a good blog about laying out story arcs. Set a goal of writing the first chapter and feeling good about it. When you do that, setting another goal will be that much easier, and you'll already have a win under your belt.

In the coming year, it's surprisingly easy to become a better writer, and it doesn't take some magical resolutions to do so. Just remind yourself where you want to go and always move in that direction. Fast or slow, you'll get there.

So I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, a Happy New Year, and as I tell the many people I work with on the beautiful art of the written word, "Keep on writing."

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