This article first appeared in OWS Inked
As a proud nonconformist, I am not accustomed to creating New Year’s Resolutions. Rigorously, for 20 years, my argument has been that people can change the course of their life at any moment, even within a given hour. Yet I recognize and understand the comradery and support found around the New Year. For many, the New Year culture encourages one to make a fresh start, tossing out the old and embracing the new. Thus, if you are a writer, and you must make some fundamental resolutions to improve your success, here are a few to consider.
1.) Make writing a habit.
I have read countless articles on the importance of writers needing to set aside time—at least, an hour—each day for writing. Now, writing may involve several writing-related activities, including outlining, researching, or adding those much-needed words to your manuscript. But writing requires dedicated practice and routine like any other lifestyle choice (e.g. dieting, exercise, political activism, etc.), even when you do not feel like it. If you can maintain repetition for about twenty-one days, you will find that you will have an inner drive to write daily, or you will just feel wrong. Think about a television show you watch regularly, and then the one night you miss the new episode or the season finale. Doesn’t the thought twist your insides in knots? You want to make writing have the same effect. Putting words on paper needs to be such an important part of your life that missing a single day should cause need for psychotherapy.
3. Read widely.
I wholly believe writers must also be readers. Reading books of all genres is not simply research, but practice. Learn new words, character concepts, themes, and viewpoints. As writers, our imaginations are persistently creating novel ideas based off our experiences in the world. By reading, you will discover concepts sprouting like wildfire—even unrelated to the book in your hands—by opening yourself to new creative content. Seriously, our careers are based on words. You would help yourself tremendously by absorbing them while reading a new book or two each month. 4. Learn to self-edit as you write. Some of the worst advice I have heard is to spit out a manuscript as quickly as possible, and then pull out the red pen. Writers must self-edit when writing. Now, to be clear, self-editing is not reading through your first chapter eighty-seven times, adding and removing commas and restructuring sentence syntax until your fingers are curled like vampire toes. Self-editing is the process of building a sturdy foundation through choice of voice, setting, structure, characterization, pacing, plot, and so forth while you tell the story. Self-editing assures you are staying on the path—the map of your story—without venturing off in the wrong direction. If you fail to self-edit, you will find yourself with 80,000 words of garbage with unfillable plot holes, and your first edit will be equivalent to writing another novel. An editor, Lincoln Michel, says it best:
Bottom line, self-editing will slow down your writing output, but the result is a better and clearer first draft. You will thank yourself in the end.
5. Shut up.
I know this one sounds harsh, but take some time and listen to the constructive criticism of your readers and fellow authors. I stunted my own writing career by a decade by ignoring what people were saying and the advice I was reading. Nowadays, the volume of guided, writing advice online is substantial, and for the most part, worthwhile. Writing is a lifelong craft which will always be improved, even after you find your voice. Pay attention to those you deem successful and you might learn a thing or two.
6. Call yourself a writer.
This may be the most important resolution you make for 2017. Writing is not a short excursion, but a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears poured into projects with no guarantee of success. You may already consider yourself a writer; you may not. But you will find encouragement by calling yourself a writer, and soon you will find yourself living a writerly life. Remind yourself daily why you choose to be a writer, and embrace that truth.
As I alleged in the beginning, a New Year and its resolutions does not promise change any more than the moment after you read this article. The real secret to change is to wake each morning with the resolve to hold yourself accountable to your promises; and when you find yourself off track during the day, be willing to start again.