New Year, New Novel? Here Are Some Writing Resolutions You Just Might Keep

Ah, the heady feel of a new year, when you can leave all of last year’s mistakes behind you and emerge as some shiny, productive, improved version of yourself. At least until the second week in January, when it all seems a bit too much like hard work, the weather is bloody miserable, your next holiday is months away and what was wrong with the old you, anyway?

So, while I couldn’t resist the urge to add to the cacophony of New Year’s Resolution pieces, I hope at least these are some tips that will last you through the year…

Read lots, do little

This time of year, you can find a million pieces of advice online about making this the year you write that novel, finish that screenplay, Become A Writer or whatever, and lots of that advice is really useful. But not all of it will work for you – and nothing will crash your good intentions faster than trying to implement a rigorous schedule of multiple new habits all at once. Pick a few small changes to start with – you’re more likely to stick with them and see results. You can always add more later.

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Pick the bits that work…

Just because a whole programme or course doesn’t suit you, that doesn’t mean it’s useless. I’ve done The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron several times during my life, and always find it a useful jumpstart to stalled creativity. But I’ve never managed to complete the ‘no reading’ part of it successfully and one of the main components, the morning pages (where you journal at the very start of your day), has never worked for me. While I have learned that journaling is a useful tool, I’ve also realised that, as a chronic insomniac, an extra half hour in bed does me more good than any early morning creative exercises.

But be open to what that might be...

One of the reasons I like books about writing is they often throw up ideas or exercises that I wouldn’t ever think of – and, more than that, that I would normally run a mile from doing. But while you ultimately need to find techniques and habits that suit you, it’s worth at least trying things that might not initially appeal, whether it’s reading your work aloud, or going on an ‘artist’s date’ – the very act of stepping outside your comfort zone can be useful in itself.

Ignore any rules about ‘real writers’ (yes, even these)

‘Real writers write every day’ is probably the most common (and I have written why this particular bit of ‘wisdom’ needs to be thrown in the sea), but these come in many hues. ‘Real writers can’t stop writing’, ‘real writers will always find time to write’, blah, blah, blah. When in fact plenty of ‘real’ writers (if you are judging ‘realness’ in terms of success, which is pernicious in itself) only write for part of the year, or take long breaks between books, or find that life occasionally derails them just as much as it does other people. One of the easiest ways to set yourself up for failure is to adhere to a definition of success that automatically excludes you from ever achieving it – for instance, thinking Real Writers Write Every Day, when you have a job or family circumstances or health issues that virtually guarantee you won’t be able to do that. Set goals, by all means, and utilise advice to help you achieve them, but don’t let other people define what success or progress should look like for you.

Don’t wait until you have the time

All of that said, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to achievement is telling yourself that you will be a writer one day, just not now. You’ll do that first draft when you’re on holiday, or when you take a sabbatical, or even just when work gets a bit easier. I wasted three years between books waiting for the ‘right time’: in the end, my next novel was written in 15-minute bursts, time snatched out of busy days in a hugely demanding job. Don’t feel like writing needs a lot of time and ceremony – you really don’t need to put aside hours and hours to do it. Sure, you might benefit from doing a writer’s class or going on a writing retreat, but don’t keep waiting for the perfect set of circumstances to arrive, or you might be a year down the line and still not have written a word.

Kill the comparisons

Another fast motivation killer is comparison. It can be helpful to have writing peers or buddies to urge you on and share your triumphs and frustrations, but few things will slow you down more than getting tangled up in comparing your achievements with other people’s. For a start, it’s hard to see through the smokescreen of social media to see what is actual success and what is just the equivalent of a wrinkle-removal filter. But also because there will always be tons of people who genuinely are more successful than you, whether you measure that in productivity or plaudits. That’s just a fact of life. Some folk will get the gigs you wanted, the breaks you deserved, the opportunities you would kill for. Hell, some will just be flat out better at this shit than you are. And you are allowed, occasionally, to be envious of others’ talent or good fortune, to be angry at a system that is titled towards the privileged, or to feel demotivated by the sense that everyone else has got it all together and there’s no way you will ever catch up. But only occasionally. Then get back to your own damn work.

Build your village

Of all the creative industries, writing can be one of the loneliest, since much of the time it is just you, your laptop, and an endless supply of coffee and chocolate biscuits. And many writers like that just fine. But even the most antisocial of souls – why, yes, that would be me – needs some sort of support network. How that looks and how you create it will be individual to you: it could be anything from just roping in a supportive spouse / family members to handle more chores and childcare so you can carve out more writing time to taking a writing class to get feedback on your work in progress, going on a retreat or joining an online network. And while I said above that you shouldn’t dwell in anger, you can harness it. We live in a country where all creative industries are dominated by the privileged – but people are tackling that inequality. Seeking out groups, mentors or fellow travellers who have faced the same kind of challenges you face can make you feel less isolated, give you useful contacts and even create a momentum for positive change.

Set realistic goals – but be open to change and opportunity

It’s good to have goals, but you need to be aware that what you want may change – and there’s no shame in that. Plenty of people who decide they want to write think “I’ll write a book!” not because they have a burning desire to do so, but because they want to write and they think that’s what writers do. But you may find as you go that the idea you are trying to wrestle into shape simply doesn’t want to be wrestled – that what you thought was a novel was really a short story, or might work better as a play, or might just not work at all. You might find that joining a writing class to get ahead on your book instead ignites a desire to explore poetry or journalism or, hell, white water rafting. You might actually realise this whole writing thing isn’t actually what you want to do after all and you need a different outlet for your creativity. And that’s all fine.

I started last year with one goal in mind: finish my next Dark Dates book. But in the end, I got ‘sidelined’ by doing more theatre writing, because opportunities arose that I couldn’t pass on and I found that the local theatre scene fired me up in a way that was new and exciting to me. Then, unexpectedly, I got the chance to re-release two earlier books and it seemed pointless trying to market three titles all at once, so I decided to spend the time needed to reissue those rather than work on the book-in-progress – frustrating as the delay was. But spending time focusing on something that I was really wrapped up in opened up a lot of doors and created a lot of opportunities that I otherwise might have missed, and the pragmatic decision to get my old books ready for release meant at least I had something to market going into the festive season, which helped me make some money. Did I wish I’d had the time and space to do all of it? Of course I did. But I’m also sure that, given that compromises needed to be made – and unless you are rich, have servants and possibly a time turner, compromises always need to be made – I focused on the right things for me at that time, and got results that I was happy with.

You do need to be honest with yourself, though. Are you giving up when you shouldn’t – because it is pushing you out of your comfort zone, or it got a little difficult, when those are things you need to power through if you want to achieve anything (and not just in writing). Or are you adapting to changing circumstances and desires in a way that might deliver results you hadn’t dreamed of?

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