10 Ways to Keep Your Writing Resolutions in February
If you're like the rest of us, your New Year writing resolve is starting to ebb.
If you’re a writer (or, if you prefer, an aspiring writer) then probably somewhere on your list of new year’s resolutions is scrawled GET BETTER AT WRITING or WRITE MORE.
While these are, undisputedly, great goals, are they really going to motivate you? Will they put you on track to achieve whatever your real dreams are?
Setting goals feels great and productive – but actually achieving them feels a heck of a lot better.
1. Make your goals specific.
Sticking at resolutions is notoriously hard already, so one way to make it easier is by avoiding giving yourself aims that are vague and too wide. Your first step should be to identify what your actual bigger goals are – to start getting ‘firsts’ in your essays? to place in a poetry competition? to finish that novel? to turn your skills into something career worthy? – and then work them into a routine or some habits that you know are both realistic and achievable.
2. Think "lifestyle change".
Another way is to make your goal into part of your lifestyle, a habit. Studies have shown that it takes between 18 and 254 days to make a habit; in other words, an average of 66 days.
Below are some examples of ways you can develop your goals and personal targets into actual working habits and routines; honing and focusing your aspirations into day to day tasks that will bring you ten steps closer to where and who you want to be.
3. Set up a realistic daily writing routine.
Unfortunately, you can’t google ‘fool proof daily writing goal’. Why? Because there is no one-size-fits-all answer. You know your routine and you know when you feel most creative so only you know when and where is best for your writing.
There’s very little point in planning to write 1,500 words when you get home at eleven after a late shift if you know that’s usually the time you pass out on the sofa. This’ll only make you feel either stressed and tired as you persevere into the night, or really guilty because you didn’t do it. Step back and look at your routine and establish when the best chances for writing really are. Whatever it is, whether 7am, 5:30pm or 9pm, stick to it once you’ve pencilled it in.
4. Pick a number.
Next is to decide how much you want to write and, again, this is going to depend on your as individual. For example, Stephen King claims he sits down to write 10 pages a day (without fail), while Hemingway wrote around 500 words a day.
You can create your goal in either lengths of time, or in word count. For example, ‘I want to spend three hours a week writing so I’m break this into forty-five minute sessions across four days’. Or you may say, ‘I want to write 1000 words a day’, or ‘two pages a day’, or so on.
Of course, routines won’t work for everyone, but if you’re end goal involves finishing a longer piece of work or honing a specific skill, then daily tasks are a good way of developing and keeping a writer’s mindset.
When asked about his routine, writer Murakami says he sticks to it “everyday without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
5. Pick a skill to develop.
‘I want to get better at writing dialogue…’ or ‘I want to get better at showing not telling…’
Great, so how can you build up this skill? A good place to start is studying other works. When it comes to writing, choosing to watch or listen to something over actually putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) may seem counter productive but don’t overlook it.
Listening to a radio drama or watching a film are great ways to easily study dialogue as, typically, they rely on speech, expression and context to convey mood, tensions and relationships. This is pretty easy to work into a regular routine as you could commit to listening to a radio drama on your daily commute or while on the exercise bike at the gym for instance.
Another way to broach these subject is to simply study real life. Picture the characters in your head actually having a conversation. Do they interrupt themselves? Each other? Is someone disclosing something they feel embarrassed about? How would this sound in conversation? Would they try and change the subject? Make a few false starts?
Set yourself your own challenges; for example, try writing mini scenes and stories that may or may not make it into the final cut, simply to explore the characters and their relationship more deeply. This resolution could end up sounding like, ‘Each week I’m going to write three new scenes and listen to an hour of radio each day on my way to work’.
6. Don't let writer's block own you.
Writer’s block is something that afflicts most writers, whether they’re working on poetry, essays, novels, or legal advice. So, what’s the best way to get past it? The internet is full of advice (and distractions!) that’ll tell you a million and one different ways to get past it. In fact, it’s terribly easy to start searching the web for ‘effective writing prompts’ (or worse, spend money on a book full of them) but when you actually get down to it, honestly, are you spending more time researching writing prompts* than you are actually writing?
One of the best ways to beat writer’s block is to create. Create new ideas, mood boards, characters. Step back from your work and brainstorm. Grab a notebook and don’t stop until you have a page covered in potential scene ideas, even if you think you’ve found the one by number three. If you’re writing a novel, then step back from the part you’re stuck on and reconsider your central theme – how can you return to it?
Writer A. J. Jacobs suggests you should “Force yourself to generate dozens of ideas. A lot of those ideas will be terrible. Most of them, in fact. But there will be some sparkling gems in there too. Try to set aside twenty minutes a day just for brainstorming.”
Make creating a mind map etc your go to action for writer’s block and form a powerful habit. Also, try carrying around a small notebook so you can keep track of ideas as they come to you – when you get stuck later you’ll then have something you can come back to.
Some people benefit, not necessarily from structure, but from pure perseverance. New York Times bestseller Jodi Picoult says she doesn’t believe in writer’s block: “Writer’s Block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
7. Make reading part of your writing process.
When your best friend is telling you how they read around ten books a month to your one, it can leave you feeling pretty inadequate. But some people simply have more opportunity to read than others, or they’re faster readers in general. If you want to read more then challenging yourself to a certain number of books a month or a year is a great place to start. But why not pick quality over quantity? Read something that’s going to inspire you, or even reread what inspired you in the past. Work reading into your daily life when and where you can. If you can’t read on your daily commute because you drive or cycle then listen to an audiobook instead – and no, that’s not cheating!
If you struggle to find time to read or simply feel too tired by the end of the day to read a whole chapter, why not try a book of poetry? Reading one poem before bed (or when you first get up in the morning) is a quick and easy addition to your daily routine. In fact, taking reading in smaller doses may help you better analyse and consider what you’re reading; reading a single poem and properly digesting what you’ve read is probably going to help focus the mind a bit more than skim-reading chapters of a trashy romance
8. Take real steps to get published.
Want to be a published author? Then get going! Unfortunately, it’s not very likely that the perfect opportunity is going to simply appear in front of you one day. You’re going to have to get out there and find it.
If you’re interested in writing online content or creative essays for instance, then approach online blogsites to see if they’re looking for submissions. Of course, this can feel a little like job hunting (and most of us know how demoralising that can be at times) but it’s important you stick at it if you want to see your name in print. Make it challenge and set yourself the task of simply spending half an hour each week approaching people and looking for opportunities.
If you’re a poet, then submit your work to competitions and magazines. Don’t spend time scouring the net for the largest cash prizes with the smallest submission fees. If your aim is to get published, to get your name out there, then begin with some of the smaller options. For example, check out your home town’s magazine or website. Why not challenge yourself to submit your work at least once a month? Even if you don’t get published straight away, it’s good practise to keep putting yourself out there. And being able to understand and correctly follow submission guidelines is a good skill for a writer’s life.
9. Put effort into research.
If you’re someone who loves to see their word count slowly going up and up, then stopping to research for hours can feel like a drag. You already know all about that thing, right? Well, perhaps. But if you’re writing about an event, place or time period (or disease, injury, rock formation, myth, chemical reaction or punishment etc etc) that you haven’t experienced, then finding out a little more about it can really help your writing, especially you can find someone who has experienced these things themselves. Think of books that you’ve loved in the past, were they hedging and fumbling their way through descriptions? Or were you immersed? If you’re worried about spending too much time researching then set a timer while you do it. Give yourself a set amount of time to find out the most interesting and key parts or factors about whatever you’re writing about.
10. Be kind to yourself.
It’s really important to keep up a healthy, positive attitude when it comes to writing, when it comes to creating anything to be honest. After all, at times it can be a pretty solitary pursuit and creating something new can make you feel vulnerable – if you’re not on your own side then it can feel like no one is at all. So, what can you do to feel better about your writing? More confident?
Well, for starters try to measure your successes, not by huge results, but by your activity and persistence. Don’t get stuck on potential criticisms and comments people may make when they come to read what you’ve written, and don’t only write when you think you’re going to produce something better than everyone else. Sometimes, to get to the best bits, you’re going to have to write a lot of - let’s face it - crap. Writing is a skill and so it's something you need to stick at and work on to get better. The fact that you got out of bed and sat down and wrote something is an achievement in itself, don’t let yourself forget it.
Remind yourself of any past praise and encourage you may have received. If this was written down for you then even better – print or cut it out and stick it somewhere you can see. If it helps, each time before you begin writing, read over it. Alternatively, pick out parts of your past writing that you felt were good, that you’re proud of and read them over. How did you feel when you wrote that? Channel that feeling and become your number one fan!
Share, share, and share alike. If you’ve had a really great day’s writing or you’ve stuck to a goal or got something great coming up tell people about it. Whether it’s your family, friends, colleagues, or an accountability buddy, let people know that you’re doing well. No, this isn’t the same as boasting. This is a well-deserved pick me up and a chance to encourage and support your friends too. Also, for writers, actually developing the habit of talking about your work is an extremely useful (potential vital) skill you need for your own writing career. After all, how’s anyone going to know you’ve got the next bestseller in your back pocket if you don’t shout about it? Make posting your word count for the day online a mini-goal for yourself perhaps. If you’re shy about talking to someone about your own writing, then begin by talking about someone else’s – challenge yourself to get someone to read that book you love that nobody’s heard of.
If you want to hit any writing goal or improve your writing your number one goal has to be to refuse to be discouraged. I said, refuse to be discouraged! If this is your dream then you’re going to have to give it your all, champion yourself every step of the way. Don’t start sentences with ‘When I’m a writer…’ or ‘If I was a writer…’. ‘I AM A WRITER,’ is what you should be saying, ‘And this is going to be my year…!’
by Jodie R Reed
*And if you’re really after a writing prompt then okay, here’s three:
1) If you’re stuck on a certain scene, not sure where to take your story next, then try imagining the worst possible thing that could happen to your character. Maybe someone finds out that secret they’ve been keeping? Or they lose something important to them? Or a person from the past turns up unexpectedly?
2) If you’re characters are seeming a little wooden and starting to feel a little still and boring, why not try imagining what would happen if the weather changed unexpectedly? For example, if they were talking outside and it began to rain heavily? The sun came out or the wind picked up? Or the first snow they’d seen in years began to fall around them?
3) If you wanting to express something about your character’s personality or past, then try showing how they’d react to sudden news. For example, if they opened a newspaper or got an alert on their phone telling that there’d been a train crash in their home town, what would they do? Say? Would they cackle and turn the page? Or stare in shock and horror before calling up the people they loved?