Do you make New Year’s writing resolutions? I always do. I’m a fan of the reset, the clean slate, the opportunity for a hard break from whatever went on the year before. After 2020, I think most people are craving a new beginning too. Although the experts say that New Year’s resolutions are typically abandoned within a few weeks, I’ve learned how to make them a little more useful. So, for what it’s worth, here are my 2021 writing resolutions.
Learn from the Past
Sometimes I like to listen to self-help podcasts while I do chores, and if I’ve taken anything away from them, it’s that people who set reasonable goals are more successful at achieving them. For instance, many people go into a new year pledging to never eat sweets again and work out seven days a week. It’s good to dream big, but if banana bread and Netflix are what got you through 2020, a new calendar isn’t going to radically change daily habits. Instead, it’s better to try to change in a way that feels sustainable.
Last year, I resolved to read 50 books in a year, finish a draft manuscript, and make writing a daily or near daily habit. Well, the 50 books didn’t happen, but I did read more than normal. My actual count was about half my goal (because, well, 2020). I did complete a manuscript (!), but I didn’t do it by writing daily. There were big chunks of time (ahem, home schooling) where I had to skip.
If I’m going to both learn from the past, and apply the axiom of setting reasonable goals, here is how I’m adjusting for the new year.
Still Read More Books
Making a pointed effort to read more was a.) enjoyable and b.) helpful. Reading inspired my writing. It made me think about novel structure explicitly, and it motivated me to work on my own draft. As usual, I noticed things I like and don’t about stories, and that helped me stay focused on adding more of what I like to my own work.
I also started a bookstagram account on Instagram (check me out at marysullivan_books if you’re interested) to help me share what I’m reading and get recommendations. It’s been fun, and it’s encouraged me to make a conscious effort to read books by diverse writers. Here’s an article on effectively using Instagram as an author: Instagram Tips for Writers. I was moved in May and June by the George Floyd protests and the push to read black and BIPOC authors. Similarly, Pride Month led me to seek out LGBTQ writers. I didn’t realize how easy it is to get tunnel vision when it comes to the genres and titles, and I enjoyed expanding my horizons.
This year, I’m setting the more modest goal of reading 36 books this year. It feels very doable, and I anticipate exceeding it. It also gives me wiggle room to focus on reading whatever I want—even if it’s dense and lengthy. For example, I read the Wolf Hall series (by Hilary Mantel) last year, and the first book alone was more than 700 pages. It seems stupid to get derailed by not meeting an arbitrary goal of reading a book a week when the books I am reading are harder, longer reads. I also hope that an easier-to-obtain goal will keep me motivated when life inevitably gets in the way.
Edit WIP; Draft Another Manuscript
Writers can only join the club if they actually practice their craft. I did make my mark of completing a novel last year. Unfortunately, the first draft wasn’t exactly what my agent thought I was writing, so I’m doing a pretty extensive rewrite. My goal for this year is to get it into a position to take to market, and plan and draft another one. If I can finish a book in 2020 with all the issues it had, I can certainly do it again in 2021.
Stay Flexible, Stay Focused
Despite knowing that November is crazy busy, I deluded myself into thinking that if I signed up for NaNoWriMo that I’d magically do…what? Revise and resubmit my edited draft? Uh, no. The week of Thanksgiving is usually enough to make November a no-go zone, but add it to it the weirdest and longest election of all time, two weeks of home school due to a Covid outbreak at the school, etc, etc, and the eleventh month remained terrible for productivity. I wasted time feeling bad about it, and I resolve to not do that again. I’m going to work hard when my schedule is relatively clear, and I’m going to acknowledge when that will be harder. Above all, I plan to stay focused on doing what I can for my nascent writing career, and that is to spend as much time as possible writing. Happy New Year!